SUN ‘n FUN Airshow 2010 – Lakeland Florida

Photos and report by Mark Hrutkay

Sun n’ Fun is always a great place to go in the spring to get the air show season started off right.   It’s in central Florida and the weather this time of year is generally very nice.

Sun n’ Fun is a bit more than a simple air show.  It’s a week long event that supports the local air museum and in a lot of ways gives you an idea what to expect at Oshkosh later in the summer.  There is a lot that goes on here, and it would take a book to cover it all. So I’ve hit the highest of the high points.

There are several hangars of exhibitors selling about anything you can name that has to do with aviation.  There are also companies there selling all types of aircraft, new and used.  You can buy a print or painting from Sam Lyons, a house in an airpark community or a new jet from Beechcraft.   Those are the kinds of things that can really test your credit card’s limits.

Speaking of Sam Lyons, he has been a regular at Sun n’ Fun for over 20 years.  Most of us are familiar with his art (very nice work Sam) and a lot of us actually know Sam and he is a great guy as well as a great artist.  Sam was just made “Artist in Residence” at Sun n Fun and he is now an official part of the organization.  A lifelong Georgia resident, he also moved to Lakeland and now lives a few miles from the airport.

I had the opportunity to spend a morning talking to Larry King (a different one than you are thinking of) who is an air show pilot from Atlanta.  Larry has an unlimited low level aerobatic waiver and comes to Sun n Fun every year.  Larry brings his Pitts Model 12 Serial #2.  This yellow and purple biplane was the last one that Curtis Pitts designed before he died.  It’s about the size of a Pitts S2 which is 260HP, but it’s powered by a Russian M14p radial of 360HP.  It will climb over 3200 FPM and is an incredible looking machine.  This Model 12 is gorgeous and could easily be a trophy winner in the judging.The schedule at Sun n Fun is so full there really isn’t a slot for him to perform.  Larry comes down to circle the skydiver with the flag at the beginning of each day’s air show.   While he can’t put on much of a show (he does make those circles steep and VERY fast), at least he gets to fly every day.  I’m really looking forward to seeing him fly some unlimited acro in this plane sometime this season.   I’d say it’s impressive, taking off one day he hit the throttle pretty good and it literally and actually leapt into the air unlike I have ever seen in any other airplane.  To call it a bit over powered is an understatement.

The show even overflows the Lakeland Regional Airport to Polk City.  Kermit Weeks has his Fantasy of Flight facility there.  On Thursday, Kermit hosts a seaplane fly in at his lake (if it wasn’t cool enough to have your own airport, museum and over 100 airplanes, he also has a lake for the seaplanes next door).  Well, he may not own the lake, but he uses it with his Duck and other planes.  I didn’t get over there, but I saw several amphibians coming in for landings as I was headed to the show that morning.

On Saturday, Kermit also hosted a “Mustangs and Mustangs” show.  He got out his P-51D and P-51B and flew them as well as the WildCat and his TP-40.  There was also a Mustang car show at Fantasy of Flight at the same time.  I stopped in about 9:30 AM and estimated that there were at least 500 Mustang cars on the crosswind runway and the line of cars coming in had no end in sight.  A great show time was had by all.  Thank you Kermit.

For Mustangs, Sun n’ Fun was pretty well blessed this year.  There were a lot in attendance over a few days.  At the show were about 1/3 of all the TF-51Ds in existence; Crazy Horse, Crazy Horse 2, The Little Witch, and E Plurbus Unum.  Also on the field were Dave Marco’s Sizzlin’ Liz and Ed Lindsay’s Camo Cavalier P-51D.  E Plurbus Unum won Grand Champion Post WWII.

A special aircraft there was the new restoration from American Aero.   Gary Norville and his crew restored an exceptional P-51 for Selby Burch called “Dixie Boy”.  This airplane had most of skin replaced and it was beautiful.  There were three people working there polishing it before judging and the mirror finish reflected their work.  That mirror finish also reflected about everything else in sight too.  It was really superb and was Grand Champion WII, an honor it well deserved.

The Commerative Air Force set up a tent and had the Helldiver, a T-6 and their recently completed P-39 on the ramp.  That was the first P-39 I’ve seen that was really flyable (it flew in) since Kalamazoo in 1983.  It’s a rare airplane with only two other potential fliers in existence at this time.

John Fallis brought in his P-40 which spent most of its time parked next to the P-39.  That gave everyone a chance to compare two of the best pre WWII fighters on the field.  There was a smattering of T-6s and T-28s in attendance.

Military static display on the ramp included three of each: A-10s, T-38s, T-45 Goshhawk Navy trainers. There were also several F-5 “aggressor” fighters from the Naval Air Station Key West one day.

Lee Lauderback went up in Crazy Horse 2 and put on a masterful display of aerobatics.  Lee is one of the very few pilots that regularly does low level aerobatics in the P-51.  The other aerobatic routines varied with the equipment used.

Matt Younkin did a routine in his Beech 18 that went well beyond anything that Beechcraft had in mind for that airplane when it was designed.  Kyle and Amanda Franklin (Matt’s sister and brother-in-law) have a “Pirated Skies” pirate themed routine they do with a Black Waco.  Amanda is a very pretty lady as well as the wingwalker and does a great job there.  She is also featured in Scott Slocum’s “Bombshells” Calendar. Julie Clark performed in her magnificent T-34.

One interesting thing that happened here that I’ve never seen before was the Heritage Flight.  Normally that flight is made of fighters from the WWII and the modern military.  Well this one was transports.  There was a Caribou from the Cavanaugh Flight Museum and a C-17.  Talk about dissimilar formations flying.  The C-17 is more than twice as long and has twice the wingspan of the Caribou.  To say it dwarfs it is an understatement.  However to get them to fly together is a testament to modern aircraft design.  The C-17 can fly pretty slow and handle very well.  The pass was a real crowd pleaser and then the C-17 went on to put on a demonstration of its flying ability.

The last part of the show was what everyone waited for; the Thunderbirds.   If you have ever seen them fly, well this show was no different.  What would be a once in a lifetime flight for any other pilot is simply a day at the office for them.  The show was perfect as usual.  It really showed the coordination of six pilots, six F-16s and a lot of people on the ground putting it all together.  They did a magnificent job.  Anyone watching them fly knows what true precision flying is all about.

The crowd watched the entire show like it was the final seconds of a Championship Basketball game.   Nobody was buying a hotdog when they were flying.

This story would not have been possible without Mary Lou at Sun n’ Fun Media.  She spent a week helping all of us out with all the things we needed to get the story.

You can contact the author at TNMark@Me.Com

Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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