Desert Delight

Palm Springs hosts an extraordinary event

December 1, 2012

parade of planes

Photography by Mike Fizer and Chris Rose

Gorgeous location? Check. Lots of learning opportunities? Check. Famous pilots? Check. A parade of more than 80 airplanes down city streets? Check. AOPA Aviation Summit 2012 in Palm Springs, California, had it all. balloon

More than 9,000 visitors convened in this famous desert town for the association’s annual celebration of general aviation. And the headliners included actor, pilot, and aviation advocate Harrison Ford; pilots from the popular aviation television series Flying Wild Alaska; and TV funnyman Dave Coulier, as well as the industry’s luminaries. Rod Machado was on hand to present the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards (see “Award Winners,” page 69); AOPA Senior Vice President Adam Smith introduced the Center to Advance the Pilot Community and AOPA’s commitment to promote flying clubs; Editor in Chief Tom Haines presented daily AOPA Live This Week updates; and AOPA President Craig Fuller hosted keynote presentations, presented awards, and presided over remarkable social events.

Although Summit is billed as a three-day convention, the action started early on Wednesday, October 10, with the morning Parade of Planes. This one-of-a-kind event is a much-anticipated spectacle. More than 80 aircraft of every make, shape, and size—from Light Sport to warbirds, from homebuilts to business jets—traversed the three-mile route from Palm Springs International Airport to the Palm Springs Convention Center. Visitors and residents jammed the roadsides as staffers and volunteers led the airplanes around intersections, parking them nose to tail around the center.

Also on Wednesday was the annual Flight Training Summit, an opportunity to discuss the continuing efforts to improve and revitalize flight training.

aopaliveThursday morning opened the convention with a keynote presentation hosted by Fuller, who, along with Haines and editors Dave Hirschman and Tom Horne, discussed the remarkable adventures—both nationally and internationally—they have experienced in general aviation aircraft. From Wyoming to South Africa and from New Zealand to France, the editors whet the appetites of listening pilots to take their flying beyond conventional borders.

Seminars such as “Navigating the Nation’s Busy Airspace,” “Tips for Improving Pilot and Controller Communication,” and “What Will Power Your Airplanes in the Future?” offered opportunities for learning each day.

Attendees had options to experience in Palm Springs each evening. The Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs Air Museum, and downtown Palm Springs offered special rates and events for visitors; attendees could experience a poolside desert resort party; and those seeking adventure could travel out into the desert for a Wild West experience. rod machado

The events of various industry groups also enhanced the 2012 Summit. Members of the American Bonanza Society, National Business Aviation Association, and International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations met for special seminars, forums, and networking opportunities throughout the convention.

Friday was designated Airport Day at Summit. Education sessions especially designed for airport managers and leaders were held at the convention center. More than 100 airport advocates attended.

There were more than 400 exhibitors and the mood on the exhibit floor was upbeat and positive. Exhibitors reported strong sales, enthusiastic response to product showcases, and a great upswing in the overall mood of attendees.

Of course, disappointed attendees discovered that the Tougher Than a Tornado Husky sweepstakes aircraft had found its new owner (see “A Real Dog,” facing page) but were cheered to discover that The Debonair Sweepstakes is under way (see “Briefing: D’Shannon Do-Over,” page 30).

Next year, AOPA charts a new course to Fort Worth, Texas, for its annual convention October 10 through 12. In 2014, we will return to Palm Springs.

Email julie.walker@aopa.org.

‘A Real Dog’

Total surprise for Husky winner

by Dave Hirschman

The trap had been carefully baited and set.

The AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes Tougher Than a Tornado Husky was about to be awarded to its winner, Richard Zahn, CEO of a Central Florida construction company.

As usual, an elaborate ruse had been put in place to surprise the winner, and this one took place at the Sheltair facility at Pompano Beach Airpark (PMP) in southeast Florida.

