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Winners in VegasWinners in Vegas

When Gary Walters entered the fixed-base operation at Henderson Executive Airport in Nevada, he thought he was meeting a potential real estate client.

AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters

  • AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters
    AOPA President Mark Baker presents the keys of the 2017 AOPA Sweepstakes 172 to Gary and Sandra Walters at Henderson Executive Airport in Henderson, Nevada.
  • AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters
    Greg Herrick (far right), a longtime friend of AOPA President Mark Baker, pretended to be interested in buying real estate from Gary Walters as part of the ruse to surprise him with the AOPA Sweepstakes 172.
  • AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters
    AOPA President Mark Baker and AOPA Senior Vice President of Media, Communications, and Outreach Tom Haines present the 2017 AOPA Sweepstakes 172 to Gary Walters.
  • AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters
    Gary Walters is stunned at the news that he is the winner of AOPA's Sweepstakes 172.
  • AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters
    AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters and AOPA President Mark Baker chat with an enlarged photo of the airplane that's currently staged in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for EAA AirVenture.
  • AOPA Sweepstakes 172 winner Gary Walters
    Gary and Sandra Walters will be able to fly to visit family in comfort with the Bose A20 headsets.

Instead, Walters found out he is the winner of the 2017 AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.

“No way! Come on! You gotta be kidding me!” Walters exclaimed as AOPA President Mark Baker related the news.

Walters, a line and instructor pilot for Allegiant Airlines, came to the fixed-base operation to meet Greg and Suzanne Herrick. Longtime friends of AOPA and Baker, the Herricks arrived at Henderson pretending to be prospective home buyers. Walters and his wife, Sandra, operate a part-time real estate business. They have three children: Ashley, who lives in Southern California; Shelby, a student at Colorado State University; and Jonah, a junior in high school.

Instead, the Herricks led Walters to Baker, who happened to be hanging out in the FBO with AOPA’s video crew.

“Have you ever won an airplane before?” Baker asked.

“No! How’d I do that?” Walters said.

Because the Sweepstakes 172 is in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, awaiting the start of EAA AirVenture 2017, Baker and AOPA Senior Vice President of Media, Communications, and Outreach Tom Haines presented Walters with a set of keys and blown-up photos of the airplane that will soon be his.

“Wow, thank you so much! It’s absolutely fantastic,” Walters said. “That is beautiful. I’m speechless.”

Walters put Sandra on the speaker phone to share the news with her.

“That’s crazy,” she said.

Walters estimated it’s been about 25 years since he last flew a Cessna 172. “I think I still have an old headset up in the attic,” he said. But he won’t have to dig out that old headset because Bose Aviation has provided two sets of A20s for the winner of the Sweepstakes 172. And a local flight instructor who happened to be in the FBO offered Walters a business card if he should need some help getting current in something a little smaller than an MD-80.

Aerial photography of the AOPA Sweepstakes Cessna 172 Ascend with the new paint job.

“Oh man, those are nice!” Walters said.

Walters learned to fly in Burbank, California. He said he’s looking forward to taking the Sweepstakes 172 on a trip to visit family in Southern California.

“We’re going to do some flying,” he said.

The AOPA Sweepstakes 172 was launched in 2016 with the acquisition of a 1978 Cessna 172N. The sweepstakes closed May 31. An independent accounting firm tallied the entries and chose the winner.

Humble origins

N172WN began its life as N739HW. It is the fourth Cessna 172N to go through Yingling Aviation’s Ascend program—a meticulous, top-to-bottom refurbishment of aircraft that are tired on the outside and dated on the inside, but can be modernized for half the cost of a new airplane.

A longtime trainer, then a family aircraft that went to the Bahamas, Florida, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, N739HW belonged to Thomas Johnson of Westminster, Maryland. Johnson kept the 172 at his hangar at Clearview Airpark. He donated N739WN to AOPA so that he could make some room for some other aircraft projects, including a Cessna 195. “It’s been a very good airplane,” he said of the 172. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

After sitting in a hangar for 10 years, the Cessna 172 received an annual before it flew to Yingling Aviation’s expansive repair facility in Wichita, Kansas. Then the real work began.

Using a process perfected during a long-term contract to refurbish FedEx Cessna Caravans, Yingling technicians inspected the airframe. They found some corrosion in the ailerons, flaps, elevator, and rudder—not unexpected in an older airplane, particularly one that has not been flown. They cleaned out the corrosion and repaired some damaged skin on the left aileron, the elevator, and the rudder.

More horsepower, better ignition

The 172N gets a boost with a 180-horsepower engine.

We didn’t overhaul the engine on this Cessna 172—we installed a new one. Lycoming provided a 180-horsepower O-360, and Air Plains Services of Wellington, Kansas, donated a 172XP supplemental type certificate kit. The new Skytec starter and Plane-Power alternator were donated by Hartzell Engine Technologies. The engine also comes with a new Sensenich propeller. The Air Plains STC provides a 200-pound gross weight increase.

Engine technology has improved since N739HW rolled off the assembly line. An ElectroAir electronic ignition (EI) system brought this Skyhawk’s magnetos into the 21st century. The EIS-41000 replaced one magneto on the Cessna 172’s engine, leaving one as a backup to the EI. The system reduces fuel consumption and provides a smoother startup sequence. What’s more, it operates with an STC'd push-button setup—the winner will use the original Cessna key only to lock the pilot’s door and baggage compartment.

Power panel

N379HW’s panel became a palette for the latest and greatest avionics—and we sought out safety innovations and non-TSO'd solutions to freshen the look and utility of the sturdy Cessna 172.

