Lost Luggage

This past week, America celebrated Independence Day. Our nation has enjoyed 242 years of independence and freedom. Not all chapters in American history are positive, and we still struggle with many divisions. But, America remains a people living in a free society with vast opportunity.

Flying for me is an expression of the freedom I enjoy as an American. The freedom to travel and to enjoy the beautiful scenery of this vast country from above. The fun of exploring new places, meeting new people and becoming part of a community of aviators. Pilots, in general, are an independent lot. You have to have a sense of independence to pilot an airplane. We are responsible for conducting our flights in a safe manner. We owe that to our passengers, those flying around us and indeed those on the ground. We have to manage that responsibility on our own as the pilot in command. As they teach us in our flight lessons and ground school you, as the pilot, are the final authority for each flight.

Last weekend my wife and I had the chance to exercise that independence with an impromptu trip to the Unclaimed Baggage Store. We originally planned to take a weekend trip to visit our family but had to cancel those plans because the forecast weather for our return leg didn’t look promising.

I still had a reservation for my flying club’s Cessna 172, so I released the reservation for the second day of our planned trip and began searching for a short day trip for us to enjoy together. I recently stumbled on a website called Fun Places to Fly (you can visit it here). The site allows you to search for various fun things to see and do with a general aviation airplane. I stumbled on the Unclaimed Baggage Store which was only an hour flight from home base and realized this was the perfect union of flying and shopping! I love to fly, and my wife, an avid bargain hunter, loves to shop for great deals.

I put together a flight plan, called for a weather briefing and soon we were off to the airport. I was very excited for Kimberly to fly with me again. This would be her first trip in one of the club’s airplanes. She had only flown with me once before. That trip was in the aircraft I did a lot of my training in and ultimately used for my check ride. While it is a solidly maintained airplane from a mechanical standpoint, it shows the wear and tear of a training aircraft. In other words, it isn’t pretty to look at. For this trip, I would get to show off a handsome airplane that is well-appointed and free of the tired, worn look of a training airplane.

On our way to the airport we stopped to acquire some “flight fuel” . . .

2018-06-30 09.01.30(Honestly, if our family ever stops eating at Chick-Fil-A, I’m confident that our local franchise will go out of business!)

We arrived at the airport, I pulled the airplane from the hangar and completed my pre-flight inspection. We departed from our home airport in Lebanon, Tennessee (M54) and began our journey toward the Scottsboro, Alabama airport (4A6). I decided to fly at a lower altitude than I originally planned. The skies were dotted with scattered cumulus clouds and while there were opportunities to get above them, I didn’t want to risk getting stuck on top and unable to descend, or having to plunge through an available gap in the clouds. In addition to being an unnecessary risk, a rapid descent would probably not endear my wife to my new flying habit.

The lower altitude gave us the opportunity to enjoy the scenery and I pointed out various landmarks along the way. My wife snapped this photo as we climbed out of Lebanon. If you look closely you’ll see that she captured our shadow on the ground.

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I contacted ATC and asked for flight following soon after our departure. As we closed in on Scottsboro, Memphis Center handed us off to Huntsville Approach. I was having difficulty hearing them clearly so I canceled flight following and switched over to the common frequency for Scottsboro’s airport. There was no one else in the pattern so I executed a mid-field overflight and made the 270-degree turn into a left downwind for Runway 22.  My downwind leg was a little closer to the airport than I was accustomed, so I extended that leg slightly to give me more room to set up for final approach. The proximity to the airport made my base leg short and I was quickly turning from base to final. I lined up my final approach and continued my descent. But, it just didn’t feel right. I was little high and a little fast since and my base leg had been shorter than normal. I just wasn’t feeling good about this approach. The little voice in my head said what I’ve heard my instructors and many others say over and over again “You can always go around.” But would I listen?

I try to consume as much continuing aviation education as I can. One resource I really like and enjoy is the Aviation Newstalk Podcast. If you are a pilot or interested in general aviation you must have this podcast in your rotation. I have learned a great deal from it. In addition to the voices of my instructors and fellow flight club members, the host of this show, Max Trescott’s, voice was also ringing in my ears. In a recent episode discussing the “go around” decision, Max said the first moment you think “maybe I should go around” . . . you should go around.

