An odd combination of circumstances led to the trip. I flew a turboprop out to New Mexico, dropped the owner’s family off, and was headed home. Due to distance and time, an overnight stop was necessary.Continue reading
Late in the afternoon, on my last load of the day, with enough fuel to safely make the trip, I headed north. The other SEATs had either had to stop for fuel, leaving them with insufficient time to fuel, get a load of retardant, and return to the fire.
The air was smooth. The smoke column was stable, and the ridge that we had been “painting” was acquiring its red coat along the spine.Continue reading
She vividly recalls begging for airplane rides. Bubbly laughter, curly hair, skinny little legs. Best of all, she didn’t weigh much. West Texas in July was hot, density altitude was high, and the performance of the ancient Cessna 140 wasn’t stellar on a good day. Reduced weight was a bonus.
“Do it Again!” she would order….she still gives orders, and I still take them…. Continue reading
Time had changed things. The once-vivacious personality had quietened. The sweetness had not faded. She leaned on my arm as I walked her down my sister’s drive, and she peered at the automobile with a bit of confusion. The car that she and my father had purchased less than a year ago sat waiting. It was the only car there….
Visibility, vis, or viz…matters not the label. You simply cannot see adequately.
ZZ Top (or at least, a darn good clone) came out of the trailer that serves as Base Ops.
Is this a trick question?Continue reading
Yeah, you’ve seen the acronym…”BFF” (Best Friends Forever). Seems to be eternally popular among teenage girls. Consider…what *does* make someone your “best friend”…..Forever?
Late in my life, I found out… Continue reading
For years I heard that expression. I always equated it with flying “in the soup” (in clouds, where you couldn’t see outside).
Smoke in California this year has changed that. Wildfires are widespread, and at times we have had active fires that we simply could not fight with aircraft, because of the dense smoke Continue reading
The voice was cheery. “Xxx Aviation Insurance!”. You could hear the exclamation point. For many years, she answered the phone with the same cheerful tone. As my business with them increased, and my travels spread, she would conspiratorially whisper “Are you in the Witness Protection Program?” when I would call from a landline number that wasn’t familiar. My cell number would get an enthusiastic greeting by name.
Details were tiny “whack-a-moles” to be Continue reading
Decades ago, an underpowered Pawnee was my introduction to Ag Flying…at least as a pilot. My private certificate was earned by “flagging” and “mixing and loading”, as well as being a mechanic’s assistant in the off-season. Yes, Virginia, back in those days we actually stood at the end of a field with a flag. The pilot lined up on us, we walked, and counted rows. God Bless Marshall Baxter, for all his faults, he was a superb teacher, and his lessons have saved my life on more than one occasion. He built a “stick and rudder” foundation that has allowed me to grow as a pilot.
Time passed. Choices were made, and I ended up pursuing another career. It, too, had its “ups and downs”. I never lost the love of flying, and kept pursuing flying, ratings, and eventually flew warbirds, kept my CFI (flight instructor rating), obtained my ATP (airline transport rating), and have kept my motto of “most of my money I spent on airplanes, the rest I just wasted”.
As my medical career began to wane, I wanted to fly more, but didn’t want to just “pay more”. One of my best friends said “Doc, if you want to make any money at all flying, it is either fires, or ag”. I began sniffing around ag aviation…..
One of those conversations led to my role as a fire pilot, one that I have dearly loved. Earlier posts have described some of that. Eventually, invitations to speak appeared, and I gave talks at Ag Aviation conferences. (One of the highest compliments I was ever given came at an early conference…a *really good* ag pilot and I were talking, and a friend walked up…”hey doc, how are you?”. Doug looked at me incredulously, and said “man, I though you were one of *us*!”)
Time passed. I continued to fly fires, and occasionally flew some ag. A good friend, an excellent operator (there are pilots, who fly, and operators, who own/operate an ag aviation business) called when he lost a pilot due to illness….”Doc, can you come and fly for me for a while?”
Either desperation, or belief in this graying old pilot, allowed him to put me into his expensive ag plane, let me spray water until I reached a reasonable standard, then put me to work. So now, I am back being an “aerial applicator”/”ag pilot”/”cropduster”. (It’s the same role, just different decades).
As I was finishing a field on a beautiful morning, I realized that Ag Flying has many lessons for life. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy ag pilots so much…they live “real life”. Here are some:
-Clean your windshield. You have to see to avoid trees/wires/other planes. I am (perhaps) obsessive about this….either due to my aging eyes, or due to experience. The metaphor?….keep your life without obstructions to vision. Just as you can’t avoid bugs, you can’t avoid economic changes/relationship changes/things happening beyond your control. Clean it up, keep your vision.
-Obstructions are everywhere. Trees/wires/irrigation standpipes….all can be in the way of you completing your job. Prior to spraying, you survey the field, mark the obstructions in your mind, and make a plan to work around them. The metaphor?….There are a lot of obstructions in life. Survey what’s around you, make a plan to avoid them. Credit cards, easy loans, new cars….all can obstruct your economic plan. Just like you plan your “pullup” at the end of the field to smoothly and safely avoid them, plan your life to smoothly and safely avoid financial obstacles.
-Some trees are hard to see. This time of year, prior to leaves coming out on trees, if the sun is just right, it’s next to impossible to see some of the trees. Snags, solitary old limbs…all can get you. Keep your focus, know where the trees *should* be, and don’t push to hard to get to the edge.
-Focus on the guidance. Ag aviation now uses “Satloc” (other brands as well), which has a lightbar on the nose of the plane. It gives left/right guidance (at one-foot tolerance) for where you are. As you start, it looks more like a Griswold Christmas than steady guidance….lights dancing back and forth in multiple colors…but with attention, and practice…you get the lovely, smooth roll-in for the pass with the center showing “O-O” with no variation. It requires constant, small corrections. The laser altimeter is kept between 15-18 feet. Life requires you know your guidance…what path you are following. If you remain close to the line, corrections are self-imposed, constant, smooth, and small. If you get significantly off-course, the corrections are much more dramatic.
-Watch the wind. On a calm day, you can observe the spray “hanging” from the prior swath. As the wind begins to pick up, you can see the spray “walk” its way across the field. Depending on adjacent crop/land, leaving the spray swath to move to the correct area is an art form. Those guys who are really good can park the spray just where they want it. The “wind” of life can affect what we leave behind. Economic forces, societal forces…all exert their influence on the work we have done. Some of this we control, some we do not. Sometimes we have to know when to stop work in a particular field.
-Don’t overload the plane. Modern ag planes are incredible, especially compared to the elderly Pawnee I used to fly. They can still be overloaded. Know your performance, the temperatures, the weight that you are loading. Overloaded, their performance deteriorates and the job cannot be done. It’s very easy overload your life. Too many projects, too many ambitions….and your efficiency goes away rapidly.
-When it’s working smoothly, enjoy the view. On a clear morning, rolling into a turn, the lightbar working well, the field going by, and the airplane “just right”….it is magnificent. When your job, your relationships, your family are all “just right”….enjoy the moment.
-A sense of purpose is essential. Ag flying has a real purpose. We don’t crank the engine until there is a reason, and we go until we are done. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve flown some great, and rare, airplanes. Mustangs, Corsairs, SeaFuries….all are magnificent. Despite the thrill (and there is one!), “flying with a purpose” is even better. Live your life with a sense of purpose.
A shiny new bicycle looked like just the thing. At 7 years of age I knew exactly what I wanted…all I needed to do was persuade my parents that they should part with their money and I would have said bicycle. The rusty old tricycle not only didn’t have sufficient style, but surely……..