(Part Six of an Extensive Investigation into the Sun 'n Fun
It's been a long haul... but we're
in the home stretch of our stories on the problems and concerns we
see in the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. This time, though, we're going
to talk about matters close to our heart... the battle we have
faced in trying to tell it like it is about the Lakeland flight
fest and the way that Sun 'n Fun has fought us at every turn. In
one of the lowest blows we've ever seen in the sport and general
aviation community; one outspoken guy, who has fought long and hard
for the safety and well-being of others, was targeted by the very
organization that he saw as part of the problems he was trying to
solve. ANN's Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell, was targeted by
Sun 'n Fun for ridicule, a restriction of his first Amendment
Rights, and was the target of what has come to be seen, far
and wide, as an atrocious abuse of power by a chosen, arrogant, few
trying to cover their tracks. The silly part of all this, is
that if they hadn't spent so much time trying to shut him up, we
doubt they'd have come under such scrutiny... go figure.
ANN Journalist Continues Fight Against Bizarre Ban
The Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, held each April at the publicly-funded
Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport (Lakeland, FL), is continuing to
ban aviation journalist, Aero-News Network's Editor-in-Chief Jim
Campbell from the property, in apparent violation of federal
It's long past time they stopped doing this.
Why Jim Campbell Was Banned From Sun 'n Fun:
It started over ten years ago, when
Jim Campbell (himself a former world ultralight record-holder) and
the President of the US Ultralight Association, John Ballantyne,
were watching the lightplane activities at Sun 'n Fun. They noticed
dangerous and illegal activity: unlicensed and unqualified pilots
were giving rides to passengers in unregistered, illegal flying
machines -- for money.
Some of the flying wasn't very good, either -- and a lot of it
took place over busy parking lots, where thousands of show-goers
had to walk.
Campbell and Ballantyne complained to (then) Fly-In Director
William Henderson of the hazards and illegalities they had seen,
and were roundly rebuffed and told to mind their own
As years went by, Campbell, in person and in print [Campbell was
the publisher/editor of US Aviator magazine], continued to try and
convince Sun ‘n Fun to pay more attention to the safety and
well-being of their visitors. Year by year, the situation grew
tenser, and Campbell’s efforts drew more criticism from
Fly-In officials. Dozens of hazards were documented and reported.
Eventually, several members of the Fly-In directly threatened him
with ouster unless his editorial efforts were kinder and
The organization's criticism turned to harassment. Campbell was
threatened and assaulted by Sun 'n Fun staff and organizers; and
his business was interfered with on a number of occasions,
including verified accounts of having his staff bothered, and even
threatened, by several individuals who run the Fly-In.
Campbell (right) proved to be a
magnet for those (many) vendors and attendees who were wronged by
the airshow management, as well, and his files grew. The Fly-In
turned a deaf ear to many complaints about some vendors who cheated
their customers or offered unsafe products.
Sun 'n Fun management often took the side of the offending
vendors, even to the point of using the Fly-In's security personnel
to keep legitimate subpoenas from being served at the show
(although the interference was selective -- the show didn't
interfere with servers' access to out-of-favor vendors).
Several years ago, just minutes after (then) Fly-in Director
William Henderson ran Campbell down with a golf cart, Fly-In
President William Eickoff approached Campbell with members of the
Lakeland Police Department and ordered him off the property. He has
been banned ever since from the Fly-In and the nearby
Federally-funded FAA building.
Some of Campbell's warnings could have saved lives.
In April of 2001, Russell Legare, a visiting pilot, was giving a
Sun 'n Fun volunteer's grandson a ride (a condition of getting a
parking space at the crowded show, ANN reporters were told) when
the man, admittedly unfamiliar with procedures, was waved into
position by Sun 'n Fun officials at the lightplane area and sent to
take off -- with the wind behind him.
His airplane failed to get airborne, and crashed into a creekbed
that crossed the end of the runway. He was killed; the grandson
received critical injuries. ANN reporters learned that the Sun 'n
Fun official who was running the air operations knew, from a
professional weather station set up at his area and numerous pilot
complaints, as well as the plainly-visible wind flags at the field,
that he was foolishly sending aircraft off (and landing) downwind,
but didn't want to change the direction of the pattern -- he was
The next day, with that same Sun 'n Fun official in charge, at
the same area, ultralights and other small aircraft were still
taking off and landing downwind -- a very dangerous practice. Just
days before the accident, Campbell published warnings of numerous
known hazards at the Fly-In... and literally predicted the tragedy
that was about to take place.
A year later; a mid-air took the life of Pilot Jerry Morrison
and severely injured Pilot Steve Pierce... after years of repeated
warnings from Campbell that the arrival and departure procedures at
Lakeland needed serious updating and modification.
It's a safety thing...
Campbell asserts that he has been
singled out, because of his efforts to expose unsafe and/or illegal
activity condoned by Sun 'n Fun management. The Fly-In claims he is
"disruptive" (which he now proudly admits... if you call good
journalism a disruption). Sun 'n Fun has also been effective
with local officials in having Campbell prohibited from large areas
of airport, in clear violation of public access laws. The
Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport, home of the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In,
receives federal, state, and county monies, (even though SnF
President Bill Eickoff refused to disclose, under oath before
a Federal judge, being the beneficiary of such funding) and is
supposedly prohibited from banning journalists because of any
exposés they may write. Sun 'n Fun itself benefits greatly
from public funding (millions of dollars' worth, over the years),
and is thus also prohibited from banning legitimate journalists,
just because, in the words of Lakeland Mayor "Buddy" Fletcher,
they'd like him to "only write nice things" about the meet.
