It began with a phone call, the kind every AOPA member dreams about.
"Do you have a few minutes?" AOPA President Phil Boyer asked U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Rocky S. Lee, AOPA 996669, of Novato, California. "About four or five," replied Lee. Then Boyer asked him when AOPA could arrange to deliver the one-of-a-kind, refurbished 1967 Piper Cherokee Six to an airport near him.
A moment of stunned silence, then, "No, this is a joke." No joke. "This is the actual Mr. Boyer of AOPA? You've got to be kidding. No way!"
His wife, Kelly, was just as disbelieving. After the phone call, Lee rushed over to her workplace with the December issue of AOPA Pilot to show her the glossy photos of the new family aircraft. "I couldn't say a word," said Kelly. "It's really overwhelming, and the kids are even more excited. It's a dream."
Two weeks later, the dream became reality at a perfect little general aviation airport, Petaluma Municipal Airport, some 18 miles up U.S. Highway 101 from Lee's home in Novato. The Win a Six in '06 Piper Cherokee was carefully positioned in a large new hangar, with more than 200 of Lee's family, friends, neighbors, and local AOPA members gathered behind it, waiting for the winner.
Boyer walked with Lee from the famous airport restaurant Two Niner Diner and around the corner of the hangar building. Suddenly, Lee saw his airplane for the first time.
"Wow, that is awesome," said Lee as the crowd cheered. There were short speeches from Boyer and Petaluma Mayor Pamela Torliatt, who was "excited to have this event in our community because we love this airport so much."
Petaluma is a perfect example of a friendly community GA airport. Its 3,600-foot runway serves a mix of aircraft from ultralights to small jets, but most of the traffic is single-engine piston. With the Two Niner Diner and family-run Aeroventure FBO, it's the kind of place where people come just to soak up flying. The airport recently built 55 new hangars, and Petaluma AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Tom McGaw has written a book on how to accomplish the same thing at your airport, the Aircraft Hangar Development Guide.
Then, as family and crowd gathered around the aircraft to snap pictures, Boyer and Lee climbed into the cockpit to explore some of the capabilities of this family aircraft.
The airplane couldn't have come at a better time for the five-member Lee family. Lee is about to retire from the Coast Guard after more than 20 years of military flying. Daughter Kaitlin, 20, has just started college in Grand Junction, Colorado. She earned her private certificate in 2004. Son Ross, 16, has taken an introductory flight and youngest son Edward, 14, wants to start flight training this summer. And wife Kelly has already started flight planning family trips, including a first flight to Grand Junction. "We'd checked at all the airports around Grand Junction when we took Kaitlin to school," said Kelly. "And there is even room for the dog!"
Aviation has been a lifelong passion for Rocky Lee. He dreamed about it as a boy growing up in northern Idaho. Soon he was working at the airport in exchange for flying time, "proppin' airplanes at the ripe old age of 16 and just loving it." He tried to join the U.S. Army as a warrant officer, but that was going to take too long, so he enlisted. Once in, he applied to flight school and graduated one year later with honors, at age 19.
He later transferred to the Coast Guard and did much of his flying in Kodiak and Sitka, Alaska, as a helicopter and Lockheed C-130 pilot. He has more than 9,000 hours' flight time, with nearly 4,000 in the C-130.
But he's always kept his hand in general aviation as well. Lee holds an airline transport pilot certificate with multiengine airplane and helicopter ratings, and a private certificate with airplane single-engine and instrument ratings. He's flown 27 types of aircraft, both civil and military.
He soloed in a Piper J-3 Cub.
Lee plans to continue flying after the Coast Guard. He's expecting a call soon for first officer class in a Boeing 747 for a major cargo carrier. He and his family can live almost anywhere for that job, "but having the Six really increases our options," said Lee.
"I've been real fortunate in aviation," he said. "Every time I take a step, it just seems to work out."
And yes, he plans to keep the airplane.
Your chances of winning the AOPA sweepstakes are just as good as Lee's. Read about the 2007 sweepstakes project on page 111.