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History

1974 The Lakeland, Florida chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) decided to hold a fly-in for sport aviation enthusiasts at the Lakeland Airport. EAA is a national organization of individuals who build their own airplanes. The Southeastern Sport Aviation Council (SESAC), an organization of 60 EAA chapters in the Southeast, and the Florida Sport Antique and Classic Aircraft Association (FSAACA, an association of pre-1936 antique, 1936-1942 classic, and World War II military aircraft restorers, joined in the effort.

1975 The first weekend fly-in, called Mid-Winter SUN 'n FUN, was held in January at the Lakeland Municipal Airport and was limited to pilots, EAA, SESAC, and FSAACA members. 1,980 guests and 365 aircraft were present.

1976 The second annual fly-in was expanded to a full week and the City approved a lease for the convention site to be moved to the Southwest quadrant of the airport. The public was invited on a limited basis with the limiting factor being crowd control near moving aircraft and static displays. It was a huge success with 6,168 registrants from 38 states, Canada, Australia, and Holland. 1,200 aircraft including 200 homebuilts, 180 antiques, 260 classics, and 28 Warbirds were on site.

1977 In spite of unusual weather - real snow and low temperatures - 7,000 folks from 42 states, all the Canadian provinces, and four other countries attended the Fly-In. More than 2,000 aircraft flew in throughout the week.

1978 Sun ’n Fun 1978 easily became the second largest Fly-In in the United States, topped only by the EAA convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Attendance was at a new high of 10,100 with 10 countries represented, including all the Canadian provinces. The FAA estimated that over 4,000 aircraft made appearances throughout the week.

1979 A great convention, with the United States World Aerobatics Team appearing to demonstrate their skills in aerobatic flight. (The team continued on to become World Aerobatic Champions in 1980.) The first wave of ultralight aircraft appeared on the scene.

1980 The date of the Fly-In was changed from January to March. The decision paid off beautifully with great Florida weather prevailing.  A privately owned replica of the Spirit of St. Louis was brought in from the EAA Air Museum. The owner had plans to make a Trans-Atlantic flight in the aircraft shortly after the Fly-In. Two new commercial buildings were opened for the convenience of exhibitors. SUN 'n FUN hosted guests from 11 countries.

1981 For the first time, hot air balloons became a part of SUN 'n FUN. 24 balloons lifted off from the site on opening day.  Over 4,000 aircraft movements were recorded during the week. A record 104 ultralights, the largest gathering ever recorded at a single event, were also in attendance. 350 showplanes, including 40 Warbirds, were registered.  Visitors from 23 countries were represented.

1982 Many improvements were made to the SUN 'n FUN site with the completion of the Antique & Classic, Judges Headquarters, and the OX5 buildings. Visitors from 21 countries signed in. One of the convention highlights was the Laird Super Solution, which was on display all week. There were 254 showplanes registered and 400 ultralights. The FAA recorded 22,045 aircraft movements during the week.

1983 The Fly-In Convention suffered inclement weather. Rain for several days dampened everything but the spirit and enthusiasm of those who attended. Even with the bad weather, the general attendance increased over prior years. All 50 states were represented and the international attendees continued to increase with guests from 25 countries.

1984 The 10th anniversary SUN 'n FUN. The weather was as close to perfect as it could be. 480 showplanes registered and visitors from 20 countries were also in attendance. SUN 'n FUN EAA Fly-In, Inc. announced plans to build an aviation education center on the site. It looks as if SUN 'n FUN is here to stay.

1985 Continued growth was apparent with a record attendance and 22 foreign countries represented. 615 showplanes registered. Breathtaking air shows were topped off with flybys by a graceful C5A. Volunteers have continued to make improvements matching the growth.

1986 The convention marked a milestone with dreams becoming reality for SUN 'n FUN with the opening of a new corporate office and exhibit building. A newly restored Convair XF2Y-1 Sea Dart is proudly displayed near the new mini-museum. The first incident on the airfield added a touch of sadness to this convention. The volunteers are dedicated to work harder to keep the convention safe and fun as we continue to grow. Attendance was very strong with 34 countries represented.

