Sun ‘n Fun 2022 In Perspective


Supply Chain Struggles, New Show Leadership

Going in to Sun ‘n Fun, it seemed likely that we would be doing a bit more legwork than we’ve necessarily had to in the past. That prediction definitely came to pass. According to several companies I spoke with, everything that’s available is selling, but continuing supply chain issues have meant that a lot of the innovation focus is going toward adapting existing products to make use of available resources rather than jumping into designing new stuff. In keeping with those comments, there were very few big, fancy new products at the show. On the plus side, the lack of overtly shiny objects gave me the opportunity to stop by quite a few exhibits that might have gotten lost under a pile of press conference another year.

One of the stops I made—and one of the highlights of Sun ‘n Fun for me this year—was attending the delivery of a new Tecnam P2012 to Alaska-based Kenai Aviation. It was wonderful to meet the family that owns and runs the company and hear them talk about what the aircraft will mean for their business and their community. Their passion for what they were doing and their excitement when they got the keys to their new aircraft were good reminders about how much an airplane can matter. It’s always a good day, and a good show, when I get to see that in person.

Finally, I had a chance to sit down briefly with Gene Conrad, the incoming president and CEO of Sun ‘n Fun and its parent organization, the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), toward the end of the show. Conrad reported that ACE and Sun ‘n Fun are on good footing with no major changes planned at the moment. At this stage, he didn’t have much in the way of specifics to share regarding upcoming plans beyond to look for some announcements later this summer. With Lites Leenhouts retiring after more than 10 years in the position, there’s a lot of interest in seeing how Conrad steers the show from here. Next year’s event will be an interesting benchmark, I think, for how he envisions Sun ‘n Fun’s place in the industry.

— Kate O’Connor

Inventories Low, Enthusiasm High

I’ve been doing this Sun ‘n Fun thing since 1990 and this year a choked supply chain and slow regulatory approvals made it different. While there was still plenty to see, major product announcements were few and far between. Heck, there weren’t even scheduled press conferences at press headquarters—which closed early every day. We knew going into the show that the majors didn’t have much new to talk about. 

Still, AVweb Editor-in-Chief Kate O’Connor and I marveled at how many product videos we were able to string together by simply walking the show with eyes and ears open. It was easy partly because of the enthusiasm of vendors who made the best out of a difficult market that has no shortage of willing buyers, but instead a shortage of inventory. That includes airplanes, avionics and even consumables.

Mark Brown at Daher told me demand for the big Kodiak turboprop single is through the roof, and after flying one on floats a while back, it’s easy for me to see why. It’s a total package that has it going on, and now under the Daher brand, the rugged airplane is more refined than ever, with impressive fit and finish. Steve Kent at Textron told me the order book for the recently reintroduced turbo 182 Skylane is full as the company works through the type certification process. Oddly enough, Pilatus—always a big presence at the show—was a no-show. Maybe it didn’t need to be, with more inked deals for the PC-12 NGX than it can deliver. But little planes are doing well, too.

My friend Tom Peghini at Flight Design USA was showing off the production version of the F2 LSA, an airplane that’s apparently appealing to aging pilots stepping out of bigger and faster airplanes. With a beefed-up landing gear, sturdy handling and impressive ergos, the well-equipped F2 is a refreshing departure from the typical lightweight LSA. 

On the avionics front, it was quiet. But kudos for Dynon for working to tame the installation complexity for kit builders (and also for shops and IAs) putting in the SkyView HDX and HDX Certified systems. Dynon’s new FastTrack hardware comes with the suite’s critical remote components ready to bolt onto prefab trays. Unbox it, screw the components into the nut plates and plug in the pre-made harnesses—a huge time saver with no guesswork. uAvionix has the space-based ADS-B requirement that’s back on the table for Canada covered, showing off the Diversity-ready tailBeaconX transponder. It showed up at Sun ‘n Fun with a fresh TSO and STC. 

So now all eyes are on AirVenture 2022, and plenty of enthusiastic vendors told me they are hanging onto major announcements until then, while hoping that buyers keep their wallets open.

Larry Anglisano 

Then And Now

My first visit to Sun ’n Fun was in the late 1980s shortly after I joined the EAA editorial staff as editor of Vintage Airplane magazine and co-editor of Warbirds. I traveled from a snowy, windswept Oshkosh to sunny Florida, tagging along with EAA Editor-in-Chief Jack Cox, his wife (designated “Jack-wrangler”), Golda, and Mary Jones, editor of Experimenter magazine. One of my first articles for EAA’s flagship magazine Sport Aviation told the story of the owner-pilot of a vintage biplane who preferred flying barefoot. The lead photo was of his airplane parked all by itself one Florida-foggy morning next to a spreading oak tree on the Sun ‘n Fun grounds.

That was a long time ago.

Sun ‘n Fun 2022 still had the same morning mist, and there remains a distinct component of the spirit and porch-sitting camaraderie that I remember from more than three decades ago. There is no doubt that the influence of commercialism and industry politics has taken its toll on that spirit. But from my perspective, at least, it has not eliminated it—at least not yet.

I can’t say for sure how much the footprint of the show has expanded, or whether it’s my stamina that has flagged over time. But the carefree walkabout nature that I remember from the early days eluded me this year. So much to see; so many friends to spend time with; so many new acquaintances to make—and according to my fitness watch, 7.84 miles to walk in the hot sun on the first day.