Zahn believed he was going to the airport to take a close look at a King Air that a friend planned to purchase. But instead, a stand-in Husky (the real Tougher Than a Tornado Husky was in California for AOPA Summit)—decorated with balloons and draped with a “Congratulations Richard Zahn!” banner—awaited him in the closed Pro Aircraft Interiors hangar.

As Zahn, 44, came through the lobby with wife Michelle (a co-conspirator in the giveaway surprise), Sheltair General Manager Daniel Pooler slipped in a Husky double-entendre when he told Zahn to keep his expectations low.

“That airplane you’re going to see,” Pooler said, shaking his head. “It’s a real dog.”

Zahn walked across the ramp to the hangar, and when he got there, AOPA President Craig Fuller greeted him with the almost unbelievable news. He had won the Tornado Husky, a brand-new airplane that had been battered by the 2011 Sun ’n Fun twister and returned by the craftsmen at Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyoming, to perfect condition. The airplane, with less than 200 hours total time on the airframe and 180-horsepower Lycoming engine, had recently undergone an annual inspection at the Aviat factory, and it was waiting for him to pick up at Aviation Summit 2012 in Palm Springs.

richard zahn and craig fullerZahn, a private pilot since 2008 with multiengine and seaplane ratings, said that he had been enamored with the rugged, backcountry Husky design and particularly its exceptional capabilities as a floatplane. In fact, he had been researching Huskies, checking them out in classified ads, and was about to make an offer on a used one when he learned that the Tornado Husky was his.

“I was close to making an offer on an airplane in Texas, and I just wanted to take this weekend and think about it,” he said. “This is amazing.”

Tim Clifford, owner of the stand-in Husky and a Recreational Aviation Foundation board member, presented Zahn with three items designed to simplify the transition to Husky ownership: flight training toward a tailwheel endorsement; a hangar at Bob White Field Airport in Zellwood, Florida, for 90 days; and a mountain-flying checkout from Jeanne McPherson, a renowned instructor in Helena, Montana.

“You’re about to find out that you’ve just joined a fantastic community of aviators,” said Clifford, a veteran Husky pilot who has flown the specialized airplanes throughout the United States and Europe. “The people who own and support these airplanes are some of the most knowledgeable, friendly, and interesting people you could find anywhere.”

Michelle Zahn played a vital role in carrying out the ruse. She communicated frequently with AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines during the week leading up to the giveaway, helped formulate the bogus story for getting her husband to the airport, and delivered him there right on cue.

“I’m usually not much good at keeping secrets, but I kept this one,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but seeing the surprise on Richard’s face made it all worth it.”

Email dave.hirschman@aopa.org.

Award winners

  • Joseph B. “Doc” Hartranft Jr. Award | U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

    Presented to an elected or appointed government official who has made significant contributions to the advancement of general aviation.

  • Lawrence P. Sharples Perpetual Award | Nicholas Carlucci

    For individuals who have made the most significant contributions to the advancement of aviation.

  • Let’s Go Flying Award | Jamie Beckett

    Honors the individual or organization who best demonstrates the passion and commitment to flying to ensure the future of general aviation.

AOPA Flight Training Excellence awards summit awards

Winning Flight Schools

  • Aviation Adventures, Leesburg, Virginia
  • East Hill Flying Club, Ithaca, New York
  • Rochester Aviation, Rochester, New Hampshire
  • Summit Aviation, Belgrade, Montana
  • The Flight School, Cypress, Texas

Winning CFIs

  • Kevin Bradford, Dubuque, Iowa
  • Timothy Miller, West Jordan, Utah
  • Devan Shepherd, Shoreview, Minnesota

Student’s Choice Award

  • Aviation Adventures, Leesburg, Virginia

President’s Award

  • Redbird Skyport, San Marcos, Texas
  • Tailwheels Etc., Lakeland, Florida
Julie Summers Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Director of Publications, Managing Editor for 'AOPA Pilot' and 'Flight Training'

AOPA Director of Publications and Managing Editor for AOPA Pilot and Flight Training, Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.