By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN When Steve Lagergren of rural Litchfield flew his RV-7 kit airplane out of the Winsted Municipal Airport Oct. 5, he didn’t expect to land as the owner of a completely restored 1963 Beechcraft model 35-B33.
“It was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Lagergren, who got his pilot’s license in December 1994, just before he became a process engineer at Hutchinson Technology.
The one-of-a-kind Beechcraft is valued at more than $150,000, and was given to Lagergren through the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) sweepstakes.
“They said I literally had a million-to-one shot of winning this,” Lagergren said.
Lagergren was entered in the drawing automatically when he renewed his membership with AOPA.
The organization has given away planes in the past, but this is the first time a recipient was presented with one in mid-air.
The plane plan
Several people were involved in the ruse, including fellow pilot Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio. About a month ago, Collins called Lagergren and asked if he could come out Oct. 5 to see his RV-7.
“I suggested we do a little flying,” recalled Lagergren, thinking that they could watch the skydiving in Winsted, and maybe do some aerial photography and formation flying.
“Winsted is a great place,” Lagergren said. “It’s a happening airport. People keep their hangars open, and they’re in there tinkering with their planes.”
Lagergren doesn’t own a hangar in Winsted, but he has many pilot friends who do, such as Kevin Weinzierl, Jim Weckman, Rick Stodola, and many others.
“[Stodola] has a big hangar setup with a lounge/coffee bar where everybody meets on Saturday mornings,” Lagergren noted.
Surprised in mid-air
After leaving the Winsted airport the morning of Oct. 5, Lagergren was told to slow his plane down for some photos. Then, he saw the 1963 Beechcraft flying alongside.
“After a little bit, I recognized that color scheme,” Lagergren said, explaining that he saw photos in the AOPA magazine of the plane’s two-year restoration process.
Lagergren heard a voice on the multicom frequency, 122.9 MHz: “I’m Mark Baker from AOPA and I’m here to present you with your new airplane.”
Thinking it was a joke, Lagergren replied, “Yeah, that’s a good one.”
“It’s also true,” responded Baker.
Shocked, Lagergren let the news sink in.
“Unbelievable I love that airplane,” he said. “I’ve got to calm down a little bit to land. Oh my gosh.”
When they arrived at the Litchfield airport, Lagergren’s family members wife Dawn and daughters Nora, 12, and Holly, 10 were waiting for him. Baker had called Dawn that morning to let her in on the surprise, and a dozen other friends also came to watch the delivery.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing extremely exciting,” Lagergren said.
As part of his grand prize, Lagergren is receiving free pilot training for his new plane through the American Bonanza Society’s Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program (BPPP).
The 260-horsepower plane has modern avionics, including touchscreen displays and an iPad Mini that shows electronic charts. It also has custom leather seating and airbags.
As a four-seater, the Beechcraft is the perfect size for Lagergren and his wife and daughters.
“We’re going to try to do more flying together as a family,” he said.
To see footage of Lagergren winning the plane, check out the AOPA website.