Closing Report: Sun ‘N Fun 2002

SPECIAL REPORT. The weatherman called a close to Sun 'N Fun as patrons launched to beat approaching weather. It was a good show for patrons and exhibitors alike (and a good showing by patrons and exhibitors alike). As he prepared to head for home, the skies returned to blue and Avweb's Dave Higdon sat back and filed this report.


Ultralight Flight
Ultralight flight –
it looks like fun in the sun to us.
[Click any photo for a larger image.]

LAKELAND – An event that came in on sunshine ended on a weak note Saturday after a Friday afternoon storm cut short the air show, stopped the evening ultralight aviating, stunted the annual party in Paradise City and prompted many a vendor to bail early in order to beat weather beyond the Florida panhandle. Nonetheless, what a week it was.

Five largely dry days with low (for Florida) humidity and moderate temperatures made for a pleasant run before the meteorology turned against the event and damped the closing day. Crowds seemed more modest than in years past, but attendance figures put the total gate right at last year’s level – about 640,000.

From the business side, most vendors reported sales equal or better than in recent years – with some stunned to experience sales 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent better than last year. And among those who reported sales weaker than in 2001 came a common caveat: Sales pretty much matched what those companies experienced in recent months, down from a few points to 30 percent as a result of economic and security paranoia – the latter a bug harder to shake than a bad case of the flu.

But for many participants still hanging in on Saturday, there came a creeping realization that they were experiencing the end of an era – the traditional Sunday-through-Saturday schedule that has helped make Sun ‘n Fun an easy event to work into the family schedule and attractive because of the other nearby entertainment options that families can take advantage of by merely tacking on a day or two onto either end of the event. Starting with the 2003 show, Sun ‘n Fun takes on a new routine, opening on Wednesday and ending on Tuesday (April 2 through April 8 in the case of next year’s spring celebration of flight). Reactions were mixed – greatly, as it was – depending on whether the voice was a volunteer’s, came from a vendor, came to play or arrived to work on the behalf of those of you who are unable to attend in any given year.

Attendance – always a point of interest among Monday-morning critics – seemed light, as we mentioned. But the aircraft parking areas filled to their usual levels and remained crowded until midweek when concerns about weather on the return routes prompted a pullout characteristic of years past.

Even the added security of this year’s post-9-11 event intruded little into the experience. Spectators went through a gate where guards checked bags – a first for this show. Enforcement of wrist band use was firmer than usual. But overall, the trip onto the grounds came nowhere close to the ordeal experienced by those who traveled to Sun ‘n Fun via human mailing tube, a.k.a. the airlines. One pilot we know who flew a display airplane to Lakeland suffered more harassment trying to enter an FBO at Chicago, Midway than did the people entering Sun ‘n Fun. In a tribute to modern political brain power, this pilot was put through screening – after already landing – and was charged $38 for the privilege.

So, after the rough, unhappy tone of the two days that preceded opening day, the remainder of Sun ‘n Fun 2002 came off without so much as a ground loop, from the daily traffic, afternoon air show and even Tuesday night’s fireworks/pyrotechnics aerobatics display.

And a safe end is always a fine finish where aviation events are concerned.

Boss Burton: “Enthusiasm Encouraging; “BigStuff” Went Well

“Upbeat Mood” A Good Sign For Aviation Community At-Large

SNF President John Burton
Sun ‘n Fun President John Burton.

“From my perspective, it’s been a great week,” said Sun ‘n Fun President John Burton. Considering how the run-up weekend went, Burton’s mood seemed something of a reversal. Back on April 5, for example, he spent too much of his evening plugged into the investigation of an accident that killed one pilot. The next day a couple of relatively minor incidents also seemed like flies in the ointment. Then came Sunday morning’s gloriously gratifying balloon launch and the pall of the prior two days seemed relegated to the FOD bin. “I hope this is an omen for the rest of the week,” Burton told us that morning.

His hopes were largely fulfilled.

