Larry Risley did something unconventional in November 1986. While most commuter airlines, in the deregulated airline environment, were moving into larger airplanes, Mesa Airlines moved in the opposite direction and bought a single-engine Cessna C-208 Caravan. This small, high-wing bird had the reliable Pratt and Whitney PT-6 turboprop engine like Mesa’s old workhorse, the Beech C99. Mesa experimented with some new markets with the airplane and pilot Jay Wilde reported that he flew the Caravan on four, four-leg, round-robin trips from Farmington to Durango to Telluride to Cortez and then back to Farmington. That totaled an amazing sixteen takeoffs and landings in a single day.
The Caravan ended up being used primarily on the Albuquerque to Santa Fe to Taos market. It was so successful that Mesa leased a second Caravan to service a Phoenix to Prescott market in Arizona. Both Caravans were used to haul U.S. Mail after hours. The first airplane had registration number N9604F (serial number 105) and the second one was N9602F (serial number 103). In 1987, the first one was renumbered when Mesa went to a tail number registration system that used the aircraft serial number plus the YV airline code. N9604F became N105YV. The second one was not reregistered, because it was leased from Cessna Aircraft Company. The second one had weather radar and air conditioning, whereas the first one did not. A/C was pretty much a necessity for flying out of Phoenix. The Caravans were operated single-pilot.
The New Mexico markets were later expanded to include an Albuquerque to Ruidoso to El Paso run. It was on one of those flights that the engine on the Caravan failed on the approach into Ruidoso and pilot Thor Seufer expertly and heroically dead-sticked the airplane onto a small dirt road in the bottom of a canyon in some very hazardous terrain. The road had a large curve in it and the airplane momentarily left the road and the right wingtip stuck a tree resulting in structural damage, but no injuries to the pilot or the four passengers onboard. Shortly after the Ruidoso incident, the Phoenix to Prescott bird experienced a loose oil filler cap and all of the oil blew overboard on a flight back into Phoenix. The airplane landed in Phoenix with no oil registering on the dipstick. Those two incidents spelled the end of the Caravan program for Mesa and convince Risley to sell them.