Airplane! Airplane!

February 28th 2021

I wanted to learn more about the grass strip of land we fondly call the Hogan International so I reached out to a man who lives in Elizabeth City, NC who was a local to the property in his youth. I knew he had an interest in flying and that it went way back before his days in the Coast Guard took him from our area. Greg Duncan turned out to be a wealth of knowledge. He knew the property very well having spent many an afternoon there while growing up. He said in the early to mid 1970’s there were as many as 5 or 6 planes that lived there in its heyday. I say lived there because flying as a hobby takes on a life of its own it seems.

There was an office in the oldest wooden hanger were Bob Hogan, the owner, ran the business of flying. Outside the office there was Amoco Brand gasoline for sale on the honor system. Those in the know, like the owners that stored their planes there, knew where the key to the pump was hidden. Using the key they could get gas on their own. The price per gallon was written on the wall of the office, and the money was put into a metal “lock box”, each purchaser trusted not to cheat. Supplying gas was a safety issue for Mr. Hogan, Greg said. “They all topped their planes off with fuel after each flight. They did not want to risk flying to Horace Williams (a larger airport nearby), potentially low on fuel, just to gas up.”

Greg reminded me of the “banner fliers” that used the airfield. I remembered them from my youth. These were somewhat daredevil fliers that would use the field on days the town of Chapel Hill had big gatherings of people outdoors. The occasional street festival, large University graduation celebrations, and UNC football games, were the banner fliers bread and butter heydays. They would use the airstrip for takeoff and landing and use the adjacent hay field to set up their banner accoutrements. The setup was basically a goal posts of sorts sticking up into the air ten feet or so with a cable stretched between. The cable was tied to a banner that was laid out in the hay field backwards. A pilot would take off from the airstrip with a big hook on a chain trailing from its tail. They would circle back over the hay field low and slow. The pilot would fly between the uprights of the goal posts allowing the hook at the end of the chain to catch the cable stretched between. The pilot would then stomp on the gas, the plane would accelerate, the hook would pull the cable and the banner into the air. With luck and a prayer the whole thing would unfurl behind the accelerating airplane and rise into the sky! The banners would be pulled to Chapel Hill and over the big crowds with messages that encouraged them to “Drink Pepsi” “Hate State” or the occasional marriage proposal spelled out for all to see (or worse, see picture below).

Photo by Fred Stipe

Greg also encouraged me to contact Susan Hogan the daughter of the late Bob Hogan, pilot, owner operator, and my uncle. Greg thought she might have some pictures and more context about the airfield. And she did. Below is a picture of Bob Hogan’s Cessna taken in the early 1980’s.

Fasten your seat-belt’s. The next stop is Hogan International! You can see the grass strip in the center left bisected by a dirt road and the adjacent hay field on the center right where the banner fliers would set up.
Bob Hogan’s Cessna tucked into it’s hanger. All three are long gone.

Susan was a wealth of knowledge. She told me of late day/early evening flights when torches would be set out in the dark to mark the airfield. She spoke the names of the airplane owners she remembered from her childhood. Names like Mr Marley, Emerson Ford, Don Johnson, and the vague and mysterious “Chick” a character she knew only by stories. She told me that the airport was much more than an airfield to her family. It was the home of the family pet cemetery, the end of the rainbow bridge. It was the final resting place of every dog, cat, sheep, and parakeet they had owned in her lifetime. She went on to tell me it was the location of the shared, extended family, vegetable garden, and one of, if not the best, wide open space to safely learn to drive. For Susan the Hogan International was much more than an airstrip.

Ohh and she told me why they call it the Hogan International Airport. Her mom and dad and another couple flew Bob Hogan’s Cessna hop scotch style to the Bahama’s one summer, dodging thunderstorms along the way and having the time of their lives. An international flight, well I’ll be.

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