What's up with the Waco?

November 11, 2009

What's up with the Waco?

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Country music star Aaron Tippin is among the more than 400,000 AOPA members hoping his or her name is drawn to win the Waco

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AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes Waco

Jan. 9, 2004 - "Here it is, nearly two weeks into January, and AOPA still hasn't given away the Waco, " you may be thinking to yourself. "What's going on? "

What's going on is the excitement of giving away a quarter-million-dollar airplane!

When the sun rose on January 1 there was a record number of AOPA members -- 401,952 to be exact. A week later those names - members' numbers actually - were recorded on a computer disk and, along with the thousands of postcards (each given a number) that were received, were shipped to the prestigious accounting firm of Grant Thorton, LLP.

Early next week a computer program especially designed for sweepstakes like this will randomly draw numbers for the last monthly Waco ride ... and one for the Grand Prize. Just in case, there are four backup numbers drawn for each prize. "At this point everyone's a number, " said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But not for long. That's when the fun really starts. "

Once the winning numbers are selected, the numbers become real names and they are verified for eligibility. "We then have to get the plane, the winner, me and a camera crew to one location to award the airplane. All without letting the winner know they've won! And then there's the issue of an open-cockpit airplane possibly being delivered to North Dakota in February. No easy task! " admits Boyer, who has delivered 10 airplanes like this in the past decade.

In the meantime, several of the monthly winners have yet to take their rides in a Waco biplane similar to the Sweepstakes grand prize. So AOPA will soon be contacting those winners soon to arrange their trips.

To a person, the monthly winners who've already flown in a Waco have raved about the experience. Larry Tucker said, "I've died and gone to heaven! " "What a phenomenal experience! " echoed Patti Bennett. And Brian Plas probably put it best when he said of his flight, "You could tell the plane was where it belonged. "

What the grand prize winner will fly away in is a completely restored 1940 Waco UPF-7 open cockpit biplane (well, technically it's a ZPF-7 because we put a more powerful Jacobs 275 hp engine on it, but it was originally certificated as a UPF-7). The flight instruments have all been either replaced or completely refurbished, but it's still a pretty basic stick-and-rudder flying experience. This is 1940, after all. But there are a couple of 21st century touches aboard, including a Garmin panel-mounted GPS unit and a state-of-the-art PS Engineering intercom system developed especially for high-noise environments, like an open cockpit.

There were two main ways to enter the Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes - either joining or renewing membership in AOPA, or by submitting a postcard. All of the postcards are assigned unique identification numbers, then a list of all the postcard numbers and all the eligible member numbers is sent to Grant Thorton LLP. They independently select two numbers - one for the grand prize, and one for the final monthly prize. AOPA then determines the name that goes with each number, and verifies that each winner is eligible (legal age, properly certificated, etc.).

And all that should happen over the next 30 days.

If you've always dreamed of owning a biplane, but haven't already entered the Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes, you've

unfortunately missed your chance. The contest entry period ended at midnight on Dec. 31, 2003.

However, at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2004, AOPA's next sweepstakes began. This year, you could Win A Twin, a fully restored 1965 Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche, or one of more than two thousand other prizes. And if you're a certificated pilot (student all the way up to ATP), all you have to do is join or renew membership in AOPA. There are also alternate methods of entry. Complete rules and eligibility requirements are available online.

Restoration work is already underway, and AOPA Pilot editor-at-large Tom Horne's first restoration update is available online. Tom will file online updates periodically, as well as articles on how work on the plane is progressing in each month's issue of AOPA Pilot.

"Restoring the Waco was fun, and a great way to tip our hat to the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight, " said Boyer. "This new sweepstakes involves our first-ever multi-engine restoration project. It's a real opportunity for us to teach our members about maintaining and flying a twin, and it's something we're really looking forward to. "

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