It's the phone call every pilot dreams of. And, as it turns out, it's the perfect airplane for the perfect winner.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Rocky S. Lee ( AOPA 996669) of Novato, California, has won the one-of-a-kind, completely refurbished 1967 Piper Cherokee Six.
AOPA President Phil Boyer surprised Lee with an evening phone call this week. Lee was having a hard enough time believing it was the real Phil. "I'm not trying to sell you anything," Boyer said. "I'm here to try to arrange when we give you, as the national winner, the refurbished Cherokee Six."
"No, this is a joke," Lee, 46, said, suspecting that one of his pilot friends might have set him up. "You are kidding. That cannot be true."
Lee confirmed with his caller ID that Boyer was phoning from a 301 area code; AOPA is headquartered in Frederick, Maryland. "I have my stack of AOPA magazines right here and that is just crazy," Lee said. "This is so out of the blue." Lee grabbed the December issue and went home to show the glossy photos to his wife that night.
Lee didn't have any pilots in his immediate family, but he did have a burning desire to be around airplanes. His career began in northern Idaho by doing what lineboys do: pumping gas and mowing grass. Lee started flying at age 16 and soloed in a Piper Cub at 17.
After a brief stint in the Army, Lee entered the Coast Guard and did much of his flying in Kodiak and Sitka, Alaska, as a helicopter and C-130 pilot. He's just about to retire from the Coast Guard with 20 years and two months of service and nearly 9,000 hours of flight time; 4,000 hours just in Alaska.
Lee holds an ATP certificate with multiengine airplane and helicopter ratings and says he has always kept a hand in general aviation. He has a private pilot certificate with airplane single-engine and instrument ratings and has flown 27 types of airplanes.
The Cherokee Six couldn't have come at a better time. With his military career wrapping up, Lee is considering civilian flying jobs. Because he had moved up in the ranks and basically out of the cockpit, Lee says he wants to do more flying, although he enjoys managing air operations.
The Cherokee Six is the perfect size for Lee's family. His wife isn't a pilot, but his three children are fascinated with aviation. His daughter got her private pilot certificate at 18 and is now in college. His two teenage boys are interested in earning their wings as well. At this point, Lee says he has every intention of keeping the airplane.
"Aviation has been the mainstay of my life," he said. "It's always been good to me."
Listen to the phone call: Windows Media | MP3. Send your congrats - and Cherokee Six ownership tips - to Rocky.
From the wheelpants up and with the help of numerous contributors, AOPA spent all of 2006 updating, upgrading, overhauling, and refurbishing the Six. AOPA will deliver the airplane to Lee, his family, and his Coast Guard buddies - and a lot of envious AOPA members on the field - in a couple weeks in Petaluma, California.
For its 2007 sweepstakes, AOPA is giving away a fully refurbished 1977 Cessna Cardinal 177B. Get a first look at the Cardinal at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in April in Lakeland, Florida; then at AOPA Fly-In and Open House in June in Frederick, Maryland; at Oshkosh in July; and at AOPA Expo in October in Hartford, Connecticut.
Anyone who joins or renews membership in AOPA during 2007 is automatically entered in the AOPA Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes. For more information and restoration updates, see AOPA Online.
February 8, 2007