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Thread: Future for crop dusters is up in the air

  1. #1
    JMBreitinger's Avatar
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    Future for crop dusters is up in the air

    Story in today's Minneapolis StarTribune: http://www.startribune.com/462/story/1441271.html

  2. #2
    JMBreitinger's Avatar
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    Cool video link from the same article: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65KLN5gDHzI Not sure spraying the open ditch is such a great idea...

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    Our crop dusters here in southern Colorado are being replaced by center pivot sprinklers and ground rigs. Not much future here.
    Tom

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    Here in central North Dakota there is still a demand for spray planes. Most years there are not enough in the area. As long as there are sunflowers and bugs, we will have a demand for planes.

    When we need to kill bugs, you can't beat a plane and a good pilot.

    Bill
    Flat Country Pilot
    Farm Field PVT
    54 C170B

  5. #5
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    What is that guys name running the flight program????

    Sounds like a cub pilot in executive's clothing
    I don't know where you've been me lad, but I see you won first Prize!

  6. #6

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    Same problem here where I work, one of our pilots is 73 and still going strong, can't replace him if something happened, there's guys that would like to get trained but this operation isn't suited for that, we fly more night hours than day hours, here's a vid of me spraying a typical field, enjoy.

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB5deKJryBw

  7. #7
    dreamer's Avatar
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    I'd LOVE to be able to do something like that someday. There's a small cropduster operation based at X58, a looong grass runway out in the middle of no-where. I'm driving several hours across the state to get primary training (and spin and unusual attitude and aerobatic) in a Decathlon. After such a drive, I stay for several days of flying lessons in a row. When I first started going over, I pitched my tent on the edge of the field overlooking the runway (staying in a hangar now). The first time I heard one of THOSE tractors taxiing past my tent in the pre-dawn darkness, I about pulled out all the stakes trying to see what's THAT noise! Whoo hoo! Next challenge... how to accumulate enough hours to qualify for a commercial license and how to gain the skills necessary to drive something like that!

    Still dreaming!

  8. #8
    Widebody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dreamer
    I'd LOVE to be able to do something like that someday. Next challenge... how to accumulate enough hours to qualify for a commercial license and how to gain the skills necessary to drive something like that! Still dreaming!
    Either you'll have the skills or you won't when it comes to the flying.
    The hardest part these days is dealing with the 22yr old Agronomist that's fresh out of college and how to refrain from choking the living sh-t of him It's so bad around here that the Agronomist and some farmers are telling us how to do OUR job. I now have a list of good farmers I will spray for and a list of others that are told to blow it out their azz.
    The industry is declining because of a bunch of know it alls that know absolutely nothing about aerial application, not to mention the big bulls-eye on your back. But there's plenty of stress to go around

    Brad

  9. #9
    Grant's Avatar
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    I am 34 years old & I looked into it...Actually spoke to MV about it. I would love to try it but the problem for me is my family would not allow me to be gone for weeks at a time to do it....Maybe when my daughter gets a little older and I have some more time, both available to me, and under my belt....

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    Another catch-22 is, who's going to take a risk on some new guy they no nothing about on there Agplane and hope the dont ball it it up, `plus there is no insurance company that will insure a 0 time agpilot. I see a few ag schools out there. what they don't tell the students is thats its near impossible to get a job flying ag unless you know someone or you go out and buy a business themselfs and take their own risk. or of course the business will take that risk.

  11. #11

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    One ag pilot friend of mine said once, "It's kind of weird to be a part of a dying profession. There's no young ag pilots around here that could take my place if I quit or die!" He's right. I don't know of one apprentice ag pilot anywhere around here.

  12. #12
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    It's a Catch 22 of the first order, like many in aviation. In large part, it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

    Frankly, I also put the blame on the current sprayers themselves for not training their own replacements, although that is REALLY hard to do.

    The question is: How do you get the experience needed if you have to have the experience needed to get the job?

    This is the classic conundrum for many aviation professions.

    Being in the right place at the right time, when the right guy is fixing to call it quits can make it happen, but that's a lot of variables, frankly.

