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Sweeps winner takes 'perfect plane' around the patch

Sweeps winner takes 'perfect plane' around the patch

Watch a video of the presentation.
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Rocky Lee and AOPA President Phil Boyer.
© 2007 Photography by Scott Highton.
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© 2007 Photography by Scott Highton.
Click for larger image
Rocky Lee, with his wife Kelly and children.
© 2007 Photography by Scott Highton.

"I couldn't have designed a better airplane for my family," said Rocky S. Lee ( AOPA 996669) of Novato, California, as he gazed over the better-than-new Cherokee Six in Northern California. Lee was AOPA's 2006 sweepstakes winner.

Within two days of the February 25 delivery, Lee was flying his airplane for the first time. After a checkout with his flight instructor, he then spent an hour "with my sons enjoying the smooth, quiet ride before landing at Petaluma just after sunset."

In a quick e-mail to AOPA President Phil Boyer, Lee praised the stability and solid feel of the airplane. "Equally impressive, though, is the situational awareness that it provides in terms of navigation, traffic, terrain avoidance, and engine performance monitoring.

"There was no guesswork involved in flying it because all of the information that I could ever want was available at the push of a button. And that really made the flight much more enjoyable because it reduced the 'worry factor' significantly," wrote Lee after his first flight.

His initial look at his new airplane included his family and about 200 of his friends and fellow pilots, all gathered in a Petaluma hangar to see the "family truckster," the perfect airplane for the perfect family at the perfect general aviation airport.

"Wow, that is awesome," Lee said when he rounded the corner with Boyer and saw his airplane.

"I couldn't say a word," said his wife Kelly. "It's really overwhelming, and the kids are even more excited. It's a dream."

The dream came true at a little GA airport, Petaluma Municipal (O69), some 18 miles up U.S. 101 from Lee's home in Novato.

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 that people come to just to soak up flying. The airport recently built 55 new hangars, and Petaluma AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Tom McGaw has literally written the book on how to accomplish the same thing at your airport.

After a few speeches, and as family and the 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. Cmdr. 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. Youngest son Edward, 14, wants to start flight training this summer. And wife Kelly and son Ross, 16, have already started flight planning family trips, including a first flight to Grand Junction. "We'd checked out all the airports around Grand Junction when we took Kaitlin to school," said Mrs. Lee. "And there is even room for the dog!"

Lee will be retiring from the Coast Guard in July, but he will still be flying. 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.

Updated: March 1, 2007, 5:28 p.m. EST

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