Original analog gauges were removed and replaced with new units. The attitude indicator is gone, and in its place is a Garmin G5 electronic attitude indicator. Just under the attitude indicator is another G5 unit, this one functioning as a horizontal situation indicator. The G5s are non-TSO'd and provide a wealth of information—altitude, airspeed, vertical speed, and more. They resemble mini glass displays. The units run off the electrical system but have back-up batteries in the event of an electrical failure, so with the addition of the second G5, we were able to pull out the vacuum system.

The G5s integrate beautifully with the Cessna 172’s Garmin GTN 650 touchscreen navigator. And if our sweepstakes winner is not familiar with the GTN 650, Flight Training Apps’s Flying the Garmin GTN650/750 will guide him through.

New and improved: Get a look at this state-of-the-art panel.

Garmin’s GI 260 angle of attack indicator is mounted on the panel. (Its sensor was an unending source of curiosity at airshows from pilots who wanted to know why the airplane had two pitot tubes.) It alerts the pilot by display and tone when the aircraft is near a stall, and provides additional visual guidance when flying at the optimum angle of attack for maximum performance.

Our winner is ready for 2020 because his new airplane is equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast In as well as Out. The Garmin GTX 345R transponder displays weather and traffic advisories on the GTN 650, and he’ll also be able to see them on a new iPad mini via Garmin’s Pilot app.

That iPad will sit snug in a flush-mounted holder from Guardian Avionics. The holder includes a power cord and a hose/tube port that attaches to an avionics fan to keep the iPad cool in the cockpit. Electronic gauges courtesy of Aerospace Logic round out the beautifully equipped panel.

Now 172WN

We always come up with a new N number for our sweepstakes projects, and it was time for N739HW to set aside its former identity. In March 2017 the aircraft became N172WN—“172 Win.”

The Sweepstakes 172 should be easy to spot with LEDs from Whelen Engineering Co.

A Skyhawk is a Skyhawk is a Skyhawk, right? Not when it’s the Sweepstakes 172. We’ve outfitted this one with replacement dorsal fairings, strut fairings, a new vertical fin tip, and other speed modifications from Knots 2 U. Whelen Engineering Co. supplied light-emitting diode lights that are incorporated into the wing tips, as well as LED landing lights. You can see this airplane coming and going.

Micro vortex generators supplied by Micro AeroDynamics are a subtle addition to the leading edges. They control airflow over the wing by creating vortices that energize the boundary layer, which in turn creates improved performance and control authority at low airspeeds and high angles of attack.

Tinted windows from LP Aero Plastics help to keep the interior of the airplane cooler, as well as cutting down on exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. The one-piece windshield is an aesthetic improvement over the old Cessna 172’s windshield design.

New paint and interior, airbag seatbelts

The silver paint scheme with decals proved popular with members, but it wouldn't be the final paint scheme for the Sweepstakes 172.

Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers took on our Sweepstakes 172’s exterior paint with the zeal he brings to every project. He chose a beautiful metallic gray to serve as the base on which the airplane would display decals touting its many improvements.

Though a big hit with many people who came to see the airplane at AOPA's Camarillo, California, Fly-In in April, the decals weren’t permanent. Instead, Barnett went back to the drawing board and came up with an eye-catching scheme to help boost the airplane’s visibility in the air. Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings supplied the paints. In particular, that Rocket Red seems to add a half-knot or so to the Cessna 172’s true airspeed, but that may just be wishful thinking.

KD Aviation completed the final paint application in just under three weeks—speedy when you consider that the design covers nearly 60 percent of the aircraft. But this is no slap-dash paint job. It’s a head turner that will look dynamic for years to come.

The sharp exterior perfectly complements 172WN’s beautiful new interior. Crafted at Yingling Aviation, the seats are covered in gray Ultraleather that is butter-soft yet more durable and easier to clean than leather. USB ports installed in the ceiling offer greater utility for a pilot’s or passenger’s electronics. Yingling’s custom-designed yokes add a nice finishing touch.

Airbag seatbelts provided by AmSafe.

Airbag seatbelts from AmSafe for the pilot and right-seat passenger replace the original three-point restraints. These will only deploy when longitudinal deceleration is greater than between 6 and 9 Gs. (In other words, you won’t cause them to deploy with a hard landing or flying in turbulence.)

Non-TSO'd autopilot

The STC Group has been an enthusiastic supporter of our Sweepstakes 172 program from the beginning, offering to donate an autopilot. The STC for the Trio Avionics Pro Pilot autopilot installation kit was approved for Cessna 172s and 182s in April. An STC for the autopilot kit was granted July 19. The autopilot will be reconnected at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, before the airplane is turned over to the winner. Walters will appreciate the digital autopilot’s ability to fly a course or heading; climb or descend at pilot-selected rates of climb, and level off at a selected altitude. The Pro Pilot includes a button to level the airplane if the pilot loses control, and a 180-degree button that will turn the airplane around and fly it out of dangerous weather encounters.

The Sweepstakes 172 will be at EAA AirVenture July 24 through 30. 

Congratulations to Walters on winning this fantastic 172. Here’s to many enjoyable hours of flying.

If you’re disappointed that AOPA did not show up at your airport with the Sweepstakes 172, we are already hard at work on the 2018-2019 sweepstakes—and it will be a beauty, of course. We’ll be giving away a Piper Super Cub with tundra tires, amphibious floats, and hydraulic skis. Find out what's in store for the aircraft and how to enter.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
Topics: Sweepstakes, AOPA

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