    It is no doubt hard work, VERY long hours, and most sprayers fly the plane, hire and train the help, do the bookwork, take the calls from farmers that just have to get it done this minute, and oh, by the way, the last job you did was not good.....

    So, the question is: Who would even want the job? The answer is, there are quite a few young folks who would literally kill for a seat in a sprayer. Getting there is tough, but some will undoubtedly get there. And, those are the ones you want on that job....

    Maybe if it were easier, we'd have more accidents......

    And, for the record, I do NOT know squat about spraying. Not my specialty, not my experience base, but I can see some of the issues involved. I told this guy when he contacted me that whatever he did, he'd better NOT identify me as any kind of expert in this field....

    MTV

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    We are blessed in this area, as far as young ag pilots go, I can think of at least 4 or 5, that are less than 35..
    The demand is growing here I beleive, those 22 year old agronomists, Brad mentioned, are even convincing the tightwads, that 1 herbicide, 2 apps, of headline, Follicur, and a possible folliar feed of N is feesible...

    These guys have had it rough here in the last 10 years, with a commercial class ground rig in every farmyard, but farmers here can't make more than 2 apps.. Plus these rigs, started out weghing, 20000 lbs, now they are over 30000 lbs. More than one pass in the same track on an average year, means ruts.. Ruts and No Till don't get along..

    I think it'll improve here.. Matt

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    I don't know if I have posted this here on this forum before, anyhow it is one of the short stories that I have been writing for a book I may someday finish about all the things I did during my career.

    If nothing else it is about Ag. flying.....

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    The Tobacco Fields - By Chuck Ellsworth

    For generations the farmers of southern Ontario have planted cared for harvested and cured tobacco in a small area on the northern shores of lake Erie. Our part in this very lucrative cash crop was aerial application of fertilizers and pesticides better known as crop dusting.

    At the end of the twentieth century this form of farming is slowly dying due to the ever-increasing movement of the anti-smoking segment of society. Although few would argue the health risks of smoking it is interesting that our government actively supports both sides of this social problem. Several times in the past ten or so years I have rented a car and driven back to the tobacco farming area of Southern Ontario, where over forty years ago I was part of that unique group of pilots who earned their living flying the crop dusting planes.

    The narrow old highways are still there, but like the tobacco farms they are slowly fading into history as newer and more modern freeways are built. The easiest way of finding tobacco country is to drive highway 3, during the nineteen forties and early fifties this winding narrow road was the main route from Windsor through the heart of tobacco country and on to the Niagara district. Soon after leaving the modern multi lane 401 to highway 3 you will begin to realize that although it was only a short drive you have drifted back a long way in time. Driving through the small villages and towns very little has changed and life seems to be as it was in the boom days of tobacco farming, when transients came from all over the continent for the harvest. They came by the hundreds to towns like Aylmer, Tillsonberg, Deli and Simcoe, these towns that were synonymous with tobacco have changed so little it is like going back in time.

    Several of the airfields we flew our Cubs, Super Cubs and Stearmans out of in the fifties and early sixties are still there. Just outside of Simcoe highway 3 runs right past the airport and even before turning into the driveway to the field I can see that after all these years nothing seems to have changed. I could be in a time warp and can imagine a Stearman or Cub landing and one of my old flying friends getting out of his airplane after another morning killing tobacco horn worms, and saying come on Chuck lets walk down to the restaurant and have breakfast. The tobacco hornworm was a perennial pest and our most important and profitable source of income. Most of my old companion's names have faded from memory as the years have passed and we went our different ways but some of them are easy to recall.

    Like Lorne Beacroft a really great cropduster and Stearman pilot. Lorne and I shared many exciting adventures in our airplanes working together from the row crop farms in Southern Ontario to conifer release spraying all over Northern Ontario for the big pulp and paper companies. Little did we know then that many years later I would pick up a newspaper thousands of miles away and read about Lorne being Canadas first successful heart transplant. I wonder where he is today and what he is doing?

