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Benedetti was out for a Sunday afternoon at California’s Livermore Municipal Airport to catch up with his old college friend Darren Pleasance when he got the surprise many AOPA members dream about—the keys to the AOPA Sweepstakes Van’s Aircraft RV–10.

Under false pretenses, Pleasance led Benedetti out to the ramp where the sweepstakes airplane was parked to meet AOPA President Mark Baker who pretended to be giving an interview. Baker broke off the interview and surprised the 57-year-old Boeing 787 Dreamliner captain with the news that he had won the airplane.

“This can’t be possible. The RV–10 is a phenomenal aircraft,” Benedetti said. “I’m speechless.”

Benedetti learned to fly in the Bay Area before studying engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He flew for a regional airline and then was hired by United Airlines in 1990. Now, he’s a Boeing 787 Dreamliner captain and mostly flies oceanic routes between San Francisco International Airport and destinations in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The surprise of winning the AOPA Sweepstakes Van’s Aircraft RV-10 sets in as Aaron Benedetti sits in the left seat at California’s Livermore Municipal Airport on January 24, just minutes after the big reveal. Photo by Chris Rose.About the winner

Benedetti is an avid paraglider who has been known to bring a backpack parachute rig on trips so he can soar from mountaintops around the world during layovers. He’s also a member of a flying club at Livermore and flies aerobatic and tailwheel airplanes.

About the surprise

Darren Pleasance, a veteran general aviation pilot and longtime friend of the winner, lured Benedetti to Livermore Airport for the surprise airplane giveaway.

Pleasance, who lives in central Oregon, sent his college buddy a text in early December, saying he planned to be in the Bay Area on January 24 and would like to meet for lunch.

Benedetti agreed to the lunch meeting, and he and Pleasance confirmed the time and place as the date drew nearer. Pleasance did his best to keep his communications casual—but it wasn’t easy to stay low key.

“I’m so excited to surprise Aaron with this incredible news,” said Pleasance, who also grew up in Livermore and learned to fly there. “He came up through GA, he absolutely loves aviation, and he’s a great representative of the flying community.”

AOPA President Mark Baker arrived in Livermore the morning of the giveaway and relished his role in springing the surprise, then handing over the keys.

“The look on a pilot’s face when they find out they’ve just won an airplane is disbelief,” he said. “It’s quickly followed by the realization that their life just changed for the better. With this RV–10, any pilot’s life gets way better.” 

The AOPA Sweepstakes RV–10 is the first experimental-category aircraft that AOPA has given away in more than 25 years of its sweepstakes. Photo by Chris Rose.

About the airplane

AOPA managed the restoration of the Van’s Aircraft RV–10 Sweepstakes Airplane with skilled work from master craftsmen over 18 months.

Rob Hickman of Advanced Flight Systems designed and installed a three-screen, digital IFR instrument panel with an Avidyne IFD550 nav/com at its heart; Geoff Combs of Aerosport Products provided a carbon fiber panel and center console; South Florida Sport Aviation installed a leather interior and overhead ventilation system; Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers drew up a distinctive new look; and a team led by Kendall Horst of Lancaster Aero applied its lustrous paint.

Champion Aerospace provided new magnetos for the 260-horsepower engine, and Whelen installed exterior LEDs.

Aerox gave the winner a portable oxygen system, SlideDown pitched in a new set of tiedowns, and Bruce’s Custom Covers provided a durable fuselage cover to protect the airplane from the elements. Tin Tail Numbers contributed an aluminum panel painted to precisely match the Sweepstakes RV–10’s attention-getting N-number.

Van’s Aircraft provided RV–10 transition flight training for the winner with Mike Seager, an Oregon instructor who has given thousands of hours of dual instruction in the RV series. Benedetti has the option of doing the training in his own airplane or in an RV–10 at Van’s Aircraft.

Read more about the RV-10 and how it came to be here.

How was the winner drawn?

AOPA members are always curious about how the winners are drawn—and many have been known to jokingly offer bribes when they see the airplane at the shows. The sweepstakes drawing is completely random: an international judging organization handles the drawing and sends AOPA randomly selected entrants’ names with the prize assigned to each so AOPA can deliver the prizes.

Read AOPA’s story.

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