A few days ago, sitting at a SEAT (Single Engine Air Tanker) base in Oregon, four of us were ready to go. The “dispatch order” (the order in which the tankers go out) had been posted. I was number 3 in line, and was ready to go. A dispatch came in, but it was just for two SEATS…ah, well, things don’t always work out….
Johnny (the other remaining SEAT pilot) and I were sitting there, not wishing ill on any one, but certainly ready to go fly. SEAT pilots are a strange bunch. So far, I’ve met the (usual) former ag pilots, a professional trombone player, a professional singer, a porn film editor, a pilot who flew things that didn’t exist in a country that we weren’t in to a destination that was unnamed, a former patient of mine, and, well…me. It makes for some interesting conversation while waiting on a dispatch.
We got a call to go to a new fire about 43 miles south of us. Boots and flight suits on, loads calculated, and I was first into the pit. The “pit” is an area that has hoses (two in this case) that can be used to connect to the plane to the pump. Depending on the tanker base, the pump can push 700 or so gallons of “mud” into the plane in 2-5 minutes. The cutoff of the pump is timed by the pilot (universal hand signal out the window), and depending on the pump, and the loader, you can really make a mess. Things don’t always work out…..
The Air Tractor 802, at least the models our company has, is equipped with loading valves for both the left and right of the plane. For reasons known only to Leland Snow, (and rumor has it he didn’t even tell God why), the left valve has a cable that opens a vent, so if you “overfill” the retardant runs (
harmlessly) out on the ground. Of course, you still have to deal with a very unhappy loader, who is stuck cleaning the nasty mess up. The right valve conveniently has no cable running to the vent, so any overflow conveniently runs into the cockpit, ruining the radios, and then flows through a scientifically designed path to the computer that operates the gate. Things don’t always work out….
(to be continued)….