With that sage advice surging through my brain, and to my wife’s surprise, I was suddenly adding full power, turning off carb heat, beginning to climb and retracting the flaps. After all of this activity, I announced on the UNICOM that I was “going around.” My wife asked in a slightly stressed voice, “What’s wrong?” I told her nothing was wrong, we’re not in peril, I just wasn’t comfortable with the approach and we were going to give it another shot. To her credit she simply said “okay.”

I don’t want to over sell this event. It wasn’t a horrible approach. I probably could have chopped the power to idle, slipped the airplane and made the landing. But why? We were on a leisurely trip to rummage through people’s lost luggage for what we hoped would be valuable treasure. It could wait ten more minutes. The second approach was much better and we made a nice, smooth landing into Scottsboro. We taxied to the terminal and called for fuel. After refueling, we were in the FBO’s loaner van for the 2-mile journey to lost luggage heaven.

2018-06-30 11.53.22

We spent a couple of hours shopping for whatever we might stumble upon. I was stunned at the size of the Unclaimed Baggage Store. After taking in the sheer magnitude of it, I thought “Just how much luggage do the airlines lose every day?!?” Naturally there is a very large selection of clothing including mens’, womens’, childrens’, formal wear, uniforms, suits, shoes and shockingly, lingerie (does anyone every buy it?!? Egad!). They have electronics, computers, sporting goods, tools, home goods, jewelry and more that I could list but I’ll spare you. You get the idea. Go see it for yourself, it’s a fun journey through commercial air travel. Some of the items were quite humorous. I wondered why someone might have been packing a dry heat rotisserie oven in their luggage? Who was the person who packed the sledge-hammer and Karaoke machine and why? I jokingly asked one of the clerks where the gun section was and she replied with a polite smile “we don’t have one”, clearly vexed at having heard this joke one too many times.

We both found some great bargains, ate a snack and headed back to the airport. I called for a weather briefing and was advised that there was a small thunderstorm East of home base and that we should delay our departure. The storm was moving North-Northwest very slowly but appeared to be dissipating. I loaded the airplane, completed my pre-flight inspection and walked back into the FBO to check the weather again. The storm had run its course and we prepared for departure.

We climbed out of Scottsboro and turned North into similar conditions we had experienced that morning, but the cloud bases were higher allowing me to add some altitude to our flight home. I contacted Atlanta Center and asked for flight following and was handed off to Memphis Center a few minutes later.

Pilots are always worried about weather and the small storm that had delayed our departure kept that concern fresh in my mind. It is summer in Tennessee which means afternoon thunderstorms occur frequently and are often very violent. Prior to departing I picked two alternate airports to land short of home base if any more storms began to emerge. I was also closely watching the weather head on my ForeFlight App mindful that there is a 10-15 minute delay in what appears in the app and the actual weather ahead. We were twenty-five miles out of Scottsboro and I began to notice some precipitation directly in our flight path, but it was clear to the West. So I turned toward the Shelbyville airport (KSYI) and advised ATC that I was diverting to the West to take a more circuitous route to Lebanon to avoid some precipitation. As we approached Tullahoma (KTHA) I was handed off to Nashville approach. We had successfully circumnavigated the small rain shower now far to our East and I turned toward home base.

I had been having great difficulty hearing ATC during this leg of our journey and reached up to adjust the volume thinking that I had inadvertently turned it down. I immediately realized that I had depressed the volume knob and squelched the radio, so I spent the next few moments resetting it to remove the mind-numbing static in my ears. Then I discovered the reason I was having a hard time hearing ATC. I forgot to activate the ANR (active noise reduction) on my headset. For those of you unfamiliar with ANR it is a technology that was first developed by the Bose Corporation. It consists of small microphones in your headset that listen to the sound you are hearing. A microprocessor analyzes the sound and calculates the inverse wave of those sounds which it then plays through a set speakers in the headphones. These “counter sound waves” result in a dramatic reduction in engine noise and other sounds that drone on and on in a small airplane cockpit, that the person wearing the headset hears. Upon realizing my mistake, I quickly switched on the ANR, and a magical peace and quiet washed over my ears once again. I made a mental note to update my startup checklist to add “Turn on ANR, you dummy” as the last item on that list.

