Airport director’s business acumen pays off

When most people look at an airport they see planes, runways, taxiways and fuel. When Mike Willingham looks at an airport, he sees a real estate opportunity.

On Aug. 1, Willingham will have been executive director of the Sebring Airport Authority for 25 years. Willingham, 64, is also a pilot with an additional three years of experience in Fixed Base Operations at the airport, but it is his out-of-the-box thinking and business acumen that have made his tenure at the Sebring Regional Airport so successful.

Besides its obvious role as a flight center, the property under Willingham is now a 2,000-acre business park hosting 44 tenants and is part of a Foreign Trade Zone, also known as a Free Tax Zone, spanning six counties.

Hang a left turn off of U.S. 98, pass the Humane Society of Highlands County and you’ll start to see the Sebring Regional Airport “shopping mall.

The famous race track is a tenant, along with aviation companies like Tecnam Aircraft, who assembles, sells and distributes piston-powered aircraft across the Americas. Lockwood is here, constructing its Aircam, a revolutionary craft originally designed for National Geographic. The location is also a military refueling station.

But the airport isn’t all about planes. Other tenants include Genpak, a plastics manufacturer; E-stone, an Italian granite products company; and the newest tenant, CitraPac, the creator of “fruit pearls,” a kid-friendly, no-sugar-added frozen citrus product.

Willingham said he came into the role with an eye to “running the business and delivering value to the community.” That boils down to making decisions that pay the bills while also boosting economic development and job creation, and Willingham made it a point to foster good relationships with important community players like elected officials and the CRA.

“That has paid dividends,” he said.

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imsa_P_2_Patron_SMALLComing off of a stirring victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM Honda Ligier JS P2 returned to Victory Lane with a second consecutive triumph in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Pipo Derani captured the checkered flag in a final sprint in Saturday’s 64th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida. With five minutes and 45 seconds to go, Derani passed Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP from Action Express Racing to take the lead and the eventual victory, sweeping Daytona and Sebring in back-to-back rounds of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

What a tough race this was,” said Derani. “We had some contact, some spins, and moving our way back to the front was just unbelievable. In the end, I knew we had a great car, and new tires. But with only 10 to 15 minutes to go and still be in fourth was difficult to believe that we were going to make it. God had an eye on me and everything I executed was perfect. I can’t believe it all. It happened like that. I was so focused to bring the car home. The adrenaline was so high I couldn’t think about anything else.

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SIR and Sebring Airport partner to form Hendricks Field Memorial Park

Hendricks Field, the predecessor to Sebring International Raceway and Sebring Regional Airport, was honored Friday at a special ground-breaking ceremony. The ceremony kicked off a funding campaign to preserve and enhance the original military airbase flagpole and surrounding area, which will be known as Hendricks Field Memorial Park.

A WWII United State Army Air Force base, Hendricks Field opened in 1942 and played a vital role in training B-17 combat crews and supporting personnel. Originally called the Sebring Basic Flying School, the name was changed to Hendricks Field in honor of Lt. Laird Hendricks, a Floridian who was killed while training Royal Air Force pilots in England. Several thousand men who trained at Hendricks Field served in the European and Pacific war fronts, with an estimated one-fourth never returning. Read more

Sebring Approved for New Tesla Destination Charging Station

Last week, Sebring Airport Authority received official approval from Tesla Motors to become a Tesla charging station. Tesla owners will soon be able to charge their cars at the airport.

Said Jonathan Katz, Associate Project Manager, Destination Charging, “Based upon your site’s reviews and location, we are offering the airport property up to three complimentary Tesla Connectors.”

As a host site, Sebring is responsible for ongoing electricity used. Also, Sebring will make charging available for Model S customers in need who may not be airport clients. Said Mike Willingham, Executive Director, Sebring Airport Authority, “We are very excited about being part of this amazing new venture, which will bring new visitors to Sebring.”


