Ed Young will experience his first SUN ‘n FUN this year.
The new executive director of the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), he’s been on the job since November 2018, managing a $2 million budget and $430,000 in scholarships for year-round youth education in aviation.
ACE delivers aviation education to more than 30,000 students each year and is about to produce its 85th licensed teenage private pilot. Funding for ACE and the Aerospace Discovery Museum and Education Center comes largely from the annual SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In and Expo.
“So, the way we’re thinking about SUN ‘n FUN now is that SUN ‘n FUN is the fundraiser, and ACE is the mission,” Ed said. “All the things we do during SUN ‘n FUN help to contribute to the positive message of engaging, educating, and accelerating the next generation of aerospace professionals.”
Ed became the executive director of ACE after a meeting with John “Lites” Leenhouts, SUN ‘n FUN’s president and CEO.
“He was so motivating,” Ed says of Lites. “Once I got here, well, it’s a family. This is a very small group that puts on a very big event. There’s about 26 full-time staff and, somehow or other, they manage to wrangle 3,500 volunteers.”
Ed has the energy of a caffeinated teenager and prefers Converse high-top shoes over dress shoes. Our interview was conducted on foot between meetings so he could leave immediately after the next meeting to pick up his wife Teresa at the Orlando International Airport. They are selling their house in Kansas while Ed and their 16-year-old daughter Hope live on the SUN ‘n FUN grounds. Their oldest daughter Biz works at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
In addition to annual fly-in, there are more than 90 events a year held on the SUN ‘n FUN grounds. This interview happened on a day between a dog show and the Carlyle Car Show.
“Every week I’m on our social media saying, ‘Hey, look. Another great event that’s going to support our mission,’ which is giving scholarships and helping educate aviation professionals,” Ed said.
Aviation education, fundraising, and administration are all part of Ed’s skill set.
Imagine Ed as a young student answering the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Given the choices of pilot, lawyer, teacher, consultant, firefighter, peace officer, government administrator, and businessman, Ed said “Yes.”
Named a Distinguished Flight Instructor by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in October, he is a certified flight instructor (single, multiengine, and instrument airplane), a certified commercial pilot (SE airplane land, SE airplane sea, multiengine land, and instrument airplane), and a certified remote pilot (small unmanned aircraft). He also earned a certificate in Airport Safety and Risk Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Ed taught undergraduate programs at Kansas State University Polytechnic and undergraduate and graduate aviation courses for Baker University. He also served on the board of directors for the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education and the Fly Kansas Foundation.
He earned his degree in law from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1993 while also completing an MPA in Public Management at the University of Kansas. That level of multi-tasking should come in handy at his new job at SUN ‘n FUN.
For his first SUN ‘n FUN, Ed will be managing a career expo, the drone zone, the activities at Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum, and the Stratos competition.
Under Ed’s leadership, Project Stratos was expanded from an essay competition for high school juniors into four components for juniors and seniors. Semi-finalists win two-day passes to SUN ‘n FUN 2019. Ten finalists participate in a Blue Angels symposium, win week-long passes to SUN ‘n FUN 2019, get interviews on the Florida Aviation Network and SUN ‘n FUN radio, receive a camera, possibly get a flight with one of the airshow performers, and much more. The finalists also become STRATOS Squadron Ambassadors to the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In and Expo.
“Stallion 51 offered us the ability to give a senior a flight lesson in a P-51 Mustang,” Ed said. “Who wouldn’t want to fly with Lee Lauderback? He’s the highest-time P-51 pilot in history.”
In addition to the essay competition, three more components were added: Physical training, leadership, and art. According to Ed, 30 students participated this year with 12 art entries and 14 essays. The physical component to this year’s program was training and team building in preparation for the Warrior Dash in Clermont, Florida. The leadership component included dispute resolution and negotiation training.
During our interview, aviation-themed artwork was spread out on tables in a conference room. There was one video entered. The ACE staff and officials with Kissimmee-based Stallion 51 will judge the art. The winning entry will be published in SUN ‘n FUN’s Official Souvenir Program Guide with the student’s photo and bio.
Ed hauls around a thick binder that contains notes on 19 aviation outreach projects he’s working on.
“We had 10,000 student engagements in January,” he reports. “Our planetarium visited elementary schools. Our Kitfox was a key feature at STEM events and airshows.”
“We just firmed up our deal with Able Flight, which provides flight training scholarships to disabled people. We’ll be providing training facilities for one or two of their scholarship students. We are establishing a flying club for this purpose and to give our employees and volunteers an opportunity to learn to fly. It will be a companion to the Lakeland Aero Club. We are working with Zenith to build an aircraft to meet the needs of the Able Flight scholarship students and our flying club.”
“We are also working on Project Skylab. We hope to expand the Aerospace Discovery Center — also known as the Florida Air Museum — to include a multipurpose lab and event space adjacent to the museum,” he continued. “We secured funding from private sources and were recommended for a Florida Cultural Facilities grant for that project. The goal is to be able to provide companion laboratory space for the Central Florida Aerospace Academy. We constantly have students here from our partners at CFAA and Polk State.”
Ed notes that most of the CFAA students are actually dual-enrolled, which means they are earning college credit while in high school.
“They’ll be dual-enrolled either at Polk State or Embry-Riddle depending on what the class is,” he said. “And we just had officials from the University of South Florida come visit and USF is thinking about establishing some dual-enrollment for our robotics program students. The dean of the school over there was really impressed that our students were working on the level of software and CAD work that they were doing.”
At the end of the interview, Lites entered the conference room for a meeting with Ed and other staff members on a proposed expansion of the Aerospace Discovery Center. Lites also scheduled a date for a biannual flight review in his PA-24 Comanche with Ed, who is a CFII.
Ed grinned and whispered, “This is an incredible place for an aviation junkie.”