April 1, 2004
Even three weeks after learning that he was the winner of America's most coveted Waco, Mark Zeller still couldn't believe his luck. "Every night I've been going down there to look at it," said Zeller, AOPA 3835012.
His recent comments were a bit more coherent than they were the afternoon of February 8 when he stood slack-jawed in front of a hangar at West Houston Airport, peering in at the bright-red fully restored 1940 Waco UPF-7. Participating in what he thought was an interview about the flying experiences of new pilots, Zeller was greeted by AOPA President Phil Boyer who thanked Zeller for his assistance with the interview. As a gift for his help, Boyer gave Zeller a leather flight jacket with the AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes logo on it. At Boyer's encouragement, Zeller tried on the jacket.
"You know what would go good with this jacket?" Boyer queried as he turned Zeller around to face the closed hangar doors. "How about an airplane to go with it?" Magically, with video cameras trained on Zeller's face, the doors opened to reveal the brightly lit prize inside. To the cheers of well-wishers next to the airplane, balloons and a large banner dropped down proclaiming: "Congratulations, Mark!"
A stunned Zeller's comment: "Unbelievable. Fantastic! Wow!"
As he got his wits about him, Zeller shouted, "I won an airplane today. That doesn't happen every day!" The crowd cheered as the airplane was rolled out of the hangar for Zeller's inspection. Zeller, a third-generation pilot, was joined at the event by his girlfriend, Joyce Keyser, 19-year-old son Clint, and his father, Peter Zeller, himself a pilot. Peter's father was also a pilot.
Zeller, 42, began his flight training in the summer of 1999 flying Cessna 150s and 152s. He earned his private pilot certificate in early 2001 and quickly bought a 1969 Cessna 172K. He uses the airplane to visit his younger son, Bobby, who lives nine hours away by car. The 172 reduces that to a four-hour flight. Zeller is the Houston-area general manager of Palm Harbor Homes, one of the largest manufactured-home builders in the country.
With the help of a flight instructor, Zeller has moved the Waco from West Houston Airport to his home field, Lone Star Regional Airport in Conroe, Texas. He plans to begin tailwheel training soon in a smaller taildragger and then transition to the Waco. "The more you're around it, the more you want to fly it," Zeller observed of his new airplane, which has a value of some $250,000.
Zeller won the airplane when his name was randomly drawn by an independent accounting firm from among the hundreds of thousands of entries in the sweepstakes. Those who were members of AOPA at the end of 2002 and 2003 were automatically entered in the contest. — Thomas B. Haines
For more information and photos of the Waco delivery, and for the latest on the 2004 Win-A-Twin Sweepstakes, see AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/wacowinner/).
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