Tesla designs, engineers and manufactures premium, all-electric vehicles and is leading a revolution to transform the automotive industry with zero-emissions technology. The Model S is a class-leader in performance, efficiency, functionality and safety. Tesla’s charging infrastructure provides them with a competitive advantage compared to other automobile manufacturers and is made up of home charging, Supercharging and Destination Charging.


Tesla is rapidly expanding a first of its kind, hospitality-focused EV charging network. This allows full-service hotels, resorts, and restaurants to directly market to and attract high-net-worth Tesla owners. EV owners in general often craft their vacation and business trips around charging availability. By hosting Tesla Connectors for your patrons, you place yourself prominently in our owners’ view through our Find Us Page and 17″ Touchscreen Navigation.

The Sebring Regional Airport & Industrial Park Community Redevelopment Agency Revenue Stream Secured for 30 Years

Sebring Regional Airport & Industrial Park (through (CRA) Community Redevelopment Agency) will now have funding until 2045 according to a $133.8 million redevelopment plan presented Tuesday, February 2nd at the meeting of Highlands County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

The CRA plan commits to improving the four main activities of the airport: Industrial Park Development, Airport Infrastructure/Economic Development, Sebring International Raceway Infrastructure and U.S. Sport Aviation Expo Economic Development.

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Sebring Expo to Announce New Dates and Director for 2017

February 1, 2016, Sebring, FL—The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo will begin plans for 2017 with a new Director as Jana Filip has moved on to new opportunities and increased family time. Sebring Regional Airport (SRA) Executive Director Mike Willingham said, “SRA appreciates Jana’s dedication to the event for the past five years.”

This year’s event started off strong with presentations and exhibits for January 20 and 21 with robust attendance. including a Thursday morning AOPA Seminar that drew a standing-room-only crowd.

The next two days Expo faced severe weather with winds gusting to 35 miles an hour, prohibiting most exhibitors from taking to the sky.

Expo expects to remain the mainstay of sport and light-sport aviation manufacturers, catering to the recreational flying markets; to that end, SRA  is researching weather data to choose a more optimum timeframe for 2017. “The weather challenges in recent years have given us the opportunity to review and assess the best possible time to produce a successful 2017 event,” Willingham said. Read more

U.S. Sport Aviation Expo 2016

Light sport enthusiasts are gathering in sunny Florida for the four-day event which kicked off yesterday.

Drones come to U.S. Sport Aviation Expo

Excerpted from Jay Meisel | Highlands Today  Published: January 21, 2016

SEBRING — Don’t expect any time soon to call up your favorite pizza business and have a drone bring the Italian fast food to your door step. Also, it’s probably unlikely that an Amazon drone will be delivering that hot new mystery book to your home.

But, you might drive by a farm and see a drone over head.

That’s becoming increasingly possible and anticipated as using drones has gained interest. And for the first time this year drones were part of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, which continues through the end of this week at the Sebring Regional Airport.

Shawn Okun, president of Float Planes and Amphibs, a Sebring-based company, said drones will become increasingly used in agriculture and other types of businesses, law enforcement and border control. 

Screen-Shot-2016-01-21-at-6.26.26-PM-_-Jan-21Scott Clark, owner of Dragonfly Racing Drones, holds out his hand to land a small quadcopter drone after demonstrating it at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo on Wednesday. The Sebring-based drone store plans to start holding drone races. RYAN PELHAM/STAFF – 

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Tecnam P2010 Awarded U.S. Type Certificate

Excerpted from

The Tecnam P2010, a new high-wing four-seat single produced in Italy, is coming to U.S. shores at last after the FAA awarded the airplane’s Part 23 type certificate.

Now, five aircraft waiting at the factory in Italy can be completed and shipped to the United States, and two more will be built for waiting customers. The first seven buyers were cash customers.

Tecnam is rapidly expanding its service centers. In addition to the one at U.S. headquarters in Sebring, Florida, a new one has been established at Eagle Creek Aviation Services in Indianapolis. Another has been established at SouthTecAviation in Salisbury, North Carolina. Additional service centers will be located in Texas, California, and New York.