1987 The convention was the largest yet with increased attendance and 851 registered showplanes. 34 foreign countries were represented. Without a doubt, the 13th annual convention was the most successful in our history with tremendous growth in almost every area. The convention, run by volunteers, is one of the most smoothly and safely operated, aviation events.

1988 The convention was moved from March to April in an effort to improve the housing situation and to benefit from the milder April weather. The convention attendance increased only slightly for the year. There was a slight increase in international visitors with 37 countries represented. The City of Lakeland approved a five-year plan for support that included many site improvements. A new Fly-In Headquarters building was constructed and the workshops were relocated and expanded. The Polk County Economic Development Council showed more support. The Sun ’n Fun Aviation Foundation was formed to oversee the development of the aviation museum. An F-101 VooDoo, an HU-16 Albatross, and several small aircraft were acquired.

1989 A banner year for SUN 'n FUN. Attendance soared to new heights. Growth was evident in every area. Showplanes numbered 1,055. 868 guests from 42 foreign countries were registered. A new 20,000-sq. ft. exhibit building was completed and open for the Fly-In and a new building was constructed for food service. SUN 'n FUN EAA Fly-In, Inc. granted the SUN 'n FUN Aviation Foundation use of an existing building for the first SUN 'n FUN Air Museum.

1990 The convention gate count was up again with 51 countries represented. New this year were a permanent building for the FAA programs, a convention campground and showerhouse, another exhibit building, and a new main entrance at Medulla Road. Airport expansion created the need to relocate our main entrance to the Southwest.

1991 The convention was a great success with attendance up a bit including visitors from 47 countries. The City of Lakeland approved 32 acres on lease to SUN 'n FUN Aviation Foundation, Inc. for the new museum facility. The City also approved funding for construction of the first phase of the museum and a new merchandise center (renovation of an existing building). Plans for the a new News Media Center were developed and construction is scheduled to begin early in 1992. The first annual Wheels ’n Wings & Interesting Things was held by the SUN 'n FUN Air Museum in December.

1992 The SUN 'n FUN Air Museum held its grand opening during the convention and kicked off its brick sale campaign. Record growth again at SUN 'n FUN, with gate counts up compared to last year; international visitors at an all time high of 2,158. A new woodworking/carpentry shop was added to the maintenance facility. A new road between the Corporate Office and the Museum was named Peggy Brown Lane. New buildings: Gifts of Flight, EAA Headquarters and Media Center. The corporate office building was renovated to add four new offices and a conference room. Land holdings were increased by nine acres. Three additional staff members, two Museum and one Fly-In, were added.

1993 Record attendance gate count recorded with 60 countries represented. Runway 9/27 extension was begun with anticipated completion by ’94 convention. Antique/ Classic headquarters building moved enlarging the homebuilt area and providing new large commercial display areas. Convention Campground was expanded.  Two additional Fly-In staff members were added for a total of 12.

1994 Guests representing 64 countries, 2,231 showplanes resulted in another banner year. New for ’94: Nature walk, new exhibit building, relocation of Planes Parts Mart (flea market), expanded aircraft camping area; the Air Museum’s Florida Aviation History display was unveiled at the convention. The continued large increases in attendance brought about the need to revise our Long-Range Development Plan to incorporate more land area for expansion.

1995 This was another great event for SUN 'n FUN. 57 countries were represented during the Fly-In week. There were 2,028 showplanes registered. Brigadier General Chuck Yeager and astronaut Lt. Col. Curt Brown were featured guests. The Kermit Weeks’ B-24 Liberator was on display here during the convention. Also seen was the Stinson Tri-Motor, one of the rarest privately owned antique airplanes in the world. A new Announcers’ Stand was built for this year's show.

1996 This was an exciting year, with the showcasing of some of the original racers. Replicas of pylon and distance racers were on display to include Mr. Mulligan, Wedell Williams 121, Gee Bee Model Z and Model E, Clipwing Monocoupe, Grovenor House, and Miss Los Angeles, a Brown B-2 pylon racer. The Bushmaster, a one-of-a-kind airplane named the St. Louis Tri-Motor, was also on hand. Our guests, including 1,963 from 65 countries witnessed the first Wittman Sun 100 Race, named to honor Steve Wittman after his untimely death in 1995. Fly-In Headquarters surrendered its building to the homebuilders and moved to a location near the new Admissions Plaza. We registered 1,949 showplanes of all types this year.