As the skies unexpectedly cleared to a more-typical Florida Saturday, Burton had more smiles than riles concerning this year’s Sun ‘n Fun 2002. “I’m enthused at the reaction here – the excitement people exhibited,” Burton told AVweb during a Saturday wrap-up interview. “There seemed to be an upbeat mood; people were anxious to get here and were glad to be here.”

The new Tom Davis Youth Activities Center proved a good addition, as did the Chairman’s Gala Saturday evening – a first-time event that attracted more than 400 people. Also high on the acceptance list was a name change for the on-field museum – from “International Sport Aviation Museum” to “Florida Air Museum.”

Throw in a successful altitude record attempt by Bruce Bohannon, the first major appearance of Kermit Weeks’ exacting replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, strong attendance by pilots and the general public and the positives far outweighed the negatives that some folks seemed determined to dwell on.

As of noon on the final day, attendance was within 1 percent of 2002, according to Burton. Campground population was up; drive-in traffic was up. Airline-riding attendance was down, as was ultralight participation. Warbird participation increased slightly.

The one area where attendance suffered measurably was international attendance. Sun ‘n Fun took a hit there since only about 1,800 were in attendance from overseas (according to reigistration information at the International Visitors Center) compared to about 2,400 last year. On the up side, though, the listings showed none from any “axis-of-evil” countries among the 79 countries represented. Last year, in the for-what-it’s-worth column, international attendance set a record and 85 countries were represented.

For those who are starving for more statistics, this year’s 550 portable rest rooms represented a significant increase from last year and set a record. (That’s the straight poop.)

The number of exhibitors was off about three or four from the 503 of 2001 – and the drop can be traced partly to companies who were unable to attend because of their individual financial situations. Mooney is a good example – absent this year.

One area with no room for criticism involves the volunteer forces who make this show function. Time and again Burton cited the efforts of nearly 2,500 Sun ‘n Fun volunteers who coordinate the show, plus the work of local food-service volunteers from 17 local groups who fed the throngs.

So it was no wonder that Burton had miles of smiles to share when he sat to chat on Saturday. Also, it was little wonder that perhaps the only real note of controversy stemmed from the Friday announcement laying out the schedule change for future Sun ‘n Fun Fly-Ins.

More Than One Can Expect: Pleasing Most People, Most OfThe Time

Happy Vendors, Some Happy Volunteers, Happy Locals

Parade of Volunteers
Sun ‘n Fun couldn’t fly without them –
the parade of volunteers.

Of course, some folks just aren’t happy unless they have something to carp about, and fly-ins of all nature tend to draw their fair shares – and Sun ‘n Fun is no exception. Some volunteers feel moving to a Wednesday-to-Tuesday schedule is one change too many; others are concerned about how they will work out vacation time to accommodate the change.

Not surprisingly, the similarity to the scheduling gerrymandering of another major fly-in was lost on few. According to Burton, however, the concerns raised by the date changes have been few. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” Burton said. “About 95 percent of the comments have been supportive, but there have been some concerns expressed.”

Our random, not-scientific sampling of vendors turned up few complaints and much support. “I think it’s a great idea,” chimed in Hal Shevers, founder and head man of Sporty’s Pilot Shop. “In fact, what I suggested to John (Burton) was a five-day show, Wednesday to Sunday,” Shevers told AVweb. “Even a six-day would work; but just end it on Sunday so the vendors can start getting back home.”

When reminded that a Sunday close would result in possibly thousands of fly-in participants being stuck on closed grounds until Monday, Shevers extended an offer – for the record: “I’ll throw a party and serve up pulled pork for everybody left Sunday if it goes to a Sunday-close schedule,” he volunteered. “Someone else will have to buy the beer.”

That’s an idea and an offer that Shevers hopes to keep, as well as an opportunity for some savvy sponsor to influence flyers and win friends by picking up the beer tab. Any takers can contact me or go directly to Hal. We know John has heard the message.

