Well the big cherry drying adventure isn’t going so well. I’ve been up here in Brewster, Washington for a month now and we haven’t dried a single cherry yet. Normally we’re drying by now. Blame it on the weather, which is gorgeous. The early spring was unusually cool...or wet...or hot...or dry...or something. I'm a city boy; I don't know anything about cherries. The end result is that the cherries are late. Problem is, July can be hot and dry. If there’s not much rain we won’t be flying much. Good for me, since I’ve done just about all the flying I ever want to do in my lifetime. But bad for the boss. Standby time is good, but he relies on the extra revenue that the flight time would generate.
The contract I’m on is for a grower just north of Brewster. I’ve got a motor home parked right next to the helicopter. Everything is in position and we’re sitting on “go.” A young pilot named Travis will be flying with me for the first week or so, when a second helicopter comes online for this customer. Then he’ll fly one and I’ll fly the other. Travis has done this before. With just 1,200 hours he’s relatively low-time compared to me, but he’s a very competent, professional pilot who knows the ropes and can show this old timer how to do the job.
It’s a little odd being the new guy. I may have a lot of total flight time, but very little time in the S-55, which to my surprise and dismay turns out to be a fairly unpleasant helicopter to fly. (Let’s just say helicopter design has come a loooooong way in 50 years.) Every new task brings with it a learning curve. I don’t like being on the upside of it before it levels out. Don’t get me wrong - cherry drying is not difficult. I mean, all we do is hover over the trees and blow the water off. But you can’t hover too high or move forward too fast. You have to find a “sweet spot” where you’re shaking the water off the cherries without damaging the branches. The farmers usually watch and bark higher!/lower!/too fast!/too slow! orders at us over a portable two-way radio.
In this regard, the Sikorsky S-55 helicopter is perfect for this job: It’s got tons of spare power, and the big, slow-turning three-blade rotor produces a gentle downwash. We can dry up to four rows of trees at a time. There are bigger and smaller helicopters employed by the growers. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Although one wonders just how effective the miniscule Robinson R-22s and R-44s (trainer helicopters) can be, drying one row at a time, if that. I guess they’re good for small groves, or perhaps for farmers who like to waste money. The roaring S-55 puts them all on the trailer.
So that’s where we stand. I’ve had a great month of goofing off and getting paid for it (which is my specialty, of course), hanging out with my friend Mikey and the great people I work with, and riding my motorcycle on some wonderful roads through some of the most gorgeous scenery ever invented. Now it’s time to get to work, I guess.