View Full Version : Are cropdusters crazy?
10-27-2003, 01:43 PM
Agricultural application aviators, I mean. Every time I float the idea of doing this kind of work for a living, the airport crowd looks at me like I might need to spend some time in the nice white jacket with the nice men in white coats. What's so bad about it? Seems like some pretty hardcore-seat-of-the-pants-stick-and-rudder-real-life flying to me. Maybe that's what IS "bad" about it? Can't just hit the autopilot button and sip coffee? Yeah, it's dangerous and you don't get filthy rich..so? Am I missing something else?
10-27-2003, 07:28 PM
Are cropdusters crazy? Well I can tell you from personal experience that they most certainly are. That is if they are all like Murph. Now that guy is crazy as a loon, It's a specital really. He is the only cropduster I know so I am taking it for granted that they are all like him. You know, "Just Plain Nuts".
For a kid who grew up on a farm in West Texas, cropdusting was a natural way to build time. I started right out of high school. Now I spend my time in the company of "respectable" airline pilots. I used to know some crazy cropdusters, but they have a way of thinning themselves out pretty effectively.
10-27-2003, 07:48 PM
Why would the FBI be breathing down a cropduster's neck?
There was talk going around that some "middle Eastern" types at one time were checking out ag planes for....who knows what.
10-27-2003, 07:54 PM
If you think cropdusters are crazy, try driving down a two lane road at night at 70 mph and meet another car going the other way at the same speed. Closing speed of 140 mph and just miss by a couple feet. Now that would be crazy!!! No wait a minute-- we do that all the time and think nothing of it cause we are used to it. Same way with cropdusting.
10-27-2003, 08:49 PM
Murph crazy? Come on. He took me from Rotan to Graham at 3 ft. AGL going under all the high lines. Thats not crazy that's crop dusting.
10-27-2003, 09:24 PM
The question was asked of me many years ago, " Do you have to be crazy to be a cropduster or does cropdusting make you crazy?". I think it's both, but not in the way you might think.
Having spent the last 30 years in this profession, I can tell you that some of the best pilots in the world are ag aviators. Unfortunately, visions of the old barnstormer still come to mind for many of the uninformed.
The truth of the matter is that most latter day cropdusters are highly trained professionals. I can personally tell you that there are about 50 ABC gov't agencies breathing down our necks, so we have to be good to withstand the scrutiny. We have reccurency training annually. Our PAASS program has been effective in cutting not only ag aviation accidents, but also fatalities. I'm proud to serve as treasurer for the NAAREF or National Ag Aviation Research and Education Foundation. It is the educational arm of the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). Our stated goal is to prevent ag aviation accidents and drift incidents as well as to promote a better public image. The US State department has been impressed enough with our program that they have asked us to provide training to their pilots. Several foreign countries have come to us asking us to provide them with this training. These are now in negotiations.
Since 9/11 we've been thrust, kicking and screaming, into the public spotlight as a potential mode of terrorism. We are actively defending our good record as good stewards of the land, air and environment.
Having just completed a year as president of Texas Ag Aviation Association (TAAA), I can assure you that there are no crackpot cropdusters left in our state. We as an industry are very self-conscious of our image and usually find a way to straighten out the bad eggs. With insurance rates being what they are, we can ill afford any catastrophic losses.
We will be paying dearly for the oversight of our government in the 9/11 fiasco for many years to come. We are working with them to assure them that we are no more of a threat than any other profession.
Back to the question, "Are we crazy?", well yeah, I guess we are. We invest $500,000 to $1.3 million each for planes that we hope will pay for themselves. We pay $20,000 to $200,000 per year in insurance premiums. We put in 16 and 18 hour days while hoping our customers will prosper enough to pay their bills. We fret over drought, hail, sandstorms and low commodity prices while waiting for months on end for someone to need our services. Then all of the sudden, we can't get it all done. I now have 6 turbine planes running about 45-50 hours per week each and still can't see daylight. But this is the part I love. It's payday for all those months that we did nothing. By the time we get a killing frost, we will be tired to the bone and ready for some rest. The planes will all be ready for some much needed maintenance. Then the mechanics will be busy.
