By TROY McCLELLAN
The 43rd annual Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland showcased an amazing display of aircraft. This year featured the largest gathering of P-51 Mustangs in over a decade. The P-51 is often considered instrumental in gaining air superiority in the World War II European theater and helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.
In addition to the extensive display of warbird aircraft, daring pilots dazzled the crowds with daily air shows that included aerobatic stunt planes and planes that were made famous during World War II. The B-25 Bomber made impressive low-flying passes, escorted by P-51 Mustangs and other period fighters in formations that evoked memories of air wars that were fought by brave souls to secure our freedom and liberty.
The B-25 was used in the Tokyo bombing raid in April 1942. It was also known as the Doolittle Raid, named after the mission leader Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle. The plan launched 16 B-25 bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier. The B-25 was much too large to return and land on the deck aircraft carrier. The pilots and crew who flew the mission knew they would have to land behind enemy lines. Against all odds, only 11 of the 80 men paid the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives for our nation. Afterwards, Doolittle felt that the raid was a failure, because all of the aircraft was lost, and some of his men never returned. He had expected to be court-martialed, but instead was presented the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for planning and leading the raid.
Each day the airshow opened with the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Parachute Jump Team, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. No air show would be complete without a performance of modern jet aircraft in precision-flying formations that included the Patrouille de France, French Air Force Aerobatic Team and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
The skies will be quieter around Lakeland for now, but the anticipation of next year’s events will remain.
Sun ‘n Fun is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation, located on the grounds of the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland. Proceeds from events are returned to aviation-based STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, activities and facilities and used to support ongoing scholarship funding. For more information, visit www.flysnf.org.