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Sun-N-Fun Expo and Airshow Highlighted By Blue Angels, Top Aerobatic Pilots


Event kicks off this weekend in Florida.

Top civilian aerobatic teams and the latest military fighter jets will headline the largest aviation gathering in the southeast this week drawing large crowds to the excitement of the annual Sun-N-Fun Fly-in and Expo airshow.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels will headline Sun-n-Fun’s three-day formal airshow this weekend marking their return to top airshow event since 2014. Lead by second year Commander and Boss Ryan J. Bernacchi in Angel 1, the Diamond Team includes LT Damon Kroes, LT Nate Scott, LT Lance Benson. The dynamic two solo pilots who push the envelope of what the Hornet can do are lead solo CDR Frank Weisser and opposing solo LT Tyler Davies.

The voice of America’s Pride this season will be that of LT Brandon Hempler. Hempler, Blue Angel 7 pilot, and LT Dave Steepe, will also serve as the advance pilot and events coordinator, respectfully.

“We’re extremely excited to attend Sun-N-Fun,” LT Hempler said during an interview with this aerospace journalist. “We’re gonna put on a great show. Not just the flying, but the maintainers who are out there as we perform the walk down of the jets. They’re an important part of the team as well.”

The Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration team of Shaw, AFB in South Carolina will perform each afternoon this week. Major John “Rain” Waters will pilot his F-16 performing many maneuvers which Air Force pilots use during actual combat situations. Maj. Waters will conclude his demo as he joins up with one or two P-51 Mustangs and a A-10 Wathog (scheduled) for the traditional Heritage Flight.

In contrast, Sun-N-Fun will showcase the largest collection of warbirds on display, including AT-6 Texan/ SNJ-2, P-51 Mustang, and F-4U Corsair. Two B-25 Mitchell Bombers will also be on static display and are scheduled to fly on select days.

The aircraft known as the Pilot Maker will be well represented at Sun-N-Fun this weekend as, up first, the World Famous GEICO Skytypers Airshow Team performs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The GEICO Skytypers six SNJ-2 aircraft will perform the aerial demonstrations used by the pilots of America’s Greatest Generation during World War II and Korea.

Skytyper 7 pilot Ken Johansen discussed with AvGeekery.com his love for this airshow on Wednesday, “Flying at Sun-N-Fun is special because of the number of aviation enthusiasts, and the variety of classic aircraft and pilots represented. It’s a great venue to have so early in our season.”

The pilots of AeroShell Aerobatic Team — Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson, Jimmy Fordham, and Bryan Regan — will perform above the Lakeland airport aboard the Army’s version of the Navy’s SNJ-2, the AT-6 Texan. AeroShell’s four aircraft will perform several aerobatic maneuvers used by the Army Air Corps. 70 years ago.

“This is the ultimate in aviation and good times,” said longtime Sun-N-Fun attendee William Fields of Mobile, Alabama. “Each year, my wife and I fly into Lakeland to camp and watch the air show. I never miss it.”

Classroom workshops teaching the latest in aircraft design and mechanics will highlight the expo side of the week long event. Private aircraft owners will use Sun-N-Fun to network with fellow pilots and buy or sell their aircraft.

A small group of aviation enthusiasts laid the ground work for the aeronautical event in 1974, and since that moment it has grown into the second largest airshow and aviation gathering in North America. Today, the annual six day event covers over 2,000 acres just east of Tampa.

“The Fly-In is our largest fundraiser of the year,” said President and CEO of SUN ‘n FUN John Leenhouts on Tuesday. “Proceeds from all events on the SUN ‘n FUN Convention Campus throughout the year support Aerospace Center for Excellence STEM education programs, including over $430,000 annually in scholarships for students pursuing aerospace and aviation careers.”

Tickets to the family friendly event are available online or at the gate. Gates open each day at 8:00 a.m. EDT through Sunday, and the air show begins at 1:00 p.m.

(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and science. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)

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Written by Charles Atkeison

Charles Atkeison

Charles A Atkeison is a long time aerospace journalist having covered both military and civilian aviation, plus 30 space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. He has produced multimedia aerospace content for CNN, London's Sky News, radio, print, and the web for twenty years. From flying with his father at age 5 to soaring as a VIP recently with the Navy's Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds, Charles continues to enjoy all aspects of flight.