I will say that I got an injection of that old-time jazzed excitement when I talked with the crew from Groton, Connecticut-based ScaleBirds with their 60-percent-size, radial-powered Curtiss P-36 replica. I found a young design-school graduate who married his love of aviation with solid engineering principles to develop what he described as “a sport plane made to look like a fighter,” rather than a scaled-down fighter shoehorned into sport-plane dimensions. With input from an experienced kitbuilder (his father) and similarly inspired engineers, ScaleBirds is putting in the hours, years and financial to develop affordable, build-friendly kits for all those frustrated World War II fighter-pilot wannabes out there.

Full disclosure—I fit that description to a T.

– Mark Phelps

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  1. Now with Amazon Prime having occupied Lakeland Linder “International” (former regional) airport, it is hard to camp. My spot for the last 20+ years on top of the berm of the pond was so noisy that a decent nights sleep came only after total exhaustion. This was probably my last Sun n Fun.

  2. All the glowing reports of Sun N Fun fail talk about the big elephant in the room: Amazon has moved in with a 24 hour operation right at the approach end of runway 10. That includes jet aircraft landing and taking off during the night hours (when the airport is supposedly NOTAM’d closed) right by the campers location. Plus there is now the constant sound of loader’s back-up warnings. Camping is now difficult due to the noise.

    Plus there were rumors at the event of Amazon pushing for a second runway to be built.

    Shame. I’ve enjoyed previous events but that’ll be my last Sun N Fun until it moves to a new location.

  3. My last Sun n Fun as well after flying in for 27 years. I was held up on arrival by an Amazon heavy, air show pauses so Amazon could land and takeoff added to the frustration.

    Sun n Fun Today newspaper was gone. Parking in Vintage was sparse and it appeared that traffic in the vendor buildings down.

    Homebuilt parking was also moved way East to accommodate Amazon.
    The hot rumor was they are moving all of the SnF facility way East of the airport to accommodate a parallel 10/28 runway for Amazon.
    I was asked to participate in survey about SnF. One of the questions was “if airplanes could not fly in to SnF would you attend? REALLY?

  4. Having participated @ SNF at least as long as Mark, we’ve hung on to memories of a “grass roots” fly-in while welcoming and enjoying(!) exciting growth and, yes, very positive progress. Camping and comradery with a few thousands of our closest personal friends (new and old!), seeing/buying new plane stuff + enjoying the unique onsite “community” has been a biggie for us. That the “elephant in the room” now casts a big shadow would be an understatement. Rumors of more major gobbling expansion (to include the former “nature walk” area, for ex.?) and runway additions promise significantly less room & consideration for “us”. We get the need and glitter of revenue promise that the elephant brings to the community — but, maybe, just maybe, another community may understand and covet the “need and glitter” of a modern grass-roots fly-in. If so, we’ll be there to support…but, prob not @ SNF again.

  5. I understand the Lakeland area desire to accommodate Amazon. I have lived in the Memphis since before FedEx and have seen the economic impact here; 30,000 FedEx employs plus the affiliated support businesses.

    • Totally agree. A matter of significant revenue and related impact. It’s what (most?) political leaders are elected to promote. SNF won’t miss “us”, and the community certainly won’t as Prime replacement overshadows ++. A few years back one of the Drane Field residents posted a sign that read “Sun’N Fun, Please Go Home!”. We have.

  6. Given a choice, they’d likely rather have Amazon full time, than Sun n Fun part time. Need to look for a new location.

  7. After 27 consecutive years flying in, I see it differently. Prime plays on their side and yes there’s noise…it’s an airport, live near the tracks…well you know. A very short walk south of the food areas reveals the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, Florida Air Museum, Lakeland Aero Club (with the grass runway) and the newest structure, the ACE Skylab Innovation Center. SnF exists to support this aviation education mission. If you haven’t toured what goes on inside, you should check it out. Certainly, keeping us old timers happy and bedded down matters, otherwise no one wins, but with new buildings going up Sun n’ Fun is far from being moved away from its current location. I’ll add that after a day of taking it all in, I’m a really deep sleeper and it would take afterburners on a 767 to wake me up.

  8. Pilots complaining about aircraft noise?
    (sorry, sometimes the urge to poke it with a stick is too strong.)

    • Yep, agree that is a bit of a dichotomy, John ;-). No complaints from us (wife and I) regarding airplane noise, turbine or otherwise — in fact, we choose to live in an airpark with similar “noise” (music!). For us, though, it’s just the distinct feeling of being “pushed out”. Traveling down (camper)…2 day trip and arriving a full week before official start we were faced with nearly 100% of previously available camping spots already “reserved”, or totally withdrawn. It appeared that those of us no longer “working” as volunteers and who now pay full admission price + early days camping fees were routinely forced into the remote “pastures”. (Most volunteers receive complimentary entrance and, now, “reserved” close-in camping.) Admittedly, the option of joining (paying substantially more) to “join the 9 -27 Club” might have made “premium” space available, but other related “club” perks didn’t provide value nor interest us. SNF (& Lakeland) has every right to run things to benefit their mission and evolve as they see fit, certainly. While we respect their important contributions to aviation’s future & will probably continue to support financially as able, it’s not likely to be in person as it had been for the past 35 years. We’ll miss a place and event that’s been a special piece of our lives for many years. Things change. It seems clear that we won’t be missed and, again, that’s OK.

  9. My problem with sun7 fun was the visitor parking, 2 hours friday morning from the traffic light where we turned on to the highway that goes to the entrance that funneled 4 lanes of traffic to a single lane entrance and then to find out that you could only pay with cash for parking. Oooh then another hour to get out of the parking lot. Never again unless something better is done about parking.