Did I mention that I lost a plane last week? Total loss. It appears to have been a mechanical failure. Pilot is bruised, but OK. Veteran pilot with many thousands of hours. Happened in the worst place possible and he had nowhere to go except across a divided 4-lane, hit a railroad, flipped through a set of wires and came to rest inverted in the middle of a state highway. Pretty ugly, but could have been many times worse.
Did I mention that we help the American farmer and rancher be the most efficient producers of food and fiber in the history of the world? Did I mention that we fight forest fires and have the best record for first-strike air tanker attacks. Did I mention that we reseed the burnt-out areas after forrest fires? Did I mention that we fight drug production in foreign countries?
Well anyway, you get the picture. We aren't a bunch of drunk monkeys out terrorizing the landscape. Do we get crazy when we get together? Yep! Sometimes we don't even have to get together. Most of us live our lives with a fair amount of gusto!
For more information see:
Thanks for asking,
Great info, thanks.
Sorry to hear about losing the plane, but glad the pilot is OK.
Based on the heat down your way, you may be a while before that frost comes...
10-27-2003, 10:00 PM
Murph...awesome. Once again this site proves to be the place to find the people with genuine information. If someone wanted to pursue this type of flying, what would be the best way/(place(s)?) to go about it? I've seen a few (VERY few) websites for places that supposedly train you thru commercial with specific focus on ag-av...are they a good way to go? I'm a few months away from my PPL right now (standard plain vanilla 172 tricycle training-wheel flying), and I really don't know much, but I'm trying to learn as much as I can.
I'm with newbie on this one.
In my opinion, you have to be a pretty darn good pilot to do ag work. And yeah, I think flight schools and many CFI's don't offer enough aerobatics and ag-type flying if any. These days, it seems like people are trying to dumb down new pilots with a bunch of high-tech gadgets.
10-27-2003, 10:30 PM
Whats harder? Flying the airplane or laying down a good swath with no skips?
It wasn't Deuce was it? Hope not. Glad the guy got out ok. Is the plane a total?
10-27-2003, 10:42 PM
Try going to this site. It will yield lots of good info regarding our industry.
Also our national convention will be held in Reno in December and is the premier trade show for us. You should find info about the convention at this site.
Bret, as for dumbing down with lots of new tech stuff, our job is about as much computer operator nowadays as it is pilotage. Young guys with good computer skills actually have an advantage in some respects. See link below:
10-27-2003, 10:52 PM
10-27-2003, 10:54 PM
No it wasn't Deuce. It was one of the guys that you didn't meet. Looks like the ins. co. will total it. Now I'm sorry I sold the 2 other planes. Oh well...........
Stick a tank and booms on your Cub and put Cody to work.
10-27-2003, 11:30 PM
Cody would like nothing better, but I'm pushing him to go on and get all his ratings and a degree so he'll have more options. This ag business can be kinda brutal sometimes. Besides, he could turn out like me if he's not careful. That's kinda scary!
10-27-2003, 11:47 PM
Murph, Good enlightening information!
And yeh folks I can attest to Murph being $$%king nuts (just kidding) I honestly must say I have not met a finer example of what God, Country and good Parenting can do! Cody will go far with his roots planted in TX and his butt planted in a Cub! Not only a good pilot but a Son, dad and mom can be proud of!
Murph, my mouth is still burning from that dern pepper you cooked up that this Ol Alaskan boy thought was a "sweet bell pepper"!
Glad to here no one seriously hurt! Hope to fly together again one day soon!
10-28-2003, 03:31 AM
Ag pilots or Cropdusters as you yanks call them get a bum rap. The average Aircraft is worth big $ now as you said Murph, who's going to pay that sort of money and let a yobo (or whatever you call them your side of the Pacific) fly a machine like that. How many good bush pilots do you know would go out on a dark night with only airspeed, turn coordinator and altimeter, and work all night. Landing and filling up on a strip with no more than 2 lights, then going out again using a GPS for spray guidence and no other markers? In cotton time that goes on for 5 months of the year, some nights, some days and some of both. In the good old days you were a wimp if you didn't fly sometimes for 24 hours straight, I'm afraid I was a wimp.
