Aircraft donations fuel future of GA

November 14, 2012

Donation
Jack Williams turns over the keys to his Mooney to AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg.

A World War II veteran decides to part with his last airplane after decades of general aviation flying. A flying husband and wife trade their cross-country speedster for an aircraft more suited to exploring their own backyard. Donors to the AOPA Foundation recently turned their decision to part with a beloved airplane into a contribution to the future of GA.

Champ: J. Lloyd Huck

J. Lloyd Huck nearly had a dilemma. A day after promising his American Champion Champ to AOPA, the second aircraft he was to donate, the veteran pilot got an unexpected call. A buyer had finally come forward, and placed a deposit.

Huck, made short work of that situation, closing the deal and donating the proceeds to AOPA.

Call it the donated Champ that almost was, and a very generous donation (about $75,000) that will go a long way toward supporting the freedom to fly that Huck fought for, in more ways than one, during an aviation career that began during World War II.

Huck soloed in the U.S. Army in 1943, and earned a place in the cockpit of a Boeing B-17, though he was ordered to serve first as an instructor—not his first choice. After six months, he was assigned to fly the B-29, and would continue his service in the reserves for five more years after the war.

Huck launched his working life as a junior chemist and retired from Merck as the chairman of the pharmaceutical company’s board. Huck’s general aviation career spanned decades, but time and health finally caught up with Huck this year, just short of his goal of flying until he celebrated 90 years in July.

Huck had already donated one of his personal aircraft: the AOPA 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus SR22 and bought the Champ, which is able to fly under light sport aircraft (LSA) rules. Huck was able to extend his time in the cockpit by about three years, and said that he believes that his latest donation will also serve an important purpose.

Huck said general aviation must address a number of problems, including the decline in the pilot population—and the challenges facing flight school operators, including liability issues.

“These are problems that have to be solved,” Huck said. “I think AOPA is addressing those issues in the best possible way.”

AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg said Huck’s generosity has made a difference many times over.

“Lloyd Huck, in addition to serving the nation so well in World War II, has been a great asset to GA,” Landsberg said, noting Huck’s donation of the 2009 Sweepstakes Cirrus. “He also gave his last aircraft to enable the AOPA Foundation to help preserve the future of GA, and we are indebted.”

Mooney: Jack and Ellyn Williams

Jack Williams bought his 1988 Mooney PFM from the factory in 1989, a month after he earned his private pilot certificate in a Cessna 152. He and his wife, Ellyn, who he said earned her private pilot certificate a couple years later, flew the speedy Porsche-powered airplane across the country so many times that Williams said he’s lost count.

“She’s efficient, she’s fast, we’ve really enjoyed her,” Williams said of the Mooney, which was re-engined with a 280-horsepower Continental 550 in 2004. But the Southern California couple spent little time over the Western states, and Ellyn never quite grew comfortable with the faster Contintental-powered airplane. After 23 years and almost 3,700 flying hours, they considered selling the Mooney that had served them so well on long-haul trips, and opting for an airplane that would allow them to slow down and fly a little lower to appreciate the landscapes closer to home.

As they began the search for a new airplane, they considered their options for selling the Mooney. The market for airplanes has been slow, and it could take some time sell it, Williams said.

“It’s not a plane that wants to be parked sitting with a ‘For Sale’ sign on its propeller,” he explained. Then, when Williams was looking on the AOPA Foundation website at ways to give to the organization, as the couple does every year, he noticed a mention that one could donate an airplane. He filled out his information and got a call from the foundation.

“It just seemed to me it was a good way to optimize its value all around,” he explained. “If AOPA could put it to good use actually using the airplane, that could be great.” And if the organization decides to sell it, he added, it is in a much better position to optimize the yield of the sale.

In the meantime, the Williamses were searching for the right airplane to take on their new mission. They had previously taken a demo flight in a Diamond, which fit the bill and offered the visibility and advanced technology they were seeking, and settled on a DA40 XLS. After the Diamond made it to their home airport in Big Bear, Calif., the couple left for one last trip in the Mooney, across the country to deliver it to AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md.

Ellyn, who handles co-pilot duties with her husband but had let her currency lapse, had a chance to get some experience in AOPA’s own Diamond DA40 with an instructor; and Jack plans to take the newly purchased Diamond to the spacious runway at Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport for some touch-and-goes to get comfortable with it. Then, it’s on to set out for destinations in the West.

“It’s probably about time we explored our own backyard,” he said.

“The Mooney is a wonderful donation to the Foundation,” noted Landsberg, “and we’ll always remember where she came from. It’s always special when someone like Lloyd or Jack and Ellyn gives us an important part of their lives. Pilots form a bond with our aircraft, and the Foundation is most appreciative.”

Why donate

The AOPA Foundation’s airplane donation program, like many organizations’ car donation programs, allows a donor to bypass the hassle of selling and gain a tax benefit, all while contributing to a cause. The AOPA Foundation, one of the few nonprofits to accept airplanes, is in an ideal position to be able to work with aircraft owners because employees know the market, said AOPA Foundation Vice President of Strategic Philanthropy Stephanie Kenyon.

“It’s a really nice program because often it takes so long for someone to sell an airplane,” Kenyon said. AOPA Foundation staff will walk a donor through the process, which for Williams didn’t take very long, she said.

When the foundation receives an airplane, it may choose to keep it for staff transportation or training, or in the case of the 2009 Cirrus SR22 that Huck donated, give it away as a sweepstakes airplane. Or, the organization could sell the airplane; in those cases, the proceeds would go toward supporting the AOPA Foundation’s goals of improving GA’s safety, preserving and improving community airports, growing the pilot population, and educating the public on the benefits of GA. In the case of the Mooney, current plans are to keep it.

Owners can start the process of donating an airplane on the AOPA Foundation website or contact a staff member.

“It benefits us, it benefits them,” Kenyon said. “It’s really an easy thing to do.”