President's Position: The gift of giving

The real winner is the joy of flying

December 1, 2012

Craig Fuller

As the holidays approach, our thoughts go to friends, family, and giving. As you will read in this issue (“A Real Dog” on page 71) we gave away our 2012 Tougher than a Tornado Sweepstakes Husky to AOPA member Rich Zahn.

Giving away the sweepstakes airplane is always among the best moments of my year, but this year was really special. I was so enthusiastic about the opportunity to spend a year with a Husky that I elected to find one for myself. Little did I know how much I would truly enjoy the kind of flying the Husky invites.

Before long, my yellow Husky and the sweepstakes Husky became great companions! Indeed, a large percentage of the 200 hours on my Husky has been spent as part of a flight of two.

With me and AOPA Senior Editor Dave Hirschman at their controls, the two Huskys traveled around the country together. We have enjoyed autumn colors in Maine and New Hampshire, launching on a photo mission from a private grass strip just as soon as the frost on the wings melted. We also enjoyed a trip from our Frederick, Maryland, headquarters to Sun ‘n Fun so much that we just kept flying south until we reached Key West. Honestly! The Gulf Coast was just too beautiful and the day too clear to stop.

One of the more humorous moments found me and Dave standing in Key West at about 10 a.m. when we realized that, as nice as the island is, we’d really rather be sightseeing from the air. So, we filled the tanks and both Huskys departed for Lakeland, Florida, flying back up the chain of islands just for the fun of it.

The most memorable trip would have to be the last the two Huskys made together. After a great week in Oshkosh, we headed west with two pilots from the Aviat factory, each flying a Husky that had been at AirVenture. We were off to Wyoming as a flight of four.

As usual, Dave and I planned to stop after about six hours in the air. But I really don’t know why we even bother making flight plans like that, because if the weather is good and there is something great to see, we just push on. After nine hours of flying and a few stops, we reached the mountains. We found the air still and clear, and we were only too happy to follow two excellent local pilots as we picked our way through the valleys and along the rivers to our destination. It was the most spectacular 90 minutes of flying I can remember. The sweepstakes Husky and my Husky were set to spend the first night at an airpark in Alpine, Wyoming. Who would have guessed that this fly-in community counts 14 Huskys among its resident fleet?

From Wyoming, the sweepstakes Husky headed to California and I flew to Montana, taking a side trip around Yellowstone National Park. My round trip from Frederick took 37.5 hours. Seldom was I more than 1,000 or 2,000 feet from the ground.

Of course, the whole point of a sweepstakes aircraft is that we give it away. And, we don’t go about this is a simple, straightforward manner—we need a production. Our winner was lured to the Pompano Beach Airpark in Florida on the pretense that there was a King Air he needed to look at for a friend.

Our winner had followed our Husky exploits all year long. I had the good fortune of standing before him with keys in my hand saying, “I am pleased to tell you that these are the keys to your airplane.”

After all the hours of flying with the sweepstakes Husky and all the great time with new friends, one of the greatest joys of the year was seeing the winner’s reaction to the words “You’ve won.” In every way, giving this aircraft to this individual was a tremendous gift—not just for me, but for our whole organization.

I am hopeful that the past year’s stories about the pure joy of going to backcountry airstrips and recreational flying have been part of the gift the sweepstakes aircraft has given to our members. From the time my friends at the Recreational Aviation Foundation encouraged us to consider the Tougher Than a Tornado Husky, my flying experiences were enriched. The owner of the Tougher Than a Tornado Husky steps into a whole new community that I am certain he will enjoy. And that part of “the gift” is something I am sure he will come to cherish just as much as I do!

May all the gifts you give and receive during this holiday season bring you happiness and joy. And, from all of us at AOPA, we wish you the happiest of holidays.

AOPA president Craig Fuller is an active general aviation pilot who has been flying for more than 35 years. Email Craig at craig@aopa.org.