More than 400 civic, academic, and business leaders gathered at the sixth annual Mayor’s Breakfast, held about a month before the kick-off of SUN ‘n FUN.
The March 6, 2019, meeting was held in the refurbished Hangar A, now called the Starlight Hangar. This air-conditioned building can be used to house events year-round, according to SUN ‘n FUN officials.
One of the highlights of the breakfast was the presentation of the 2018 year-round economic impact of SUN ‘n FUN. The study, prepared by the non-profit Economic Impact Research and Management Institute at Florida Southern College, shows that SUN ‘n FUN generates more than $249 million of total economic activity and 2,400 full-time jobs.
Kicking off its 45th year April 2, 2019, SUN ’n FUN is so much more than a week-long fly-in.
According to SUN ‘n FUN President John “Lites” Leenhouts, the SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo is the largest fundraising event for the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), contributing $2 million annually to educational programs and scholarships. The new motto of ACE is to “Engage, Educate & Accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals.”
In addition to the fly-in, there are between 80 and 90 other events held on the grounds each year that contribute to ACE. ACE reported more than 40,000 student engagements in aviation and STEM activities and projects each year.
The high school on the SUN ‘n FUN campus, the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA), boasts a 100% graduation rate.
In 2018, ACE awarded $336,507 in scholarships. Four educational tracks are offered: Engineering, aerospace technologies, avionics, and A&P. Later in the year, an Unmanned Aerial Systems track will be added.
This year, ACE partnered with Able Flight to train disabled students and veterans to fly. Zenith Aircraft is a major sponsor in this program, with a specially modified Zenith 750 Cruzer being built to train Able Flight pilots. That construction project begins this week at SUN ‘n FUN.
Lites also showed a promotional video for ACE.
He then promoted the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels who will perform at SUN ‘n FUN this year with another video. In Lites’ 27-year career in the Navy, he earned the distinction of performing 1,645 landings on aircraft carriers, the most in naval aviator history.
The keynote speaker was Draken International’s Vice President of Strategic Projects and Security Lt. Col. (Ret.) John “Slick” Baum. He flew with the USAF Thunderbirds. In his presentation video he included a segment of Thunderbird aerobatics, joking with Lites that he wanted to balance out Lites’ video of the Blue Angels.
He then introduced Draken to the business and civic leaders in attendance. A provider of aviation combat training for the military through the Department of Defense, based at Lakeland Linder International Airport (KLAL), Draken operates internationally with a fleet of 80 fighter aircraft. Draken has proven that it can train pilots who fly the F-35 stealth aircraft at one-tenth the cost of what the U.S. government would have to spend for the same training, according to Baum.
After the breakfast, Baum unveiled a gift from Draken — a new museum exhibit, a Mikoyan-Gureyvich MiG-21 MF, produced by the Soviet Union in 1973. More than 6,000 MiG-21s were flown by over three dozen nations, this particular one having served in Slovakia.
A drawing from the business cards of attendees yielded a winner who won a flight with a member of the Lakeland Aero Club.
Immediately after the breakfast, Tom Lloyd climbed aboard a Cessna 172 and flew off with pilot Layton Bracey. According to Lloyd, who works for the Bank of Central Florida, this was his first flight in a small plane. He gave a thumbs up as the Lakeland Aero Club’s yellow and white Cessna 172 taxied from Hangar C.