PFA’s assistant director visits one of the biggest aviation celebrations in the world.
Well, this year, I had the privilege to visit Lakeland, Fla. for the very first time to attend one of the biggest aviation celebrations in the world. I’ve attended only a handful of conventions and airshows, including AOPA Aviation Summit and Kaneohe Bay Airshow, so I didn’t know what to expect.
Although I was only scheduled to attend for a short three days, I knew that I would be bedazzled by everything I saw, especially since I am a big aviation geek. Before I left, I asked Jen and Kent, “What should I expect?”
Their response was “Everything!” And that’s all they had to say.
Sun ‘n Fun is one of the greatest events aviation has to offer. It brings people together from all over the world to enjoy and celebrate one common interest: aviation. Jen and I reserved my hotel, car rental and flight. My attendance was confirmed.
I packed my clothes and gathered all my excitement into one suitcase. I checked in and took the red-eye flight straight to Tampa, Fla. (the closest airport airlines serve; I wish they flew straight from Los Angeles to Lakeland!). I left Sunday night and arrived Monday morning, just one day before the big day.
We had shipped the boxes of Piper Flyer magazines beforehand, so the issues were happily waiting for me to hand out to our supporters. Some people would call this work, but in my opinion, it’s vacation time. (Come on, it’s way better than sitting in an office wondering what kinds of planes are at the airshow.)
After reviewing my schedule for the next three days, I met up with contributing editor Steve Ells and had a wonderful dinner. I asked Steve the same question I asked Jen and Kent: “What should I expect?”
Steve’s response? “Everything!”
This was when I knew that I’d set myself up for something amazing.
I was really excited and all I could think was, “I have three days to conquer this monster event,” and “I can do it!”
My day started very early. I left the hotel around 7:30 a.m. and checked in with Sun ‘n Fun just before 8:00. Steve Ells accompanied me during the first part of the day and explained everything from registration to press conferences. He was a great help.
After I got all of my proper documentation, I sprinted to Aircraft Spruce to quickly say hello and catch a photo of their amazing team just before the rush. They were great, as always.
Soon after, I ran to Piper and got to hear CEO Simon Caldecott speak about the future plans for Piper Aircraft.
Afterward, it was time for me to drop off all of our magazines with our supporters. Since we didn’t have a booth this year, our friends at Aircraft Spruce, AvMap, Precision Flight Controls and Insight Instrument Corp. let us display our magazines at their booths. I really want to thank them for their kindness and support.
After the magazines were delivered, my second mission was to have fun. I got to talk to so many Piper Flyer Association supporters and even got to take pictures of them and their booths. All of these companies had beautiful displays and wonderful team members.
Obviously, I couldn’t speak to everyone in one day, so I had to wait the next day to meet the rest. My first day at the airshow could have not ended any better; I finished my day watching the talented, amazing and brave pilots fly their planes like no other. “Wow!” was all I could say.
My second day started on the same exciting note. The enthusiasm and curiosity I had before the show was still present, even after a busy first day—that tells you how excited I really was. I woke up not so early, but early enough where I still got to have my coffee and catch the morning news.
There was a storm brewing in the west and it was headed to the East Coast, but it wasn’t supposed to land until later on the week. For sure that didn’t stop thousands of aviators from coming to the show. I turned off the television, grabbed my backpack and headed straight to the show.
In Day One, I’d conquered pretty much half of the grounds, and I’d done so much talking that I drank almost 20 bottles of water. The heat had made me even more dehydrated. So my plan for Day Two was to conquer the second half of Sun ‘n Fun.
I got to talk to flyers that came all the way from countries in Europe, South America and even from the Down Under. This really opened up my eyes to the tremendous level of passion our supporters and members have for aviation. This passion is something I truly admire, and our conversations ranged across many topics—obviously aviation, but also their hobbies and families.
I sincerely respect and appreciate all of our members and supporters. To have the opportunity to connect with every single one of you was, and is, my goal. Day Two of the show was memorable for its planes, sun, and smiles.
My last day. This was the day I was not looking forward to, but in order to cope I told myself, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back again next year!”
With that, I prepared for my last day of some fun in the sun. I packed all my belongings and loaded them into the car. I checked out of the hotel and headed one last time to Lakeland Linder (KLAL).
Day Three was not any different: thousands of smiling kids, lovely parents, friendly pilots and staff from respected organizations were roaming around the airport grounds. I just wished that there was thousands of me to talk to every single one of them—now how fun would that be?)
I dedicated my last day to taking as many photos as I could. I wanted to capture every single moment so I could share them with all our members via Facebook, Twitter and our website. I thought that this was the least I could do for those that couldn’t attend the show.
So I snapped pictures left and right, up and down, backwards and frontwards until the battery ran low. They say that pictures are worth a thousand words; I truly believe that. I hope all the pictures you see give you a bit of insight about how truly amazing my experience was.
All in all, Sun ‘n Fun 2013 was one of the most wonderful times I’ve experienced. The airshow and convention were life-changing.
I want to thank Jen and Kent for giving me the opportunity to represent Piper Flyer to the world. I also want to thank all of our advertisers and members who have supported us for all these years. I look forward in seeing you in Oshkosh and at many more events to come.
John Bagnas is the assistant director of Piper Flyer Association. He is an instrument rated pilot and holds a bachelor’s degree in aviation studies from Bowling Green State University. Bagnas is currently working on his MBA in Aviation through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Send questions or comments to editor [AT] piperflyer [DOT] com.