June 1, 2012
By Alton K. Marsh
Sure, you take your dog flying, but does he really enjoy the experience? Does he have the passion that, if he were a human, would carry him through pilot training? To find out, I asked AOPA members on our “I was wondering” forum to tell me about dogs that really enjoy the experience. If they fall asleep, it doesn’t count. I soon had two groups—dogs that like to fly, and those that definitely do not.
There’s a reason Roscoe is first. He not only displays signs of appreciating flying, but pitches in to help tie the airplane down. A dog like that ought to get free instruction. Roscoe, a 9-year-old boxer/beagle, has 200 hours total flying time.
“He starts running crazy as soon as he sees me get my flight bag; actually runs around the car while waiting for me,” says owner Peter Donofrio of Thomaston, Connecticut. “After flying he helps me put the cover on if it’s windy. I tie the straps to his collar and he stays while I go to the other side [of the 1976 Beech Sundowner]. When I call him, he comes with the straps—much easier than crawling underneath.”
Roscoe, named after the Dukes of Hazzard character, has a serious side. He is a pet therapy dog at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Like Roscoe, Baxter not only likes to fly, but he possesses social skills on a dog level, making him a valuable crew member.
Baxter is a 6-year-old Jack Russell terrier who had a rough life and was rescued by humans. He ended up at the FAA with owner Brad Zeigler, who works with the airport improvement program. Now, as crew chief on Zeigler’s 1975 Cessna 182 based at Potomac Airfield near Washington, D.C., he hosts other rescued dogs as they fly to a new life up north. He helps them with any concerns about the 182 flight, of course, but can also let them know what to expect in a new world called New England.
He stands on his hind legs and puts his paws on the yoke, and that must impress the heck out of the other dogs.
Haley, a Westie, hails out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and flies in Kelvin Draughon’s 2007 Cessna Skylane. The dog has her own logbook with 74 hours recorded.
She enjoys, or at least tolerates, steep turns. “If she had thumbs I’d solo her,” says Draughon.
Haley hates to give up the right seat to anyone. Removing her from the right seat is like “marching her off to a hanging,” Draughon says. To be honest, she is as excited about the bow of a boat as she is an airplane. She enjoys adventure of any kind.
“Tig” (for Tiger), while he was alive, set an example of support for general aviation that other dogs can and should follow today, if they learn to read this. Tig learned to ride a Cherokee 140 in Wendell, North Carolina, taking flight training along with his owner, then-student-pilot John Renfro. Tig patroled the backseat in his Mutt Muffs looking out one window, then the other—you never know which will have the best view. After his first trip he took ownership of the flying experience and any airplane he saw. “From that ride on, every time he was at the airport, if he wasn’t in the airplane, he would loudly proclaim to anyone in earshot that he should be,” Renfro said. “On one occasion, my wife was sitting and watching me fly the pattern—hadn’t gotten my ticket yet—when a King Air pulled up to the FBO and shut down. Tig had an absolute fit to get on that airplane. She finally had to put him in the truck to stop his complaining.”
Tig died in September 2009 and is a candidate for the aviation dog hall of fame, whenever such a facility is established.
Agapanthus Mayhem is a Yorkie from Oroville, California, who simply loves to fly. All efforts to keep her in the back failed, says owner Dr. Stephen Gray. “During takeoff and landing Aggie is content to stand—not sit—on my wife’s knees in the co-pilot position, but as soon as we reach cruise altitude she moves to the pilot position and assumes control of all flight operations.”
While she sleeps during car trips, she remains alert and appears to be looking for traffic while in Gray’s aerobatic Bonanza E33. “I have had many dogs and flown with most of them, but none have shown the alertness and interest of this little mutt.”
This is not really Siggy’s fault. The dog simply became frustrated with the student pilot experience. Owner Andrew Flank of Washington, D.C., says Siggy started out with great navigation and stick skills (fetch the stick, maybe?), but frustration with operating the radio and figuring out the rudder pedals caused him to drop out. That’s what the owners said. I’m just reporting.
Another dog was involved in turbulence above the Banning Pass in Southern California and upon reaching home, retreated to Joe Farrell’s closet in Claremont, California, for two days. To Buddy’s credit (that’s the dog), he has since recovered and willingly goes flying. He might even make a flying enthusiast, but not if there is more turbulence.
There is a Schnauzer in Lincoln, California, that barks at the airplane and tries to attack its wheels as it moves out of the hangar, but is content to sleep once in the air. Upon arrival, it can’t get out fast enough. One of the criteria for this article was that the dog must not sleep in the air or otherwise show boredom. Rules are rules.
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AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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