Robert Melnick, AOPA 5315783, got the surprise of a lifetime Sunday. "I'm completely flabbergasted! I've been following the stories in the magazine - yes I have," said Melnick of Denver, soon after being told that he was the new owner of a completely refurbished 1974 Commander 112. "I've never won anything."
Melnick, 50, and his 15-year-old daughter Alexandra arrived at the Denver JetCenter at Centennial Airport on a bright and windy Sunday morning, believing they had been selected to appear in an AOPA promotional video. Within minutes, Melnick was shaking his head in disbelief as he was handed the keys to the AOPA Sweepstakes Commander Countdown airplane by AOPA President Phil Boyer.
Melnick doubled his chances to win the Commander by enrolling in AOPA's Automatic Annual Renewal Program. He's the first member enrolled in the program to win a Sweepstakes airplane.
"There's one person I've gotta call," said Melnick. Glen Endsley, AOPA 209455, who was Melnick's former high school math teacher and the flight instructor for his first flight nearly 30 years ago, answered the call right away. "You're not going to believe this," Melnick said. "The airplane AOPA is giving away...the Commander...I just won it, so we can go again!"
Melnick, who works as a sales manager for a local Porsche Audi dealer, lost a leg due to bone cancer as a teenager but went on to learn to fly. He has since chalked up nearly 350 hours of flight time, and he recently sold his interest in a 1977 Cessna T210. "I flew that 210 nearly 100 hours and was sad when I had to let it go," he said.
AOPA Pilot Associate Editor Steve Ells, who oversaw the Commander project, took Melnick and his daughter around the pattern. Because of Sunday's gusty conditions, Ells and Melnick planned to fly again the next day, and it was well worth the wait. Ells and Melnick enjoyed their second flight on a beautiful, calm Monday.
Winning the Commander reenergized Alexandra's desire to fly. "I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend than to win an airplane," she said.
AOPA extends its thanks to Denver JetCenter Inc. for its help in providing hangar space and assistance leading up to the giveaway and to the many contributors who made the project a reality.
AOPA's ruse almost was foiled on Wednesday thanks to a discussion titled "Who won the Commander?" in one of our online forums. A member in Virginia used a flight tracking Web site and followed the airplane to Denver. Luckily, the cat stayed in the bag just long enough.
For its 2006 sweepstakes, AOPA is giving away a fully refurbished 260-horsepower 1967 Piper Cherokee Six. Thanks to numerous contributors, the airplane is going through the first stages of its transformation from a well-used family wagon to a luxury travel machine with the latest in avionics, engine, and airframe speed mods.
It will be on display during AOPA Day at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In and throughout the weeklong fly-in and airshow, April 4 through 10, in Lakeland, Florida. Would-be winners can also see it at the AOPA Fly-In and Open House on June 3 at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland; at EAA AirVenture, July 24 through 30, in Oshkosh; and at AOPA Expo, November 9 through 11, in Palm Springs, California.
Anyone who joins or renews membership in AOPA during 2006 is automatically entered in the Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes. For more information and restoration updates, see AOPA Online.
Updated: February 7, 2006, 3:16 p.m. EST