SUN ’n FUN CAMPUS, LAKELAND, FL. – John R. Leenhouts, a 27-year veteran of the United States Navy with a distinguished record of service as a carrier fighter pilot along with an extensive list of community involvement, has been named President of SUN ’n FUN Fly-In, Inc. The announcement was made by SUN ’n FUN Board Chairman William A. Eickhoff after the SUN ’n FUN Board of Directors unanimously approved the selection.
“SUN ’n FUN is very proud to announce that John “Lites” Leenhouts will serve as our next President,” Eickhoff said. “We were all very impressed with his distinguished military career but we were also happy to learn of his involvement with various volunteer-driven organizations as well as his enthusiastic interest in general aviation aircraft and activities. He has been a regular and active participant at virtually every SUN ’n FUN Fly-In over the past 30 years. The only events John has missed are when he was away from the United States on active duty with the Navy. He was the outstanding choice in a highly qualified field of candidates. We are exceedingly pleased to welcome John Leenhouts to the SUN ’n FUN organization.”
Eickhoff said more than 180 candidates applied for the position vacated when former SUN ’n FUN President John Burton accepted the position of President of the Florida Air Museum (FAM). Leenhouts becomes only the third person to lead the professional staff of the organization and its international aviation event during its illustrious 38-year history, following Burton’s 12-year tenure who was in turn preceded by Billy Henderson.
“I’m tremendously excited about this amazing opportunity,” Leenhouts exclaimed. “This is literally a dream come true for me and I look forward to building on past accomplishments as we create pathways for continued growth and success. I hope my past participation at SUN ’n FUN will help expedite my transition to the event and the organization. My wife, Nancy, and I are both anxious to re-locate to Lakeland and become active and integral members of the community. I can’t wait to get started!”
Leenhouts obtained his private pilot license in 1970 and has accumulated more than 10,000 hours as pilot in command of various military, antique and civilian aircraft that include A-7, F-14, F/A-18A-F, A-6, E-2, C-1, C-2, S-3, P-3, SH-3, SH-60, T-33, T-28, F-16, and F-5 (military) as well as Cessna 150, 152, 170, 172, 182; Piper 140, 160, 180 (civilian); and Beech T-34 B&C, B-17, B-24, B-25, B-29, PT-13, PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, SNJ, P-51, AD-5 and TBM (vintage military aircraft aka “Warbirds”). He also holds Airline Transport Pilot (ATP), Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), Multi-Engine and Seaplane ratings.
A 1973 graduate of Oklahoma State University with a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering, Leenhouts entered the United States Navy via the Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate Program. Commissioned an Ensign in March, 1974, he was designated a Naval Aviator on August 22, 1975 at NAS Kingsville, Texas. After a distinguished 27-year career, he retired from the Navy in 2000 holding the rank of Captain. Leenhouts holds the distinction of performing more landings (or “traps” in naval nomenclature) on an aircraft carrier than any other naval aviator in U.S. history.
Since his retirement from the Navy, Leenhouts has worked for over ten years for the Northrop Grumman Corporation as the F/A-18 Project Manager in the Jacksonville, Florida area. Much of his work related to modification and overhaul for the F/A-18 “Super Hornet.” He also has experience in quality control, customer service, growth strategies, logistics and scheduling, force structure management, cost control and development of business strategies for a variety of programs that involved such military aircraft as the F-5 “Tiger,” EA-6B “Prowler,” E-2 “Hawkeye” and F-14 “Tomcat.”
Leenhouts owns and flies a 1941 Stearman N2-S and a 1930 Waco RNF. He is active in and around the Jacksonville area and has served as Chairman of the Aviation Advisory Board at Florida State College; President of the Association of Naval Aviation, Jacksonville Chapter; and on the Board of Directors of the Jacksonville Navy League, the Daniel Foundation (improving the odds for children), Hands of Jacksonville, and has served as a volunteer and fundraiser for the American Heart Association, Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Cancer Society and the Fraternal Order of Police Association. He is also a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Commemorative Air Force (CAF), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Florida Antique Biplane Association, Stearman Restorers Association and Warbirds of America.