Missionary Pilot Wins AOPA Sweepstakes Cessna 152
An experienced bush pilot who spent years involved in missionary work thought he was retired from flying – until this week, when AOPA surprised him with a newly restored Cessna 152, the 2015 You Can Fly Sweepstakes prize. The winner is Eric Peterson, who was a pilot and then an airport manager for the nonprofit missionary firm JAARS Inc. "I got too old to fly for JAARS, but I've been thinking about getting back into flying," he said during Tuesday's award ceremony in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Peterson, who is also an aviation mechanic, began his flying career as a pilot in Alaska where he met his wife, Carol. They became Christian missionaries and raised a family in the Philippines, where Eric flew Helio Couriers, Super Cubs and helicopters in challenging environments and once was even shot at when flying a Robinson R44.
In the tradition of AOPA's annual sweepstakes, organizers created a diversion to make the giveaway a surprise for Peterson. He had recently extended JAARS' home airport from 800 feet to 1,400 feet with volunteer help and an old front-end loader. The unpaved strip is where future missionary pilots train for their work overseas. JAARS employees planned a ceremony at the airport to honor him for his work on the runway, and the plan worked. AOPA President Mark Baker recognized Peterson for his lifelong dedication to general aviation, which he is passing on to his two sons. "Eric exemplifies the very best attributes of general aviation pilots through his willingness to give of himself for others," he said. The bright yellow 1978 Cessna was restored by Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyoming, which has partnered with AOPA to refurbish selected airplanes to promote aviation training and the fun of flight.