The year was maybe 1970. We lived in Southern California and my wife of 25 years wanted to fly to her home in Tacoma, Washington, and visit her mother for our summer vacation. So, I borrowed the company Bonanza (with permission) and we took off early one morning headed north.
Everything went well and we stopped in Red Bluff, California, for fuel and a bite to eat around 1300. While settling up for the fuel at the FBO’s office, a California National Guard Major came in with a harrowing tale about how he had just survived being tossed around in the clouds over the Siskyou Mountains. He said he had tried to climb the O2 Bird Dog over the top, but gave up at 15,000, and he heard airline traffic talking about cloud tops at 35,000.
So, I decided to pass up an instrument flight plan and scud run along the coast – a very old method used in that area by nearly everyone.
While flying over the coastal range at 8,500 feet toward Yreka, I slowly became aware of a put-put sound over the purr of the O-470. I decided to stop over there and check it out.
On the ground, I discovered the exhaust gasket on the number four cylinder was leaking. The local FBO’s mechanic said he had some in stock, and I broke out my tools (I’m a licensed A&P, also). So, in about 30 minutes I ran her up and everything was fine again.
After washing up, we got started again into the onset of a fine rain that had moved in and I headed up the coast between a quarter to a half mile offshore and just under the overcast at about 700 ft. It was fun having done that back in the old days, and I was enjoying it again. The coastal highway undulates along the hilly terrain, and a few times we were below the highway traffic headlights there. The rain stayed light and I had good visibility for over a mile ahead, always keeping an eye on the shoreline in case I needed to make a forced landing.
I’ve always kept my 35-mm camera lying on the glare shield for any photos of opportunity. Suddenly I noticed a strange glow through the rain ahead, and it continued to come at me, getting more intense by the second. I rolled to the right to avoid whatever it might be, and as I leveled off again, I was shocked to see a B-52 pass below me and to my left so low his engines were kicking up rooster tails on the surface of the ocean. The whole episode was over in less than 10seconds.
My camera? Still up there on the glare shield!
I did the same thing the year before while flying over west Texas, when I nearly had a head on with a large golden eagle. He must’ve had a seven- or eight-foot wing span. We passed within a hundred yards of each other, and I can still see him doing a double take as we went by.
Yep, the camera was still up there on the glare shield!