1997 The Brazilian Air Force Demonstration Squadron joined us this year as we celebrated the Year of the Volunteer. They were in the United States to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Air Force. Aptly named the Smoke Squadron, they performed a fantastic show for us at the end of the week. Bob Hoover, making his comeback debut in the airshow circuit, made the daily airshow. Colonel Charlie Precourt was our visiting astronaut. The program book added an information insert and Fly-In Headquarters moved again. Visitors included 2,204 from 70 foreign countries enjoyed the show. We continued to up-grade our entryway with an improved people path to get our guest to the expanded commercial area. We registered 2,228 showplane. Campers were treated to a new, more user friendly entrance to the site and that operation ran more smoothly than ever.

1998 This was another banner year with the beginning of the development of Clubhouse Row. Yet another area has been opened up for expansion. We are finding new real estate in our midst. Workshops were moved slightly to the west, in front of the clubhouses and a new Youth Aviation Activities Center was added to the mix. Michael Fopp, Director, Royal Air Force Museum was our special guest this year. The Museum kicked off its Capital Campaign for the International Sport Aviation Museum (ISAM).  Fly-In Headquarters found a permanent home at the south end of the people path. Of those in attendance, 2,355 were from 64 foreign countries. A total of 1,847 showplanes registered in all categories and Lakeland once again was The World’s Busiest Airport with 56,463 aircraft movements during the week.

1999 Our Sterling Year was a great one. Many 25 year volunteers attended and were honored at the Annual Thursday Ground Loop Party. The Education Corridor was inaugurated with the Youth Aviation Center at the northern end. Also involved was the co-location of workshops and forums in the northwest corner of BackAcres Campground. This is the first step to take place in order to fully develop this area. Guests representing 74 foreign countries particpated. There were 2,035 showplanes registered in all categories. Aircraft movements totaled 64,810 for the week. It was truly a great celebration for 25 years of fly-ins.

2000 Twenty-six years of great fly-ins…this year’s event was as exciting as all that had gone before. Major changes to the site included a redesign of outdoor exhibit areas. Opening Day was highlighted by the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the FAA Flight Safety Center. Hans Georg Schmid arrived in his Long-Ez as we were a stop on the second circuit of his Around the World (Twice) Millennium Flight and we were honored to be a part of the adventure. Bob Hoover flew the last flight of his Shrike Commander on Sunday, loaning it to the International Sport Aviation Museum for display for the next two years. The First Flight Centennial Pavilion made its debut this year as a first step on the path to the 2003 celebration of the Wright Brothers momentous accomplishment in 1903. Daily airshows and a beautiful night airshow on Tuesday were a part of the excitement. Discovery Wings was taping all week, presenting a production in the Pavilion on Friday night.  3,051 registered guests at the International Visitor Center represented 90 foreign countries. The tower was busy with a total of 61,696 air traffic movements for the week. Display aircraft included 537 Homebuilts, 283 Vintage, 313 Warbirds, 414 Ultralights and 96 Seaplanes. It was another great Spring Celebration of Flight.

2001 This year, a new pedestrian corridor from the Main Admission Gate to SUN 'n FUN's International Sport Aviation Museum (ISAM). The corridor included exhibits focusing on the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and the Tuskegee Airmen. SUN 'n FUN’s "First Flight Centennial exhibit, commemorating the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk was also located in the corridor. NASA, SUN 'n FUN Youth Activities were also found in the corridor. This year we also welcomed major sponsorships including Trade-A-Plane, Exxon Elite, Outback Steakhouse, Michael Holley Chevrolet, John Deere, Bernie Little Distributors and Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau.   2,402 International Guests registered represented 85 foreign countries. Once again, all 50 states were represented. Registered showplanes numbered 524 Custom Built aircraft, 403 Ultralight, 336 Vintage, 295 Warbirds, 87 Seaplanes and 66 Rotorcraft. Controllers had a busy week overseeing 52,250 aircraft movements. Once again, the airshow season was opened in grand style at SUN 'n FUN.

