Texas pilot eagerly awaits Summit

John Couzelis of Little Elm, Texas, can’t wait for AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa, Fla., this November. An AOPA member since 1991, he last attended an AOPA convention in 1999, when AOPA Expo was in Atlantic City, N.J. “I haven’t had an opportunity to go since,” he said. “My job didn’t allow me to take off.”

However, Couzelis retired from a 40-year career with Lockheed Martin in Syracuse, N.Y., in June 2008. He and his wife moved to Little Elm, north of Dallas, last September to be near their children. Without his job’s international travel demands, Couzelis had already planned to attend Summit—and was very surprised to learn he’d won an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the event in a drawing he entered at the AOPA tent during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. “It’s just amazing. I don’t win things like this. It’s wonderful.”

Couzelis earned his pilot certificate in September 1969. “I had a love of flying but never had the opportunity until I graduated college and started working. All my flying has been for personal pleasure.” An instrument-rated commercial pilot, he’s logged nearly 1,600 hours and owns a Piper Lance, which he keeps at Denton Municipal Airport. “It’s been a super airplane for me.”

In 2000 Couzelis began volunteering as a pilot for Angel Flight in New England. “That’s become my passion,” he said. “I just started doing that again now that I moved—down here in Texas it’s Grace Flight.” Most of his flying has been in the Northeast, and Couzelis made several trips to Cleveland, taking passengers to the Cleveland Clinic. Missions averaged about 300 miles and a couple of hours of flying. “That’s about how it is down here, as well,” he said. “These patients are broke—they don’t have any money, they’ve spent it all on medical bills. They just need all the help they can get.”

He’s also flown young people as part of EAA’s Young Eagles program. “I do a lot of charity flying. Any time I have an opportunity to fly, for one reason or another, I do it.”

Couzelis has gone to AirVenture about 20 times since 1974, but with his overseas travel, one aviation event a year was the most he could attend. He’s never been to Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla. “I made a point this year to say I really wanted to go to Summit, and I will go to Sun ’n Fun next spring,” he said. “There are some nice benefits to being retired.” This year he stayed in Oshkosh the entire week. In fact, EAA used his Lance as a camera plane for air-to-air photography, and he got to fly in formation with WhiteKnight2 as it arrived.

When he and his wife attended Expo in Atlantic City, she took the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Pinch-Hitter® course. “She’d really like to take it again,” he said. One of Couzelis’ brothers is also a pilot, and he probably will attend Summit as well.

AOPA Aviation Summit will be held Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 5 to 7, in Tampa. For more information see the Summit Web site.

August 13, 2009