You know, it’s easy to stand on the outside of the fence and criticize someone else. That’s a cheap shot. But if you’ve “been there and done that, and got a T-shirt to prove it”, you may be a little more entitled to say things. I have been there and done that and I do have the T-shirt to prove it, and I have a rather harsh statement to make.
It’s just my perception and it isn’t always necessarily so, but it appears to me that ag-pilots who brag about making 15-second turnarounds and carrying extra heavy loads, come in two categories: fools and liars. Maybe some fall into both categories. (I was definitely in the first category). Also, often times I believe these pilots are rookie pilots, or sometimes “sophomores” who are, actually, lousy pilots and maybe are worried about having a seat next season. Maybe they know in their hearts that they are not competent ag-pilots.
I want to qualify myself for saying this. The first season I flew ag, I certainly had an attitude problem; two attitude problems as a matter of fact. Because of these attitude problems, I was destined to bust my bootie… and I did.
My first attitude problem was that I was a college graduate and a carrier-qualified Navy pilot. To me, at the time, crop dusting was a bit beneath my dignity. I intended to only fly ag for a little while, until I could be picked up by the airlines. I needed to build more time and crop dusting was a good way to do it quickly, as well as it paid pretty good.
The second attitude problem was that I thought I was invincible and bullet proof. When I first started practicing in a Pawnee, spraying water up and down the ramp on the Grenada, Mississippi airport, I stalled the airplane in the turn more than once, but recovered. No problem; a piece of cake. I remember one stall in which I actually touched the pavement in a three-point attitude. I was too cocky and complacent (too stupid) to realize that I was flirting precariously close to a bad accident. When I actually started spraying cotton, I went under every wire there was. I even would stick my wheels down in the cotton momentarily and “scoop” the wire as I went under it. My cockiness was such that I thought I invented the Hammerhead turn. My farmers loved my air show, or so I thought. So, I gave them air shows. Actually, they were really waiting to see me auger-in. And, if I was working next to a highway, it was showtime!
I’m certainly not advocating 60-second turnarounds. A few seasons ago, I watched in awe as a veteran ag-pilot flying a Cessna continuously made hammerhead or near hammerhead turns all day. He is an excellent pilot and I have nothing but respect for him. But In My Opinion, it’s only a matter of time before the ground jumps up and smites him a fatal blow. Excuse the cliché’, but there is truth in the old saying, “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” There are some of us who learned a lesson without paying the ultimate price… and some who didn’t.
The next opportunity you have where there is a gathering of ag-pilots, eavesdrop on some of the conversations during happy hour. It will be easy to pick out the rookies. If this little dissertation upsets you, maybe you need to lighten the load and decrease your angle of bank just a little.