2002 – While its theme was “Red, White and Blue Skies,” near perfect weather made for mostly blue skies over Lakeland, Florida, for the 28th edition of the SUN 'n FUN EAA Fly-In.   Held at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport April 7 – 13, this year’s event drew nearly 5,000 aircraft, 3,000 volunteers and 500 exhibitors for what has become the annual kick-off event to the summer flying season.  Activities began even before SUN 'n FUN’s Opening Day.  Aircraft held up temporarily by a weather system covering central and north Florida began arriving steadily two days prior to the official start.  That same day, the third annual Gulf Coast Avionics Golf Tournament (to benefit the SUN 'n FUN Aviation Foundation and the Florida Aviation Safety Foundation) took place at nearby Eaglebrooke Golf Course.  The inaugural SUN 'n FUN Gala (to benefit SUN 'n FUN’s youth education and Endowment programs) attracted more than 450 people to the outdoor pavilion at the SUN 'n FUN museum.  During the Gala, the family of Tom Davis was recognized for their commitment to helping fund the Tom Davis Education Center, a core element of SUN 'n FUN’s future education campus.  The traditional Hot Air Balloon launch at sunrise on Opening Day was spectacular, with 36 colorful balloons launching almost simultaneously under clear, blue skies.  A new Main Entrance, featuring flags from each of the 50 United States and landscaping native to the state of Florida, greeted visitors who arrived by auto.  Later that day, Kermit Weeks arrived in his faithful reproduction of Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis,” helping SUN 'n FUN celebrate the 75th anniversary of Lindbergh’s famous New York-to-Paris flight.  Bruce Bohannon and his turbocharged Exxon “Flyin’ Tiger” set a world record for altitude in level flight early in the week.  Bobby Younkin debuted the world’s first aerobatic Learjet at SUN 'n FUN.  Members of the U.S. Aerobatic Team participated each day and showcased their colorful aircraft and outstanding flying skills.  SUN 'n FUN’s air show, which is sponsored by Exxon Elite, also included many perennial airshow favorites.  And in what may have been an aviation first, Monday’s air show included the sight of Space Shuttle “Atlantis” launching from the Kennedy Space Center nearly 75 miles to the east.  During a reception for donors and other special guests on Tuesday evening, the name of SUN 'n FUN’s museum was changed to the “Florida Air Museum” at SUN 'n FUN.  The FAA Safety Center and Production Studios on the SUN 'n FUN grounds introduced live satellite broadcasts during the 2002 Fly-In.  The daily up-linked programs were broadcast live to all 60 sites in the Aviation Training Network, (ATN) and the Government Educational Training Network (GETN).  Many Vendors at Sun ’n Fun seemed to be pleased with sales activities that were equal to or higher than last year’s.  With the aviation community watching carefully, results from SUN 'n FUN seemed heartening, especially when the dire predictions and slumping economy that followed the events of Sept. 11 are considered.

2003 – The 2003 SUN 'n FUN EAA Fly–In celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk with activities that included EAA’s “Countdown to Kitty Hawk” exhibit – a 24,000 square–foot facility centered around a faithful reproduction of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s “Flyer.”  This year’s Fly–In, SUN 'n FUN’s 29th annual, was the first to open midweek – beginning Wednesday and ending Tuesday – instead of its traditional Sunday through Saturday format. A new exhibit within the Florida Air Museum at SSUN 'n FUN contained a portion of the museum’s Howard Hughes collection – focusing on Hughes’ record–breaking around–the–world flight in 1938.  The Parts Exchange was re–located from the Campground to Paradise City, which created new indoor exhibit space in the former Plane Parts Mart hangar, which also included an area to showcase Sun ’n Fun’s aircraft restoration efforts.  Exotic aircraft such as a 1910 Bleriot and 1912 Sopwith Camel made special appearances on the Flightline.  A new “Air Margaritaville” food, beverage and retail outlet provided guests with a great place to “hang out,” and a full–motion simulator offered rides at the Florida Air Museum.  There was also an enhanced “Gifts of Flight” satellite sales facility in the core area and new locations for Medical Hospitality and Security facilities as well as the popular Homebuilt Barbecue food service outlet.  While the Fly–In’s emphasis remains on educational forums and workshops offered throughout the week, more than 3,000 volunteers enthusiastically pitch in to help with virtually every detail imaginable.  About 500 commercial Exhibitors showcase aviation products and the world’s best air show performers showcase their skills during the daily air show.  Add a comprehensive mix of informative and entertaining evening programs and SUN 'n FUN traditional “southern–style” hospitality and you’ve got an un beatable combination!

