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Greetings and welcome to the premier issue of Leading Edge! Over the past several years, SUN ‘n FUN has made a dramatic change in course. While it is and always will be the iconic event that you know as a fly-in and tradeshow with forums, workshops, and spectacular daily airshows, its historical success has made it the perfect steward for a much-needed purpose.

Expo Campus is thriving, and thanks to your help, we are designing an expanded facility that will increase our capacity and enable us to engage with additional higher education partners.

Table of Contents 2........ACE President’s Message 3........The pioneering spirit of the Highleys

Project SkyLab is the name of our expansion project, where we are envisioning new, unbelievable laboratory learning spaces connected to Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum.

5........Hong Kong teen enjoys Destination Aviation Summer Camp

Given the looming critical shortfall in pilots, maintainers, engineers, and other aerospace personnel, SUN ‘n FUN’s mission became clear: To engage, educate, and accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals. That mission is now thriving through the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE).

We need your continued support to make this a reality, so please watch for more information in the coming months.

8........Birthday Bash

ACE has become a global leader in providing today’s youth with opportunities in the aerospace industry. Through the funding provided by the SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo, generous philanthropy, and numerous grants, ACE provides pilot, maintainer, and higher education scholarships, along with robust STEM outreach programs for both students and educators.

ACE is a very special and important launchpad for the aerospace industry, as our programs and scholarships have caught the industry’s attention worldwide. With their investment alongside yours, we are truly showcasing that at ACE the sky is just the beginning!

These programs will reach more than 50,000 students this year, and hundreds of teachers will be provided with aerospace-themed STEM lesson plans and curriculum that will inspire thousands more to explore exciting careers in the aerospace industry. Our 14-building facility on the SUN ‘n FUN

This publication is for you, our donors, partners, and sponsors, to keep you informed on the mission progress that you have helped us bring to life.

Thank you for your support, and we hope you enjoy reading Leading Edge! Sincerely,

John “Lites” Leenhouts President/CEO

6........Spirit of Lakeland: The ultimate teaching tool 10......Scholarship Profile 10......Meet the Education Team 11......Scenes from museum ACE Board Members: Rick Garcia, Chairman Bob Beaty, Vice Chairman Jeff Kincart, Secretary Chuck Ahearn, Treasurer R. Patrick Phillips, Emeritus Member

ACE thanks Tony J. Cali, for proposing, “Leading Edge” as the title for this publication. Tony is actively involved with ACE year-round as a mentor / instructor with the Lakeland Aero Club. As Tony explained, “the definition of ‘leading edge’ is the part of the wing that first contacts the air; alternatively, it is the foremost edge of an airfoil section. ACE is the leader in creating opportunities through its programs and scholarships as well as mentoring and supporting the youth that it engages. ACE gives students the edge to be successful in life.”

ON THE COVER: A.J. Ovans, age 8, pulls a rivet on “Spirit of Lakeland”, a modified Zenith 750 being built by students at ACE to train physically disabled pilots. Pg 6. Photo by Andy Ovans.




The pioneering spirit of the Highleys

SUN ‘n FUN Pioneers Bob and Susan Highley have been involved with the organization since the beginning — well, even before the beginning. An elite group of volunteers who are profoundly respected, the SUN ‘n FUN Pioneers are just what the title implies. Pioneers are the ones who “began it all” by bringing an idea to life. The Highleys were among the members of several Central Florida EAA Chapters who decided to join forces and create an annual get-together for pilots and aviation enthusiasts on the Lakeland airport in the early 1970s. Now, looking back over 46 years, the Highleys note that the values that began with the first SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In are the same values that have contributed to its explosive growth. “The mission hasn’t changed,” says Bob. “That’s to pass the values learned in aviation to the next generation. We’re not much LEADING EDGE — FALL 2019

Photo by Ron Stiltner 3

different today, just bigger.” The Highleys have been involved with SUN ’n FUN in a number of ways, from early volunteers to staff members. While in the military, Bob and Susan traveled quite a bit, including a 10-year stint in Tampa. That’s how they got involved in SUN ’n FUN in the first place. When they decided to retire, they chose Lakeland because that’s where SUN ’n FUN is located — and that’s when their involvement really took off. Bob, a retired Air Force fighter jet pilot, served on the Board of Directors in the 1980s, then in 1993 joined the “company” as Director of Operations, a post he held for 10 years. Susan, a retired teacher, worked full-time as Manager of Retail and Merchandising. She still works part-time on those efforts. Bob Highley providing a student’s First Flight.

