Wherever it goes, the AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying SR22’s reputation seems to precede it.
On its first trip to the West Coast for the forty-fifth annual Watsonville Fly-in on the Monterey Bay, visitors recognized the distinctive graphics on the high-performance, high-profile aircraft that some lucky pilot will win early next year. Even though they knew the airplane from pictures and news articles, seeing the Let’s Go Flying SR22 on the West Coast came as a surprise to many California AOPA members.
AOPA sweepstakes aircraft are usually undergoing extensive updates and modifications this time of year. But the Let’s Go Flying SR22 is a young airplane in top mechanical condition, and its mission of building the U.S. pilot population involves showing the capabilities and possibilities of modern general aviation aircraft far and wide. Watsonville was a sensible choice given its fly-in’s large size, colorful history, and the success local pilots have had turning back threats from residential and commercial encroachment that would have imperiled their airport’s future.
The Let’s Go Flying SR22 arrived in Watsonville on May 22, after a short flight from Palo Alto Airport where it had been on display at Advantage Aviation, a busy and growing flying club. After a coast-to-coast flight that consisted of mostly clear weather, the short hop to Watsonville ended with a descent into the gray marine layer over the Pacific Ocean and a localizer approach to Runway 02.
My sister-in-law, Loree Draude Hirschman, a former U.S. Navy S-3 Viking and F/A-18 Hornet pilot, flew the Cirrus from the left seat, and she was quickly enamored with the airplane’s speed, comfort, and especially its glass-panel avionics. She learned to fly in the military and had never flown an airplane like the Cirrus before.
“This is an airplane I’d be really excited to fly,” she said. “The avionics provide so much information in such an understandable way that it makes the cockpits of some of the military jets I flew seem primitive by comparison. I had no idea anything like it was available in general aviation.”
The weather remained cloudy and cool on the California coast throughout the first half of the Memorial Day weekend, and fly-in organizers said the low clouds kept many of antique airplanes away from the event. But many rare, historical, beautifully crafted aircraft did get in, and a magnificently recreated Boeing biplane from Spokane, Wash.—one of the giant aerospace firm’s very first passenger aircraft—took top honors from the judges.
Flying exhibitions included military jets such as a Marine AV8-B Harrier, an F/A-18 Super Hornet that set off car alarms all over town, and a C-17 Globemaster transport that flew with precision and grace despite its hulking size. Aerobatic performers included Tim Decker, Bill Stein, and Eddie Andrenni, who participated in the Watsonville event for the forty-fifth consecutive year.
Watsonville pilots said they were gratified by the Let’s Go Flying SR22’s presence at their event because it shows a tangible sign of AOPA support for protecting their airport.
Visitors said they were pleased AOPA sent the airplane on the long trip, and a few volunteered to save the association the time and effort of bringing it back in early 2010 when they win the annual drawing.
“You can just give me the keys right now and save yourself the trouble,” one pilot said in a variation on a theme repeated many times.
But the Cirrus is such a great traveler, and transcontinental trips are such an adventure, that we’d much rather come back again in about six months to hand them the keys.