2004 – The 30th annual SUN 'n FUN EAA Fly–In was themed a “Salute to Volunteers.”  Unseasonably cool, wet and windy skies quickly gave way to picture–perfect weather and an influx of near–record aircraft over the remainder of the week.  Nearly 5,000 airplanes and a record number of commercial exhibitors participated in a variety of activities that combined to make this year’s event one of the safest and most enjoyable on record.  The number of Commercial Exhibitors at this year’s SUN 'n FUN – 501 – set a new record for the event.  An additional 11 non–commercial exhibitors pushed the total number of exhibitors even higher.  The day before Opening Day, a monument containing the names of more than 200 Sun ’n Fun “Pioneers” – Volunteers whose significant contributions early in SUN 'n FUN’s history was dedicated in front of the Florida Air Museum.  The popular SUN 'n FUN Gala, held on Opening Day this year, attracted more than 350 people to the Florida Air Museum’s outdoor pavilion, which was beautifully decorated utilizing the “Salute to Volunteers” theme.  Later in the week, during a reception for members of the Florida Air Museum and other special guests, it was announced that Florida Governor Jeb Bush had signed into law legislation naming the Florida Air Museum as Florida’s “official aviation museum and education center.”  The Florida Air Museum at SUN 'n FUN also hosted a series of forums featuring an impressive list of aviation notables, including Gen. Paul Tibbets; noted aviation artist Sam Lyons; Charles Taylor, whose grandfather built the engine that powered the Wright brothers’ “Flyer”; members of the Tuskegee Airmen and Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs); and round–the–world–in–a–Mooney pilot Carol Ann Garratt.  In addition, renowned experimental test pilot A. Scott Crossfield and members of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) “Flying Tigers” also participated in SUN 'n FUN activities during Fly–In week.  Members of the Tom Davis family joined SUN 'n FUN officials midway through the Fly–In to break ground for the new “Tom Davis Education Center.”  The Goodyear Blimp was a popular addition to aircraft visiting SUN 'n FUN this year.  The blimp arrived on Thursday and departed Saturday.  SUN 'n FUN’s popular “Splash In” expanded from one to two days this year, with Ultralight and Experimental (“Homebuilt”) category seaplanes and amphibians participating one day followed by factory–manufactured aircraft the next day.  Several of SUN 'n FUN’s educational workshops were approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Inspection Authorization (IA) Refresher Training Courses.  SUN 'n FUN’s popular night air show culminated with a spectacular fireworks display that drew a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd.  An “Exhibitor Appreciation Dinner” sponsored and hosted (poolside!) by the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel was a huge hit with Exhibitors.  More than 1,500 guests from 73 countries registered at the International Visitors Tent.  SUN 'n FUN instituted an enhanced food service operation this year, featuring the expanded presence of Jimmy Buffet’s “Air Margaritaville” Café.  Air Margaritaville’s “Lone Palm Airport” subsidiary offered a condensed menu – and evening entertainment – in SUN 'n FUN’s campground.  In addition, available food service also featured the tremendously popular Johnson’s Barbecue and an expanded Food Court that included Mexican, Italian, Chinese and Greek cuisine as well as several seafood selections.  SUN 'n FUN also brought in a high–end coffee provider who offered specialty drinks such as latte, cappuccino, and espresso.  A Dessert Court could be found nearby and some specialty desserts in SUN 'n FUN’s Campground added to the culinary delights.  SUN 'n FUN, a 501(c)(3), not–for–profit organization, presented Boys & Girls Club officials with a check for $40,000 on the Fly–In’s last day as the first installment of a seven–year, $250,000 pledge that underscores SUN 'n FUN’s hopes of continuing the long–term relationship between the two organizations.  The first “AOPA Day at SUN 'n FUN” was held.  In addition, AOPA President Phil Boyer conducted an AOPA Pilot Town Meeting as part of SSUN 'n FUN’s evening programs, during which he presented a check for $5,000 to the Florida Air Museum.

 
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