As early as the 1980’s – just a few years into the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In – founding director Billy Henderson and others envisioned an aviation museum to anchor the campus and provide a year-round educational and historic presence. In 1983, a museum committee that interviewed architects, solicited land from the City of Lakeland, and secured the present Florida Air Museum location on the SUN ‘n FUN campus just southwest of Lakeland Linder International Airport.
A “mini-museum” first appeared in the corner of Hangar A in 1986. In 1988, the SUN ‘n FUN Aviation Foundation was formed to oversee the construction and operation of the SUN ‘n FUN Air Museum. All of Hangar A became a temporary museum in 1989. Volunteer curator Marion Robles used his ties to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida to obtain the loan of a number of aircraft and aircraft engines, including a Boeing NA-75 (N-25) Stearman and the Lockheed XFV-1 “Vertical Riser” shipboard fighter. Long-time SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In attendees may recall seeing the “Vertical Riser” for many years standing on its tail near the main office. Now, visitors can find it beside the Guest Hospitality Center in Southeast Exhibits, fully restored by several years’ work of dedicated volunteers.
1990s – Florida Air Museum Expansion
In 1991, the City of Lakeland approved funding for the construction of the current museum building and lease of the adjacent land. Originally planned as a restoration and education facility, the building is now the core of the Florida Air Museum with current and projected expansion on all sides. The main building was formally opened to the public during the April 1992 SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In.
Florida Air Museum’s Aviation Research Library
While the museum was being built, volunteer Milt Voigt established an aviation research library, now located on the second level of the Florida Air Museum and open to visitors with a scheduled appointment. Mr. Voigt was instrumental in convincing the Howard Hughes Corporation that the SUN ‘n FUN Museum would be an ideal facility in which to house a large collection of Mr. Hughes’ aviation memorabilia. The collection is among the museum’s most treasured assets and a rotating selection of artifacts is on display year-round.
Later, the Museum was renamed the International Sport Aviation Museum and informational exhibits such as the Florida Aviation History Wall were added as a complement to the aircraft on display and the Hughes collections. Many of these exhibits remain today.
In 1999, a pavilion slated to become the structural core of an enlarged building was completed. Serving as a home for evening programs during the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In and a variety of year-round events, the pavilion includes conference rooms, outside seating with a stage, and various support areas.
Official Florida Aviation Museum Designation
In 2002, the Museum was renamed the Florida Air Museum and that same year, it received designation as the “Official Aviation Museum and Education Center of the State of Florida” by Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature. The Museum remains proud of this honor and aspires daily to live up to and meet the spirit of this distinction.
A Future Focused on STEAM
Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics
In 2014, the Museum realigned with the Aerospace Center for Excellence on the SUN ‘n FUN Expo campus to support a mission to educate, engage, and accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals. This included the development of new interactive STEM exhibits, a family-friendly discovery area, and integration of the arts into all that we do.