The weather forecast was 100% chance of hot with a 50% chance of miserable. The first few jobs were going to be done while the sun was still scowling down on the bone dry Central Valley. The Old Boy was holding some sort of grudge. Even in the last couple of hours of the day, he relentlessly scorched our little part of the earth. I have lost my youthful love of summer and look forward to enjoying the more civilized weather of fall. Our airplanes are working hard, doing their level best to stay ahead of the dynamics of hot and heavy. We’ve been coaxing out of them every ounce of magic a Thrush has to offer. I have to admit to just about overdrawing the account on an occasion or two. Peeling an airplane off the runway, staggering into the air, nursing along in ground effect, can never be considered an efficient way to fly.
It was one such job that really drove home the wisdom of cutting those loads. I had just launched from a gravel runway. The airplane struggled to build airspeed and lift. I gripped the stick tight, feeling the wings dig their V.G.s into the edge of the precipice and hang on for dear life. The other pilot landed immediately after I took off and as I eased the old bird into a gentle right turn toward the field I flew through the tailings of his vortices. The airplane rocked and heaved momentarily. For the span of a heartbeat, I felt the stick go slack and the precious few feet I had earned between myself and the ground looked as if they would disappear. I already had everything forward as far it would go but pushed the levers even harder against the stops. Fortunately, I have an angel or two who must be extremely good pilots in their own right, because once again they saved my butt from getting busted in a cotton field.
Reaching clean air and finally getting pointed into the wind, the airplane climbed slowly and gradually gained speed as I reached the field and set up to work. Making huge turns, while straining to keep the ball in the center for those first few passes takes an extraordinarily long time, while doing nothing but piling on the stress and fatigue. A heck of a way to start a long night of ag flying.
I have come to the conclusion that the cranky old guy who taught me the basics of this job was right when he told me to keep a little extra performance in my pocket when it came to figuring loads. If you max the airplane out, you have nothing to fall back on if you need it. We all know when the need arrives it’s right now and in a hurry. There’s never any time to give it much thought. Loading the bird down to the edge of max possible performance is courting disaster. Sooner or later, it’ll catch up with you.
I have no problem making a three-load job into four when conditions dictate. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen it save time if the field is close. If nothing else it saves a good amount of stress on the pilot and the airplane. We all have an ingrained thought process of getting the job done in as few loads as possible. Often times we set ourselves up to cutting everything too close. I want to fly off the runway with room to spare and some power in reserve, carry enough material to not worry about running out before the headlands are done and be able to get across the field and turn around for the next pass in a reasonable amount of time and space. This job is demanding enough as it is. When you’re fighting for every foot of altitude and every knot of airspeed, it makes it start to feel too much like hard work. It’s not always possible, but when it comes to leaving a paper thin line between the bottom of the airplane and the top of the ground, I think it’s worth considering.
We all crowd the corners. Cranking the aircraft around to shave off a second or two, rushing our turns so we can get the job done and move on the next and the next and the next. Take a look at your GPS print out sometimes and see how ragged your edges are. I’ll bet you’ll have gaps wide enough to throw a cat through. Not to mention, you’re unnecessarily loading up yourself and your workload. All it takes is one blown pass, where you have to wave off, circle around and line up again, to toss right out the window what little time you’ve gained. Give yourself enough room to make a good solid turn without having to herd the lightbar around through a shaky, jinking turn.
It seems we crowd the corners of our lives all too often as well. We’ve got a lot going on and when the season is in full swing the schedule gets crammed tight. There’s things needing to be done at home, errands needing to be ran, things needing fixed, events to attend and any number of things that make demands on our time and energy. It’s easy to get your rope all tangled up during times like this and difficult to get the knots out when you try. Stay focused and do not let your mind get cluttered with the minutia of life. Fall is right around the corner. Hang in there until the flight schedule slacks up. Just like with the airplane, don’t let yourself get behind the power curve. Fly well and stay safe!
Editor’s Note: Tracy Thurman has his on a very important note that AgAir Update has contended for decades; it is better to make an extra load a day because you cut back on other loads so you can have that “little extra performance in your pocket.”