They recall in the early days, their work involved just about anything that needed doing. “If there was mail to be sorted, we’d sort it,” Susan recalls. “Any job that had to be done, we all did it.” That work ethic is still abundant at SUN ’n FUN, Bob adds. “If someone is here for selfish reasons they won’t be happy here,” Bob says. “The whole idea is to get involved and be rewarded by volunteering. This is a great place to use what you’ve learned in life and share it with the generations behind you,” he says. “This is a place where people can actualize their own abilities.” Meanwhile, Susan revels in watching the volunteers she works with grow in confidence as they tackle their jobs during the Fly-In. “These ladies are looking for guidance,” she says. “We have to allow them to have their wings and feel like they are contributing to our mission. That’s the job of a teacher.” Bob tells the tale of a judge from Atlanta who decided a case in which the defendant was charged a $100,000 fine. He ordered the defendant to donate the money to SUN ’n FUN. Confused by the donation, SUN ’n FUN officials asked the judge about his unusual order. And how he knew about SUN ’n FUN. It turns out he was a 10-year volunteer with The Raiders, the contingent of volunteers who pick up trash on the grounds during the Fly-in. “It’s not a surprise that no one knew the guy picking up trash was a judge,’’ Bob says. “It’s amazing the people who come here and don’t discuss their backgrounds. They just want to be known as Bob and Susan, not a fighter pilot and a teacher. They want to be accepted for what value they can add to SUN ’n FUN.” Finding that acceptance is key to why so many people return year after year to volunteer at SUN ’n FUN. Ask any volunteer, including Bob and Susan, and they’ll tell you their fondest memories of 4

SUN ’n FUN are about the people — their Fly-In family. When not working and volunteering at SUN ’n FUN, the couple travel the country in the Thorpe TA18 Bob built 35 years ago. Susan is not a pilot, but has a job that’s just as important. “I am the navigator,” she says. The Highleys are very supportive of the Aerospace Center for Excellence, seeing it as a natural progression from the early days of SUN ‘n FUN. “SUN ‘n FUN has always been about education,” Bob notes. “There were forums and workshops from the beginning.” He adds that, whether a person becomes an aviation professional, learning about aviation goes beyond being a pilot or mechanic. Bob enjoys using his plane for first flight experiences for youth, including Central Florida Aerospace Academy Freshman First Flights, EAA Young Eagle events, and other ACE events like Classroom to the Sky, which flies 60 teachers, making aviation concepts a reality. Bob points out that aviation provides all sorts of opportunities. “It’s a big pride point for us that the ethics aviation forces you to have instills good values,” he says. John “Lites” Leenhouts, President/CEO for SUN ‘n FUN, shares that “for over 45 years, Bob and Susan have been SUN ‘n FUN’s ‘perfect couple,’ sharing their time and expertise in countless and invaluable ways. They have been volunteers, employees, advocates, and anything else they could to ensure that the organization thrives. They are part of the founding movement to bring not only the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In and now the Aerospace Center for Excellence to life. They consistently support, inspire, and mentor young people along their path to discovering an aerospace career. This constant commitment showcases their values and passion, and they are an outstanding and integral part of the SUN ‘n FUN/ ACE success story.” FALL 2019 — LEADING EDGE

Hong Kong teen enjoys Destination Aviation Summer Camp In any new group, the typical first question to break the ice is “Where are you from?” This year, for the campers in one of the six-week-long Destination Aviation Summer Camps, a response like, “My name is Charlie, I’m 13 years old, and I’m from Hong Kong,” caught people’s attention. Destination Aviation Summer Camp is designed for specific age brackets from 11 to 17 years of age. Over the years, it’s been common to have campers attend from as far away as Texas or New York. But Hong Kong? Charlie Haywood shared that he enjoyed the ground school activities, field trips to NOAA, the Lakeland Linder International Airport Control Tower, and the Lakeland Aero Club. But the best experience was the cross-country flight in a general aviation aircraft that he and his fellow campers developed a flight plan for and practiced via flight simulation throughout the week. “I just liked everything!” he said with a huge smile. Charlie’s parents, Ricardo and Tina, also made the 20-plus hour trip from Hong Kong to Lakeland, Florida, making it their summer vacation. Ricardo is a B-767/B-757 Standards Check Airman for FedEx based in Hong Kong. Both parents shared that opportunities such as the ACE Summer LEADING EDGE — FALL 2019

Photos by Ron Stiltner

Charlie presenting the 6-pack of gauges during the last day of camp.