In this country we have a full years work fertilizing or spreading on pasture land or mountainous country (over here they only go up to 5000 feet). This type of work is only daylight hours and entails taking off with a load of fertilizer (usually around 1 ton) and spreading it on paddocks nearby. An average load does 20 acres and takes 5 minutes, on a big day you can do 130 tons. All work is done with diferential GPS. Most strips are long compared to some of the gravel bars that you blokes quote, but your not carring 1 ton disposable load. An average strip would be 500 metres long and around 3500 feet ASL. It's not glamorous work but very enjoyable and rewarding.
Most spreading work is done with a NZ Aircraft the Fletcher, on lower strips (2000 ASL) you can average 1200 Kilo's or 2640 lb's of disposable load (that's not including pilot or fuel). All this with an Aircraft that weigh's 2800 lb or 1270 kilos. I used to fly Beavers for a while on this work but there nearly all gone now, there is 1 left working in this country.
Most AG pilots in this country do between 500 to 1200 hours a year, with droughts and good seasons I average about 800 hours. After doing a hard week I still enjoy hopping into the PA22-20 ( it might have short wings but it's still good fun) for an hours circuits. So all the best flying is not just in the states but anywhere anytime.
Newbie, I don't know what previous experience you've had around cropdusting operations, but before you plunk down a bunch of money on an ag school, I would spend a season or two working on the ground. I enjoyed the four years I was an ag pilot and almost went into the business but it ain't for everybody. I'm not trying to discourage you but to let you know that there are lots of opportunities to get your feet wet before making the plunge.
For those looking to get into it, if I am not mistaken the business is not what it once was (like most of aviation) and more operators have closed up shop than have opened lately. In our area, there is a lot of ground based spraying now, and the guys that do spray aerial are spraying roundup - and often having to pay for the neighbor's field that was not "roundup ready'...
10-28-2003, 08:12 AM
You are correct. Hard economic times have taken their toll on our business as they have many others. Our business is directly proportional to agriculture, which has taken a hit in recent years. But the sun will shine again. We do need new blood in our industry and I'd encourage those of you with an interest to do some due diligence and furthur explore the ag aviation business. Like any other business, we are always looking for a "few good men".
As the price of our equipment has increased over the years, so have the requirements to qualify for insurance. So one might expect to start out in a small, inexpensive plane ($50,000) and work his way up over the course of a few years to flying the newer turbine aircraft.($300,000- $1,000,000). Unfortunately, the insurance companies dictate mostly who will work in this business and who won't.
I have a good friend, who I started out ag flying about 10 years ago, who has become a top pilot. Unfortunately his loading crew, at another operation, inadvertently put a couple of gallons of herbicide in his cotton mix and the insurance company has refused to renew him this year. He's now hoping to return to corporate work. Good thing his wife has a good job or his 3 kids would go hungry.
Insurance really sucks until you need it.
Student, I've read about you guys spreading with the Fletcher ands would love to come see how you operated someday. If you're ever in W. TX, look me up.
10-28-2003, 10:14 AM
What a great thread. Brings back alot of memories some good, some not so.
Best advise I could give is to find a mentor in the business whose willling to give you a job on the ground while your getting you commercial, etc. Working the ground is the best way to learn the business and develop an appreciation for the job. There's a certain romance about ag flying that quickly wears off after a couple of yrs of 4am to 11pm days, 7 days a week while your friends are out enjoying a normal life. The bugs don't care if it's a good day to go water skiing.
That said, I grew up on a farm and flying Ag is all I ever wanted to. The skills I aquired have served me well through out my career. From dark snowy nights in Twin Otters in the Rockys to a 30 knot cross wind at Newark Liberty yesterday in 757,My ag experience was my foundation.
My hats off to all the folks who stuck with the business. It's brutal during the season and it takes a special person, both in ability and mind to make a career of it.
Crazy? Not even close in my opinion.
10-28-2003, 01:03 PM
Awesome insight, I am curious about the personal pre-cautions you take so that you don't ingest the product of which you are applying. Have you personally experienced any health concerns from handling it? I understand that it is pretty toxic. I think it is some of the greatest flying in the world, I'm just a little gunshy about the chemical......