Sun 'n Fun has gone so far as to prohibit Campbell's access,
under threat of arrest, to FAA-sponsored events, in nearby FAA
facilities -- because the FAA building is surrounded by Sun 'n Fun
The ban is ironic. In fact, Campbell has written a LOT of "nice
things" about Sun 'n Fun, and still sends staff each year, for
wall-to-wall coverage of this event. Face it -- almost all of the
coverage of Sun 'n Fun is concerned with what you're interested in:
the people, the machines, the cool gadgets, the developments, the
science, the flying, the airshows -- not the officials!
Campbell's bona fides check out.
He is invited to all the other
fly-ins in the world, including other EAA-sponsored meets.
His organization, the Aero-News Network, is popular around the
world in the aviation industry, and has also been the official
news source of the EAA fly-ins at Arlington (WA) and Copperstate
(in Arizona), and the Aircraft Electronics Association. Campbell's
coverage of events in the past 12 months includes events sponsored
by, in addition to the EAA (Sun 'n Fun's parent), the Aircraft
Owners and Pilots Association, the National Air Transportation
Association, the Professional Aircraft Maintenance Association, the
Helicopter Association International, the Air Force Association,
the United States Ultralight Association, the Soaring Society of
America, Women in Aviation International, and dozens of others.
AOPA; the world's largest pilot's organization, not only allows,
but "welcomes Campbell's coverage, positive and negative," noting
that they have "nothing to fear from objective
Fraud and Viciousness!?
Over the years, Sun 'n Fun has
made its displeasure well-known. Some expressions of that
displeasure have been pretty aggressive. Campbell has been
assaulted once by a Senior SnF staffer with a moving vehicle,
received e-mail from highly visible SnF personnel addressing
him as "jew-boy," and some of our readers were directed
by SnF personnel (when they complained about the banning
order) to some web-sites.... one of which featured a
caricature of his office adorned with swastikas and another site
authored by a person who published his plans to maintain
the harassment of Campbell until "the dog is dead." In one
truly bizarre misdirection, Sun 'n Fun referred a local
newspaper to Revolution Helicopter some years ago
claiming that Campbell was picking on them, too...
Revolution was eventually shut down by Campbell's reports and
government action, but in the meantime, dozens of people were
reportedly defrauded of millions of dollars, over a dozen pilots
were killed in their products, and the better part of some 100
accidents and incidents in that aircraft were recorded--leaving one
of the deadliest trails in sport aviation history. Interesting
choice on their part... no?
Sun 'n Fun's campaign of revenge against Campbell got
particularly bad last year. Under the express direction of the Sun
'n Fun Fly-In, the security company they hired for the event
(DSI Security) distributed copies of Jim Campbell's DMV
record/picture and posted them publicly. A number of passersby who
asked them about this document, so visible in and outside the guard
shacks (see above, right), were often told that Campbell was a
known terrorist and that they had orders to arrest him. Some of the
people told this were sponsors of the Aero-News Network, as well as
staffers, readers, and friends. The DMV record, we are told by
state officials, appears to have been illegally obtained and
posted. According to DSI, nothing was said or done without the
express direction of Fly-In officials. This was particularly
disgusting in that the Fly-In, last year, wrapped itself pretty
heavily in the flag and claimed to be honoring our forces abroad
with displays and statements of public patriotism... while other of
their actions made a mockery (in our opinion) of all that this
country was fighting for (especially the Constitution).
And then this year, Sun 'n Fun,
who had held itself up as a paragon of virtue within the
aviation community, was found to have been providing (according to
an excellent and somewhat surprising piece of journalism by the
Lakeland Ledger) false statements of its widely disseminated
attendance figures to its vendors, exhibitors, government agencies
and the public, at large. This happened after ANN had been
questioning their figures, for several years, as simply
The ONLY place he's banned is Sun 'n Fun--period.
The founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Paul
Poberezny, has said it's wrong for Sun 'n Fun to ban Campbell.
The President of the EAA, Tom Poberezny, has said as much, also;
but the EAA doesn't directly control Sun 'n Fun's activities.
The previous Administrator of the FAA, Jane Garvey, has also
said it's wrong.
It's time for Sun 'n Fun to grow up, and recognize that there's
still a free press in America, and Campbell is part of it.
What Can YOU Do About It?
Sun 'n Fun has been officially
notified of a major court action over this matter. We had
hoped that this would not be necessary but it's obvious that cooler
heads will not prevail. Nonetheless; ANN would still like your
assistance. We've not made as big an issue out of this as we might
(though, that is about to change...) because we really didn't
believe that such insanity would go on this long and that adults
would keep acting like this. Our estimations of their maturity and
good sense have obviously been faulty, so it's time to "get
We need your help to make sure that as many responsible people
know about this outrage as possible.
- Contact your elected officials and ask that they step in and
enforce our Constitution (clip the above story, if you find it
- Protest to EAA, Sun 'n Fun, the FAA, and the City of
- Write us a letter for the protest file so that we can archive
that with the several THOUSAND others we've gotten (nearly 11,000
last year) over the past few years (there IS strength in
- Make this an issue to as many of the appropriate parties
as you can and please be sure to copy us on everything you do
and (especially) any responses you get.
We've worked hard to earn your trust and
serve your interests to our best ability, and we'd like to enlist
your support to stop an unjust situation that needs strong and
corrective action. Aside from the crimp it puts in our ability
to do our job for you, we really disapprove of their sense that
they can do anything they want, no matter how arrogant, indiscrete,
dangerous or harmful it may be to people like you.
Be heard. Be counted. Tell us what you think we need to do next.
Protest an atrocious action that is tarnishing the world of
aviation. In the meantime, we'll do our job... telling you
what we think you need to know, warts and all, thoroughly, properly
and for the ultimate benefit of all who love aviation.