Michael Graves thought the highlight of his day was going to be having a few friends over to watch the Super Bowl. Little did he know AOPA had other plans. Graves is the winner of AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying sweepstakes grand prize, a 2005 Cirrus SR22.
“Unbelievable! Awesome!” the 55-year-old Grass Valley, Calif., resident exclaimed while his wife LaDona, 13-year-old daughter Ariel, and friends who had gathered nearby screamed with excitement.
Graves, a FedEx captain who flies Airbus A300s primarily within Europe, lives at Alta Sierra, a residential airpark in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento. His coworker, Jimmy Rollison, asked to look at some house sites on the airpark before the big game. Unbeknownst to Graves, Rollison was in on AOPA’s plan to surprise him with the Cirrus.
To Graves’ delight, Rollison flew into the airpark in the “Sky King” Songbird III Cessna 310, ostensibly for a photo shoot of the famed airplane at the tiny field. That alone would have made Graves’ day. But AOPA President Craig Fuller and AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman soon followed the Songbird III, landing in the Let’s Go Flying Cirrus. After the SR22 arrived, Graves marshaled it in himself, thinking it was the chase plane for the Songbird III. When Fuller got out of the Cirrus, Graves said, “You look so familiar.” But, even after Fuller introduced himself, Graves was still clueless.
“I heard you were doing some filming out here today,” Fuller said, continuing with the ruse. He told Graves that he had wanted to stop by to watch some of the filming and had two gifts for him. The first was an AOPA Challenge Coin representing the association’s recent 70th anniversary. Then, Fuller proceeded to explain to Graves that AOPA gives away a sweepstakes airplane every year, to which Graves immediately responded that he read all about the airplanes in the magazine. (Yes, he was still clueless.)
“The second thing I want to give you is the key to the airplane,” Fuller said, “You’re the winner!”
“This just takes the cake!” Graves said, still in shock.
Graves’ passion for flying spans the aviation gamut. While he flies A300s for a living, he owns a Cessna 180 and sometimes uses it to commute to work at Metropolitan Oakland International Airport, a flight of less than one hour from his rural home.
Shortly after getting the keys to his new plane, Graves and Hirschman flew the Cirrus SR22 out of the 50-foot-wide strip.
“It’s a fantastic flying airplane,” Graves said. “It’s going to take some getting used to, but I already know we’re going to love it. The technology is as good or better in some areas than the airliner I fly at work.”
LaDona is a nervous passenger, but Graves said she would love flying in an aircraft with a parachute. Meanwhile, Ariel is already planning the trips she wants her dad to take her on in the airplane. The first stop: Carmel, Calif., to see a friend.
The Let’s Go Flying SR22 was donated to AOPA by philanthropist and veteran pilot Lloyd Huck. Huck, a B-29 pilot during World War II, asked that AOPA use the airplane to build interest in aviation’s exciting possibilities and expand the U.S. pilot population.
During the year, AOPA used the Cirrus to demonstrate the utility and versatility of general aviation. Pilots were enamored by its speed (it can reach up to 180 KTAS) and fuel economy (burning just 13.5 gallons per hour lean of peak). Non-pilots took note of the aircraft’s safety features, including AmSafe airbag seatbelts and an airframe parachute.
AOPA’s 2010 Fun to Fly sweepstakes is under way. For the first time, the grand prize is a Light Sport Aircraft, the Remos GX.
For more information: AOPA.org