    There are others, Tom Martindale whom I talked to just last year after over forty years, now retired having flown a long career with Trans Canada Airlines, now named Air Canada. Then there was Howard Zimmerman who went on to run his own helicopter company and still in the aerial applicating business last I heard of him. And who could forget Bud Boughner another character that just disappeared probably still out there somewhere flying for someone.

    I have been back to St. Thomas, another tobacco farming town on highway 3 twice in the last several years to pick up airplanes to move for people in my ferry business. The airport has changed very little over the years. The hanger where I first learned to fly cropdusters is still there with the same smell of chemicals that no Ag. Pilot can ever forget. It is now the home of Hicks and Lawrence who were in the business in the fifties and still at it, only the airplanes have changed.

    My first flying job started in that hangar, right from a brand new commercial license to the greatest flying job that any pilot could ever want. There were twenty-three of us who started the crop dusting course early that spring, in the end only three were hired and I was fortunate to have been one of them.

    With the grand total of 252 hours in my log book I started my training with an old duster pilot named George Walker. Right from the start he let me know that I was either going to fly this damned thing right on its limits and be absolutely perfect in flying crop spraying patterns or the training wouldn't last long. It was fantastic not only to learn how to really fly unusual attitudes but do it right at ground level.

    To become a good crop duster pilot required that you accurately fly the airplane to evenly apply the chemicals over the field being treated. We really had to be careful with our flying when applying fertilizers in early spring as any error was there for all to see as the crop started growing. This was achieved by starting on one side of the field maintaining a constant height, airspeed and track over the crop. Just prior to reaching the end of your run full power was applied, and at the last moment the spray booms were shut off and at the same time a forty-five degree climb was initiated. As soon as you were clear of obstructions a turn right or left was made using forty five to sixty degrees of bank. After approximately three seconds a very quick turn in the opposite direction was entered until a complete one hundred and eighty degree change of direction had been completed. If done properly you were now lined up exactly forty-five feet right or left of the track you had just flown down the field.

    From that point a forty-five degree dive was entered and with the use of power recovery to level flight was made at the exact height above the crop and the exact airspeed required for the next run down the field in the opposite direction to your last pass. Speed was maintained from that point by reducing power.

    To finish the course and be one of the three finally hired was really hard to believe. To be paid to do this was beyond belief. When the season began we were each assigned an airplane, a crash helmet, a tent and sleeping bag and sent off to set up what was to be our summer home on some farmers field. Mine was near Langdon just a few miles from lake Erie.

    Last year I tried without success to find the field where my Cub and I spent a lot of that first summer. Time and change linked with my memory of its location being from flying into it rather than driving to it worked against me and I was unable to find it. Remembering it however is easy, how could one forget crawling out of my tent just before sunrise to mix the chemicals? Then pump it into the spray tank and hand start the cub. Then to be in the air just as it was getting light enough to see safely and get in as many acres as possible before the wind came up and shut down our flying until evening. Then with luck the wind would go down enough to allow us to resume work before darkness would shut us down for the day. The company had a very good method for assuring we would spray the correct field.

    Each new job was given to us by the salesman who after selling the farmer drew a map for the pilots with the location of the farm and each building and its color plus all the different crops were written on the map drawn to scale. As well as the buildings all trees, fences and power lines were drawn to scale. It was very easy for us to find and positively identify our field to be sprayed and I can not remember us making any errors in that regard.

    Sadly there were to many flying errors made and during the first three years that I crop-dusted eight pilots died in this very demanding type of flying in our area. Most of the accidents were due to stalling in turns or hitting power lines, fences or trees.

    One new pilot who had only been with us for two weeks died while doing a low level stall turn and spinning in, he was just to low to recover from the loss of control. He had been on his way back from a spraying mission when he decided to put on an airshow at the farm of his girlfriend of the moment. This particular accident was to be the last for a long time as those of us who were flying for the different companies in that area had by that time figured out what the limits were that we could not go beyond.

