June 2, 2023

by Jim Canniff

Well Sun n Fun 2023 is in the books. I worked again this year with the General Aviation Parking volunteer group which makes 21 years.

There are new aircraft parking areas and new pilot facility called “The Island”. The Island has a cafe, a “camp” store and a Pilot Welcome Center. While the facilities are temporary just for the week of the fly-in they provide some essential services. The cafe serves three meals a day. The camp store has things like toiletries, camping supplies like stove fuel and snacks. As it is centrally located to all the aircraft camping areas it is handy for that forgotten essential.

The Island

Whether it was some trepidation over all the changes for this year or the usual stormy weather north of Florida the fly-in aircraft turn out would best be described as moderate. Hopefully the word gets out for next year that different or new does not mean bad.

During the airshow I went out exploring looking for interesting airplanes in the various parking areas.

The homebuilt parking/camping area was not full to overflow but still had enough to see.

Homebuilt Parking
Homebuilt Camping

In homebuilt camping there was Lancair that I found out has quite a history. It is owned by a gentleman named Bill Harrelson. He is member of the Earthrounders and holds several records for long distance flights. These include The speed record for Around the World Over Both Poles, speed record for Around the World Westbound and distance record for nonstop Guam to Jacksonville, FL ,8114 mi.

Lancair and owner  Bill Harrelson


One category that was in its usual area was Vintage Aircraft and the area appeared as full as usual. There were many classic and historic aircraft parking and camping there.

One that caught my attention was vintage warbird. It is a Beech AT-11 which is a WW II bomber trainer. It is outfitted with the same autopilot and bombsight mechanism so new crews could train for the bombardier controlling the aircraft during a bomb run.

Beech AT-11 Bomber Trainer

A historic aircraft that provided an invaluable service during the war and now provides well,…. shade.

Something that has not been seen at Sun n Fun before (or anywhere else I found out) is this MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone. This is modified Predator that is built especially for the US Army. According to the army personnel accompanying the aircraft and command vehicle this is the first time it has been on public display. It is powered by a Mercedes diesel and can remain aloft for 24 – 40 hrs, depending on payload weight. Max load is 8 Hellfire missiles, two on each rail.

MQ-1C Gray Eagle

The airshow this year was a mostly military jet affair. The main attraction was the Blue Angels who performed their usual high precision demonstration.

Also performing impressive demonstrations were an F-22, F-35A and an F-35B Marine Corps model. The F-35B did a demonstration of its vertical landing capability. The photo below shows supersonic aircraft in a full hover.

F-35B in Hover

Of course there was the heritage flight. In keeping with the jet theme it was a 2/3 jet show.

One thing about this jet based airshow. As I am there for the entire week if I do not hear another military aircraft in afterburner for some time it is OK. For the day crowd it is a thrill but after a week it is loud and old.

The exhibition part of the expo was about the same as in the past. There were forums on a wide variety of subjects all day. The usual hands-on workshops went on as usual. The major exhibitors that might be of interest to the builder crowd was there. I stopped by the Van’s area and those folks were their usual very knowledgeable and helpful selves. We worked out what options would be appropriate for my next step, an RV-9A fuselage kit.

In the video explaining the changes to the fly-in grounds this year Sun n Fun CEO Gene Conrad said this is a first rendition and he is seeking input as to what worked and what could be improved. Hopefully Sun N Fun heads the comments next year is even better.

My “reservations” with the 2024 General Aviation Parking volunteer group are already in and I hope to see you there.