Gainesville Regional Airport and University Air Center to Host Gator Fly-In and Armed Services Appreciation Day

Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) and University Air Center (UAC) are hosting their annual Gator Fly-In and Armed Services Appreciation Day Saturday, March 23, 2019, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the University Air Center, 4701 NE 40th Terrace in Gainesville, Florida (general aviation entrance off Waldo Road.)

A fly-in is a gathering for pilots who arrive by air. The event is open to the public, honors all branches of the military, and includes static and military aircraft displays, classic cars, children’s activities, live music, vendors, food trucks and Beechcraft T-34, helicopter and airplane rides (for a fee.) Admission and parking are free, and a shuttle bus will operate between parking areas.

“Our annual Gator Fly-In and Armed Services Appreciation Day is our way of honoring all branches of the military, including some great Gator dignitaries, military and civil aviators who will be flying in many different types of aircraft to the UAC for the event,” says Allan Penksa, CEO, Gainesville Regional Airport. “It’s an exciting day for our community — especially anyone who is curious about flight — to learn more about aviation. We look forward to this very special celebration at our airport.”

Celebrating our Military and Distinguished Gator Alumni The event begins at 8 a.m., with gates opening to the public, and all participating aircraft in place. Opening ceremonies begin promptly at 10 a.m., with a color guard from the University of Florida (UF) ROTC program, followed by the national anthem, to be sung by Kyle Cortez, UF School of Music. Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola will open the program. Dignitaries to speak include Marine Corporal Bob Gasche, local WWII Iwo Jima veteran and Purple Heart Recipient; Col. Joe W. Kittinger, USAF (Retired); Patty Wagstaff, American Aviator and U.S. National Aerobatic Champion; Mark Baker, President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and Captain John “Lites” Leenhouts, Distinguished Navy Veteran and CEO, Sun ‘n Fun.

Best Aircraft Contest and People’s Choice Awards A “Best Civilian Aircraft” and “People’s Choice: Best Aircraft” contest will be held, allowing event attendees to vote for their favorite aircraft at the Gator Fly-In. The winners will be announced by contest judge, Col. Joe Kittinger, who will present the two winners with an award at noon.

Live Music, Classic Cars, Kids’ Activities and All-Day Food Trucks At 9 a.m., activities, static displays and aircraft rides begin. Activities include static aircraft and classic car displays, military trucks, a kid’s corner with face painting, toy airplanes and coloring, arts and crafts vendors, and food trucks. Live Music by Good Time Charlie and the B-Sides, accompanied by “Flying Musicians” will start at 11 a.m. Breakfast items will be available for purchase from Maple Street Biscuit. Food vendors at the event include Eim Thai, El Punto, Poppy’s, and Best Food Ever.

Aircraft Rides for purchase – Beech T-34 Mentor, Robinson 44 Helicopter and Cessna 172; “Swamp Tours” For a fee, attendees can purchase rides in three different aircraft.

Commemorative Air Force, Dixie Wing will provide Beech T-34 Mentor flights for purchase. A two-seat pilot trainer, the T-34 Mentor was developed in 1948 from the Beechcraft 35 Bonanza and was the west’s most successful postwar basic trainer. Interested parties may purchase T-34 rides in advance of the event at or walk-up tickets can be purchased at the UAC booth in the Mustang Hangar ( $195 for 20 minutes; $265 for 40 minutes; $325 for 60 minutes.)

In addition, UAC is offering “Swamp Tours” lasting about 15 minutes, in which passengers can fly over the UF Football Stadium in a Cessna 172 ($50) or a Robinson R-44 helicopter ($50).

2019 Gator Fly-In Dignitaries:

Mark Baker became a pilot in his twenties and has logged more than 7,500 hours of flight time. The pilot community and his close flying friends are the reason he can be found at an airport or a seaplane base nearly every weekend. An aircraft owner, Baker enjoys flying everything from light seaplanes to turbines to helicopters, but his favorite airplane continues to be his Piper Super Cub.

