Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: The Long View

We’re as old or young, as declining or thriving, as we wish to be

Roaming through the expansive winged carnival that is the annual Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In & Expo, I fairly marvel each year at how much changes from visit to visit—and how much doesn't.

I've probably been at the Lakeland, Fla., event 20 times in the last 33 years. At a certain point in your life, you're less wowed by sheer sound and spectacle, and more inclined to feel the historical sweep of time and your place in it, even as notions of the future continue to nibble at the edges of your cogitations (electric flight, anyone?)

To be at Sun 'n Fun has always been about experiencing the community of dreamers who gather to hawk their wares and share their flying dreams with the world. And, even the most jaded doomsayer proclaiming the death of light-sport aviation can't help but move through the newly revamped Paradise City—the airshow's light-sport and ultralight display and demo area in the southeast quadrant of the airport—and feel a resurgence of sheer candy-store enthusiasm.

Sun 'n Fun is a worthy and wonderful show. A few years back, this up-and-coming challenger to former EAA sibling rival Oshkosh AirVenture—still the Big Dog airplane event every summer—split off from the Experimental Aircraft Association to go it alone.

The show has continued to thrive independent of EAA. That's obvious. Every year, enhancements to the sprawling "campus" at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport pop up to refresh the landscape. It might be a new building, another classic airplane static display or the remade Paradise City experience we enjoyed this year.

Sun 'n Fun may always be Disneyland to Oshkosh's Disney World, but it's a less overwhelming, more relaxing way to enjoy the immense diversity of aviation, and remains a classic in its own right.

Still, both shows draw fewer people these days than in the past. That's also obvious. News-release claims of record attendance may continue to issue forth at show's end, but where once big crowds several people deep and a mile wide lined the fences to watch air show performances, now you're rarely challenged to find good viewing spots, no matter where you are on the field.


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