Carson flight instructor experienced the best and worst of aviation
The other day, the boss called me into his office and explained that I would be covering an assignment in which I would fly with an instructor in a single-engine plane.
As he spoke my hands began to sweat. After covering enough plane crashes to declare myself an unofficial assistant coroner, it seems I’ve developed a strong aversion to single-engine flight. What I didn’t realize was that I would be flying with one of the most qualified pilots in the country.
“I can remember that I always wanted to fly,” Bob Brogan said as we met.
“Always” entailed some 55 years of aviation experience and some 7,000 hours of flight time. Mentioning my aprehension, flight instructor Brogan quickly put to rest any misconceptions about plane crashes.
“Idiocy!” he said as he slapped his FAA guidebook, going on to describe how pilots had ignored weight limits, maintenance checks, bad weather and host of other things which led them to their fate, all of which Bob had learned first hand.
“Once on a night flight from San Diego to Alameda, I blew a cylinder and called air traffic control and made an emergecy landing in Merced,” Brogan recalled.
“After landing the plane the crew looked it over and found that had I flown any longer I’d have crash-landed.”
In another incident, Brogan’s single-engine plane stalled while passing over Echo Summit near South Lake Tahoe. Where most would panic, Brogan calmly glided the plane towards the airport until he could restart the engine and safely land.
Brogan’s career didn’t start so turbulently.
Growing up in the ’30s, or what Brogan describes as the “golden age of aviation,” the world was aglow with names like Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes and Charles Lindbergh, and flying was every kid’s dream.
Bob’s father took him on his first flight when he was a child. The flights were offered at a dirt airstrip near Ojai, Calif., for a dollar.
By the time he reached 15, Brogan was cleaning and fueling planes at an airstrip in Oxnard and cutting his teeth with local instructors, including his mentors Ken Barr and Merle Fishburne.
From that time on, Brogan’s life became a series of aviation and technical accomplishments.
He attended the University of California at Berkeley, then spent time on an aircraft carrier in the Navy during the Korean war chasing enemy warships. Shortly after he made his way into flight school the same day that fellow student Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell had first flown solo.
After flight school, Brogan used the military to polish his craft. He studied acrobatics, precision formation and gunnery practice, which included firing at banners towed by other aircraft. His list of accomplishments goes on and on, including the management of airstrip at the Alameda Naval Air Station, a three-year goodwill assignment in Saudi Arabia, and eventually a transition from Washington, D.C., to Carson City.
Brogan retired from the Navy after making more than 230 carrier landings.
While still on active duty, he started the Navy Junior ROTC at Carson High School back in 1973, which he still considers one of his greatest accomplishments.
Since then, Bob as a civilian has spent years instructing pilots at the Carson Airport, ranging in age from 15 to 77.
When the 70-year-old was asked about his future in aviation, he said: “The day I stop flying is the day they carry me out feet first.”
With that Brogan throttled down the small plane, gently touched down, and taxied down the runway. And as the sweat dried from my hands, I thought to myself I couldn’t have been in safer hands.