The remainder of our flight was uneventful and I made a nice, soft landing at home base. My wife’s compliment on my landing capped off my day as we taxied back to the hangar. I called for fuel, cleaned and stowed the plane and we drove home with the air conditioning on full blast.

While this trip may seem routine or even mundane to more seasoned pilots, it meant a great deal to me. After years of hopes and dreams about flying, many trips planned and cancelled due to bad weather or unforseen circumstances, I was finally doing it for nothing more than the sheer pleasure and joy of spending a day with my wife on a leisurely flight. Kimberly and I enjoyed a beautiful day together doing things we both love. It doesn’t get much better than that, and I’m looking forward to our next great adventure . . . .

Copyright 2018 – Miller Hogan

Nashville Flight Traning Victory!

Congratulations to Mariah Ferber and Paige Kessler of team Nashville Flight Training for their recent victory in the 2018 Air Classic Race! As you all know, I completed my private pilot training at Nashville Flight Training at the Nashville International Airport (KBNA). I did a lot of my training in N434EP, the aircraft they flew in the race. I have fond memories of that bird. She was a little short on modern avionics but flew well and fast. I think she got a new engine in the last year and maybe some other upgrades.

The only downside to flying that plane for me was that it has a fuel injected engine, so there is no carb heat. When I would transition back to one of the older C-172s with a carburated engine, I invariably would forget to turn on the carb heat on my first pattern. This bad habit is an example of why we use checklists! It was an important lesson in my training. All aircraft, even of the same model, are not necessarily the same.

Read more about the race on the AOPA’s website via this link.

 

Backstory – Part Three (My Co-Pilot)

First, I want to offer an apology for the delay in posting this article. The last few weeks have been filled with vacation, catch up work from vacation and some personal life stuff that’s kept me from writing. I intend to post more regularly on this blog, and I’ll endeavor to post more frequently. Thank you for your patience. Now, on with my story. . .

One of my few regrets in life was not completing my private pilot certificate so many years ago. Throughout the ensuing 32-years, I stayed connected to the aviation community as time and resources allowed. I kept up with the latest news and trends, attended air shows and talked about flying with whoever would listen. I would occasionally open one of my textbooks from my undergraduate studies and play the “what if?” game in my head. During that season I often felt a profound sadness for not finishing what I started. That indeed wasn’t a character trait my dad taught me.

After I finished law school, my dream of flying began to fade in the milieu of daily life. I hoped to pursue a career in aviation and space law, but it’s a niche’ practice. In 1994 a position for someone with no experience in the field did not exist despite a great deal of effort on my part to find it. Life events, the birth of my children and my responsibilities and obligations to my family, took me in a different direction. As years flew by, I never lost my passion for aviation, but it was lightly indulged from a distance in an increasingly complicated life.

After many years of fading hopes to someday fly, my passion for aviation reignited. I began reading news stories about the shortage of pilots and what it would mean for the future of the aviation industry. During my initial training decades ago, the competition for pilot jobs was fierce, the pay was exceedingly low and the hours were long. While my failed written test was the initial “stall” in pursuing my piloting career, these considerations also weighed heavily on me. I could not justify the expense of continuing training as a burden on my parents or taking out large student loans with the job prospects as dismal as they were at that time. But the present aviation market is a radically new and different era. Airline pilots are retiring at record rates, and due to the high cost of training, they are not being replaced at a sustainable rate. I’m under no illusion that I’m going to start any kind of flying “career” at nearly 50 years old, but this excitement around the industry captured my heart once again.