Meanwhile, Business Gets Better – But It Needs To GetBetter Still

Once Again, Sun ‘N Fun Debuts Plenty Of Stuff You’ll Want By OSH

Evening pyrotechnics.
As the evening cooled down,
things heated up …

A little of everything, from heads-up-displays, to new attitude-indication technology, to ultralight powerplants, made a debut at Sun ‘n Fun 2002. This is the place to be if you have a product to promote for summer sales. But, given the state of aviation businesses these days, some vendors worried coming in that the effort wouldn’t be worth the expense.

From our unscientific survey of sellers, though, Sun ‘n Fun proved far from a disappointment for many. Bill Sandman, for example, told us that sales of his M-20 Oil/Air Separator line were running about double last year’s levels. “I couldn’t be happier,” he told AVweb.

Zenith Aircraft generated strong kit sales, posting as many as six sales in a single day. Avionics and electronics vendors reported brisk business, as well. Reports of business growing 30 percent above last year were common.

Others, however, reported grim times, still. One electronics-gear maker said sales have been down for the last five months. He cited the decline among the principal airframe manufacturers as the biggest factor hurting sales.

Airframe OEMs that sell factory-built, to be clear, are the ones that this guy was referring to. Cessna posted a “Sold” sign in the CitationJet displayed here for the show, but business for its piston products remains off; likewise for other airframers from Aviat to Piper.

But among kit and ultralight makers, the news was surprisingly different. “We’re selling well right now – well enough that I don’t want our competitors to know,” said one ultralight company executive. The same word came from some of the engine makers.

Retrofitting remains a good business, according to several avionics manufacturers. Air Cell, for example, generated considerable interest for its combination in-flight cellphone system combined with data link capabilities. Now you can use Air Cell’s hardware and network with the Anywhere Wx’s system. Air Cell’s coverage now blankets all but 5 percent of the continental U.S.

Advances occurred in other areas as well, including Satellink Technolgies’ Merlin in-flight data link hardware, MicroVision and others. In-flight data link services continue to be among the hottest tickets in general aviation.

Pyrotechnics continued
… and, as the sky darkened,
it sparkled.

As evidence, look no farther than the two biggies in general aviation avionics. For example, Garmin announced that deliveries of its new data link hardware will begin in May. That includes the new GDL 49 satellite data link transceiver and GTX 330 Mode S transponder, equipment that will put live weather and traffic on your screen.

Honeywell, meanwhile, promoted its Wingman data link services and promised that the second 100 of its 200 ground stations should be up and running by year end. Wingman customers will then enjoy coverage across most of the U.S.

On the airframe side, the Cumulus motorglider is coming back after a three-year hiatus, as is the Mini500 helicopter, as we told you Thursday. And the folks from Jabiru showed off a new four-place composite to go with the unique engines the company is known for within the homebuilder community.

Speaking of engine technologies, Aerosance introduced its FADEC system on the all-electric, FADEC-equipped Lancair Columbia 350 and is in tests on the Cirrus SR22. The SR20 will follow, according to company president Steve Smith. Tests are also underway to add prop control for aircraft with constant-speed units – tests that should net approval by year’s end.

Socata displayed a grandly painted Trinidad GT dubbed “The Spirit of Liberty” that the AOPA Air Safety Foundation will be auctioning off in the coming months. The auction will be via the ASF web site to benefit foundation safety programs. For more information, go to the ASF Socata auction web site.

Among the most-innovative new products we saw was the Aero Advantage dual-rotor vacuum pump. Designed as a direct replacement for most installations, Aero Advantage’s new design basically combines two pumps into one housing. As installed, the failure of one rotor won’t impact the ability of the second rotor to sustain suction and allow a pilot time to find a suitable airport. The kit, available for under $700, includes low-vacuum switches, two anunciator lights, wiring and plumbing. Check at

Another “Hey, Martha” item we found comes from the minds of Controlled Oxygen Delivery Systems, or CODS. Dubbed the SMS-100 electronic aviation oxygen regulator, this device works with a variety of blood-oxygen sensors to detect your saturation level and delivers its shots of O2 based on a user’s actual blood-oxygen level. The demo unit we tried put the sensor into the ear seal of a regular headset. Check this out at

