The Devil is in the details

Todd Huvard, president of AircraftMerchants, a North Carolina-based aircraft brokerage, is a commercial pilot with multi-engine, instrument and seaplane ratings and is typed in Cessna 500 and Falcon 20 jets. He founding editor and publisher of The Southern Aviator.

My normal course of work involves the drudgery of flying different airplanes around the country, delivering the newly purchased gems to excited buyers or moving a planes to our base in North Carolina to prepare for sale. Not too much happens on these ferry flights — the idea is to safely get the airplane to wherever it is going without pranging it, denting it, or blowing it up.

Sometimes, though, entropy gets the best of me and chaos is my co-pilot.

I recently ferried a real nice F33A Bonanza to West Texas from our place at Smithfield, N.C. (JNX). I was behind schedule on what was planned to be a long day of flying into a west wind. I usually empty my pockets before settling into the flying chair and this day I robotically removed my wallet to put it into my flight bag. For some reason, I was distracted — I don’t remember why, but I do remember that I put my wallet on the top of the plane.

I was off and winging. As I neared the Appalachians, Atlanta Center descended me to 6,000 feet and right into the turbulent zone. I also slowed considerably and figured to be just crawling along.

I decided to ask for a more southerly heading to cut down the headwind and escape to more hospitable air. I aimed for Bessemer, Ala., just below Birmingham. I had sold an airplane for a customer there and had found the airport to be a good stop with a long runway. Bessemer Airport (EKY) would make the first leg about 2.5 hours and get me past the mean winds of the higher mountains to the north.

As the prop stopped in front of the FBO, I reached for my cell phone and wallet. My phone was right there, but there was no wallet. It dawned on me that it was likely in the swamp at the end of runway 3 at JNX.

I called back to the home drome and learned that Mark Huddleston, co-owner of Sparkchasers Avionics at JNX, had found my wallet — with about $500 cash and all of my ID, pilot and medical certificates, credit cards and baby photos – in front of my hangar. He just happened to be moving another aircraft and saw it from a distance before the guys with the weed-eaters did.

While Mark arranged to send the wallet via FedEx to the buyer in Odessa, I was standing on the ramp at Bessemer with no money or identification and cursing my own stupidity.

The gal working the desk listened to my story and, after a call to the airport manager, arranged for me to be topped and then gave me a crisp $20 bill so I would have some money in my pocket.

I was still about six or seven hours from Odessa. I had planned to stop at Texarkana for fuel, but as I flew toward the afternoon sun, I realized that I might have the legs for the whole distance. The F33A was equipped with 20 gallon tip tanks and I began furiously calculating the fuel burn. The Garmin and the Shadin were smoking from all the knob-twisting and as I ciphered the time remaining in the tanks, it seemed I would still have reserves on landing. I didn’t want to shuffle through the whole song and dance about not having my wallet — and if I stopped I would certainly get to Odessa well after dark.

I was vectored for a visual approach to runway 16 at Schelmeyer Field just as the longest shadows of dusk crept across the runway. My customer took care of feeding me and getting me into a hotel, and by the time he picked me up in the morning my wallet had arrived.

When I got back home, I sent a check for the $20 floater to the airport manager at Bessemer and thanked them all for their kindness. Those are great folks! Had I not spontaneously decided to head there I might still be wandering the taxiways somewhere looking for handouts.

After Thanksgiving, I had to fetch a 210 from Kentucky and move it back to Raleigh. When I got my clearance from Evansville Approach, the squawk code was 6661. Southbound, I was immediately handed off to Ft. Campbell Approach and I requested a different code. I am not too superstitious, but I figured I was already testing the Gods by flying a strange single-engine airplane across the mountains. Who needs the excess baggage a code like 6661 might bring?

The guy at Campbell Approach seemed to understand and gave me a fresh code that was not so laden with devilish connotation.

My work is hell.


  1. Frank Szachta says

    Dear Todd:

    Your work in ferry of planes to & fro sounds very interesting. Someday, I may call you and learn more toward participating in your endeavor.

    Nice story.

    Fly Safe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *