'A real dog': Total surprise for Husky winner

October 11, 2012

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, AOPA member Richard Zahn, CEO of a 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 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 already in California for AOPA Aviation 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 repaired by the craftsmen at Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyo., 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 Summit in Palm Springs.

Zahn, 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 Huskys, 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 this close to making an offer on an airplane in Texas, and I just wanted to take this weekend and think about it a little more,” 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 ease the transition to Husky ownership: flight training toward a tailwheel endorsement; a hangar at Bob White Field Airport in Zellwood, Fla., for 90 days, and a mountain flying checkout from Jeanne McPherson, a renowned instructor in Helena, Mont.

“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, outgoing, and interesting people you could find anywhere.”

Michelle played a central 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 him to the airport, and brought him there on cue.

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