Eyes to the Sky: Florida air shows, fly-ins and aerial festivals

    Fit an aviation-related event into your next Florida getaway: air shows, fly-ins and aerial festivals compete to draw your eyes to the sky.

    By Chelle Koster Walton

    Florida's long, soaring tradition of flight arises from its rich military heritage. Air bases and NASA headquarters mean a fascination for things airborne and foster year 'round festivals and events borne on the wings of flight. Fly into the festivities or marvel at the miracle of flight from below as you tour my take on the state's top high-flying events:

    1. Blue Angel Season, Pensacola (March - November) and Pensacola Beach Air Show (July): No on-ground thrill compares to witnessing the pomp, rumble and thunder of the famous Blue Angels in formation. The elite six-jet team travels around the state and nation March through November, returning in between shows to stage more than 40 free practice performances at its home base, Naval Air Station Pensacola. In July, the "Blues" headline the Pensacola Beach Air Show. November marks the team's gala homecoming to Pensacola and the final show of the season.

    2. Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, Lakeland (March - April): One of Florida's oldest flight-obsessed events, it has hosted aviators and fans for more than 35 years. The six-day festival has something for everyone: aviation exhibits, hot air ballooning, aircraft competitions and shows, student tours, demonstrations, a Ladies Pavilion and a Corn Roast with live entertainment. Pilots and spectators set up camp on the grounds for the duration. Year 'round, visitors can admire spiffy aircraft at the on-site Florida Air Museum.

    3. Tico Warbird Airshow, Titusville (March): The gateway town to Kennedy Space Center, Titusville is all about what's up. Its Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum hosts this annual three-day event showcasing restored military aircraft from World War I through Desert Storm. Witness dogfights, strafing, bombing, skydiving and military jets in the air. The top names in aerobatics and military demonstrations perform. At ground level, tour the aircraft pit area, roam the flea/fly market and grab autographs.

    4. Florida International Air Show, Punta Gorda (April): The Air Force Thunderbirds and Army Golden Knights Aircraft rips through the skies over Punta Gorda to climax this two-day spectacular, more than 30 years old. Gates open at 9 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday of the event.

    5. Stuart Air Show, Stuart (November): Planes perform hours of in-air displays for two days at Witham Field. See vintage bombers, Air Force flyers and the "who's who" of the air show circuit. 

    6. Jacksonville Sea and Sky Spectacular, Jacksonville Beach (October): This exhilarating biannual celestial extravaganza draws more than 400,000 spectators to area beaches to gasp at the Blue Angels on maneuvers. Past years have brought an exciting amphibious landing demonstration, flight simulators and gala street festivals with live entertainment and kids activities.