Sun 'N Fun
April 11-12, 2008
There are two really big fly-in in the US each year. Sun 'N Fun is second only to Oshkosh. Since Sun 'N Fun is held in Lakeland, Florida, and that is a lot closer to me than Oshkosh, Wisconsin is. Lakeland is a three hour drive by car, but is only about an hour and a half by plane, so of course I wanted to fly there. My original plan was to just fly up and back in one day, since that was possible with the airplane. I also decided to take a day off work, with the theory that it would be less crowded during the week than on the weekend.
I finally decided to go up on Friday, but when I looked at the schedule of activities, I saw that in addition to the daily afternoon airshow, there was also an night airshow. During the airshow, the runway is closed for arrivals and departures. The runway opened up at 6 pm after the day show, but closed again at 7:30 pm for the night show. I decided I did not want to get in the middle of the traffic jam that would happen when everyone tried to leave in 90 minutes, so I decided to bring a tent and camp out next to the plane for one night, and then leave sometime Saturday morning.
I had several people I know from the airport mention they wanted to ride up with me, but none of them panned out. I think it was because I was spending the night there. No matter, that made travel plans very easy, since I only had to convince myself something was a good idea. And that was usually pretty easy!
Whenever you schedule a plane before they open in the morning, someone calls you to let you know what the combination is to the safe they keep in the hallway so that you can get the keys out. I usually try and call myself, just to remind them I have the plane first thing in the morning. At 8:10 pm Thursday night, I realized that I had forgotten to call them, and they had not called me. I tried calling the office, but they are only open until 8 pm, and had already left. Shoot! That is why I call them myself! I looked at the online schedule, and saw that one of the instructors had a lesson a 7 am, so I would just show up then and he could get me the keys. My plan was basically intact.
I awoke on Friday at 5 am to get ready to go. I wanted to be at the airport before 7am so that I could get the keys as soon as possible. My original goal was to be in the air around 7 am and arrive at Lakeland around 8:30 am. The exhibits opened at 9 am, so I would have a little time to tie down the plane, etc.
I arrived at the airport, and as I was climbing the stairs to see if I could get the keys to my plane, another student was coming down with the keys to another plane. I asked him if the safe had keys to any other planes, and he said there was a bunch in there. I asked him what the combo was, and when I opened the safe, the keys to my plane were there. Whew! This is one of the inconveniences of renting out your plane, I guess. I grabbed the keys and started moving stuff from my car to the plane. It only took two trips.
Walking through the lobby, I saw another student who was flying up to Sun 'N Fun, also. He was going as a passenger with someone I didn't know. I guess it was a popular day to fly up.
Although I had gotten a weather briefing on the internet the night before, and in the morning before I left the house. I thought it would be a good idea to call in for one, also. Sometimes when I call in, the briefer will emphasize something I missed reading the text on a screen. Well, that turned out to be a mistake. Because of Sun 'N Fun, there were a lot of NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) at Lakeland (LAL). She had to read them all to me, and the entire call, which usually only take five minutes, ended up taking 20 minutes, and I didn't learn anything new. Now I was behind schedule.
I finally got in the air around 7:30. The flight up was uneventful until I arrived in Lakeland. Here is a picture I took flying over the Sebring airport. It is located next to the famous racetrack. I should have waited until I was a little closer before I took the picture, but you get the idea. The racetrack is on the left, and the runway is on the right.
I finally made it to the seminar about 10:10. A little late,
but not too bad. Here is a picture of Van's chief engineer describing some
of the engineering that went into their newest kit plane, the
I spent the next part of the day looking at the vendors in the big
hangars, walking around, and eating. I spent some time in the Vans Aircraft
booth, talking to them about building one of their planes. I finally got
to sit in one like I am thinking of building (the RV-7). The cabin is
narrow, although not as narrow as my plane is. The leg room, though, is
wonderful, and it is much more comfortable than my plane is. The plane is
a little difficult to get in and out of, but all small planes are,
including mine. In looking at the other planes there, I realized that you
really have to get into an expensive plane to have a really big
cockpit. I bought an "info pack" from Vans. I think I am really
getting close to making a decision on this. I just need to get a couple
other things done around the house before I can start.
After the Thunderbirds were finished, I went back to the
vendors to walk around some more. One thing I noticed was the really high
price of new planes. This is one of the reasons I am planning on building
my own plane. Here is an example of a sign I saw at the Cessna
The booths started closing down at 5 pm, so I wandered back
to my plane through the warbird area. I wasn't sure how long the food
vendors would stay open, so I stopped and got something to eat. While
eating, I watched the end of the airshow. There was a really amazing
biplane that did some really spectacular acro only a few feet off the
ground. I don't know who it was, but his show was not your normal loops an
rolls. My favorite trick was him flying his biplane down the runway
sideways (audience looking at the top of the plane), and then he slips it
down to about five feet off the runway, and then flys the rest of the way
down the runway with the plane still sideways only five feet off the
About this time, the airshow had ended, and the runway was
open for departures again. I set up my chair and sat with the two other
guys and we watched the planes trying to leave. Here is what the line
After a while, we decided to time how long it took for
planes to leave. The one plane we timed took forty minutes to go from in
front of us to actually getting in the air. And we were not looking at the
very end of the line. This is why I decided to stay the
I got dressed, and headed for the showers. After that, I
walked back to the main site (again!) to check the weather with Flight
Service, and then I got something to eat. I headed back to the plane and
started to get ready to leave. There is a special procedure for leaving,
and other than initially having the volume on my radio too low, it went
pretty smoothly. The winds had shifted by the time I left, so my plane was
now parked on the departure end of the runway, so my taxi was pretty short.
It was 11 am by the time I left the ground.