Aero SUV 1999 Sweepstakes
One Happy Camper
A Virginia pilot wins AOPA's Aero SUVBY MICHAEL P. COLLINS (From AOPA Pilot, March 2000.)
Until a Sunday afternoon in early February, the only thing Carl Rice of Reedville, Virginia, had ever won was an African violet. But his luck changed on February 6, when he was presented with the keys to AOPA's Aero SUV sweepstakes prize, a refurbished Cessna 206.
The pretense of an interview on flying in remote areas brought Rice and his family to Hummel Field, beside the Rappahannock River in Saluda. Although it is not as isolated as, say, Idaho or Montana, this area of Virginia nestling the shore of the Chesapeake Bay about 55 nautical miles east-northeast of Richmond and the same distance north of Norfolk is remote by East Coast standards.
And Rice does know something about flying in remote areas. A pilot since 1979, he has flown as a spotter for a fish processing company since 1981. So, the ruse worked.
"That's what I came for," Rice said. "I didn't have a clue. Every month I'd get the magazine and look at the sweepstakes airplane and think, 'Gee, that's a nice airplane.' But I never dreamed that I'd win it."
Rice, with his family at his side, was concentrating on his "interview" with Drew Steketee, AOPA's senior vice president of communications, when Phil Boyer taxied up behind him in the distinctive Stationair, shut down, climbed out, and walked over to interrupt the interview.
Rice's wife, Lori, did look back as the Cessna taxied up, and saw the "AOPA Surprize Squad" signs on a van following the airplane. "That's when I got suspicious that something was going on," she said later.
Boyer introduced himself, asked Rice if he was familiar with the AOPA sweepstakes, and then told him that he'd won. Rice received an ovation from airport and AOPA staff members, his family, and a handful of pilots who had flown into Hummel for lunch and walked over to see what was going on. He was even congratulated by a gentleman who had just landed after his first introductory flight, with local flight instructor Leo Barber.
The surprise left Rice all but speechless. "He's not usually this quiet," his wife acknowledged. Rice won AOPA's Aero SUV, an extensively refurbished 1976 Cessna 206 modified with a new 300-horsepower Continental Platinum-series IO-550 engine, Flint Aero long-range fuel tanks, a Horton STOL kit, a three-blade McCauley propeller, and a custom-made folding bed frame that can take the place of the airplane's third row of seats. Its panel is the envy of many pilots, featuring a Garmin avionics stack built around two GNS 430 GPS/navcoms with color moving-map displays, a Sandel 3308 electronic horizontal situation indicator, a BFGoodrich WX500 Stormscope that can display lightning data on the Sandel HSI or on the Garmin color moving maps, and an S-Tec autopilot. His prize package also included two Dahon folding bicycles; a custom-built, over-the-wing tent; folding camp chairs; and more than $1,000 worth of sleeping bags, coolers, and other necessities.
"I was so flabbergasted, I didn't know what to say," Rice said several hours after the presentation. "I was in shock. I think I told somebody it was the fourth best day in my life the first was when I got married, and the second and third were the births of my two children." Cory, 13, and Heather, 8, took the day's excitement in stride.
Rice was piloting a fishing boat in Louisiana during 1979 when he began taking flying lessons on the weekends. He completed his private pilot certificate, and then earned a VFR-only commercial ticket in 1980. Rice first flew as a fish spotter in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in 1981; the following year he returned to Virginia and has been flying from there ever since.
Menhaden a small, herring-like fish processed for oil and fish meal is his quarry, five days a week, generally from late April to mid-December.
Rice, who flies an average of 1,200 hours per year, has owned several Cessna Skyhawks and currently operates a 1980 Cessna Cutlass.
Rice and his family live less than half of a mile from the private Reedville Airport, a grass strip owned by the fish company and located beside its facility.
A short flight in the Aero SUV only whetted Rice's enthusiasm for the airplane. "It flies like a dream. That thing will climb like a homesick eagle. It came off the ground so quick it seemed like in no time we were at 3,000 feet."
Rice said his family shared his excitement. "They're tickled right to death." He said they were already planning a family trip in the airplane, although he didn't know where they would go. And although the family hasn't done much camping, he said, "we're certainly going to try it with this new equipment."
About the only thing Rice is sure of right now is that he won't be spotting fish from the Aero SUV. "It wouldn't be economical," he said. "Plus, I wouldn't want to mess up such a nice airplane [by using it] for work."
One other thing is certain although AOPA's 1999 sweepstakes airplane will not be showing up at an airport near you, your association will be doing the same thing about this time next year. And you can follow the progress of the Millennium Mooney right here, in the pages of AOPA Pilot.