Thousands of pilots and aircraft enthusiasts will head to Polk County this week to take part in the annual Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, a colossal aviation event that organizers tout as the second-largest of its kind in the world.
On the grounds of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, the week-long Fly-In includes daily air shows featuring the world's premier aerobatic performers, more than 500 commercial exhibits, educational programs, children's activities and other entertainment.
About 160,000 people are expected to attend the Fly-In, which will take place from Tuesday through April 23.
Sun 'n Fun officials say the event has an economic impact of nearly $30 million in Polk County.
As with a car show, people who attend the event have an opportunity to show off and talk about their aircraft, ranging from the home-built variety to vintage crafts and warbirds.
The airshow, which begins at 2 p.m. daily, will feature aerobatic performers such as the AeroShell team, Red Baron Pizza Squadron, Patty Wagstaff and John Mohr.
Also scheduled to perform are military jet teams demonstrating the A-10 "Warthog" and F/A-18 Super Hornet; and a fly-by featuring the B-1B and B-2 stealth bombers.
Event organizers say the scheduled forums and hands-on workshops cater not just to current pilots and aircraft owners but also to potential future aviators. The educational sessions will teach people about aircraft design, construction, maintenance and restoration.
"Education is the hub around which the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In is built," said Sun 'n Fun president and Fly-In chairman John Burton. "The enthusiastic exchange of information between exhibitors, participants and aircraft owners . . . combines to create an unsurpassed aviation experience."
This year, organizers decided to open the flightline -- the area where all the airplanes are parked -- to all Fly-In guests.
"We invite all of our guests to experience firsthand the amazing aircraft on display that span virtually every chapter of aviation history," Burton said.
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