The Unexpected Layover
Joe Ferguson (BS ’53) has spent 35,000 hours of his life in the sky. That is the equivalent of almost 1,500 days or a total of 4 years. However, out of all of his flights flown for either the U.S. Air Force, commercial airlines, or recreation, his most important flight was the one he never completed.
Ferguson was on his way from his hometown of Tyler, Texas, up to Logan, Utah to start his fourth year at Utah State University. Flying his personal 75-horsepower Luscombe, he took a layover in Provo that lasted longer than he expected.
“I stopped at Provo to see a buddy and stayed the night. I took off the next day to go up to Logan to register for winter quarter. On taking off from Provo my engine started [failing], so I turned around and landed at Provo,” Ferguson recounts. “The mechanic said that it would take two weeks to get the parts and fix the engine. My buddy, Jay Lund, said, ‘Why don’t you just register here at BYU?’ I thought about it for a full 30 seconds and said, ‘Ok.’”
At BYU, Ferguson says that his appreciation for the gospel and passion for flying grew in ways that they’d never done before. He joined BYU’s Air Force ROTC and quickly jumped to the rank of Major. To further his flying experience he also joined the Civil Air Patrol.
“The Civil Air Patrol was a group of volunteer pilots who were mostly used for any kind of emergency searches,” says Ferguson. “Whenever there was an official search, the Air Force paid for the gasoline… so we could get some free flying time while contributing to the search effort.”
While the failed flight to Logan helped to expand Ferguson’s gospel and flying education, Ferguson’s greatest blessing came from an unexpected relationship. Ferguson explains, “If I had not had that engine failure and registered at BYU, I would have not met my present wife, Carole, whom I married when our paths crossed years after graduating. She alone makes it all worth it.”
After graduating from BYU in 1953, Ferguson enlisted in the United States Air Force as a pilot where he eventually was assigned to a KC-97 squadron. “A KC-97 was a four-engine air-to-air refueling tanker,” said Ferguson. “We would take off with fuel to rendezvous with a B-47 bomber and offload between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of fuel to the bomber… then they could continue on their mission.”
After three years of flying a KC-97 from bases in Alaska, Idaho, and French Morocco, Ferguson left the Air Force to be a commercial airline pilot. For the next 28 years he flew flights for Frontier and then another 14 years for Continental Airlines. Ferguson traveled all over the United States and world.
“I never did get tired of seeing the countryside go by. Looking down at the scenery. Going to different places and meeting different people,” says Ferguson. Along with his appreciation for the world, he also found his faith in the gospel increase too. “As I went to different countries… [I found] there is no doctrine in the world like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. None.”
As Ferguson reflects on his failed flight from Provo to Logan, he says that the result of an engine failure, an invitation from a friend, and a 30 second decision that led him to BYU, “Changed my life for the better.” Ferguson, now 85 years old, only has the memories of piloting aircrafts, but he still has Carole and she has been the foundation of the happiest years of his life.
- Braden Taylor ('19)