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Sun ‘n Fun Hosts Blue Angels, Top Aerobatic Performers this Weekend

Sun 'n Fun headliner the Navy's Blue Angels perform a break-out maneuver on Wednesday. (Charles A Atkeison)

LAKELAND, Fla. — One of North America’s largest air shows will host the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron and top civilian aerobatic pilots this weekend as they perform at Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in and Expo.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels headline Sun-n-Fun’s 45th annual air show. Guests can also huddle in aviation-related classroom sessions and meet with vendors to pick-up the newest in aircraft gadgets prior to the show.

“We’re extremely excited to attend Sun ‘n Fun,” Blue Angels lead solo LCDR Brandon 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 Blues will take to the skies each afternoon performing a nearly 45-minute routine. Crowds will gasp and applaud as the blue and gold F/A-18 Hornets perform tight wingtip-to-wingtip maneuvers and high speed passes.

The Blue Angels will perform on April 6 and 7 during Sun ‘n Fun 2019. (Charles Atkeison)

Blue Angels spokesperson LCDR David Gardner is very excited to attend his first Sun ‘n Fun. “It’s awesome to be at Sun ‘n Fun; and it’s great to travel all around this great country and to represent the Navy and Marine corps.to all airshow fans,” LCDR Gardner said from the flight line on Thursday. “We are really glad to be here in Lakeland this weekend.”

The central Florida event will showcase the largest collection of warbirds on display, including AT-6 Texan/ SNJ-2, P-51 Mustang, and F-4U Corsair. The B-25 Mitchell Panchito will perform on Sunday only.

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

AeroShell Aerobatic Team’s AT-6 Texans perform Friday over Lakeland. (Charles Atkeison)

The pilots of AeroShell Aerobatic Team — Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson, Jimmy Fordham, and Bryan Regan — will perform Saturday at twilight 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. over 70 years ago.

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 events to network with fellow pilots and buy or sell their aircraft.

Sun ‘n Fun Fly in began 45 years ago and continues to grow each year. (Charles Atkeison)

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,” President and CEO of Sun ‘n Fun John Leenhouts said this week. “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 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.