Robert Melnick of Denver, Colorado, got the surprise of a lifetime Sunday when Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, presented him with the grand prize in AOPA's Commander Countdown Sweepstakes for 2005 - a completely refurbished 1974 Commander 112A aircraft.
"I'm completely flabbergasted! I've been following the stories in [ AOPA Pilot] magazine - yes I have," said Melnick, soon after being told that he was the new owner of the completely refurbished airplane. "I've never won anything."
Melnick, 50, and his 15-year-old daughter Alexandra arrived at the Denver JetCenter at Centennial Airport on this bright and windy Sunday morning, believing they had been selected to appear in an AOPA promotional video. Within minutes, Melnick was shaking his head in disbelief as he was handed the keys to the AOPA Sweepstakes Commander Countdown airplane by AOPA President Phil Boyer.
"There's one person I've gotta call," said Melnick. Glen Endsley, a fellow AOPA member who was Melnick's high school math teacher and the flight instructor for his first flight nearly 30 years ago, answered the call right away. "You're not going to believe this," Melnick said. "The airplane AOPA is giving away...the Commander...I just won it, so we can go again!"
Melnick, who works as a sales manager for a local Porsche Audi dealer, lost a leg in an accident as a teenager but went on to learn to fly. He has since chalked up nearly 350 hours of flight time, and he recently sold his interest in a 1977 Cessna T210. "I flew that 210 nearly 100 hours and was sad when I had to let it go," he said.
AOPA Pilot Associate Editor Steve Ells, who oversaw the Commander project, took Melnick and his daughter for a quick flight around the airport's traffic pattern. Winning the Commander reenergized Alexandra's desire to fly. "I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend than to win an airplane," she said.
AOPA extends its thanks to Denver JetCenter Inc. for its help in providing hangar space and assistance leading up to the giveaway and to the many contributors who made the project a reality.
The Sweepstakes Commander boasts a state-of-the-art "glass cockpit" from Chelton Flight Systems, all new avionics from Garmin, a factory-overhauled engine from Textron Lycoming, and a completely updated look thanks to a paint job designed by Scheme Designers and executed by Master Aircraft Painters. More than 50 companies or organizations contributed time, effort, materiel, and expertise to make the Commander Sweepstakes a success. A complete list of vendors is available online.
For its 2006 sweepstakes, AOPA is giving away a fully refurbished 260-horsepower 1967 Piper Cherokee Six. Thanks to numerous contributors, the airplane is going through the first stages of its transformation from a well-used family wagon to a luxury travel machine with the latest in avionics, engine, and airframe speed modifications.
It will be on display during AOPA Day at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In and throughout the weeklong fly-in and air show, April 4 through 10, in Lakeland, Florida. Would-be winners can also see it at the AOPA Fly-In and Open House on June 3 at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland; at EAA AirVenture, July 24 through 30, in Oshkosh; and at AOPA Expo, November 9 through 11, in Palm Springs, California.
Anyone who joins or renews membership in AOPA during 2006 is automatically entered in the Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes. Complete rules, eligibility requirements, and alternate methods of entry are available online. Anyone interested can track the progress of the 2006 Sweepstakes restoration online.
With more than 407,000 members, representing nearly two-thirds of all pilots in the United States, AOPA is the largest, most influential aviation association in the world. AOPA has achieved its prominent position through effective advocacy, enlightened leadership, technical competence, and hard work. Providing member services that range from representation at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, advice, and other assistance, AOPA has built a service organization that far exceeds any other in the aviation community.
February 6, 2006