From need-to-fly to love-to-fly, Dr. Frederick D. Poage shares his aviation journey that led to ownership of the versatile Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage.
As a first-generation pilot and doctor in his family, you could say that Dr. Frederick D. Poage has lofty goals and ambitions. The eldest son of a roofer and teacher, he got into aviation out of necessity, but quickly fell in love with flying and the art of airmanship.
From the spring of 2016, when he took his first flying lesson in Lufkin, Texas, until today, he’s owned three aircraft, moving up from a 1977 Cessna R172 Hawk XP, through a 1986 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, and now owns what he sees as his forever plane: a 1996 Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage. The Mirage, and Fred’s journey, are the subject of this story.
Getting into aviation, stat!
After completing medical school in 2014, Fred and his first wife, Carla, moved from Lufkin to Amarillo, Texas, for him to begin his residency. Carla had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 at the age of 30. Her initial diagnosis came after they moved to Fort Worth for medical school at UNT Health Science Center-Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, so for the first few years, it was a relatively short trip from Fort Worth to Dallas for her treatments. Once they moved to the panhandle city of Amarillo, however, the trip to Medical City Dallas became more challenging. When they say “everything is bigger in Texas,” that includes distances. Did you know that El Paso (in West Texas) is closer to San Diego, California, than it is to the eastern border of Texas? Yeah, the state is that big.
All their family support was back in Lufkin, a nine-hour drive away. Even if they took the airlines from Amarillo to Houston or Dallas, Lufkin was still another two- to three-hour drive away. When Carla’s health began to decline, Fred took a sabbatical from his residency and moved them back to Lufkin in October 2015. Sadly, she passed away that December, leaving a grieving husband and two young sons.
And this is where “learning to fly out of necessity” came into view for Fred: “I knew I had to move back to Amarillo in June 2016 to finish my residency, but my two boys also needed the support of their grandparents and family in Lufkin. I looked into hiring a contract pilot, because driving nine hours each way was not an option with the insane schedule of residency. After seeing how expensive that was, I seriously thought, ‘Why don’t I just buy a plane and fly us myself?’”
Fred had his first flight lesson with Matt Courtney, a CFI at Angelina County Airport (KLFK) in Lufkin on March 1, 2016. He bought his first airplane—a 1977 Cessna R172 Hawk XP—one month later, on April 1, 2016 (no joke!). With 52 hours in his fresh logbook, he earned his private pilot certificate June 24, 2016, and the very next day he flew himself, his two boys, and the family’s two dogs back to Amarillo.
Fred logged over 250 hours in that airplane, flying back and forth to Lufkin to see family. Longing for something faster and more capable, he moved into a 1986 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza in June 2017. In May 2019, after an intensive 10-day course with PIC Aviation Services (“definitely worth it!”), Fred earned his Instrument Airplane rating. He logged over 550 hours over a three-year period, before upgrading to the Piper Malibu Mirage in June 2020.
Owning and flying the Piper Malibu Mirage
When I asked Fred how he came to own a Mirage, he said that they had caught his eye since he started learning to fly. In fact, he’d even asked Matt, his flight instructor, about the Piper M-class airplanes (as the PA-46 series is collectively known today) as a student, but thought “I’ll never be able to afford one of those!” Today, of course, he not only owns one, but is a lifetime member of the MMOPA type club.
Why the Malibu Mirage? “I always tell people that a Piper Malibu Mirage is truly the top of the line for single-engine owner-pilots. With pressurization, speed, space, and an air conditioner, it has everything you need to fly comfortably—at a fraction of the cost of a turbine or jet,” relates Fred. “I have considered moving into an M500 or equivalent, but just cannot justify the increased cost for what my missions are. My personal flying is 99% within a 1,000-mile radius of Amarillo, and my Mirage handles that beautifully; thus why I say it is my forever plane.” He’s not ruling out an upgrade in the future, however. “If I do consider a different plane in the future, it will absolutely be a Piper M-class turbine.” He’ll be keeping the N-number, though. “N861DP represents the birth months of myself, my wife Annie, and my two sons, followed by Doctor Poage.”
His advice to potential owners? “Know your mission. Know your finances. Know your airplane. Know your avionics.”
On the first two points, “know your mission and your finances,” it’s critical to not buy more airplane than you really need for the kind of flying you do. For Fred, his mission extends far beyond trips to Lufkin to see family. Since Carla’s passing, he met and married his “favorite person and best friend,” Annie.
With the two boys, they love to go on adventures all over the country. They’ve been to Orlando, Florida, on the East Coast, and have flown to Los Angeles, California, to continue up the West Coast to overfly the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, along the Oregon coastline, and around volcanic Mount St. Helens in Washington State.
As an emergency room physician with a passion for patient education and teaching medical students and residents, Fred also uses the airplane to fly to different cities for work, conferences, and lectures. He is also a professor with Texas Tech University School of Medicine, and he’s discovered just how much he enjoys teaching others and helping them grasp new ideas and concepts.
His next goal is to combine his love of teaching with his love of aviation and earn his CFI rating, to hopefully encourage and mentor more people to learn to fly.