On the opposite side of the atmospheric-product spectrum was CO Guardian’s new Aero-352, a panel-mounted carbon-monoxide warning system. Alerts start at saturation levels as low as 50 ppm. A built-in fan draws air through the tiny unit to assure the best possible sampling of cabin air. Details are at

Lakeland Seeks 2003 World Aerobatics Championship

Bid Is Expected To Bring The Contest To Sun ‘N Fun Grounds

Lakeland Linder Regional Airport could become the center of the aviation world for another event if the sanctioning body for the World Aerobatic Championships approves LAL’s bid to host the contest in 2003. The word should come in May, when the body votes. And that would be another boost for Lakeland’s efforts to make the Sun ‘n Fun show grounds a year-round center of aviation activities. The “home-field” advantage also wouldn’t hurt the home team’s efforts to take the prize for the first time since the late 1980s. Stay tuned; we’re sure the word will trickle out the day the vote is tallied.

Spirit Dampened In The End: Weeks’ Replica A Non-Starter

Lindbergh Had Better Luck With His Mags 75 Years Ago

Flag-bearing A-10
The theme of the show –
Red, White and Blue Skies.

Few things draw a better crowd than word that Kermit Weeks plans to fly one of his rare birds in public view. So it was no wonder that a crowd gathered to witness Weeks’ departure in his Spirit of St. Louis replica Saturday morning. In some ways, the day bore a striking resemblance to the morning of Charles Lindbergh’s history-making departure for Paris 75 years ago: An overnight rain soaked the grounds; clouds covered the sun but the overcast showed signs of breaking.

And Weeks had only to go a few miles to his aviation amusement park, Fantasy of Flight. But the three-plus inches of rain that fell on Lakeland Friday night went a long way toward thwarting Weeks’ plans by dampening the magnetos of the Spirit’s engine. Despite hand-prop and battery-boosted efforts, the Spirit refused to move him. Fortunately, Lindbergh had better luck – or tighter mags.

Flying Smarter

Same Engine, Less Fuel Flow, More Power

They guarantee “up to 23 horsepower gain over your original” exhaust (a bit vague, but a good start), a 30-50% increase in rate of climb, static RPM increases, improved efficiency, and more – FAA approved – plus, they’ll give you your money back in 60 days if you think they’re full of it. At Sun ‘n Fun a customer or two stopped by the Powerflow Systems Inc. booth every hour to thank the folks at for their product. As it stands, some 900 customers flying a range of Cessna 172 and 177 models; Grumman Traveler, Cheetah and Tiger models; and Piper Cherokee models think the folks at Powerflow are good for their word – and Mooney owners are slated to join the ranks next. That system may receive its STC later this year.

The idea is simple enough: Use a little bit of common sense to recover the horsepower lost by your standard exhaust system by making sure that exhaust gas pulses work with valve timing to maximize the fuel-air exchange in each cylinder. Units sell in the low-to-mid $3,000 range (a cost that will pay for itself in resale if not through the ego boost of having a faster airplane).

Frankly, the units just play look better than stock systems for a lot of reasons other than their efficiency. There are no through-welds in the manifold from which cabin heat is drawn (so this system is also less likely to kill you with wayward carbon monoxide molecules from a crack in one of those non-existent welds). Plus, all connecting joints are slip-fit to help the unit survive the constant vibration that is an exhaust system’s operating environment and the muffling unit is replaceable at just $70 with the removal of four screws (out of 900 they’ve had to replace five, so far).

The extra power and efficiency translates to fuel savings and increased safety margin … and a need to relearn all the power settings you used to fly with, because you’ll need less throttle to do what you did before. This is one of the neatest and most thoughtful technologies we saw (again) at this year’s show and for pilots who want more power, more efficiency, and an ego boost – and have an extra $3,000 plus – it seems Powerflow may offer one-stop shopping … or your money back. For more information visit the Powerflow web site.

Flying Wackier

The Sun ‘n Fun Debut…

The SU-26MX, aka Airshark.

