South Carolina student pilot Wade Shealy never gave up on his aviation dream, but he never dreamed he’d win the AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub.
Shealy, 80, was kept in the dark for a little bit. He was invited to meet an AOPA journalist for a July 15 interview at USAeroFlight at South Carolina’s Greenville Downtown Airport, a chance to share his story alongside his flight instructor, retired U.S. Navy pilot Cecil Tune, 79.
With the interview wrapped up, he was asked to join a photographer outside for a photo opportunity. There was a nice airplane parked between hangars nearby that would be a perfect backdrop. He rounded the corner to see the AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub, fitted with floats for this special delivery, gleaming in the morning sunlight. AOPA President Mark Baker emerged from a gathered crowd. Shealy, wearing an AOPA hat commemorating the association's eightieth anniversary, thanked Baker for "making this hat to celebrate my birthday."
"Would you trade your hat for an airplane?” Baker inquired.
Shealy still thought Baker must be kidding, but Baker insisted that this was no joke. "Can I have the hat?"
Shealy promptly placed the hat on Baker’s head while the two laughed and smiled.
Hugs ensued. Flight school co-owner Brett Zukowski, and Tune, for starters. Others would follow.
“This is a pretty good stunt, you know?" Shealy admitted.
Shealy said he began learning in earnest three years ago at the Greenville flight school in a Diamond DA–20. “It’s a cute little thing,” he said, noting he also has some tailwheel time under his belt. Shealy was quick to compliment Tune, a former Bob Jones University aviation instructor, for his patience.
Baker took the winner for a familiarization flight as well-wishers from Special Services Corporation and USAeroFlight waved from the ramp. Shealy sat in the front seat of the Super Cub as Baker coached him on start-up and taxi procedures.
Commercial flight student Kimberly Metris had just completed a flight lesson with instructor Stephen Laird and quickly jumped out of the cockpit of a Cessna 172 to wave. “It’s amazing, I am so happy for him,” she said.
“We’ve had a couple of lessons together and he’s a great guy,” Laird concurred.
After taking the Super Cub to nearby Lake Keowee for a quick splash and dash, Shealy was still incredulous.
“Well, I think it’s still a little bit unbelievable,” he confided. “It’s a beautiful aircraft and I never dreamed that I’d win anything but a toy aircraft. I can’t thank AOPA enough for having this program.”
After the flight, members of Shealy’s family joined him on the ramp, including daughters Harriett Howard and Peggy S. Joseph, with her husband Doug Joseph. Son Wade Jr. was in an out-of-town meeting but sent his congratulations.
Shealy said he thought the aircraft was a bit challenging at first, but he began to get more familiar with the nuances before touching down on Runway 1.
“It was my first encounter with Mark Baker, but he can fly with me anytime—in my aircraft,” he joked.
AOPA initially reached out to Shealy under the guise of the ongoing You Can Fly Flight Training Experience poll to learn about his training as an older student pilot. Unbeknownst to him, Shealy set the ruse in motion by providing us with his flight school and flight instructor’s name and contact information.
We pulled Tune in on the surprise along with Zukowski, and lured Shealy to the flight school under the auspices of an interview about older student pilots.
Shealy, who had started learning to fly when he was young and began again in his 70s, has logged close to 140 hours total time and flies on and off with Tune.
On Monday morning, the Super Cub, AOPA President Mark Baker, USAeroFlight instructors, Special Services Corporation charter aircraft personnel, and others were already stashed away in a hangar, just waiting to surprise him with his new airplane.
Admittedly, every AOPA sweepstakes airplane is one of a kind by the time we finish the project, but it couldn’t be truer of the Super Cub. This 1954 airplane had been wrecked and sat for nearly 20 years before AOPA and Baker Air Service father-son duo Roger and Darin Meggers started the restoration project in 2017.
The restorers replaced corroded airframe parts, added supplemental type certificate modifications to improve performance, recovered and painted the aircraft, and installed a thoroughly modern cockpit. Aerotronics experts designed a glass panel fitted with Garmin avionics, including an aera 660 portable GPS, and a J.P. Instruments EDM 900 engine monitor, an Electroair push-start button, a PS Engineering intercom, and Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics two-inch altimeter and airspeed indicators all set in a carbon-fiber-wrapped panel. Black leather seats from Airtex and carbon-fiber interior panels completed the modern look.
But what really pushed the Sweepstakes Super Cub airplane over the top was that for the first time in AOPA’s history, the airplane came with three sets of landing gear. We delivered it on Wipaire’s Wipline 2100 amphibious floats, but it also came with Wipaire’s AirGlide hydraulic skis and Airframes Alaska’s 26-inch Alaskan Bushwheel tundra tires. When the aircraft is on skis or tundra tires, Burl’s Aircraft Alpha-Omega Suspension System landing gear makes just about every landing a beauty. Whether the aircraft is on floats or land gear, it performs great thanks to the 160-horsepower Lycoming O-320 B2B engine with Electroair’s electronic ignition system.
This highly modified, completely modernized Super Cub wouldn’t have been possible without its generous contributors. If you like what you see on the Super Cub, check out these contributors to make some of these modifications to your own airplane!