AOPA’s own SWAT team arrived in Northern California on Friday, getting out of Frederick before the anticipated record snows. AOPA–a SWAT team? In our case, SWAT stands for Sweepstakes Winner Announcement Team!
On Friday, I was conducting business in Nashville, and with a huge snowstorm threatening the Mid-Atlantic region, I didn’t even try to get back to Frederick for fear I wouldn’t be able to get out in time to spring our carefully laid trap on the unsuspecting winner of the 2009 AOPA Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes.
Of course, people like to keep an eye on where AOPA’s airplanes are going, so I was careful not to arrive on the scene too soon and spoil the surprise. Instead of heading straight to California, I stopped in Denver overnight, flying to Sacramento on Saturday evening to review the final plans with AOPA SWAT members over dinner at the historic Frank Fats Restaurant.
On Sunday morning AOPA’s team gathered at the Yolo County Airport for a final status check before springing our trap.
We had persuaded a colleague of our winner to help out with a little friendly deception. Jimmy Rollinson, a well-known flyer and, like our winner, a FedEx pilot, said he wanted to look at property in the winner’s Alta Sierra fly-in community. And, to make sure our winner would be willing to give up part of his Super Bowl Sunday to help (not to mention to give us an excuse to bring a film crew to this quiet, private field), Rollinson said he’d be arriving in the famous Cessna 310–Songbird III from the TV series “Sky King”–an airplane owned by Paul and Valerie Erickson, who were also complicit in our plan.
Heading out with Songbird III to surprise our winner at Alta Vista Airport.
Acting as producer, AOPA’s own Warren Morningstar arranged to bring in the film crew under the pretense of shooting some footage of the famous airplane against the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Nevada range.
The plan was to have our winner join Rollinson on the tarmac to talk about the Sky King series in time for me to swoop in and land in our beautiful 2005 Cirrus SR22 GTS. A tough job, yes! But, as they say, someone has to do it.
I was excited and honored to present the airplane to this year’s winner–Michael Graves. Graves, an 18-year member of AOPA who lives in a fly-in community and sometimes uses GA to commute to his professional flying job, was stunned and delighted.
I have to say this is the second time I have had the thrill of giving away an AOPA sweepstakes airplane to a deserving winner and they have been two of the best days of my life! I just love being part of the excitement and watching the reaction as the truth dawns on a winner’s face.
Winner Michael Graves shows off the keys to his Lets Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus.
There’s a lot more to this story, and you can find all the details in our special edition of AOPA ePilot and on AOPA Online (www.aopa.org), and of course we’ll be making that video footage available, too. But I couldn’t wait to share my own excitement and offer my first public congratulations to Michael Graves, as well as my thanks to all those who conspired to make the plan work, including our AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Meriellen Couppee and the folks at Davis Flight Support who got the SR22 ready for its closeup and helped us coordinate the many details that go into a surprise like this.
I am not sure just how much better this month can get. First, no aviation user fees in the President’s budget, and then I get the chance to return to my home state of California and give away our 2009 Sweepstakes airplane!
Now, I just need to figure out if I can get back into Frederick Municipal Airport with all the snow!