Financially, Fred’s experience with the Malibu Mirage suggests an hourly all-in operating cost of around $280 an hour, dry. That includes total annual costs for aircraft loan, insurance, annual inspection, professional memberships, maintenance, reserves, hangar fees, recurrent training, and miscellaneous subscriptions, including ForeFlight, Garmin, Savvy Maintenance, and weather data; but excludes fuel costs. He typically sees 22 gph fuel flow when cruising at FL210, at ~195 ktas (2,300 rpm/29 inches map).
For accurate cost estimates and quality recurrent training, Fred highly recommends Joe Casey and his staff of CFIs, who specialize in PA-46 training. “If all your money is going to a bank note on the airplane, you won’t have any left to actually go flying, and you’ll be in for a rude awakening when you need to replace something. I highly recommend trying to nail down a fairly accurate hourly cost rate based on how many hours you anticipate flying each year. Joe Casey has built a phenomenal operational costs chart for the Piper M-class, as well as some other airplanes, for comparisons.” (See Resources for a link to the chart. —Ed.)
Regarding “knowing your airplane and avionics,” Fred speaks highly of the type-specific training his insurance mandates and that he’s received from Casey Aviation. Joe Casey has years of real-world experience with the PA-46, and helps owner-operators safely operate these versatile machines, while bringing attention to the small intricacies that one won’t find in POHs. With Casey Aviation based at Lufkin, this explains why Fred’s eyes and heartstrings were pulled toward the PA-46 during his initial flight training… they were all over the ramp! Deanna Wallace, a CFII with Casey Aviation, has been his primary and “the best” instructor.
While his 1996 model Mirage has not (yet!) been upgraded to the latest glass avionics packages available today, Fred says that he “loves [his] round gauges and Garmin GNS 530W and knows them intimately.” As an example, he points readers to “overlooked” features in the 530W such as the ability to set a reminder to “switch fuel tanks” on a regular basis (he has his set to every 15 minutes to keep a balanced fuel load).
Don’t be content with simply knowing how to dial in “direct to” a fix. Learn your avionics and their capabilities, practice with them “in the system” but while in VMC, so you’ll be ready and comfortable with whatever instructions ATC sends your way while you’re slogging through IMC.
Making the most of the Mirage
After accompanying Carla through seven years of cancer treatments, and all the long drives they needed to make, Fred says he wishes he’d learned about Angel Flight sooner. As soon as he earned his instrument rating, Fred volunteered his time and airplane to help others with circumstances similar to what he and Carla had faced. “I absolutely love doing Angel Flights, and they are, without a doubt, absolutely my most favorite flights to make! I am very thankful to Angel Flight South Central for allowing me to put their logo decal on my Mirage.”
In addition to flying patients for Angel Flight, Fred discovered Pilots-n-Paws two years ago. He and Annie have three dogs—Dasha (a Yorkie), Henry (a mini Aussie), and Nyx (a German Shepherd mix), so to say they love animals is an understatement. Being able to combine that love with aviation while using the Mirage to fly rescue dogs around the country to their new “furever” homes is a dream come true.
The two boys are getting older now. The eldest, Bryton, has been working incredibly hard academically, and graduates with his associate degree from Amarillo College in May 2023 (after only 1.5 years, while working full time). He was just accepted to Texas Tech in Lubbock, where he plans to major in Psychology with a minor in Business. When the youngest boy, Brodyn, graduates in 2026, something special is planned with the Mirage.
Annie and Fred are both PADI-certified Advanced Open Water Divers. As part of a bucket-list adventure after Brodyn graduates, they plan a monthlong flying adventure along the coastline of South America. “We will hop around to coastal cities, diving at each stop. And yes, as a physician, pilot, and SCUBA diver, I fully understand decompression sickness, and the risks/requirements related to flying and diving!”
The single-most fun flight Fred’s flown in the Mirage is related to a sunset sightseeing flight he offered up for a raffle prize. The person that won the raffle was a young man who wanted to use the flight to do a marriage proposal in May 2021. Since this was a raffle prize flight, having GoPros mounted to capture the experience raised no alarms.
Annie went along on the flight to help take pictures, and at just the right moment over a beautifully sunset-lit Palo Duro Canyon to the southeast of Amarillo, she said “OK, let me take just one more.” That was the young man’s cue to propose. It went splendidly, she said yes, and their families were waiting at the hangar to celebrate.
As I was writing this story in early April 2023, Fred texted me that he and Annie had just heard from the couple, offering an invitation to their September wedding later this year. “Hands down the most fun flight I have ever done!”
A dream come true
“Every single time I go out to fly, I remember where I came from, and I feel so overwhelmed that I actually get to fly. I never take anything for granted, and every time the wheels leave the ground, I get that giddy butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling, like it was the first takeoff I’ve ever done.
“Skimming above a cloud layer, I still get choked up thinking how I wish I could share this amazing experience with everyone.”
Associate Editor Troy Whistman and his wife Teresa fly out of Mid-Way Regional Airport (KJWY) south of Dallas, Texas. He particularly enjoys using aviation as a tool to help others. He flies for and is on the board of directors for Angel Flight South Central and thinks that flying kids for Challenge Air is some of the most rewarding flying he does. Troy was recognized as the recipient of the National Aeronautic Association’s Distinguished Volunteer, 2021 Public Benefit Flying Awards. Send questions or comments to editor [AT] piperflyer [DOT] com.