New Orleans Flyout Part 1 - The Dog Ate My Paperwork

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Discovering Pilots N Paws

This past January, my wife was looking for a way for us to fly our 1972 C180H Jezebel (her nickname for our airplane, not mine—but it works) more than we did the year before. Rhonda has a friend named Nikki Mitchell up in Normandy, Tenn. who is an enthusiastic animal lover. Nikki told Rhonda about an organization called Pilots N Paws (PNP).

This organization, founded by Debi Boies and Jon Wehrenberg, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of animals. It offers a web-based meeting place for those who rescue, shelter, or foster animals and pilots and plane owners willing to assist with the transportation of animals.

All pilots volunteer their time and aircraft to get these animals from point A to point B. The organization’s unique approach offers volunteers the flexibility to plan how many dogs, cats and reptiles they can save, when, and where. According to the Pilots N Paws web site, the organization is “intended to be a meeting place... not to coordinate or arrange those providing these valuable services, but to provide the environment in which those involved can come together.”

This means the pilots coordinate directly with the shelters, foster caretakers and other pilots through the web site and discussion boards. Volunteers are encouraged to check in often for ways they can volunteer or assist with missions, as the site has new listings daily.

Aviation is a great alternative to ground transport for saving animals, but pilots need to be aware of some special considerations. Visit the Pilot Tools section of the Pilots N Paws web site for details. You can find PNP’s web address in the Resources on page 55.

PNP was featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program last winter, and has received a lot of other press. (Visit the News/Articles section of the Pilots N Paws web site for all kinds of heartwarming stories. —Ed.)

Cross-Country Rescue Missions

Rhonda flew her first PNP flight on January 31, 2010—and she saved 13 dogs on that run alone! Since then our little Cessna has flown numerous legs from Louisiana to New York, saving 126 dogs that otherwise would have been killed in shelters.

My wife doesn’t like sitting on her laurels. Rhonda’s done a bunch of these trips, carrying as many as 15 dogs at a time. Take Newman, the Australian shepherd (see photo on page 44). He was a model passenger—until halfway through the trip when he ate Rhonda’s flight plan. She had to call Cincinnati Approach and announce, “This is going to sound really stupid, but this is a dog rescue flight and my dog ate my paperwork.”

She does this because she loves flying and dogs, and when she can’t make a flight due to her work schedule—Rhonda flies a Hawker 800XP for Unum Group and is on call—she sends me and my father-in-law to pick up and deliver the dogs. (For more information on Rhonda’s PNP missions and other flying adventures, see the sidebar on page 48.)

Gulf Coast Rescue Flyaway

On September 17, 2010, Rhonda and I, along with Rhonda’s boss Jim Chandler (who has a V-tail Bonanza, but we don’t hold that against him) and Chandler’s friend Gary Deck flew to New Orleans for Pilots N Paws’ Gulf Coast Rescue Flyaway. We saddled up the V tail and Jezebel with nine dog carriers of various sizes and flew from our home base of Collegedale, Tenn. (KFGU) to New Orleans Lakefront (KNEW).

Hundreds of people were expected to come together in New Orleans to improve the lives of over a hundred adoptable (some already spoken for) dogs. These lucky dogs were sent from a dozen rescue organizations and shelters all over Louisiana and were arranged to be received by 15 shelters and rescue groups—and ultimately, loving new families—in Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

It was a fairly cool morning in Tennessee with some patchy ground fog, but our airport was fine and the two airplanes were up and flying by 0800 for the 390-plus miles to KNEW. Gary hadn’t flown a tailwheel in awhile, so he flew with Rhonda in Jezebel and I was with Jim in the V tail.

After an uneventful leg, we were both on the ground by 1030 CDT. New Orleans Lakefront is one of the busiest airports in Louisiana and serves private, corporate, military and commercial aircraft. The airport has VFR and VOR GPS Approach on its main runway, 18R/36L.