I began yammering on and on to my wife about how much I regretted not finishing my pilot certificate and how I wished to have the time and resources to pursue it. I lamented the cost of training and whether we could afford it. She patiently listened and encouraged me to pursue it. She offered suggestions on how we could make it work. She genuinely felt my disappointment. Despite this encouragement, I never seemed to have the time to get started. Then in the fall of 2016, my wife did something remarkable. On my 48th birthday, she handed me a birthday card with an impish and expectant grin on her face. Not knowing what to expect, I opened it to find a certificate for two hours of flight time at a local flight school. For once in my life, I was rendered speechless. In that instant what had returned as a simmering ember in my heart roared to life as a blazing four-alarm fire! She told me that it was a down payment on my training and that she fully supported me pursuing and obtaining my private pilot certificate. My heart soared. She explained that she had gone to great lengths to arrange the flight time for me and to keep it a secret. I was more determined than ever that I would finally conquer the skies. While my training would suffer from starts and stops along the way, that gift was the nudge I needed to make time to fulfill my dream.

Flying an airplane is a challenging task that requires a lot of knowledge, attention to detail and concentration. Having a co-pilot makes those tasks much more manageable. An onboard partner who shares the workload and backstops your mistakes is invaluable. Likewise, life is full of challenges and similarly requires dedication and attention. Sometimes we need a co-pilot to help push us forward. Having a life “co-pilot” to share the workload and backstop your mistakes is priceless. I am truly blessed to have the best co-pilot to fly with me through my life’s journey. This blog is equally dedicated to my amazing wife and life “co-pilot” Kimberly Hurst. Thank you for helping me get my wings, but most of all thank you for helping me to soar! Without your encouragement, support and longsuffering through many nights of study, I would still be earthbound.

Me and Kimberly on our first flight together on December 16, 2017. The first of many we will take together . . .

2017-12-16 08.45.28

– Miller Hogan

Copyright 2018 – Miller Hogan

 

 

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

Backstory – Part One (Dad)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with airplanes. I attribute that love to my dad, Guy Hogan. He loved everything about aviation. Growing up in the Mississippi Delta as a teenager he was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. He recounted to me many stories of flights he took as a teenage CAP member and how he longed to fly airplanes. He kept a meticulous logbook of all the commercial flights he took as a passenger. While he never obtained a pilot certificate he was deeply passionate about aviation and shared that passion with me.

I remember many days that he and I found a reason to drive to the observation area at the Nashville Airport (KBNA). It was long before the days of fences and high security. Dad always seemed to have his handheld scanner in the car, just in case we might be driving by the airport. We’d lean on the hood of his car and alternate between Tower, Ground, and the Approach/Departure frequencies often trying to track the journey of a single plane arriving or departing as the pilot was handed off from one controller to the next. We began to recognize the voices of the controllers and a few pilots. While we did not know their names, we knew them. We respected them and their calm, professional demeanor. We learned their lingo, their temperament and the repeated rhythm of their concise but rich language. We sometimes stepped on their chatter with the exclamation  “hey look at that” as we marveled at some new or unusual aircraft.

When the American Airlines hub opened in 1986 we were in aviation heaven. The skies filled, and the chatter became thick. It was better than the movies. It was better than television. It was a coordinated sky dance full of rhythm. It was our music. We often watched and listened to our symphony as day transitioned to night. And the tiny white stars kept arriving one after the other. Floating downward ever so silently only to roar to a halt as the pilot reversed thrust after contact.

It was in these moments that aviation captured me. I wanted to fly! It would be many, many years before I accomplished that goal, but the spark was lit by my dad. My only regret is that he didn’t live to fly with me. So, I dedicate these chronicles to him. To the man who laid out the runway for me and taught me how to fly in the ways that really count. I’ll see you up there somewhere dad . . .

– Miller Hogan

Dad

 

Introduction

Welcome to my Private Pilot Chronicles. This site will be devoted to sharing my journey as a private pilot. It will be a mix of articles, photos and videos about my adventures as a private pilot. I may also occasionally share and comment on general aviation news and matters of concern to our community. A good pilot is always learning something new and I will share new-found knowledge here as well.

I obtained my private pilot certificate in September 2017 and recently joined a local flying club. I will talk more about my long journey to obtain my certificate in a later post.

I welcome your comments, suggestions and questions. I would appreciate it if you would keep all comments civil. I’m still a newbie and I’m still learning, but I welcome constructive insight and observations.

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I do. Now … come fly with me!

– Miller Hogan