December is when the land sleeps. The skies are clear, crisp and appear to go all the way to heaven. My memories take me back to a snow piled corn stubble field, hot coffee from an old thermos and a pocket full of mom’s Christmas cookies. A game pouch full of rabbits and my tack driving .22 rifle hung in the crook of my arm. There just wasn’t any way to see the world as anything but perfect on days like those.
Across the country most of the flying is done without leaving the hangar. Airplanes are stripped down, deep cleaned and inspected. The clang of tools hitting the floor, heaters huffing and a few busted knuckles are the order of the day. It’s winter and that means time to catch up on all the things that need to be done. This business is a constant evolution in improving what we do and ensuring we’re ready for the coming season.
Out here on the left coast, our operations never come to a complete stop. We do however slow down to a more casual pace. We’re spreading fertilizer to be worked into the recently harvested fields and spraying herbicide to get a jump on the weeds. It’s just enough to keep us current and keep a paycheck trickling in. A nice, daylight flying breather from the full bore schedule of the rest of the year. It’s the time when we schedule annuals, reworks, upgrades and vacations.
Downtime is good and just like the land, we need to rest and recoup what we’ve drained previous months; smoothing edges that got a little ragged and pressing out some of dents, dings and wrinkles we’ve accumulated throughout the year. December is a time of renewal. It’s a good time to evaluate where we’ve been and look down the road to where we’re going. A time to take a breather, reflect on the past eleven months and get ready for the months ahead.
To my knowledge, 2016 wasn’t really a banner year for anyone. Markets were down, resources were low and mother nature dealt a few wild cards. Still, we persevered. Ag pilots stuck their spurs in and did the job regardless of the bumps and bruises. We lost some mighty good men and those kind of wounds take a lot of time to heal. I doubt a single one would want us to stop what we’re doing or spend too much time mourning. I’m willing to bet they would tell us to saddle up and get the work done. So that’s what we all did and continue to do. It’s a tough business sometimes, but ag pilots are tough men.
The conventions are happening during this time of year, as well. I like to refer to them as family reunions because in essence that’s what they are. People who share so many similarities as folks in ag aviation probably have more in common than most bloodline families. We share a certain DNA characteristic that’s different from ‘normal’ people. I’m not sure what would happen if science was able to identify the particular strand. They would probably consider it a mutation of some sort. On the plus side, they would likely garner a huge government grant to study it and we would all have our very own societal group and cause. The FAA would have to add another chapter of FARs.
As December takes its place on the calendar, the nation is suffering from post election stress disorder. Well, at least a little less than half of the nation. We’ve got a long way to go as a people before we finally arrive at the point where our roads converge. I’m praying fractures that have occurred in the past will soon be filled and wedges that have been driven into our society will be removed. It’s something to think about, but not so much while we’re flying. We’re living in a time not seen for centuries. The man upstairs has his hand on the controls though. You can read all about it in the book he published a long time ago. Looking at our world today, it’s practically a real time narration. I hope we can continue our prayers for the years ahead.
We’ll be closing out a long year. Many changes have occurred. We’ve got a few pilots out there who have logged their first season. I want to personally congratulate them and wish them the very best as they embark on what is the greatest of all possible careers aviation has to offer. Keep yourselves sharp and pay attention! The years pass by quickly. Which takes me to those guys who have hung their helmets up on the retirement rack this year; pilots who cut their teeth in Stearman’s. Those guys who saw the first Ag Cats entering the field. A generation of pilots who carried our industry through decades of growing pains and innovation. I think I can speak for everyone who has had the privilege of flying with you and learning from you; thank you for your years of service and sacrifice to our industry. It has truly been an honor to be associated with gentlemen aviators such as yourselves. We won’t ever be able to fill your shoes, but we’ll do our best to carry on in the same step and cadence you have set. It’s a tall order, so don’t go too far away. Your wisdom will always be needed, your counsel always welcomed.
I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year! 2017 is sprouting from the fading shadow of 2016. Let’s all make it a great year. Keep your airspeed up and your eyes outside. Fly well and stay safe! Now where are those Christmas cookies…?