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Sweeps keepers

These winners are still flying their AOPA airplanes today

Most AOPA sweepstakes winners end up selling their prizes, though not all. Here are two such exceptions—significant to me because I managed their restoration and upgrades.

Photos by Chris Rose.

Eric Short and 2011’s 1974 Cessna 182 ‘Crossover Classic'—N182CX

The United 767 taxied to its gate at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, then its passengers and crew deplaned. After that, AOPA’s traditional surprise sweepstakes ruse went into motion. A United agent met the captain, Eric Short, and said that a recent hurricane had torn up the roads around the airport, making them impassable. But a limo was arranged to transport the crew to the hotel via an alternate route. That route took them past an open corporate hangar, showing off a Citation X. And next to it, the Crossover Classic display, complete with balloons and an AOPA welcoming committee.

Short knew something was up. Bad roads? Hurricane? Chauffeured limo? And now this floodlit hangar? In his shock, he thought, “I think I’ve won the sweepstakes airplane…but what’s the Citation doing here?” AOPA’s then-president, Craig Fuller, gave him the news, and Short uttered the words everyone on the staff could have predicted: “I can’t believe it!”

A few days after that happy, rainy night at Dulles, I flew N182CX to the Plattsmouth Municipal/Douglas V. Duey Field in Nebraska, just south of Omaha’s Offutt Air Force Base. That’s where I signed over the airplane and gave Eric and his son, Allen—a U.S. Air Force RC-135 pilot then, and later a United first officer—their checkouts.

Since then, Eric has flown CX some 700 hours, shares it with Allen, and bases it at Arizona’s Prescott Regional - Ernest A. Love Field. He’s taken it on multiple trips to Carlsbad, California; Visalia, California; Bend, Oregon; the Denver area; EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin; and a multitude of airports in the southwestern United States. A trip to the 2012 AOPA Aviation Summit in Palm Springs, California, gave him a chance to taxi CX around town in our “Parade of Planes,” and he also flew it to AOPA’s 2013 Summit in Fort Worth, Texas.

The airplane’s given no real problems. A tired shimmy damper had to be replaced, and so did a balky fuel strainer. And, of course, the ADS-B Out upgrade came in 2020.

Eric Short hopes to keep his 'Crossover Classic' Cessna 182 in the family. Photo by Chris Rose.

What does he like best about CX? Plenty, but several features rank high on his list. The airplane’s 300-horsepower Continental IO-550 engine upgrade means that even at high density altitudes (like a 90-degree day at Prescott), he can fill up all four seats, use half the runway for takeoff, and climb away at 500 to 600 fpm. The extra range from the Flint tip tanks (14 gallons per side) is handy for those long trips. The Garmin G500 primary and multifunction displays are another hit. “It beats anything we have in the 737, 747, and 767!” he said. And though he spends most of his flying time deep into the flight levels, he likes cruising CX around the Rockies in the mid-teens for a close-up look at the scenery.

Will Eric keep it? That depends on airline retirement rules. Right now, he’s due to retire later in 2024—unless the age 65 rule is extended. In either case, it looks like he’ll try to talk Allen into buying it—and letting Dad fly it now and then, of course. Yours truly has asked for a spot in line, but I think this one’s going to stay in the family.

Steven Lagergren and 2014’s 1963 Beechcraft Debonair, aka ’The Debonair'—N75YR

Steven Lagergren has a Van’s RV–7 he keeps at the Litchfield, Minnesota, airport, and one day a friend pestered him for a ride to a local airport. Lagergren agreed, and off they went. On the return trip, I slid N75YR into position off his left side. Next to me in the Beechcraft Debonair was AOPA President Mark Baker, who got on the frequency and asked Lagergren if he saw the Debonair at his 4 o’clock. “This is your airplane,” he said. “No way!” came the reply.

Way. I handed the keys over during a party on the Litchfield ramp, and 10 years, 450 hours, and many family trips later, Lagergren still has his Debonair—and the RV–7 too! After taking delivery, the first order of business was earning his instrument rating, which he said “felt sort of like cheating,” what with the Debonair’s all-electric, full-featured panel. With a three-screen Aspen Evolution primary set of displays, Garmin GTN 750 and 650 navigators, a Genesys Aerosystems S-TEC autopilot, and a panel-mounted iPad Mini, instrument flying workload is far reduced from that of the stock, 51-year-old panel.

Steven Lagergren has logged 450 hours in his Beechcraft Debonair during the decade since AOPA handed him the keys. Photo by Chris Rose.

For the many trips he’s made with his family in the upper Midwest, the Continental IO-470 engine (beefed up from 225 to 260 horsepower), and 40 gallons of extra fuel in its tip tanks, this Debonair can fly at 170 knots and for a good seven hours. Lagergren said he flies it around 35 hours per year. He’s taken his daughters to and from their college in Fargo, North Dakota, and to visit his mother in Rochester, Minnesota, and has flown to Columbus, Ohio, to see his brother. And yes, trips to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh were also in the mix. This year he’s planning a family visit to Missoula, Montana.

Two repairs—to the propeller governor and the landing gear motor brush (which necessitated a manual gear extension)—topped the list of squawks over the last 10 years. And like most in the Bonanza line, yes, the cockpit door once popped open in flight.

“But I still love it,” Lagergren says. “It climbs and cruises well, it’s comfortable, it’s a classic … and AOPA gave it to me! I’ve even left the original display graphics on it!”

Find out where all our AOPA Sweepstakes airplanes are today in an upcoming feature in the July issue of AOPA Pilot.

Thomas A. Horne
Thomas A. Horne
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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