Wild weekend with Sean Tucker

August 29, 2012

Night For Flight auction makes pilot's dream come true

 

It’s your first aerobatic routine, and you’re performing for an audience of one—airshow performer and aerobatic champion Sean D. Tucker.

No pressure.

Rick King, chief operating officer for technology at Thomson Reuters in Minnesota, won that honor after placing the highest bid for an experience with Tucker through the AOPA Foundation’s 2011 A Night For Flight online auction. Tucker, who has donated aerobatic flight experiences to the auction each year since its creation in 2010, pulled out all the stops for the winner, including a weekend at his house, dinner complete with a mariachi band, and several flights.

“I really believe the AOPA Foundation’s agenda and what it’s doing, and so for me to be involved it’s really an honor,” said Tucker, who is once again offering a flight experience in the online auction. “And then to have a guy like Rick King who is a larger-than-life character, very successful businessman come out and spend almost four days with me and share my life, flying with him was a blast.”

Over the past two years, King, appointed by Minnesota’s governor to be a member of the Metropolitan Airports Committee which is involved with policy making for Minneapolis area airports, flew across the country chasing his dream of flying with Tucker. King, who works for an Oracle client, flew to Fort Worth, Texas, and Chicago in hopes of flying with the aerobatic performer in the Team Oracle Extra after airshows, but he flew with Tucker’s teammates instead. When he read an article about Tanya Trejo, the 2010 winner of the aerobatic flight experience, he vowed to bid on and win Tucker’s package. After coming in as the highest bidder for the flight experience in the 2011 auction, King flew to California earlier this year to spend a long weekend with Tucker, performing loops, rolls, Cuban eights, and other maneuvers in an Extra 300—a dream come true.

The handling, King, a student pilot, learned, is quite different from the Cessna 172 that he trains in at Flying Cloud Airport in Minneapolis.

“It teaches you a little bit of input goes a long way,” King said. The Extra 300 agilely responds to control inputs, climbing or descending at the precise pitch angle set, banking with hardly a hint of control pressure. It also boasts a roll rate of 340 degrees per second. “A lot more of this is about touch.”

King flew multiple aerobatic flights a day with Tucker, progressing quickly, he said, because he was being coached by a professional. “The last two days, I really felt like I knew what to do,” King said of the training. “He’s a good teacher.”

Then it was his time to shine. Tucker instructed King in which order to perform the maneuvers and commented on his progress in just a few short days. King went from performing maneuvers without finishing them completely to snapping out of them “clean and crisp,” King said. “I was comfortable enough at that point.”

“I flew the routine that we practiced,” King said, as if it had become second nature. Later, King added that given the choice between flying on his own whenever he wanted or flying with Tucker once a year, he’d “probably pick Sean.”

More than he bargained for

While King bid in the auction for the opportunity to fly with Tucker, he gained much more from the experience.

“I think what’s so special about my donation is, I’m gonna make sure you have a great time,” Tucker said. True to his word, he and his family welcomed King into their home and made him part of family events—including preparing dinner (King and Tucker both enjoy cooking).

“He and his wife are unbelievable hosts,” King said.

In addition, Tucker and King mountain biked and golfed during his stay in California.

“When you spend four days with somebody, you fly with him, you golf with him, you laugh with him, you really get to know somebody,” Tucker said, “and I got a new very, very good friend.”

King echoed the sentiment, saying, “I think I’ve made a friend I’ll keep track of.” That they have. The two keep in touch and have flown and played golf together since that weekend. According to King, Tucker still leads by a few strokes on the greens.

A Night For Flight auction

The AOPA Foundation’s A Night For Flight online auction features dozens of items ranging from exotic trips to books to training packages. One of the most popular items is Tucker’s aerobatic flight experience. Bidding opened Aug. 27 and will run through Oct. 13. Check out the auction and place your bid today. All proceeds benefit the foundation, which works to increase pilot safety, grow the pilot population, preserve and improve community airports, and improve general aviation’s image.

The foundation also is hosting A Night For Flight gala during AOPA Aviation Summit at the vintage Riviera Palm Springs Resort in Palm Springs, Calif., on Oct. 11. Tickets cost $250, with half of the ticket price a tax-deductible contribution to the AOPA Foundation. The event runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Sean Tucker
Rick King takes a ride on the wild side with aerobatic legend Sean D. Tucker after coming in as the winning bidder for the experience in the AOPA Foundation A Night For Flight online auction last year.