FREDERICK, Md. – The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) awarded its 2014 Sweepstakes Airplane, a fully-restored 1963 Beechcraft 35-B33 Debonair, on Sunday, Oct. 5, to Steve Lagergren, an AOPA member from Litchfield, Minn.
Lagergren, who built and flies his own RV-7 kitplane, was flying with another pilot Sunday when AOPA President Mark Baker and AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne flew up alongside him in the Debonair and – on a common radio frequency – informed Lagergren that he had won the airplane.
“I’m Mark Baker from AOPA and I’m here to present you with your new airplane,” Baker said on the multicom frequency, 122.9 MHz.
“Yeah, that’s a good one,” Lagergren replied, dismissing the statement as a joke.
“It’s also true.”
There was a long pause before Lagergren keyed the microphone again.
“Unbelievable — I love that airplane!” he said as reality sunk in. “I’ve got to calm down a little bit to land. Oh my gosh!”
Lagergren’s flying companion, Bob Collins — another RV-7 builder and pilot who works for Minnesota Public Radio — took part in the ruse. Collins arranged Lagergren’s flight by convincing him that a group of RV pilots wanted to look over his plane.
“None of us knew Steve,” Collins said, “but we told him we threw a dart at a Minnesota map and it happened to land on Litchfield, and we wanted to drop in there and hoped he might show us around.”
The pair first flew to a grass strip in nearby Winstead, where they did meet with fellow RV pilots. In the meantime, Baker and Horne flew the Debonair into the area to be able to intercept Lagergren on the return flight to Litchfield Municipal Airport (KLJF).
Once airborne on the crisp Minnesota morning, Baker asked Lagergren if he could join the RV-7 and follow him back to Litchfield. When they were in visual contact, Collins asked Lagergren whether he recognized the distinctive Debonair from the July cover of AOPA Pilot magazine and showed him a copy he brought along with him.
Collins had been coordinating and refining the plan with AOPA staff for several weeks in advance.
“It was a complicated plan, but it went about as well as it could possibly go,” Collins said. “It all went beautifully.”
“It was a total surprise,” Lagergren, 43, said afterward. “There were a few things going on that seemed unusual in retrospect, but I never suspected this.”
Lagergren’s wife Dawn and daughters Nora, 12, and Holly, 10, were listening to the exchange on the radio base station at the Litchfield airport, the girls giggling as their dad figured out the secret they had learned just that morning. Baker had called Dawn Lagergren at 9:35 a.m. to tell her the good news and invite the family to be at the airport when the airplane was awarded. They brought along a dozen friends.
“’Today has to be one of the best days I’ve had at AOPA,” said President Mark Baker. “I loved pulling up next to Steve’s red RV and letting him know he’d won this wonderful Debonair. And it was so great that his family and friends were able to listen in on the surprise. Steve’s a homebuilder and a pilot who is out flying on an overcast, 30° Sunday — that’s a GA pilot! And we’re more than thrilled to be able to award the Debonair to him.”
The sweepstakes Debonair — a 1963 Beechcraft model 35-B33 — was discovered at Brainard Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, where it had been languishing in its tie-down space for years.
After AOPA selected it, a massive, two-year restoration effort began. Virtually every component of the original airplane has been refurbished, as detailed in the July 2014 AOPA Pilot feature, “Debonair on deck.” The one-of-a-kind aircraft, recently professionally appraised, is valued at some $150,000.
D’Shannon Aviation provided a new “speed slope” windshield and side windows, flap and aileron gap seals, and installed 20-gallon wingtip fuel tanks. Santa Fe Aero Services ripped out the funky, dated instrument panel, replaced it with a new one of their design, and then filled it with a complete selection of the most modern retrofit avionics.
These include Aspen’s three-screen Evolution primary and multifunction displays, Garmin’s new GTN 750/650 touchscreen GPS nav/coms, Electronics International’s MVP-50P engine and systems analyzer, and Garmin’s GDL 88 datalink transceiver, which gives the Debonair full ADS-B capability.
Garmin’s GDL 393D glareshield-mounted ADS-B-In receiver also puts a moving-map display front and center on an iPad Mini. The iPad Mini also shows electronic charts and much more.
It all adds up to a total of six display screens—and maximum information redundancy. That includes weather information: the GTN 750 shows FIS-B weather and TIS-B traffic, and XM WX’s datalink weather plays on the Aspen multifunction displays. And that’s just a partial list of the Debonair’s avionics. The sweepstakes grand prize also includes a set of Lightspeed Zulu headsets and a host of additional accessories.
The original, 225-horsepower IO-470-K engine has received a major overhaul and conversion to IO-470-N status courtesy of Genesis Engines by D’Shannon, which included an upgrade to 260 hp.
American Propeller overhauled the prop, Air Mod yanked out the old interior and replaced it with a custom design featuring leather seats and air bags, and KD Aviation blasted off the old paint and gave it a new paint scheme designed by Scheme Designers.
For more information: AOPA.org