‘Sky King’s’ Songbird III leads scheme
It’s not easy for honest people to carry out a deception—even one that has the very best intentions.
But 10 days after the winner of AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying SR22 was randomly chosen by an independent accounting firm, AOPA staff members had constructed an elaborate ruse to surprise the winner with the prize: a 2005 SR22 G2 GTS valued at more than $315,000, the highest performing, most technologically advanced aircraft AOPA has ever given away. Everyone who joined AOPA or renewed their membership in 2009 was automatically entered to win the prize. Postcard entries were also accepted.
The tight timeline involved a mad scramble to arrange the ruse and get the Let’s Go Flying SR22 across the continent, from Maryland to California, in time. Hirschman made the 17-hour flight Feb. 3 and 4, flying west, crossing two major winter weather systems. The SR22’s formidable tools such as XM satellite weather, a TKS anti-ice system, long range, and WAAS approach capability were invaluable during a flight that also offered stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and Grand Canyon.
“The SR22’s formidable tools … were invaluable during a flight that also offered stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and Grand Canyon.”
The ruse for actually presenting the airplane to Graves came about with exceptional help from Rollison, also an AOPA member, FedEx captain, and Californian. Rollison arranged a casual visit to Alta Sierra, ostensibly to look at property there, and Graves, in a neighborly gesture, offered to show him around. The visit took place on Super Bowl Sunday because Graves mentioned to Rollison that he had planned to have a few friends over to his home that day to watch the game.
In an effort to explain away the presence of a video crew that arrived at the private airstrip to record Fuller handing the SR22 over to Graves, Rollison decided to fly to Alta Sierra in a well-known and beloved airplane—the Songbird III Cessna 310 from the 1950s “Sky King” TV show. The video crew told anyone who asked that they were there to record images of the famous airplane against the dramatic mountain backdrop.
Their story was plausible enough. When the SR22 arrived and taxied up to the Songbird III, Fuller presented the keys to Graves, congratulated him on his good fortune, and wished him well. The series of events came as a total surprise to this year’s winner.
Rollison said he was uncomfortable at first with the idea of tricking a colleague. But the ability to take part in a conspiracy designed to reward Graves appealed to Rollison.
“This is really a life-altering event for the winner,” Rollison said. “It’s going to open up entirely new possibilities for him—and it’s exciting to have played a role.”