The grand prize winner in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) annual airplane sweepstakes collected his prize on Sunday - the keys to a completely refurbished $225,000 Piper Cherokee Six.
"I couldn't have designed a better airplane for my family," said Rocky S. Lee of Novato, California, as he gazed over the better-than-new airplane at the Petaluma Municipal Airport, where AOPA President Phil Boyer presented him with the keys.
About 200 of his friends and fellow pilots gathered to congratulate Coast Guard Cmdr. Lee and take a look at the airplane.
"Wow, that is awesome," Lee said when he saw his airplane for the first time.
"It's really overwhelming, and the kids are even more excited," said his wife Kelly. "It's a dream."
The Petaluma Municipal Airport is just 18 miles from Lee's home in Novato. The friendly community GA airport has a 3,600-foot runway and serves a mix of aircraft from ultralights to small jets, but most of the traffic is single-engine piston aircraft.
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.
Pilots across the country followed along as updates on the Cherokee Six's refurbishment were printed in AOPA Pilot magazine and on AOPA's Web site throughout 2006.
AOPA's 2007 Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes features a 1977 Cessna Cardinal 177B, which will receive upgrades, including a new paint job, new navigation and radio equipment, and a factory overhauled engine, throughout the year. One lucky pilot will win the aircraft in early 2008.
The 410,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has represented the interests of general aviation pilots since 1939. General aviation includes all flying except the scheduled airlines and the military. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. pilots, and three-quarters of the GA pilots, are AOPA members.
February 28, 2007