The 2011 Sun 'n Fun Fly-In and Expo was characterized by extreme highs and lows. Thunderstorms lining the northern end of Florida during the beginning of the week kept the crowds away for the beginning of the show. But that ended up being a blessing when the much reported EF1 tornado touched down on Thursday. Had the flight line been as full as it normally is half way through the event, the devastation would have been much worse. There were more than 60 airplanes damaged or destroyed by the March 31 storm. "I'm deeply saddened by tragic loss of all the aircraft," said Sun 'n Fun's President, John Burton. "You can replace the airplanes and the damage, but not the heart and soul that went into those airplanes that were the result of someone's lifelong efforts."
While many may have thought the remainder of the show would be canceled, heroic efforts were made by Sun 'n Fun's organizers, hazmat teams, environmental groups, the local police force, city officials, the FAA and other volunteers to get the show site cleaned up and ready to open its doors the following day at eight a.m. "It was both humbling and gratifying to see how the aviation community rallied around Sun 'n Fun," said Burton. And it appears that it was the right thing to do. According to Burton, the preliminary numbers indicate that Saturday's attendance will shatter the previous one day record.
"Friday was the best day overall for us," said Todd Simmons, vice president of marketing at Cirrus Aircraft. Like many of the manufacturers on the field, Simmons said Cirrus signed "a few" contracts and had no damage in their display. Cessna received only minor damage to a Skylane and gladly closed the doors of its permanent house on the grounds on Sunday with an order list of 30 airplanes, including 16 Corvalis TTX models, just introduced at the show. Piper, Aviat and Lockwood Aviation (makers of the AirCam) were the hardest hit, with each company losing several airplanes to the storm.
While there was some speculation that the early start date for this year's show might have made severe weather more likely, that wasn't the case. According to data from the National Weather Service, the relative risk of severe weather in March is nearly identical to that in April. Next year's show runs from March 27 through April 1st.