With apologies to Ray Charles… Oh, it’s drying time again, we’re going to fly now…
Yeah we finally got some rain today! All five of our contracted helicopters flew. All of our low-time pilots are happy. The boss is happy. I’m happy.
We have two S-55’s now at the orchard in Malott, Washington, north of Brewster, where I'm staying. Travis is flying one and I’m flying the other. The second ship arrived just yesterday. Timing, as they say, is everything. Although I’m comfortable in the helicopter, I was initially supposed to fly with Travis as “copilot” in order to get some actual drying experience before going out on my own. It did not work out that way. Instead, since both helicopters had to fly, the boss came up and flew with me this morning. Tomorrow I'm on my own.
Here’s the deal with cherry drying – it’s not that hard: A hovering helicopter produces a downward-moving, vertical column of air. The pilot hovers slowly along the rows, using the downwash to blow the water off the branches. Hover too low or too slowly and you risk damaging the trees. (A big helicopter like the S-55 puts out a lot of downwash.) Hover too high or too fast and you won’t be shaking the branches enough to get the water off. There is a “sweet spot” that varies depending on the size of the trees and the wind. Wind blows your downwash around.
We have detailed maps of the groves that show us which fields are cherries and which ones are apples and pears. Apples and pears do not need drying. Travis will go hit some fields; I’ll get others. Together, we put in about two hours apiece with a break for fuel in the middle.
Beginning in early morning, rain blanketed the area today, from as far south as Chelan, where we have a ship, north to Malott. In between, two other aircraft flew around Brewster. Even Mikey flew!
But now, this evening as I write this, the clouds have moved off and it’s another spectacular sunset. There’s only a 30% chance of rain tomorrow. So who knows. At least we all flew today. It felt good! And we all needed it. We pilots prefer to fly, not sit around and look at each other.