I left KFUL on a Thursday after lunch for a meeting in San Luis Obispo (SBP) Thursday night and all day Friday. I told my wife I’d be back Friday night. Our first Winter of 2002 storm was headed to LA but hadn’t reached us yet. I took off on an IFR plan into blue skies but me and the 182 ended up in rain and clouds by the time I got to Ventura. A night ILS into SBP in 1000/5 through an overcast with tops at 4000 was no big deal.

With a day’s meeting ahead I checked out of the hotel Friday morning. Off to business, with a plan to fly home Friday about 5PM. Get weather at about 3:00. Fullerton is 200 overcast and less than a mile, SNA is 0, vertical visibility 100′; POC, HHR, and LGB are not much better. Forecast throughout the night was for more of the same. Called the family, won’t be home tonight, check back into the hotel for the night.

I got up Saturday at 8 AM and checked weather at FUL. Four hundred overcast, 1 mile. (Minimum for the LOC 24 apc is 540-1). So I waited around SBP for three hours until FUL finally reported 600 OVC 1.5 miles. A call to FSS said that’s as good at its going to get for Saturday. I filed IFR, preflighted, and departed in VFR conditions on the SBP CREPE 3 DP into a 3000’ overcast. Reaching about 1500 I checked all systems; no point entering IMC without everything “in the green”. HI VOLTAGE light ON, digital engine monitor is flashing BAT…BAT…BAT.! Voltage is 23.5, not 28. Still VFR, I told Center, “Going off the air to reset a circuit breaker”. “Report back was the reply.” The reset didn’t work. Back on the air, “Center, Cessna 9UP returning to the airport, in VFR conditions”. “OK, your canceling IFR right? Squawk 1200, go to tower, they’re expecting you.” “Yes, thanks, bye”.

“San Luis tower, Cessna 9UP returning, field in sight, planning left downwind for 29, we don’t need any assistance”. (I anticipated the question having been asked this before.) “Cleared to land.” So I’m just putting along on downwind when over the tower/ground frequencies “Crash 21 is in position intersection 29/21.” Oh good grief. I looked down to my left and there on the field is the bright yellow crash truck, lights ablaze.

I landed and requested a turn off toward the ‘non busy’ side of this regional airport to see if I can get this ALT back on line. “Ground, Crash 21 to follow the Cessna across 29” comes over the radio. Now it’s looking like a parade across the field, me, and Crash 21 in trail. All the folks at the commuter terminal are being entertained with the Cessna being followed with the big yellow crash truck. I can’t even imagine what they are thinking. My three attempts to reset the ALT per the POH all fail. “Ground, Cessna 9UP to cross 29 to transient line.” Again, on the radio, “Ground, Crash 21 to follow the Cessna across 29″. This is getting familiar.

I finally shut down the engine and find a gathering of about 5 airport bums staring my direction. And, of course at my 8 O’clock is the infamous “Crash 21”. The driver, decked out in yellow firefighting gear, comes over with the inevitable clipboard and a form. Name, address, phone, pilot’s license number was all he needed. Poor guy, it’s back to his hut until something else happens on a quiet Saturday.

Of course there are no repair shops open. I’m supposed to leave the next day on a two week trip with my wife using those “don’t change a thing” cheap airline tickets. Options raced through my mind. Rent a car – leave the plane here for two weeks. Fly a commuter home – leave the plane here for two weeks. (It’s a club plane and leaving it won’t make the others happy). But there’s one A&P is here doing billing and paperwork! I found him; we checked out the system and he concluded the voltage regulator isn’t regulating, its outputting 33 Volts! So the over voltage circuit did its job. Parts? He says he might have one laying around. He found one and put in. It checks out OK. My luck is improving.

Off again, here we go. ATC extended my IFR clearance after my return to the airport. So I took off about 20 hours later than planned. Meanwhile FUL has gone back down to 500 BKN, 800 OVC, 2 miles (recall minimums of 540 – 1 ). Well, broken means there are some holes. SNA is my filed and legal alternate with 700 and 2, and a forecast for the same, so I have an out.

En route all is well, rain until Ventura, but clipping along at 170 to 180 Knots due to the winds at 9000. Not too bad. FUL ATIS 500 BKN, 800 OVC, 1 1/2. Tops about 4000. There went my luck. Ok, this is real real. Being legal for IFR is being legal, being proficient is being safe. FUL LOC 24 is in use. I shot the approach and found the airport right beneath me. Well it’s no use to me there since I can’t circle at 540 feet. So I go missed. Second approach, THERE IT IS! where it should be and so I land to awaiting birds sitting on the grass.

If I’d have driving I’d have been home the night before. Sometimes driving is faster.


As filed by Ray Stratton

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