10-28-2003, 04:55 PM
Years ago I had a friend in Hanford Ca. who sprayed with Stearmans. I went down to watch him. He put me to work flagging at night.
AHA!... That's what you were breathing when you put those tires on the Cub!...
10-28-2003, 06:36 PM
Murph, great information. We all get more educated when ever we are around you. Thanks for you insiders view of your business. It just goes to show that aviation has no limit to the amount of red tape you must fight through to try to make a buck, weather it is the local I.A., the guy spraying the crops or a major airline. It is a never ending up hill battle that would not get fought if we didn't truly love aviation.
10-29-2003, 09:05 PM
Would love to visit the states and have a look at some different operations, I've worked out if I keep working I should be able to afford a trip in 2063. I don't know how a 106 year old will handle the trip but I'm looking forward to it! :oops: Seriously there's not much money in the flying side here now, the same problems you have (shrinking workbase, environazies, mountains of paperwork and CASA (OZ FAA) inflictions).
It's a bit like gun control in this country, they wont make it illegal they just make it that hard you give up eventually.
I would have thought since the advent of CP nozzles and GPS in the last ten years, incidence of off target hits would have disappeared like they have in this country, maybe Steve is remembering from a few years ago. If your country is like this it would only take 1 major off target drift and you would be out of business. It's getting stupid here, I have just been found guilty of putting some fertilizer (nitrogen based) in a stream (Which I still Deny). After $12,000 fine and $130,000 in court costs (it was vigoroursly defended). The gov. body's tests proved the increase in Ph level was only 25 PPM, just kilometres upstream another local gov. body was pumping treated sewage into the same stream at 7,000 PPM of Ph. Hindsight is a wonderfull thing, even though I strongly believed I didn't do it, I would have been a lot better off putting my hand up. :bad-words:
As long as we can still go and jump in an Aircraft and enjoy the world everything else seems to fade away. Maybe I might get that trip a bit earlier and come and see how you yanks do things. :lol:
10-29-2003, 09:39 PM
10-30-2003, 12:36 AM
Yup, My hats off to Murph and the other spray plane jockeys on this site. I spent two seasons flying an A model Ag Cat and an A9 Quail for an operator in southern missouri. I would do it again but thats easy to say. Drift insurance is everything. My best times were fertilizing in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Before I did the above I was a flagger/loader/A&P mechanic,youth is wonderful.
11-02-2003, 08:38 PM
You were right about me being crazy as a loon. That's when I was in my Idaho turista mode. Sometimes I have to be professional. Imagine that!
Ag chemicals are just like many other compounds, some are fairly toxic and most are pretty safe. Common sense dictates that we handle them with proper care. Unfortunately, most of the general public have been force-fed a steady diet of scare tactics by the environmentalists, which causes our population to fear the tools that feed them. Most of you reading this post have more toxic compounds under your kitchen sinks than I have in my airplanes.
Personally, the only symptoms of exposure I've had, is that all three of my kids were born naked. :o
I can personally guarantee you that the crop protection products we deal with while spraying don't hold a candle to the Chemicals I used to subject myself to when I was mechanicing for a living. Stoddard Solvent, Acetone, MEK (Methylk Ethyl Death) , Decarb ,paint fumes, Butyrate Dope, Nitrate Dope etc, etc. One of the reasons I gave up mechanicing for a living was cause I figured I was going to kill myself with all the fumes I was sucking in in the shop. It used to be fun to recover a wing cause you would be on a high all day long. After so much exposure to that stuff, now all I get is an instant headache. I have yet to have one adverse reaction to any of the products I spray with and I have been around them for over 15 years. Went to a seminar recently that had one of the speakers from a respirator company.He had a lot of info on what these shop chemicals will do to you. So those of you that are working around these chemicals in your shop are killing yourselves faster than you realize.
I know this doesn't do much to getting into an crop dusting position but I come across this video. I haven't seen the video but they have a couple of samples one of supercubs and a couple of stearmans.
