Hughesair (Inflection Point)

Retired physician and air taxi operator, science writer and part time assistant professor, these editorials cover a wide range of topics. Mostly non political, mostly true, I write more from experience than from research and more from science than convention. Subjects cover medicine, Alaska aviation, economics, technology and an occasional book review. The Floatplane book is out there. I am currently working on Hippocrates a History of Medicine and Globalism. Enjoy!

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Location: Homer, Alaska, United States

Alaska Floatplane: AVAILABLE ON KINDLE

Friday, July 16, 2021

Alaska Floatplane

That was the third mistake. What were the first two? Not breathing, I run down the emergency check list: fuel, switch to both; magnetos, left, right, both; carburetor heat, on; mixture, rich; oil pressure, ok; cylinder head and oil temp, ok. 

“If this thing goes down, I’m going to get your license. I’m calling my lawyer right now.” 

Chuckey in the back seat keeps yelling, “What’s wrong with the engine, Dad?” 

I flip the intercom switch to isolate, transponder to 7700.  “Fat lot of good that’ll do.” Where is the alternate air? Why don’t I have an alternate air?  

Comm. To 121.5, “Mayday, Mayday,” I never thought I would use those words. “Anyone, this is November 3654 Charlie, in the trench, 132 miles north of Prince George, east side of the lake, losing power.”  

Switch tanks, back to both, nothing, “Shit! I can’t believe this.” 

A little over a hundred miles north, the engine started missing. The short cut north from 

Prince George is called the trench. Actually, the whole Columbia River route is a bit of a trench. This area is so called for its lack of roads and desolation. The timid or prudent follow the highway in winter. We did not. The fuel may have been bad or there may have been water introduced with our last refueling.  Too cold for carburetor ice, everything else checked out. 

Keeping it running took full rich and full power. This did not look good. 

In the distance I see an indentation in an otherwise rolling field of white. I remember a small field from a previous trip. Could this be it? Not far ahead, can we make it? I don’t see any sign of life. I don’t remember a village close by, but there must be a reason for the strip. Without further thought, I line us up for a straight in, praying for enough altitude and power to make it. 

Nine hundred feet, two miles, just a bit more, then the engine quits altogether. 

The silence is abrupt and absolute; it hangs on the air with a gentle swish past the windows, a deep and frightening peace. 

Nose down, 85 mph, make it 88 at this weight, engine restart, nothing, “Mayday, 

November 3654 Charlie down 136 North of Prince George,” and from the LORAN, “56o:56’north, 124:54 west.” Fuel off, magnetos off, master off, line it up, “We’re short --- sheit.”  

We bounce off the berm, softer, silent swishing, white everywhere. We’re back in the air. I pull the flap handle all the way back and pray. It seems like forever through clouds of flying snow, time enough to balance the checkbook and call home. As in a dream, we mush into the deep snow. More snow, soft, swishing.  The skis are still there. Will we hit something? Then there is nothing. “Hell, we are not even moving.” So here we were, me in a cold sweat a pissed off passenger.  

“It’s colder than a witch’s tit.” 


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