The price of the three-door, four-seat aircraft remains at the introductory price of $345,000. Originally there were plans to increase the price. The aircraft’s unusual feature is a back door for rear-seat passengers.

Also on the new type certificate is approval for a constant-speed propeller. Now, the takeoff distance is 300 feet shorter than reported in AOPA Pilot, and the climb rate has increased to 650 fpm, with 900 fpm possible in cool conditions. The prop is an $8,000 option. The price already includes a Garmin G1000 avionics suite.

The aircraft has been certified previously in Europe where 40 Tecnam P2010 aircraft have been delivered. It has an all-composite fuselage with a metal wing and stabilator. In the air, it comes close to Cessna 182 speeds—133 knots on the hot Florida day it was tested by AOPA—at a cost that is $100,000 less than the Cessna 182.

The HSR Classic 12 Hours of Sebring, Pistons and Props

Date: November 30-December 4, 2016

The HSR Classic 12 Hours of Sebring, Pistons and Props, Presented by Alan Jay Automotive Network, Debuts Next December at Sebring International Raceway.jpeg

This will be a full-weekend event, a dual celebration of Sebring’s racing and aviation history.

SEBRING, Florida (December 4, 2015) – The Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) Classic 12 Hours of Sebring, Pistons and Props, Presented by Alan Jay Automotive Network – an on-track and on-the-runways celebration of the 12 Hours of Sebring and historic Hendricks Field, will debut next December at Sebring International Raceway. 

The announcement of the new event was made today during the drivers meeting for this weekend’s HSR Sebring Historic Races Presented by Alan Jay Automotive Network by HSR President David Hinton and Sebring International Raceway President and General Manager Wayne Estes.

The HSR Classic 12 Hours of Sebring, Pistons and Props, Presented by Alan Jay Automotive Network will follow the same concept of HSR’s Classic 24 Hour at Daytona presented by IMSA, which was run for the second time at Daytona International Speedway three weeks ago.

The immediate success of the Classic 24 Hour at Daytona, which has quickly ascended to “must-attend” status on the worldwide motorsports scene, provided the inspiration behind the similar event on the iconic grounds of Sebring International Raceway. While the Rolex 24 Hour At Daytona is America’s premier 24-hour race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, has gained equally legendary status as the oldest major sports car race in the United States.

An entirely unique aspect of the Classic 12 Hours of Sebring, Pistons and Props, however, will be the simultaneous celebration of Sebring’s rich military and civil aviation history that is as much a part of the 12 Hours of Sebring as the race itself.

“We met with Wayne during the recent Classic 24 Hour at Daytona presented by IMSA and decided even before the final checkered flags flew that we had to do a similar event at Sebring International Raceway,” Hinton said. “Wayne and his team here at Sebring then had the amazing idea to make this not only a celebration of the 12 Hours but also the rich aviation history and heritage of the very facility on which we race each year. We look forward to what will certainly be a unique and exciting event.”

jpeg-1“Combining Sebring’s aviation heritage and six decades of endurance racing history into one event will make for a truly spectacular weekend,” Estes said. “We look forward to working with HSR and the Sebring Airport Authority to build this into a diverse and entertaining event that captures the imagination of aviation and automotive enthusiasts alike.” 

Representatives from both the Alan Jay Automotive Network and Sebring Airport General Manager Mike Willingham were in attendance at today’s announcement.

“With the support of marketing partners such as the Alan Jay Automotive Network, and our strong relationship with the Sebring Airport and the HSR, this event is on solid footing,” Estes said. “We really look forward to the debut in December 2016.” 

The on-track activity for the Classic 12 Hours of Sebring, Pistons and Props, will be similar to the format of the Classic 24 Hour. Run groups of period correct race cars from the last 50 to 60 years will rotate through a full 12 hours of racing on the same circuit used each March for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.