11-04-2003, 11:04 PM
I just watched it...it's a good video! A book from the same company is on its way as well..it looks good too.
11-04-2003, 11:04 PM
This is a great thread, I've learned a lot. My only question is are any of the AG schools worth the investment or is OJT the only real way into the business? Thanks
11-05-2003, 08:58 AM
I'd be interested to hear some of the resident experts' opinions on this as well. Some of my family farms, but they've never used aerial app, so they don't know much about it.
One of my main questions is how much value one adds to oneself by being more "formally" educated in the ag side of things (as only Crookston does, from what I can tell). Although the monetary cost would be roughly the same, I'd have to invest a year and a half getting that formal education, versus 4-6 months estimated at a place like ag-flight (assuming I go in with a PPL). Time worth spending?
11-05-2003, 09:53 AM
A lot may depend on your State requirements. I would check those first. Some states require working under a current 137 operator for a time.....others require a minimum number of hours ( in ag or similar work). You may not need a commercial and have less restrictions if you are working family ground (ie. not charging for your work..... 8) )
11-06-2003, 09:07 AM
S2D Nice Avatar. Is that the look of a "happy cropduster" or some one doing too much dope and fabric work? :o
You are right about the chemicals. Protection is needed. Wish I had known more 35 years ago when I started. I just got my first supplied air respirator.
S2D Nice Avatar. Is that the look of a "happy cropduster" or some one doing too much dope and fabric work.
Naw, just too much beer one night resulting in a hole in my smile. I found out the vibration from Super Cubs and Spray Planes won't let an implant set up properly. Finally said hell with it I 'll just have to look like Alfred.
11-07-2003, 10:55 AM
The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) is having their annual convention/expo/trade show one month from now (Dec 8-11) in Reno NV. I have been told that attending this convention would be a great way to learn a lot about the business in very little time, and meet people who are currently in it.
11-12-2003, 05:20 AM
Ive enjoyed the read so much i just had to put my 2 bobs worth in. Are ag pilots crazy, yes and no. Yes because as has already been pointed out we don't know from one month to the next if the work will be there as we are directly affected by the weather (Aust is in the worst drought ever),low commodity prices (level playing field B.S.). No because it is the best flying bar none the last of the true stick and rudder flying.
Flying the airplane is the easy part getting the chemical were you want it is what takes skill even with GPS you still need to read the conditions and customer satisfaction is what it's all about. Getting a start is tough ratings are expensive i would suggest doing a season or two on the ground to see if is really what you want to do, no white shirts and gold bars here, just good mates and a couple of cold beers at the end of the day.
11-12-2003, 03:51 PM
11-14-2003, 05:56 PM
Yep, we get to handle quite a bit of money, but unfortunately there's a wide spread between gross and net. :(
11-19-2003, 12:40 PM
It's interesting hearing about your experiences in the US. I just finished a season mixing here in Canada, but getting into the industry as a pilot up here is extremely tough even with a lot of tailtime. There's a lot to know, and it seems impossible to find flying positions of any kind without previous spraying experience, so mixing may be as far as I get. Has anyone had similar experiences in the US? Just curious.
11-19-2003, 05:20 PM
I don't believe that I am any crazier than anyone else that has a higher than average risk job. I keep the reality of risk in sight and take the proper precautions to avoid placing myself at no higher level of risk to accomplish a quality job of application for a particular work order than neccessary. I also realize that someday it just might be "not my day" which is the unknown variable. However any fellow pilot in any airplane any day of the week should not sugar coat the reality of that thought while taking flight any time, especially with loved ones on board. Any airplane flight can go from the best, most beautiful fun one could ever have to bent, twisted metal and bloody bodies in one bad minute. Most of the beautiful pictures that I enjoy on this sight represent the potential of things like that. Airplanes on wheels over large bodies of 50 degree water. How long will the body survive without a dry suit in that? I used to fly seaplanes in B.C., I know, not long. What about all of those beautiful strips in Idaho and Alaska with the huge trees at the end, every time you take off out of a strip like that there is a small window where if the engine quits your going to have to take it like a man with no options but right into them. I know some don't fare that badly if done right, but my family in the back and huge trees with no power? That seems crazy to me. A large part of my ag time is over pine trees, I'm doing it right now in Texas actually. What I have going for me is a helmet, a harness, an extremely purpose built airframe (AT-802)with large quantities of crashworthiness built into it, among one of the most reliable types of powerplant there are (PT-6 turbine, yes they have come apart but not generally), a groundcrew who knows where I am going and when to expect me back, another airplane on my crew with immediate radio contact generally within five miles of where I am (sometimes in the same block thanks to SATLOC), and no one else to be responsible for but myself. How could that be crazy? It's riskier than sitting on your couch all your life, but crazy? I think it as S2D said it's all how you view whatever risk you are undertaking and the unfamiliar ones seem more dangerous. I also have made 1300 skydives, an accumulated 24 hours of my life falling through the air, with no injuries. Most people think that's crazy too!
