Backstory – Part Two (The Failure)

In 1986 I became a student at Middle Tennessee State University. My other passion at the time was filmmaking and photography. I declared a major in “Mass Communications” with an emphasis on film production. During my freshman year I watched the Cessna 150s and 172s flying over campus as they departed and arrived at the Murfreesboro airport (KMBT) occupied by students in the Professional Pilot program. I’m one of “those people” who can’t resist looking up the moment I hear any type of aircraft passing overhead. The world stops for a few moments and I watch with envy as it passes while wondering who’s inside, and where are they going?

At the end of my freshman year the film program was cancelled due to lack of funding and student interest in the program. Initially I was disappointed and briefly considered transferring to another school to continue that pursuit. I realized that first year of college, however, that I am a “left brain” person, and despite my love of the motion picture arts it simply is not my true talent. Movies would have to be an avocation rather than a career. I was not going to be the next Stephen Spielberg.

A friend of mine from highschool was enrolled in the Professional Pilot program at MTSU and during my freshman year, I listened to his stories about learning to fly. We talked about aviation constantly. When he obtained his private pilot certificate, I flew with him on several occasions which further inflamed my passion for flying. Entering my Sophomore year, I changed my major to the Professional Pilot program at MTSU and began my training. It was thrilling. My training progressed well and I loved every minute I spent at the airport. I loved talking to the older pilots and hearing their ” . . . and there I was . . . ” stories of flights some of which were grand adventures, and others downright frightening, but not bad enough that they weren’t around to tell them. One of the things that I love about the aviation community is the willingness of other pilots to share their knowledge. There’s no doubt that flying an airplane includes inherent risks. Safety is drilled into pilots from the very beginning of their training. I think that’s why pilots are so willing to share. You might know something that will save my life one day, and I might know something that will save yours. It’s a wonderful community of fellowship.

I have fond memories of my early training. The sights, sounds and smells of general aviation were intoxicating. My training progressed normally. I soloed, then completed my cross-country solo flights including managing a complete radio failure on the final leg of my long cross-country from Chattanooga’s Lovell Field Airport (KCHA). I had 50 hours of flight time, 10 more than I needed, and the only obstacles between me and the freedom of the skies were passing my written test, and my checkride.

My first year of study in the Professional Pilot program included courses in weather, navigation, propulsion systems and regulatory requirements. I was nearing the end of the second semester of my Sophomore year and wanted to get my certificate before the summer break. I scheduled my written exam and carried on with my normal class schedule. I was confident that what I had learned those first two semesters would carry me through the written exam with ease. I was wrong. I spent very little time preparing for it. I had become overconfident. Then it happened. I failed. How could that happen? I never failed! I missed the mark by three questions and I stalled.

My instructors were very kind and supportive. They encouraged me to take the written exam again. They advised me to spend more time focused on studying for that particular test. In other words, I needed to learn how to take that test, not just rely on the general knowledge I had gained through my studies. They suggested that I consider taking a prep course in addition to my academic studies. This advice would later resurface when I was preparing for the bar exam which, having learned a humiliating lesson, I heartily embraced, and passed the bar on my first attempt. I humbly told my dad about my failure and in his usual fashion he lifted me up and encouraged me to try again.

Summer arrived, I got a summer job working the night shift as a dispatcher at the MTSU police department and flying was put on hold. Working the night shift made flying nearly impossible. I’d have to try again in the fall. When fall arrived my flying skills were stale and I was facing the prospect of investing more time and money to get current for my checkride and the spectre of the written exam loomed. There’s an old saw in the aviation world “What makes an airplane fly?” “Thrust, lift and money.” Going into my junior year, I needed to work. I rented my first apartment and while my parents were very generous in helping me with tuition, school and living expenses, I needed additional funds to make it all work. It became apparent that this dream would have to take off another day. Little did I know at the time that day was 32 years away.

I changed the emphasis of my Aerospace major to the Management Program and graduated in December, 1990. I was accepted into the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). Flying was now in an indefinite holding pattern.

– Miller Hogan

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