We checked in with AeroPremier Jet Center, the FBO sponsor for the PNP event. Everything was first-class. Ops Manager Rolando Gonzalez, Office Manager Wendy Bell and the rest of Premier’s staff were outstanding, keeping up with all the aircraft, fueling and repositioning for the flyout.

Bumming Around on Bourbon Street

We had nothing to do between about 1100 and 1800 so we went into the French Quarter and sampled some of those famed New Orleans po’boys and gumbo.

Our first stop was the legendary Cafe Du Monde, where we ordered coffee and beignets. For those of you unfamiliar with this Acadian treat, they are fried dough—like fritters—topped in powdered sugar and sometimes filled with fruit. For dinner we had hand-shucked, chargrilled Louisiana oysters and other Cajun food at the Acme Oyster House. This, too, is a New Orleans fixture and is just a half a block off Bourbon St.

Our hotel, The Drury Inn downtown, was only four blocks from the French Quarter, so everything was close by.

That evening we came back to AeroPremier and met about 30 pilots from all over the Southeast at a BBQ put on by corporate sponsor Subaru. By then the planes had come in and there were 22 aircraft of all shapes and sizes, all lined up. The FBO was going to move them during the night and put them in different areas depending on where they were to fly the next day. The aircraft were varied, but Cessna was the one best represented with several 172s, 182s a P210, a couple of 310s, and of course, our 180 (the only taildragger, by the way).

Next month, I’ll share some more information about our taildragger, as well as provide you with a pirep of the flyout day.

Bob Hilpert is a Navy-trained pilot, winged in 1983. He served 15 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, flying for nine out of Miami and Mobile, Ala. in the Falcon 20G. Hilpert is an ATP with over 15,000 hours and currently flies for a major airline. His wife, Rhonda Miles, is also a pilot who soloed at 16 and has over 10,000 hours. Thanks to Miles, Hilpert has been involved with GA now for seven years and together they look for any opportunity to fly their 1972 Cessna180H. Send questions or comments to .


Spotlight on Rhonda Miles

by Heather Skumatz

“I don’t plan anything,” Rhonda Miles told me. But she sure gets a lot of things done.

In addition to flying around the world in 1998, this 10,000-plus hour pilot, flight instructor and ATP received the FAA’s Top Flight Award for outstanding contributions to General Aviation. Miles got involved with Pilots N Paws less than a year ago. Once she found out about the program’s mission to save the lives of innocent animals, she set a personal goal of saving a hundred dogs in a year—and saved 118 in just half that time.

By September, Miles and her husband Bob Hilpert had transported 126 animals to shelters, rescues and foster homes, with more flights expected in 2010. “Our plane was a floatplane in British Columbia for many years. It’s probably hauled moose meat and hunters and all kinds of things, and it’s still a transport plane,” Miles explained. “Ninety-eight percent of my [personal] flying this year has been with Pilots N Paws. I’ve even had dogs in my plane for Sun ‘n Fun. I do try to make myself believe [the dogs] are cargo,” Miles continued, “or I’ll want to take them all home!” Inevitably, many pilots have found a new pet as a result of a Pilots N Paws flight. “We’ve even adopted dogs out to airport staff,” she told me.

There were three particular dogs that Miles had a hard time leaving. Newman (pictured on page 44), Savannah, and Andie and her 12 puppies. “Andie was a really distraught momma. We had to undo our net, and crawl back and release her from where she had gotten herself wedged in the baggage compartment. Once she could see that her babies were OK, she calmed down.” Another time, a German Shepherd went wild in the plane. “She was very upset, and even broke the crate. When the trainer arrived at the airport, she calmed down. This dog was about an hour away from being euthanized [when we rescued her].” But the vast majority of dogs are trouble-free passengers. “When you break ground, they fall asleep like kids in a car seat,” Miles told me. “They often wake up on descent. And when you get them where they are going, they know they are in a good place,” said Miles.

For more information about Miles’s historic flight from Nashville to Moscow and across the Bering Sea with Nikki Mitchell, visit