Shhhh. I’m going to trust you to keep this to yourself. It’s a secret. It has been for years. Yet, I’m going to tell you the truth. Here. Now. Only a few sentences hence.
Now, if I’m going to be completely honest, I have to admit the paragraph you just read is hyperbole. I’ve used a writer’s trick to get you reading, and hopefully keep you reading. Exaggeration is my tool of choice. By elevating something that’s largely unknown to the status of a well-kept secret, I’ve grabbed your attention a little more forcefully than I might have done if I chose more passive words, or a less impassioned approach. Good.
What I have to share is important. It truly is. For while it might not really be a closely held secret that’s been shielded from the wider public, it is information that’s unknown in the wider world and directly affects the future of general aviation in a very real way.
You’re still with me, right? Excellent.
In only a matter of weeks the second largest aviation-related event in North America will take place in my back yard. It’s called SUN ‘n FUN and it’s been one of the highlights of my year for more than two decades. You’ve probably heard of it too. Hopefully, you’ve been there to experience it for yourself. It is, in a word, amazing.
Literally thousands of people fly in, while even larger numbers drive onto the grounds of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (KLAL). Untold numbers will camp in tents or in recreational vehicles. They’ll be beneath the wing of their aircraft, in the campgrounds, or parked beside their display space in Paradise City.
General aviation comes alive here in central Florida while the frozen north is just starting to thaw out and turn green again. April 21-26 is when it’s happening this year.
But not everything is as it seems. And that’s the unknown tidbit of information. It’s the salient point we’ve all missed for too many years. Unheralded, unspoken, and often misunderstood – I am going to share with you the true reason that the SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo exists.
It’s a fundraiser.
Yep. The primary reason for holding SUN ‘n FUN each year is to raise funds for….wait for it….educational programs.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that. Most people don’t. SUN ‘n FUN is essentially in the business of providing educational opportunities for young people, funding educational opportunities for young people, and encouraging people of all ages to consider aviation as a career or a hobby.
If you take the time to look behind the greasepaint and razzle-dazzle, you’ll notice there is a high school standing directly across the street from what used to be known as the Florida Air Museum. That high school sits on SUN ‘n FUN’s property.
You may also notice the building we all used to know as the Florida Air Museum is now known as the Aerospace Center for Excellence. And that’s not the result of a new logo, crisp paint, and a crafty marketing plan. It’s real. During the other 51 weeks of the year you’ll find students in the A.C.E. learning about all things aviation.
Those students are being educated, inspired, motivated and mentored on a regular basis, thanks to the dollars that come through SUN ‘n FUN’s ticket window during its annual fundraiser. Unlike Public Television, SUN ‘n FUN doesn’t urge you to call in with a credit card number and make a donation. Although you certainly can (and what a good idea it would be for each of us to do exactly that, now I think of it), they choose to hold a massive celebration of flight instead.
SUN ‘n FUN provides a massive bang in exchange for your hard-earned buck. Not only do those who wander through the turnstiles get to see an incredible airshow up close, as well as rub elbows with aviation luminaries of past and present and meet the manufacturers, distributors, salespeople, and advocates of the industry face-to-face, but every single person who walks the grounds can also go home with a full heart knowing the dollars they spent will find their way back into a classroom or a workshop in a way that — directly or indirectly — benefits the next generation of pilots, mechanics, designers, engineers, and administrators.
It could certainly be said that I go to SUN ‘n FUN every year because it is my job. Or I could say I go because I meet so many fascinating people, see a great airshow, get to sit in a variety of amazing aircraft, occasionally participate in a demo flight, and learn a new skill or two in the workshop tents.
Then again, I could tell people I go because it makes me feel good about supporting aerospace education, the future of general aviation, and puts young people of all socio-economic backgrounds into an environment where they can learn to thrive professionally and personally.
Each one of those descriptions of why I go is true. But it’s that last one that really matters in the long run. It’s the selfless reason.
You see, SUN ‘n FUN isn’t really a one week fly-in and airshow. It’s a 52 week a year educational support system that has a profound impact on aviation in the United States. If you don’t believe me, come on down and see for yourself.
From then on I hope you’ll come back year after year to be a part of it all — and make a difference.