Before I owned an airplane, I rented from the local flying club. I had just been checked out in a Cessna 182 TR (Turbo/Retractable). I summoned the most daring soul (in this case it was John Horstman) to assist in this assignment and flew from 3V5 downtown Fort Collins, to Nebraska to inspect an egg ranch.
I loved the airplane as it had some giddy-up-go and with the high wing had great visibility. Seeing the ground below, however, is not the same as finding your destination as you will see.
Our destination was O’Neill Nebraska, where we had reserved a courtesy car. For those unfamiliar with the general aviation community, a courtesy car is the most junked out car they can find that is mechanically functional(meaning it has a forward and reverse), and is sure not to pose a theft risk. I once had one that had a rat in the glove box, but that’s another aviation story.
Back to the flight, we were using a loran guidance system which was the precursor to GPS. It was good, and we backed it up with VOR guidance- which is WWII vintage technology. We were supposed to be there by now, and still had about 45 minutes of fuel remaining. No airport in sight. I dropped to 1000 feet in altitude to get the best legal look of the area, cross checked the instruments and map… no airport. Just then, a glaring siren came on over the speaker system. My flying companion started to turn a little white and I saw that elevated heart beat sweaty palm look envelop him. I wasn’t ready to panic. It was summer time and there were many fields I could substitute for an airstrip. Still, imagine the siren screaming in our ears, destination undiscovered, with not much fuel remaining.
I decided at that point to follow the river north; deducting that any community would likely be on the river. I saw the river on the map and guessed the destination would be north near the river. Just a few minutes later, the town and airport came into view. A quick downwind—-I now dropped the landing gear. At that moment, the siren in the cockpit stopped. It turned out that the siren would come on due to low manifold pressure and low altitude if the landing gear was not dropped. Great safety feature… especially if you know what it means.
The courtesy car had painted on its side in large bold lettering “NOT TO LEAVE THE TOWN OF O’NEILL NEBRASKA.” I was raised in Wyoming so city limits don’t apply. We drove 50 miles to the egg ranch and felt like fugitives the entire time- there is a reason courtesy cars are free! You can find an egg ranch without a map or navigation equipment if you are down wind… all part of the fun.
Lessons from this adventure: When in doubt, follow the source of life (in this case the river) to the promised land. Pay attention to the warning signs and, if possible, find out what they are in advance! If you don’t want to feel like a fugitive, go ahead and pay for a rental car- but you will miss out on part of the fun of these grand adventures in general aviation.