Marine Corporal Bob Gasche enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1943. At age 21 Private Gasche received combat orders for the assault on Iwo Jima. The eight square-mile island, dominated by its 504-foot volcano named Surbachi, was home to 36 days of death and destruction.  There, Private Gasche was wounded and eventually taken to a hospital ship, where he underwent surgery to remove the shrapnel from his abdomen. As he was being evacuated to Hawaii, the plane carrying him and other injured men was forced down onto a small island after losing two of its four engines. Marine Corporal Gasche spent another year in combat in Korea.  Fifty-two years after he was ferried off the island of Iwo Jima, he got another surprise. The Purple Heart Medal he’d earned in the battle, but never received, arrived in the mail at his home in Gainesville. Today Bob Gasche is involved in the many veterans’ organizations in the North Central Florida area, most notably the Iwo Trio.

Col. Joseph W. Kittinger II (USAF, Ret.), a UF alumnus, made history in 1960 as he ascended to 102,800 feet in a high-altitude balloon and jumped to Earth, setting four world records. During a distinguished USAF career, Joe served as a test pilot, Squadron Commander, and Vice Wing Commander. In a voluntary tour, Col. Kittinger led the noted 555th (Triple Nickel) Tactical Fighter Squadron in Vietnam and was shot down in combat in his F-4D Phantom II, the last of 453 combat missions. He spent 11 months as a POW in Vietnam before returning home. He retired as a Colonel and subsequently set two world ballooning records and won numerous ballooning competitions. Joe is a National Aeronautics Association Elder Statesman of Aviation; was awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Aviation trophy from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; was made an Honorary U.S. Army Golden Knight; and is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame and the National Skydiving Museum Hall of Fame. His was most recently named a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and inducted into The Living Legends of Aviation. To date, Joe has logged more than 16,800 hours of flying time in over 93 aircraft. His adventures are detailed in his autobiography, Come Up and Get Me.  

Captain John “Lites” Leenhouts, CEO and President of SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In International and The Aerospace Center for Excellence located in Lakeland, Fla., is a 27-year veteran of the United States Navy with a distinguished record of service as a carrier fighter pilot. Lites’ passion for aviation has spanned over nearly five decades, from hitch hiking to his first airshow as a young kid to retiring from the United States Navy in 2001 as the Commodore of the Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, serving in both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Lites holds the distinction of being the most experienced US Naval aviator of all time having successfully completed 10 major deployments and achieved 1,645 arrested carrier landings.

About Patty Wagstaff

Patty Wagstaff is a three-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, six-time member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team and inductee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. She has flown many airplanes including jets and warbirds and has type ratings in the L39 Jet, TBM Avenger, T-28 and an LOA in the BD5-J Jet and has flown airshows in the Super Decathlon, Pitts series, Extras, T-28, T-6 and P51D Mustang and is a commercial helicopter pilot. In addition to performing in airshows across North America each season, she operates Patty Wagstaff Aviation Safety LLC and the Patty Wagstaff Aerobatic School is headquartered in St. Augustine, Florida. Patty has been a CFII since 1983 and has been the Chief Instructor for the Kenya Wildlife Service Air Wing since 2001. Patty also writes for Plane & Pilot magazine for a monthly column called “Let it Roll”.

About Gainesville Regional Airport

Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) serves North Central Florida and the Heart of Florida through all facets of aviation: commercial airlines, general aviation, military operations, medical missions and air cargo. Located in Gainesville, Florida, just minutes away from the University of Florida, GNV provides a close, convenient and competitively priced “gateway” to the Heart of Florida. The airport operates 15 daily departures on American Airlines and Delta with nonstop service to the international hubs of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami. GNV is served by a full-service fixed base operator, University Air Center (UAC). With more than 350 part- and full-time employees and tenants at the airport, GNV has an annual economic impact on North Central Florida of more than $374 million. In 2018, 476,396 commercial passengers set an all-time record of arrivals to and departures from GNV. For more information, please visit

About University Air Center (UAC)

University Air Center (UAC) is the Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at Gainesville Regional Airport (KGNV). We are a full-service FBO and charter operator with Citation 500/550/560 series jets; Eclipse 500 series jets and a Cirrus SR-22. We maintain aircraft from multi-engine jets to single engine and Multi Engine piston aircraft. UAC operates an FAA approved, Part 141 flight school. We offer booking of rental cars, hotel rooms, catering and aircraft fueling services, with JetA and AvFuel 100LL. UAC is open 24 hours, a day, seven days a week, and we are proud of operating over 30 years with a perfect safety record. For more information, please visit

Related posts