The announcer of the daily air show at Sun ‘n Fun, Friday announced another “world debut” in the form of Ray Vetsch’s SU-26MX – a powerful and agile aerobatic airframe weighing 2400 pounds at gross, flying behind a 750-horsepower Walter turbine throwing back 2800 pounds of thrust from a five-blade prop. The airplane can’t land unless Vetsch puts the prop into Beta the instant the tailwheel touches down just above the plane’s 80-kt stall-speed.

Honestly, the routine leaves something to be desired if mad-tumbling and lightning-quick rolls are your thing, but since the demise of Wayne Handley’s Oracle Turbo-Raven, this is the neatest turbine flying. Vetsch, who learned at age 15 flying gliders in the Swiss Alps, obviously expanded the reaches of his flying career and may find fame on the air show circuit, but already holds the title of surgeon – the same surgeon who performed heart surgery on Jimmy Franklin. Jimmy flies the jet-power supplemented biplane known as the Jet Waco JMF-7.

…And Technophiles Dream

If you always wanted that heads-up display, but wanted it to display in front of your eye no matter where your head turned, you’re in luck. The Nomad personal display system from Microvision is a strap-on device that hangs a small heads-up display right in front of your eyeball, allowing you to see an EFIS-type display, moving map or any number of other things while also looking outside. It’s only a bit cyborgish looking and really doesn’t weigh that much, but we can’t vouch for the effects of long-term usage either turning you into a Borg or the head-strap device squishing your skull, both of which seem like possibilities. Cost for the unit will currently run you more than $11,000 and then you’ll need to purchase some sort of application to run on it. For now, the hardware package is partnering with software producers like AnywhereMap and PCFlightsystems (both companies tend to have very busy booths at these shows), to provide navigational capabilities and solid-state, but not FAA-certified EFIS-type displays on the heads-up for around $15,000 total out-of-pocket. If nothing else, the day that all of this becomes as reliable and affordable as you want it could be here sooner than you thought … if it isn’t already here, now.

Final Analysis: A Good Show Working To Get Even Better

“In terms of my thoughts that highlight the week, there was an incredible variety of activities that celebrate America,” Burton said Saturday. “Our theme of Red, White and Blue Skies was well-received and we’ve had a tremendous week.”

From the commemoration of Lindbergh to Bohannon’s record flight, the new events and new-product introductions, all in all, Sun ‘n Fun 2002 was an event worthy of the 27 prior spring celebrations of flight.

Complete Coverage Index

1. Special Report: Sun ‘N Fun 2002

The opening of Sun ‘N Fun 2002, although punctuated by tragedy, was buoyant and upbeat. Glorious weather and capacity crowds in the display areas may combine to make this among the best shows in years. Avweb’s Dave Higdon is in Lakeland and filed this report.

2. Update Report: Sun ‘N Fun 2002

It must be something in the water, because the giddy feeling just won’t subside at Sun ‘N Fun 2002. There are looping Lears, skydiving Skyhawks, morphing models, space shots … and a volume of visitors just having a great time. As more than one patron stated, “You gotta go.” Avweb’s Away Team did go and filed this report. By Glenn Pew.

3. Closing Report: Sun ‘N Fun 2002

The weatherman called a close to Sun ‘N Fun as patrons launched to beat approaching weather. It was a good show for patrons and exhibitors alike (and a good showing by patrons and exhibitors alike). As he prepared to head for home, the skies returned to blue and Avweb’s Dave Higdon sat back and filed this report.

4. Sun ‘N Fun 2002 Sport Pilot Forum

Not everyone was basking in the Florida sunshine all week long at Sun ‘N Fun 2002. Some folks were attending a variety of educational forums offered on a multitude of topics. One of the most popular was the Sport Pilot certificate forum, featuring guest appearances by the FAA’s Sue Gardner and Mike Gallagher. AVweb’s Arturo Weiss also was in attendance and filed this report.

5. Sun ‘N Fun 2002 Image Gallery

Photography by Bob Kaputa.

6. Sun ‘N Fun 2002 Image Gallery II

Photography by Bob Kaputa.