Camp program do not exist in Hong Kong and they looked for a program that would challenge Charlie as he excels at school and is very interested in aviation. On the last day, all the campers gave presentations on the various things they learned or experienced throughout the week to their families. Charlie was particularly interested in the flight simulators, and his team’s presentation was about the “6-pack” gauges, the information they provide pilots, as well as a demonstration on a simulator. When saying goodbye, he told Kimberly Brewer, ACE Education Director, that he was looking forward to returning next year. We look forward to seeing Charlie again too! 5

Spirit of Lakeland: The ultimate teaching tool

In the Buehler Aerospace Skills Center on the SUN ‘n FUN Expo Campus, pieces of metal are slowly becoming the “Spirit of Lakeland,” a modified Zenith 750 that will be used to train physically disabled pilots through scholarships provided by a non-profit group called Able Flight. But look a little deeper and you’ll see that there’s so much more to the project. The aircraft is more than a teaching tool — it’s a vehicle for changing lives. Work on the plane began after this year’s Fly-In, according to Andy Ovans, Aircraft Maintenance Manager for SUN ’n FUN. “We pulled our first rivet on D-Day, June 6, and the goal is to have it flying by the end of the year,” he says, noting as of late August, the plane was about half complete.

is Landen Kincart, a 16-year-old junior at CFAA. He says the experience has been life changing for him. “I showed up for my first day not knowing how to even pull a rivet,” he remembers. But by working with Andy — who he calls the “best mentor ever” — he’s learned so much working on the plane. “I've changed my declared track from engineering to airframe and powerplant and avionics, because I realized that this is my niche,” he says. “I feel like I might want to do this for a job when I grow up.”

Students from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA), as well as youth involved in Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) summer camps, have been working on the plane.

Ovans notes that mentors come in all ages, like his 8-year-old son AJ. While attending a summer camp, AJ invited his campmates to the hangar to work on the plane. When they saw AJ with the rivet gun, they realized that they, too, could work on the plane. “I've got kids' parents sending me texts asking, hey, can my child stop by the hangar tomorrow? He's really itching to pull some more rivets.”

A regular volunteer working on the project

But it’s not just kids the project is reach-


Landen Kincart works on the plane.

ing. “We had two Vietnam vets come in the hangar. Both of them were career aircraft mechanics. Neither one of them ever worked on sheet metal. Here you've got a 16-year-old student teaching two 70-year-old men how to pull a rivet. They were proud to support the program and participate in building the airplane.” Then there was the day a big airline executive stopped by to pull a rivet. “He actually messed it up a little bit, and the young man who was helping him not only called him out very graciously, but showed him how FALL 2019 — LEADING EDGE

Bill and Suzy Eickhoff surrounded by CFAA student volunteers and Andy Ovans during the check presentation for the program.

to drill it out and do it the right way,” Ovans says. “That gentleman walked away saying ‘that was one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. Not only did the kid have the nerve to tell me I did it wrong, but then showed me how to do it right.’” Ovans notes that when people are unfamiliar with building an airplane, mistakes are common. And that’s OK. “We use it as an opportunity for education,” he says. “We're not building a museum piece. This is an educational tool not only for helping people with disabilities, but inspiring people to be mechanics or work with sheet metal.” That life-changing impact will soon be felt by others, including Able Flight scholarship recipients. But even more important, the Spirit of Lakeland will give disabled fliers in the area a plane they can fly long after the ink dries on their certificates. For Able Flight’s founder Charles Stites, the new plane opens new opportunities. “This is an exciting development because there aren’t enough accessible airplanes out there,” he says. “It puts another trainer aircraft in play, at a new location, and it creates an opportunity for people to have an airplane they can come back and fly, and that’s something we don’t have anywhere else.” The Able Flight project would have never gotten off the ground without some key supporters, including Zenith Aircraft, which donated the kit, and Gulf Coast Avonics, which donated the LEADING EDGE — FALL 2019

Photos by Ron Stiltner

avionics equipment. And in late August long-time SUN ’n FUN volunteers Bill and Suzy Eickhoff donated $25,000 to complete the plane. The couple didn’t have to be asked twice to donate the funds. “Andy talked about it with such passion, we just had to listen,” Suzy says. And as she learned more about the mission of Able Flight, the project resonated with her. “I know how it changed me when I learned to fly. And I thought I'm just a regular person. I didn't have any difficulties.” The Eickhoffs also are impressed with the impact the project will have on the students. They are learning new skills, as well as the discipline to complete the project. Just as important is the teens will learn that what they are doing will really impact other people. “These teenagers will learn that they can positively affect somebody else's life,” Suzy says. 7

A Very Happy Birthday Bash

Photos by Dan Faenza

For the 2019 Fly-In and Expo, SUN ‘n FUN changed up its annual premiere gala, presenting a high-energy “Birthday Bash” that celebrated 45 years of Fly-Ins. The Birthday Bash team, under the leadership of Catherine Spain and Laurie Fuller, went all out. Gourmet buffet lines featured cuisine ranging from sushi to Asian noodle dishes to loaded French fries 8

and, of course, every kind of cake you can imagine. Giant balloon sculptures created clouds throughout the room, complementing the sapphire and silver color theme highlighting the 45th anniversary. Live auction items offered one-of-a-kind experiences, such as a week on the Amalfi Coast, a flight for six in the B-25J Mitchell Bomber “Panchito,” and a Bourbon Trail