    Even though there were a lot of accidents in the early years they at least gave the industry the motivation to keep improving on flying safety, which made a great difference in the frequency of pilot error accidents. Agricultural flying has improved in other areas as well especially in the use of toxic chemicals.

    In 1961 Rachel Carson wrote a book called "The silent spring. " This book was the beginning of public awareness to the danger of the wide area spraying of chemicals especially the use of D.D.T. to control Mosquitoes and black flies.

    For years all over the world we had been using this chemical not really aware that it had a very long-term residual life. When Rachels book pointed out that D.D.T. had began to build up in the food chain in nature, she also showed that as a result many of the birds and other species were in danger of being wiped out due to D.D.T. Her book became a best seller and we in the aerial application business were worried that it would drastically affect our business, and it did.

    The government agency in Ontario that regulated pesticides and their use called a series of meetings with the industry. From these meetings new laws were passed requiring us to attend Guelph agricultural college and receive a diploma in toxicology and entomology. I attended these classes and in the spring of 1962 passed the exams and received Pest Control License Class 3 - Aerial Applicator.

    My license number was 001. Now if nothing else I can say that I may not have been the best but I was the first. Without doubt the knowledge and understanding of the relationship of these chemicals to the environment more than made up for all the work that went into getting the license. From that point on the industry went to great length to find and use chemicals less toxic to our animal life and also to humans.

    It would be easy to just keep right on writing about aerial application and all the exciting and sometimes boring experiences we had, however I will sum it all up with the observation that crop dusting was not only my first flying job it was without doubt the best. I flew seven seasons' crop dusting and I often think of someday giving it another go, at least for a short time.

  15. #15
    Tim's Avatar
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    Chuck, interesting story. Write your book I'll buy a copy. I'm trying to get my 83 year old friend
    with 31,000 hours to finish his book. He's to busy flying, painting his house, trimming hedges, and mowing.
    Tim

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    aerial application

    I WOULD LIKE TO SPRAY FOR A LIVING BUT I AM TOLD THAT I AM TOO OLD AT 50 TO START. I HAVE BEEN WORKING AS A CAR AND TRUCK TECH FOR 29 YEARS AND I NOW HAVE 800TT. WITH 70 HOURS TAILDRAGGER WITH INSTRUMENT AND COMMERCIAL RATINGS. I WOULD NEED TO GO TO AN AG SCHOOL FOR INSURANCE BUT CANT AFFORD TO QUIT WORKING TO ATTEND ONE AND FEED MY FAMILY AT THIS TIME BUT I AM STILL DREAMING. BILL

  17. #17
    JP's Avatar
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    Working our way around the South and Midwest a few weeks ago we had plenty of great opportunities to observe the dusters up close. Simply awesome. It's a ballet in the breadbasket of America.
    JP Russell--The Cub Therapist
    1947 PA-11 Cub Special
    www.bloomerrussellbeaupain.com

  18. #18
    SuperCub MD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thaefeli
    Our crop dusters here in southern Colorado are being replaced by center pivot sprinklers and ground rigs. Not much future here.
    Tom
    Yep, those ground rigs are great...until is starts raining...and doesn't stop....like it has been this spring.... I have a special rate adjustment when I have to lift a wing to jump over a stuck ground rig. I have to get back outside now and resume my rain dance, the skies are getting dark, and the phone is ringing....

    I know more young ag pilots than young private pilots, (maybe it's just the circles I travel in), but there is a need for good young ag pilots right now. Personally, I think general GA is in a death spiral, ag flying isn't going anywhere, people gotta eat. But with only 3200 ag pilots in the whole country, this is not a easy business to get into.

    A plug for a web site about ag flying,
    www.sprayplane.org

  19. #19
    dave's Avatar
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    I'm sure most have seen this video of Super Cubs dusting in Columbia.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jWufkTHbj8

  20. #20
    Rob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thaefeli
    Our crop dusters here in southern Colorado are being replaced by center pivot sprinklers and ground rigs. Not much future here.
    Tom
    Many things can not be applied through chemigation.... in fact more than 90% of the spraying I did last season (in CO by the way) was over pivots.

