The spring of 1993 I was flying a reseeding contract for the BLM not far from Murphy Hot Springs just north of the Jarbidge Mountain Range, north central Nevada; we were on the Idaho side. We were using a County road for an Airstrip and loading the aircraft by hand. The Aircraft was a Cessna Ag Wagon that Arnie Boreson had just finished rebuilding for Dick Kennett. I knew Arnie and Dick and had test flown the aircraft to make sure everything was in proper working order. Being a test pilot is always interesting and not necessarily in a good way; just interesting.
I had quite a lot of time in the Cessna Ag Wagon or aircraft similar to it so it wasn’t a huge deal and I had known Arnie for a long time, he was a good mechanic and if he rebuilt an aircraft I was confident it was built right and rigged right. The test flight was uneventful just as I preferred. We did have some trouble with the alternator and that is where the ‘Out of Aces’ comes in.
Wolfgang Lang wrote a couple of books on Aviation and one of them was about never using up all of your Ace’s when flying. It’s a really good point and most of my fellow pilot friends that I have lost to aviation accidents were out of Ace’s.
After a couple of days trying to keep on schedule with an aircraft without an alternator the BLM rep suggested I fly it back to Mountain Home and get it fixed; good idea.
Jim Johanson was the BLM rep and I had worked with Jim before on a reseeding project on Simco road, Southwest Idaho in the spring of 1987. It was before the road was paved and not near as much traffic as today. We used the road for an airstrip and pulled off of the road to load the aircraft. Pretty much what we were doing the spring of 93.
It was late in the afternoon when the decision was made for me to fly back to Mountain Home and get it fixed. Jim had confided in me his frustration of how the contract was going and told me if I hadn’t been there he would have pulled the plug on it. I appreciated his confidence in me but I needed the aircraft in proper working order.
I took off loaded as the area we were reseeding was on the way to my destination and it would be efficient to get another load on the contract area.
I headed north after finishing the load and in short order found myself VFR, visual flight rules, on top. Not a good place to be as the aircraft was VFR only. If the motor quit I’d have to hold it straight and level as best I could and descend down through the clouds or ground fog and hope I didn’t hit a vertical object. At best it’d be a rough landing and I’d be miles from nowhere and dark fast approaching. The motor was running smoothly and turning back was not a good option. Inversions and ground fog are not uncommon but that winter we had an unusual amount of them. I was losing daylight and now to add to my problems I had burned off more fuel than I had anticipated.
So lets stack up my Aces, or lack of them. Low on fuel, running out of daylight and VFR on top. Doesn’t sound good does it.
At this point, besides cussing myself for agreeing to fly this contract, I’m seriously looking at my options. I could see Bennett Mountain and calculated that I had enough fuel to get there and on to Fairfield and hope that airport wasn’t fogged in. If it was then my next bet for a safe landing while I still had fuel and daylight was a straight chunk of road as soon as I found one.
I knew I was getting close to the Glenns Ferry Airport and was looking for a hole in the clouds to spiral down and get this bird safely on the ground and there it was, the hole and a safe descent to the airport.
As I swung down through the clouds and my hole was huge or I wouldn’t have opted for it, I looked to the west and had a clear shot to Mountain Home. The cloud ceiling was about 300 feet AGL. above ground level and that was plenty to get me to home.
I landed and taxed up to my hangar and I got to admit being on the ground never felt so good.
Arnie got the alternator fixed and I waited f or a good break in the weather and with full fuel and a properly repaired aircraft went back to work and finished the contract. Still holding a few Aces.