Florida Aviators Say Goodbye to Billy Henderson

A Celebration of Life for founder of Sun ’n Fun Fly-In.

Billy Henderson inspired aviation to put down roots in central Florida.Courtesy Sun 'n Fun Fly-In Inc.

Billy Henderson, founder of Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, passed away on April 12, 2019. His extended family and friends plan a Celebration of Life at the Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum in Lakeland, Florida, on June 23 at 4 pm. The Sun 'n Fun organization requests an RSVP from guests who plan to attend. Those unable to attend can leave a personal note on the website.

Henderson, born in Bartow, Florida, in 1929, made an impression on aviation in central Florida like few others have. His idea to host a fly-in at Lakeland germinated in 1974 as a literal sketch on the back of a cereal box, according to the organization. The fly-in has grown from 700 participants to more than 230,000, making it the largest annual convention in the state of Florida. Proceeds from the event generate $2 million annually directed towards youth-oriented programs.

“Billy’s idea for an event actually created a family that has sustained itself for over 45 years”, says Dr. Harley Richards, chairman of the Sun ’n Fun Fly-In “That family consists of 3,500 volunteers who look forward to seeing each other every year. Our new volunteers always comment that part of their experience is becoming a part of this tight-knitted community.”

Along with the fly-in, the family’s vision expanded to create an aviation museum adjacent to the show grounds at Lakeland, known today as the Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Sun ’n Fun Fly-In, designated for the Memorial Garden Project.