Whiling away

Winter has moved in. The old boy has pretty much taken over, scattered himself all over the place, stretched out and put his feet up. The midwest is trudging along under blizzard conditions and the west is slopping through mud. I’ll take all the mud they have to offer. Out here, it is a sin to complain about rain. Our outlying runways are a mess though and that means ferrying longer distances than we’re used to. I’m not complaining. No sir. I imagine if guys back east saw what we consider ‘a long ferry’ they would laugh; or cuss…

We’re all looking forward to a great season coming up. I recall the best years farmers and ag pilots have tend to follow a hard winter. I’m not sure that’s really a fact if you were to check the statistics, but previous years seem to go that way. We’re always hoping and praying for a good season for everyone in the world of agriculture. One rule of thumb in this business; never stop praying. Never.

While I while away the downtime, I get lonesome for the sound of a PT-6 firing up. Engine sounds are music to a pilot’s ears. It’s a tune we all feel in our hearts. Of course, I will always love the sound of an old round engine. It’s a symphony of industrial strength. Hundreds of pieces and parts all timed together to slurp in air and fuel, smash them together, set the mixture on fire and cause an explosion! One cylinder after another, until they all sing together in a grumbling roar. Who couldn’t love that? Oh, but the pretty little turbine, bolted to the nose of the airplane I fly sings a song I just can’t resist. A soothing soprano, crooning out power and eagerness to fly. There’s no way I would ever attempt to make a critical comparison between the two. I know others have tried in various forms. Some in humorous ways, others in bitterness. It’s an exercise in futility. I love them all, round, flat, skinny, fat, or pointy. If it turns a propeller, it’s gotta be good. I don’t know of an ag-pilot who would refuse to fly an airplane because of the type of engine bolted to it. As long as it is in good, operable condition that is.

During the off-season, or the slow season, depending on where you’re at, the boys down in the southwestern U.S. are on the other side of the clock. While most of us are kicking back and taking a little time off they are in the heat of battle. Flying every night and working hard to keep those acres of farm produce nice and green. Hats off to those guys. They are doing some of the most challenging flying of the industry. I’d like to recommend we keep them in our thoughts. The season isn’t over for everyone.

February is an odd month that doesn’t quite know which way to go. It’s still winter, but in some places it begins the ebbing of winter’s grip. Then again it can still be the coldest month on record. It’s hard to bet on anything that happens in February.

The ground should start to warm a little with the longer days. Weeds begin to emerge from the receding ice and orders start coming in to get the herbicide spraying started. Fortunately, the cold air is generous with the lift it provides so we don’t often have to worry too much about the weight of the load we’re carrying. As long as everything else is copacetic. That can be a blessing or a curse, however. Overconfidence and complacency grows well in an environment where things are easy. The old bird might levitate off the runway, but you’ve still got to fly it and turn it. Keep those things in mind while you’re doing you’re work.

The air won’t stay cold for long. It doesn’t take but a few degrees increase in temperature to make a difference on how the airplane will fly. I’m not trying to tell you anything you don’t already know. It’s a just a reminder to not let your guard down. Toss a pinch of caution into everything you do. Even if it seems like it’s not necessary. You never know when you might need the extra power you saved back, or when those few extra minutes might pay off. Keep it as safe as possible while still getting the job done in an efficient manner. That’s the goal and sometimes it can be a delicate balance.

The year ahead looks promising. We are all getting a little itchy to get back in the seat and get going again. If you have time off make sure you’re making the best of it. Spend the time with family and do the things you enjoy doing. Study up on new technologies, chemicals and techniques. Pattern test your aircraft. Take some time to sharpen those perishable skills that exist in your brain housing group. Maybe do some reading on all those who came before us. Those who made our industry and the wonderful world of aviation what it is today. Let’s make sure we do their memory and legacy proud.

Every year, we collectively renew our vows to a profession that requires a lot from us. We who fly ‘crop dusters’ for a living are the fortunate ones who have been blessed with the ability and opportunity to do so. This is a good time to remember these things; while we while away the downtime.

Stay safe, fly well and keep up your airspeed!



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