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Celebrating the fiftieth Sun 'n Fun Aerospace Expo

Big smiles, big celebrations, and another year of sky’s-the-limit aviation excitement marked the fiftieth Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida.

Sun 'n Fun 2024

  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    The Lockheed C–121A Constellation 'Bataan' operated by Lewis Air Legends flies over the grounds during the 2024 Sun 'n Fun Aerospace Expo. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    Paul Holmes waves to the crowd as he tours his creation, the Holmes Jetmobile, a Pratt&Whitney JT9D engine mounted on a golf cart chassis. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    Sun 'n Fun attendees check out the Junkers display. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    The Lockheed C–121A Constellation 'Bataan' operated by Lewis Air Legends of Texas. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    The North American TF–51D Mustang 'The Little Witch,' a converted P–51D, taxis at Lakeland Linder International Airport. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    Greg Koontz flies his American Champion Super Decathlon in the April 9 afternoon airshow. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    Airshow performer Greg Koontz cracks the door for ventilation as he taxis his American Champion Super Decathlon. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    The Redline Airshows Van's RV–8 duo performs for the Sun 'n Fun crowd. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    Redline Airshows Van's RV–8s coming out of a formation loop. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    The U.S. Navy Boeing F/A–18 Super Hornet demonstration aircraft lifts off with the Lakeland Linder International Airport tower in the background. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    A formation of Nanchang CJ–5/6 (or Yakovlev Yak–18) aircraft perform during the afternoon airshow. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    A North American T–28 Trojan flies past the pyrotechnic smoke during the afternoon airshow. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    The Yakovlev Yak–18, designed in Russia and first flown in 1945 (later built in China under license as the Nanchang CJ–5/6), was used for military training. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
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    The Douglas C–47 'Placid Lassie' based in Oxford, Connecticut, and part of the D-Day Squadron, will be heading back to Europe in May to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.
  • Sun 'n Fun 2024
    Lift's electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft Hexa in flight at Sun 'n Fun. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.

Thousands of pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and industry professionals gathered once again at Lakeland Linder International Airport for a week of fun, but this time with an extra-special focus, as both the event and AOPA are celebrating milestone anniversaries of being an integral part of the general aviation community.

Large crowds came out to enjoy the aircraft, performances, and exhibitors that make this event so popular. No matter the area of interest, there’s something for everyone—grab some snacks and souvenirs for the kids and pick a spot on the flight line for overhead entertainment, join a workshop to learn new skills, attend gatherings and panel discussions with your favorite aviation personalities, or visit manufacturer booths to inspect the new shiny aircraft you’ve only heard about and now get to see in person. Or, like so many pilots from all over the country, watch the show from under the wing of your aircraft surrounded by thousands of like-minded individuals. Sun ‘n Fun has always been a combination of new experiences and familiar favorites, and 2024 was no exception.

Photo by Brianna Cabassa.

As expected, a stellar lineup of airshow performers dazzled the crowd this year, including the Polaris Program's Ghost Squadron—consisting of a Mikoyan MiG–29, three Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets, and four Aero L–39 Albatros aircraft —and a roaring Lockheed Martin F–35 demo from Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe, commander of the U.S. Air Force F–35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, to name just a few notables. Of course, the excitement continued after dark. Lighted drones, paramotors, the Titan Aerobatic Team, Kyle Fowler with his Rutan Long-EZ, and many more created a spectacular light and sound display.

Among the eye candy of vintage aircraft on display and flying in the show was the magnificent Lockheed C–121A Constellation Bataan now operated by Lewis Air Legends. Once Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s personal transport, this aircraft has undergone an eight-year restoration that will continue with additional work on the interior. The aircraft will travel to shows around the country.

Aircraft manufacturers and other exhibitors added their bit with many announcements and products, including Junkers Aircraft, which unveiled the beautiful A50 Heritage, a modification of the A50 Junior with a 124-horsepower Verner Scarlett 7U radial engine, analog instruments, and a split windscreen to capture the spirit of the original Junkers Golden Age vision more accurately.

Lee Lauderback flies 'Crazy Horse 2' past the admiring crowd at the night airshow on April 10. Click image to view a slideshow from the night airshow. Photo by Brianna Cabassa.

DeltaHawk, builder of FAA-certified jet-fueled piston engines, announced a partnership with Piper Aircraft to develop a supplemental type certificate for the installation of these engines in PA–44 Seminoles in both new aircraft and as a retrofit. Lift Aviation announced its new customizable AV-2.1 Fixed Wing Helmet with an advanced carbon fiber design, now making available to the public the technology that earned the company a military contract in 2022.

Since AOPA also marks a milestone anniversary this year, the show was a special double opportunity for celebration, with many members stopping by to visit the AOPA campus and share the joy of many years of working together for the GA community.

“It’s a big year for Sun ‘n Fun, the fiftieth anniversary of the Aerospace Expo,” said Kollin Stagnito, AOPA vice president of media and marketing. “AOPA celebrated 85 years with AOPA members here at Sun ‘n Fun. Hundreds came out to the anniversary party on Wednesday night to gather for dinner and camaraderie with other pilots.”

The annual pilgrimage to Sun ‘n Fun is a must on every pilot’s to-do list, so if you missed the excitement this year, start planning your journey for next time. For us at AOPA, the best part of an already legendary event is getting to interact with members from across the country and around the world.

Emma Quedzuweit
Assistant Editor
Assistant Editor Emma Quedzuweit, who joined the AOPA publications staff in 2022, is a private pilot and historical researcher.
Topics: Sun 'n Fun, Airshow

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