Pilots from across the country and around the world began arriving for the 48th Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo this week.
For some of the pilots, flying was a family pastime while for others they were inspired by the birds in the sky. No matter their reason each loves to fly, enjoys attending Sun ‘n Fun and sees it as one big family reunion.
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Tim Kirby, Ocala, 1941 Stearman Biplane
Tim Kirby attended his first Sun ’n Fun in 1976 with his father. Spending time with his dad sparked his interest in planes. Kirby, 62, began flying planes when he was 15.
“It’s in my blood," said Kirby. "My father was an aviator mechanic in World War II.”
Kirby has been a commercial pilot for 37 years currently working as a 777 captain for American Airlines
Kirby flew this week in his 1941 Stearman biplane manufactured by Boeing. He resides at Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala.
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Chris Gregory, St. Petersburg, 1941 Stearman Biplane
Chris Gregory's love for airplanes started when he was a kid.
“Anytime I was playing teeball and I was at bat when an airplane came over I would look at the airplane forgetting I was at bat,” said Gregory, 53.
Gregory served as a paratrooper in the United States Army for six years. After leaving the army the air was still calling his name. He received his private pilot license in 1988 and now works as an airline pilot.
Gregory’s first Sun ’n Fun was in 1999. This year he flew in from St. Petersburg in a 1941 Stearman biplane used in World War II.
“Ours has never been touched since the World War. It looks exactly how it did in the war.” Gregory said. “When pilots were trained to fly, this was the first airplane they learned on.”
Mark Macario, Weirsdale, 1979 Cesna 180 II
Mark Macario, 67, comes from a “flying family.” From his parents to his brothers everyone had an involvement with aviation.
“I was born in a flying family," he said. "I learned to love it and made a career out of it for 34 years as an airline pilot.”
Macario’s father was a corporate pilot and his mother flew for leisure and was a member of the Ninety-Nines a club for women aviators.
The retired airline pilot resides in Love’s Landing, a gated airpark community in Weirsdale, Fla. Macario has been attending Sun ’n Fun for more than 25 years. He flew in a Cessna 180 II for this year’s expo.
“I fly for fun," said Marcario. "It was such a great career I couldn’t see not doing it for fun.”
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Syd Cohen, Wasau, Wisconsin, 1946 Ercoupe
Syd Cohen likes the view from the sky and will fly every chance he gets.
“I go up so I can look down,” said Cohen.
Cohen has been coming to Sun ’n Fun since 2005.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve been 16 times, since ’05," said Cohen. "It’s been every year since then — except when the tornado came.”
Cohen is from Wausau, Wisconsin and has been flying the same 1946 Ercoupe since he started flying planes.
Craig Copeland, Atlanta, 1943 Beechcraft Staggerwing
Nature is the reason why Craig Copeland, 57, took an interest in learning how to fly planes.
“I’ve always wanted to fly," Copeland said. "I looked at a little bird when I was a kid and I thought ‘that would be really neat.’”
Copeland started flying in 1981 and has been coming to Sun ’n Fun since the mid-1990s. He has been with American Airlines since 1998 and thoroughly enjoys flying airplanes.
“It’s the only thing I’m good at,” said Copeland.
Eric Garrett, Fruitland Park, 1964 Cessna 180 II
Eric Garrett, 62, took his first pilot lesson in 1976 and has been coming to Sun ’n Fun since the mid-1990s. The love for flying for him was also passed down from his father.
“My dad had his first plane before he had his first car after World War II,” said Garrett.
Garrett has been attending Sun ’n Fun since the mid-1990s and brings his dog Sierra as a companion.
“She doesn’t like to fly too much but she likes being here with me,” said Garrett.
Garrett is the southeastern director for the International 180 & 185 Club.
“We get together and do a lot of fly-ins and once a year we have a big convention,” he said. “We just hang out, fly our planes and have fun.”
For Garrett flying is a getaway.
“It’s a fun way to get away from everything and all the crazy people on the ground," he said.
The Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo runs until Sunday.
Breanna A. Rittman writes news features for The Ledger. Send your feature ideas to BRittman@gannett.com.