December 4, 2020


Though thoughts of Santa usually conjure images of the jolly bearded man on a sleigh, he’ll soon be flying into Lakeland in a vintage Stearman aircraft.

Holiday fun meets aviation during the first Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show at Lakeland’s Sun ‘n Fun Expo Dec. 4-5. Visitors can spend time with more than 150 cars, see dozens of airplanes and hot air balloons on the ground andsee F-16s and F-35s soaring overhead.

The idea for a holiday show was sparked after Sun ‘n Fun was forced to cancel their large-scale Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo in April, said Greg Gibson, the organization’s chief marketing officer.

“The loss of our major funding event in April was pretty devastating. Our big cause, the thing we raise money for is the Aerospace Center for Excellence,” he said. “This is an effort to help bring some of that revenue back, but we’re not charging for the event.”

Proceeds from events held on the Sun ‘n Fun Expo campus benefit students pursuing aerospace education through scholarships and programs, and the upcoming holiday event will raise money through paid parking.

During the two-day holiday event, families can also participate in a 5K, experience first responder displays, view powered paragliding aerobatics and browse more than 80 vendors on site. For younger visitors, a bounce house, STEM activities and time with Santa await.

“The elves are going to drop him off, I’m going to put him in the Stearman and bring him in,” Gibson said. “We have a family area where kids can either bring their own letters or a place where they can write letters to Santa.”

This event will also mark the first time Sun ‘n Fun hosts a short takeoff and landing contest, known as a STOL competition. On both show dates, aircraft will test their skills in taking off and landing in the shortest distance possible.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sun ‘n Fun strongly encourages guests to wear masks except while seated and socially distanced from other groups by at least six feet. In addition, hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the event and increased sanitization will be implemented.

Gibson said while aviation is always the focal point of Sun ‘n Fun shows, this event aims to provide something for visitors of all interests.

“Our core is aviation, but this is a community organization and a community center,” he said. “It’s designed to be inexpensive, very family-friendly and something just to give people a chance to get outside and enjoy Florida a little bit.”

If you go

The Sun ‘n Fun Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show is 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 4 and 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 5 at 4175 Medulla Road in Lakeland. Event admission is free but parking is $20 per vehicle per day or $35 for both days. For more information, visit

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©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)



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