The invisible, silent propeller

It is getting to be a busy time of year for most ag-operators north of the equator; acres coming in, piling up on the books, getting behind. That brings up a point that most of us don’t think about too much and that is the dangers of a spinning propeller .

Almost always, our industry hot loads its aircraft, the propeller turning. Those blades of aluminum don’t stop for flesh. It’s a gory thought, but it can and does happen, walking into a spinning propeller. Very few people survive an encounter with a spinning propeller.

Why does it happen? How can a person work around a running ag-plane and still walk into the prop? It is somewhat understandable that a child or a visitor not familiar with aircraft could do this, but a pilot or loader?

The brain is a mysterious thing. With a spinning prop, a couple of things are going on that can fool it. First, the noise heard is interpreted as the engine, not the propeller. So, as far as the brain is concerned the propeller is silent.

Second, the propeller is nearly invisible. The loader or the pilot are busy, distracted, and at the front of the aircraft is an invisible, silent device that can kill in a second. That is how it happens.

A good practice is to always assume the propeller is turning, even when the engine is shut down. This programs your brain to always work as if the propeller is turning. You may be doing a task as simple as removing chocks, or taking a quick look at the spray pump before the engine is started. Still, let that hand trail along the leading edge toward and away from the fuselage and the danger area.

Don’t cut across under the fuselage to the other side of the gear. If you do it when the aircraft is not running, you’ll do it when it is, all about programming your brain. When you do cross over, give the prop a width berth. Look at it as if it was some long lost lover. The kind of lover that would tear you apart if given the chance.

And the obvious, never climb off the wing onto the main gear tires. One slip or twist of the foot and you could be in the danger zone.

Everybody knows all this about propellers that has any time in ag-aviation. Loaders learn it quick and pilots are told from their first flying lesson. However, propeller-strike fatalities still happen and it happens to those who know better.

On another more uplifting note, this past May 27 was International Crop Dusters Day. A few years ago an old timer, Bob Wheat of Texas, implemented this day and AgAir Update helped him promote it. He’s been successful at it. For those who ask, Bob sends people a certificate that acknowledges this day. I haven’t heard from Bob in a long time. However, he can be emailed at He probably still has a few of those certificates.

Graham made a post about International Crop Dusters Day on AgAir Update’s Facebook page. Amazingly in less than 24 hours after the post, 144,402 people saw it. The post received 1,900 likes and was shared 890 times. There may only be a few thousand ag-pilots worldwide, but one heck of a lot of people now know that May 27 is our day. Mark your calendar to celebrate it next year.

Until next month,
Keep Turning…


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