Patience. They say it’s a virtue, but it’s not one that many of us have in any sort of adequate quantity. We are a ‘Get there and get it done’ sort of crowd, especially when the books are getting filled and the growers are calling. Weeds are forming their own crop rotations, fungus is traversing the fields and the bugs are marching across the countryside like Sherman through Atlanta.
The weather doesn’t want to cooperate, but we need to go. There are those pesky little maintenance issues, but they can wait until the annual or at least the next 100-hour inspection. “Those brakes oughta be good for another day.” or “Hell, I can get through that, it’s probably clear at the field.”
If you were to look into most drift claims, you’d likely find that someone in the chain of events got impatient and decided to fly it on in conditions that weren’t right for the application. Another day, or even a couple hours might have prevented the whole fiasco. As it is, they didn’t have time to wait, but now they’ll have to make time to talk to lawyers and go to court; and write some big checks… Keep in mind my ag pilot friends, it’s your hand on the money handle. That means it’s your butt on the line.
I know many of us, if not most, have from time to time pushed the envelope beyond what a sensible pilot should. Scud running, punching through the fog, trying to ignore a surging prop governor, or a host of different issues that we’ve faced and decided to roll the dice anyway. Unfortunately, there have been too many of us who never came back from the gamble. We count ourselves fortunate if we’re smart enough to realize we got away with it when others didn’t. We’re foolish to think it won’t someday tender the same result to us, should we decide to continue pushing our luck.
One of the most indelible beliefs we humans have is, “It’ll never happen to me.” Well my friends that right there is the biggest lie the devil ever told and the one we all so easily fall for. If it can happen, it will happen. That is a fact. Maybe not today, maybe not ‘this time’, but it is going to happen if you place yourself in the situation for it to happen. Sounds simple doesn’t it. It’s not. That much is plenty clear or we probably wouldn’t have near as many accidents.
Yes, the airplane willstall if you push your turn too tight. Yes, mechanical things will fail, and they do at the worst possible times. There are innumerable things that can and will go wrong in an airplane, especially one flying a hundred and fifty miles an hour at six to ten feet off the ground being piloted by a type A personality with a stack of work to get done. The key here, I think, is to not increase the odds against you, but to increase the odds in your favor. Easier said than done sometimes.
I know there are many times when we simply cannot wait for perfect conditions. This job often requires us to work in less than ideal situations. That’s part of the world of agriculture. There are limitations however and certain standards of reasonable risk that need to be taken into consideration. We are, for the most part, fair weather pilots flying fair weather aircraft. Every POH describes weight and balance limitations as well as crosswind components. Most of the time, those things are taken with a grain of salt. They are viewed as guidelines more than rules and in this business, we don’t always have the luxury of sticking to the numbers.
There is always a tipping point. A smart pilot or operator knows what those are and does not attempt to exceed them. I don’t know how many times a pilot has thought to save time by refusing to swap takeoff and landing direction only to have a tail wind or crosswind put him into the ditches. Not much time is saved when everything stops to drag a busted bird out of the weeds, or haul a wounded pilot to the hospital. A little patience is all it would take to get through the flight schedule with everything and everyone intact at the end of the day. Stop and think it through.
The stupidest thing I ever did in an airplane was to fly into the mountains under a dropping ceiling. I needed to get home. I had to fly that night and the airplane I had was one half the whole fleet. I figured I could work my way through. I clearly recall the feeling of regret when the clouds descended below the peaks and I was in the middle of a big bowl of mighty big rocks. Fortunately, the good Lord showed me a road to follow out and I didn’t hit any power lines as I weaved my way through. I was impatient. It damn near cost my life. I’m not naïve enough to believe I might get away with it again.
We are, as a collection, some of the best aviators there are. Crop dusters are tough, no nonsense flyers that are gifted with an innate ability to meld themselves into their machines. We fly by instinct as much as we do by the training we receive. Not a lot of pilots can honestly say that. However, no one can outfly physics. No one can outfly the laws of nature and no one is immune to paying the full price for tempting fate. Take your time. Be patient. Wait for the weather to clear or the wind to die down. Get those things fixed that need to be tended to. Most of all, take the time to make sure you have plenty of your own time left.
Fly well and stay safe!