Adventure, to name a few. Silent auction items had something for everyone, so no one was seen leaving empty-handed. Central Florida Aerospace Academy (CFAA) students assisted 250 guests competing for the silent auction items, while Ron and Debbie Hitzel of Impact Auctioneers led participants on a wild ride of bidding through both the live auction FALL 2019 — LEADING EDGE

and a new “Hands to the Sky” fund-a-need campaign. “Hands to the Sky” raised close to $30,000 of direct donations targeted for ACE programming, such as sponsoring campers to attend Stemtastic or Destination Aviation Summer Camps. The Birthday Bash was a great success, raising more than $125,000 that was generously given to support ACE education programs and scholarships aimed at engaging, educating, and accelerating the next generation of aerospace professionals. Those funds are already at work expanding ACE educational offerings and developing new programs like “STEMfusion,” a handson, project-based learning curriculum tied to Florida science standards that will encourage kids to explore STEM careers during ACE school tours. The 2020 event, now just “The Bash,” will occur on April 2nd during the SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo. Mark your calendar and look for more information in the coming months. You don’t want to miss out on the fun!

GOOD RESULTS Thanks to your amazing Birthday Bash giving, ACE is working to: • Expand after-school activities for students at CFAA at both the Buehler Aerospace Center and the Lakeland Aero Club. • Install a simulator in our traveling KitFox exhibit used for school and community outreach visits. • Purchase supplies and materials to create STEM kits for student visits. • Develop a new youth-oriented STEM exhibit for the Aerospace Discovery Museum.



ACE Wingman Scholarship The Central Florida Aerospace Academy’s Class of 2019 Senior Recognition was a celebration of achievements and honor. This year’s class of 70 students continued an 11-year tradition of a 100% graduation rate. Several awards were given to students at CFAA, including the new ACE Wingman Award. Kathryn “Katie” Esker was recognized with this honor and awarded a $2,500 scholarship collected through tips at the 9/27 Club during the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In. Just as one would envision a stellar wingman, Katie demonstrated consistently high academic achievements, professional character, reliable leadership qualities, and a never-ending willingness to promote the opportunities afforded to CFAA students, the Lakeland Aero Club, and the mission of the Aerospace Center for Excellence.

Photo by Ron Stiltner

Ed Young, Katie Esker, and John “Lites” Leenhouts at the award ceremony.

Meet the Education Team JAYME JAMISON


Jayme Jamison, Manager, Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum. Master of Arts, Museum Studies (University of Oklahoma) and B.S. Social Science Education (University of Central Florida). Joining ACE in Fall 2017 from the Polk County History Center in Bartow, Florida, Jayme has since been recognized by the Florida Association of Museums as the 2018 Outstanding New Professional. Her passion for aviation comes from growing up Navy.

Kimberly Brewer, Education Director. Master of Education, Collaborative Teaching and Learning (Florida Southern College) and B.S. Elementary Education (Florida Southern College). Joining ACE this past May, Kimberly is leveraging her classroom teaching experience to expand the depth and reach of ACE Education Programs. She has also taken leadership roles, including creating an Aerospace Club. Her interest in aviation began as a young girl when she attended her first Destination Aviation Summer Camp.



Richele Floyd, Scholarship Director. B.S. Civil Engineering (Florida State University) and Florida Teaching Certificates in Math and Science. Over the past three years, Richele successfully grew the ACE Education program and extended its reach to more than 50,000 students per year.

Ed Young, Executive Director, Aerospace Center for Excellence. B.A. and Master of Public Administration, Juris Doctorate (University of Kansas) and a certificate in Airport Safety and Risk Management (Embry Riddle Aeronautical University). Ed’s background as a pilot, flight instructor, attorney, professor, and public safety official are utilized daily in this unique position.

Recently charged to lead ACE scholarship programs, Richele will educate and mentor young adults in aviation education. Richele has also earned a private pilot certificate, FAA Part 107 sUAS certificate, and created a portfolio of STEM and aerospace curriculum. 10

He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor as part of the 2018 AOPA Flight Training Experience Survey and was named a 2019 Inductee in the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame. FALL 2019 — LEADING EDGE

Scenes from “A Night at the Museum”


Photos by Ron Stiltner



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Leading Edge - Fall 2019  

The Official Publication of the Aerospace Center for Excellence.

Leading Edge - Fall 2019  

The Official Publication of the Aerospace Center for Excellence.