The 47th annual SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo is returning April 13-18 at Lakeland Linder International Airport, and organizers are excited to bring back the beloved Lakeland mainstay after it was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“We know it has been a tough year for everyone, and having our event back is just fantastic,” said John “Lites” Leenhouts, President and CEO of SUN ‘n FUN and the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE). “We have a fantastic lineup of entertainment and education that will be a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone who attends. It’s great to be back!” Leenhouts committed that COVID protocols will be in effect and that all CDC, state, and local guidelines would be followed for the week-long event.
One of Lakeland’s signature annual events, SUN ‘n FUN features hundreds of exhibitors, thousands of aircraft of all types, and daily airshows that feature everything from incredible civilian gyroscopic aerobatics to the awe-inspiring thunder of United States military aircraft demonstrations. This year, the show’s headliners are the US Navy Blue Angels, C17 Demo, and USAF F22 Raptor Demo.
The Blue Angels are making their very first public appearance using their new F18 Super Hornets, and the return of the crowd favorite Fat Albert in the team’s newly acquired C130J Hercules transport.
At each show the Blues attend, show organizers nominate a deserving individual from the local community for a special ride-along to acknowledge outstanding service. This year, SUN ‘n FUN officials partnered with Lakeland Regional Health (LRH) and requested that someone from the front lines during the COVID crisis be rewarded with this honor. SUN ‘n FUN Airshow Director and CMO Greg Gibson got the nomination from April Novotny, LRH Chief Nurse Executive and Vice President, Clinical Services. The deserving candidate choice was difficult as so many have served so heroically, but Medical Intensive Care unit manager Regina Wilkins stood out among her peers. The MICU has been the epicenter of care for the most critically ill COVID patients at LRH, and she has spent countless hours at the bedside, working days, nights, and weekends to support her team and our community. Regina will fly with Blue Angel #7 on Wednesday, April 14th during SUN ‘n FUN.
Regina is thrilled, and praised her coworkers, saying, “It is an honor and privilege to be given this once in a lifetime opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels. I have been truly blessed to work with such an amazing group of leaders and team members throughout this pandemic.”
Only one could ride with the Blue Angels, so SUN ‘n FUN asked for 19 other honorees from LRH to come out and enjoy VIP treatment at the event as well. They will have passes and special access throughout the event week.
“Lakeland Regional Health is so touched that SUN ‘n FUN has chosen to honor our diligent healthcare workers. We are grateful to see our nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, housekeeping, and support team receive this much-deserved and extremely thrilling recognition that will be celebrated by the worldwide audiences that SUN ‘n FUN attracts each year,” said Novotny.
“These people have sacrificed so much of their lives to battle this pandemic, we wanted to do something special for them in thanks for their tireless service to our community,” said Gibson. “There’s no better place than SUN ‘n FUN to do that.” LRH also donated 12,000 masks for SUN ‘n FUN to hand out during the week.
Extending the recognition further, Gibson also stated that any front line worker with a valid hospital ID or first responder with an official badge can receive a free ticket to SUN ‘n FUN 2021 when they visit First Friday “Flight Night” on April 2nd from 6-9 PM at Munn Park in downtown Lakeland. This offer is only available in-person to the owner of the ID or badge, and they must attend the “Flight Night” event on April 2nd to receive the free ticket.