    There are nay sayers in all walks, but as the man says..."people gotta eat"
    Take a close look:

    In this pic (a CO pivot) you can see a tank (chemigation) and we are spraying


    Another shot...in this pic you can get a feel for how much the sand hills roll in NE CO...there IS a 401 in that dip

    There are a few more in my gallery with pivots in the back/foreground along with a sprayplane...

    Take care, Rob
    www.sprayplane.org

  21. #21
    Rob's Avatar
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    Straying a bit from the topic I just thought I'd share a couple pics from my current gig. I mostly spray at night which looks really cool but doesn't make for good pics, My daughter shot these one morning when I had run through the night till daybreak...





    Not many center pivots here in southern AZ, but it's home and I like that...

  22. #22

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    Rob,
    Lets start a guessing game. What the heck are you spraying in the first photo. My guess is onions. There aren't any fields that look like that in Indiana. anybody else want to try?
    By the way you are a member of a lucky fraternity. Where else could you get such thrills and still get paid for it? All you supercub.org crop dusters (Oops, aerial applicators)stay safe!
    Mick Capouch
    PA-18 150 N6TD

  23. #23

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    crop

    Looks like seed onions to me. How's your season shaping up Rob? Its slow here been cold and dry until today now its cold and wet,,,4" snow and a inch of rain since 4am...I'll be busy when it warms up!
    Rob is right there is alot of chemicals that can not be applied through a pivot and ground rigs cost alot of money, burn alot of fuel and take a man to run plus they make tracks in the wheat that reduce yield. All told its usually much cheaper to hire a pro and get it done quickly than use there own equipment. Aerial application will be here for longer than I will be in it. I go help a applicator that is now in his 60th year in a row in the business. He can still yank and bank with the best of them and every year he says it's his last but every spring he get the Cessna annualed and goes another year,,,This year he installed his first GPS so he doesn't have to follow me on the big fields,,,not bad for 80 something
    dave

  24. #24

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    Rob, MIGHTY purty, MIGHTY purty.

    Thank you for sharing. My hat's off to you fellers (and gals) with these skills.

    Thinkin' I need to put Jon Chandler's "Sky Farmer" song on this years SC Road Tape.....

    You wouldn't be workin' with Dana at Cropaire, or outa' Mertens, would you?

    Thanks. cubscout

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob
    Quote Originally Posted by thaefeli
    Our crop dusters here in southern Colorado are being replaced by center pivot sprinklers and ground rigs. Not much future here.
    Tom
    Many things can not be applied through chemigation.... in fact more than 90% of the spraying I did last season (in CO by the way) was over pivots.

    There are nay sayers in all walks, but as the man says..."people gotta eat"
    Take a close look:

    In this pic (a CO pivot) you can see a tank (chemigation) and we are spraying


    Another shot...in this pic you can get a feel for how much the sand hills roll in NE CO...there IS a 401 in that dip

    There are a few more in my gallery with pivots in the back/foreground along with a sprayplane...

    Take care, Rob
    www.sprayplane.org

    Nice looking pivots....!!! sorry, I just couldn't resist

    ~

  26. #26
    gbflyer's Avatar
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    Out of curiosity, what is the charge around the country these days for 5 gal. work?

    gb

  27. #27
    behindpropellers's Avatar
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    Stupid Question:

    How do you spray at night and never run into wires..etc?

  28. #28
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    for the record cnagpilot is the resident night spraying guru, I am a neophyte green horn at best...
    Thanks Mark... I have been slacking off and need to work on that site...