I've grown up around ag flying, flying, airline flying, and skydiving so I have seen many "bad days" as well as poor judgement/decision making cause accidents/death. So I think it's all crazy but at 30 years old and 11,000 hours it is who I am and I wouldn't change it for anything especially the ag flying for work and the bush flying for fun.
Word to the wise on the breaking into ag work though, all of the things said from all continents are totally true about the state of the industry and it's hardships. I have managed 1300 hours a year, now going into my sixth year, it is hard but rewarding work. The money is inconsistent and insecure but when you hit a run and it gets flowin' look out baby! I usually have five to seven employers a year to keep the ball rolling which can be a headache at tax time. Wait a minute tax time is a headache anyway! It keeps me on the road all the time, which I don't like so much but it pays the bills. But the thing I like most is that it directly shows who's best at the game. You can actually see your herbicide work or rice seed come up, you can see your lines on a SATLOC printout, you can have faster turn times, faster load times, put out more tons or cover more acres, and compare it to who you are working with, all the while trying to see who can make a set of tires and brakes last the longest. To me it's the best competition of all. Not some silly little game with a ball and some stripes on the grass. A game of "feed-your-family" where your life is on the line at times and every second of every minute counts towards defining you as a producer or a slacker. That's a fun game that makes me feel alive. Happy flying! :D
11-20-2003, 03:36 AM
Lowflyin, It's probably not you, but we had a Canadian guy come up from Florida this year who also used to fly up here....I'm not sure how long ago he moved to Ocala, but it just seemed like a big coincidence as we are also a forestry spray company. Just thought I'd ask if you perhaps flew in Canada this summer.
11-20-2003, 12:46 PM
My first PPL instructor did time as a duster, he quit when he realized how hooked on adrenaline he had become. But he does miss the convenience of being able to read the headlines of the morning paper thru the farmers window.
11-20-2003, 01:07 PM
It was not me in Canada this year. My wife is a Canadian from Ontario and I have considered working there but haven't acted on it, yet. Exchange rate and all kind of discourages that unless we moved there all together. G-
11-27-2003, 08:34 PM
As a former ag-pilot, I would like to add some of my opinions to some of the excellent advice already offered.
My employer trained me in the art of ag-flying, in part of my love of flying...and that I was raised on the farm and knew that side of the business already.
In my experience...knowledge of agriculture certainly made becoming an ag-pilot much easier.
I had a burning desire to fly...something that you need after a week solid of ag-flying...when you need all the enthusiasm you can muster.
The flying experiences I had were something I wouldn't trade for anything.
Usually you are flying in the very best conditions..early morning and evening in clear weather.
Also...the flying hours added up fast...and the varied fields and roads we flew from added to my experience/confidence level.
All the ag pilots I ever were met were safe/sane people who I always aspired to some day be able to fly as well as them.
The business side of the ag-flying was even harder than the flying part...the stress of dealing with fickle weather/wind , chemicals that sometimes didn't live up to their promise/performance...and the art of dealing with people and customers.
Also the ever present threat of accidents and litigation.
Some people were paranoid about ag-planes flying over their property....and would complain to every abc government entity they could think of, even if there was no good reason to.
There were many times I was glad I was just the pilot instead of the operator/owner :)
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