    Bass, your guess is good...ag-pilot's dead on...seed onion, peas in the fore ground... although it doesn't look quite right that's corn in the 401 pics...

    ag-pilot, the produce is all but gone, and the cotton will be a while so we are about wound down... on the flip side it looks like I have a summer seat in Winnemucca in one of Mikes garret thrushes

    cubscout, thanks, the CO pics are out of Wray for Kris Jones, no relation to Stan Jones...

    gb, being an applicator (read:dumb pilot) and not an operator, I would hate to put my foot in my mouth... although scince I'm paid on a percentage I can tell you that the ones I have flown for have ranged from about $5.50- to about $7.50 and with the cost of fuel are on the rise. That being said the bulk of my work is 10 GPA which of course pays more but takes longer

    Hydro, at Tri county we actually flew more in NE than CO. And some in KS...Not really your neck of the woods... but the color of the sign can't be argued

    bp, not stupid at all...lots of candle power....candle power for work lights, obstruction lights, turn lights, oh shiv lights...like i said, it doesn't lend well to photo ops, but i know cnagpilot has done several day video clips and was trying to do a night one. The old line about lights showing up better at night is mostly true, all the bare metal and really fat ones show up well... the skinny tv / cable stuff really wants to eat your lunch, and if there is enough gap between the poles that neither pole falls in your lights it gets kinda sketchy... I tend to fly a little slower and err on the cautious side...
    Heres a couple pics to get the idea though:



    Getting an early start and "working up" to the darkness helps alot

    This citrus kinda blows because it's wired up and the wires are just about 4' higher than the trees... just low enough to blend in and still high enough to reach out for your wheels... oh and of course there are about a half dozen windmills scattered through out...

    Take care, Rob

  29. #29
    gbflyer's Avatar
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    Thanks Rob. That is about what we were paying in W. Colorado 15 years ago. There were 2 operators, and not a lot of acres to begin with. At the time, they really struggled to do 10 gallon work with the equipment they had. Ended up doing half - swaths. To my knowledge, there is only one operator there now, pretty sure he's got 2 turbine Air Tractors.

    We befriended a fellow from Yuma, AZ who brought up a helo one year. I ended up loading for him part of the summer. It really did a great job, but it was a recip. and couldn't haul much at 5000'. He was killed in an accident a couple of years later in Yuma. '96 I think it was.

    I always enjoy flying with crop dusters. There is NO ONE with a better feel for an airplane.

    gb

  30. #30
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    Hi gb,

    Most of our work is cut up, small produce fields. The guy I fly for says a 400 gal. turbine is just right down here and I think he's right...
    The helicopters still don't haul much, I think our OH58 hauls about 80 gal. in all it's allison glory... But sometimes you just gotta have one...
    The Yuma guy wouldn't have been Gary Morris would it? I am flying for his son now. Not the only helo guy from Yuma and certainly not the only ag pilot killed flying here, but the time frame seems about right.

    Take care, Rob

  31. #31

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    Rob,
    When you say small produce fields, how small are they. I did back N forths for 23 years with Bell 47's. We had blueberry fields that were less than an acre but most of the produce we sprayed went from 10 to 250 acres. Most were around 30 to 40 range. It was all 5 gallon work. When I was a teenager I was the human lightbar. I would sit on the skids while being ferried to each field. Then I would step off each swath. Once the pilot got lined up on you then you would step off the next 50 feet. When the pilot would go by on each spray pass I would act like a goofball to see if I could get him to laugh. Those were the days!
    Mick Capouch
    PA-18 150 N6TD

  32. #32
    gbflyer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob
    Hi gb,

    Most of our work is cut up, small produce fields. The guy I fly for says a 400 gal. turbine is just right down here and I think he's right...
    The helicopters still don't haul much, I think our OH58 hauls about 80 gal. in all it's allison glory... But sometimes you just gotta have one...
    The Yuma guy wouldn't have been Gary Morris would it? I am flying for his son now. Not the only helo guy from Yuma and certainly not the only ag pilot killed flying here, but the time frame seems about right.

    Take care, Rob
    Naw, his name was Sam Radoman. Helluva guy, a real tragic loss.

    gb

  33. #33
    Rob's Avatar
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    Hi Bass,
    At bell 47 speeds nothing we do would seem small ... the produce is mostly 10-40 acre stuff but I actually get quite a mix to break up the monotony including pretty good size blocks of alfalfa and wheat...
    Take care, Rob

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