Here's my sweetie: N955TC- same ship I flew last year, parked at the LZ in Malott, Washington, ready to go to work.
This is the one we call "Marine 1" getting some last-minute adjustments at sunset before leaving the Brewster Airport.
Life is pretty slow and mundane here in Brewster, Washington. Except for when there’s the forecast of rain. Then everyone gets antsy. When it actually rains, everyone goes crazy. The farmers usually wait until the rain starts before calling to say they want to be dried. It’s no problem for the ones who have signed contracts with us, but there are some smaller farmers who don’t want to pay the up-front money to keep a ship on dedicated stand-by for a couple of months. When they call, they’re usually desperate but they’ll have to take what they can get. We do keep one ship available for back-ups, breakdowns and ad-hoc work, but... If all of our helicopters are out drying someone else, well…oh well. We cater, obviously, to the ones who sign contracts.
The orchard owner I’m assigned to is pretty squared-away. They get their contract signed early, leaving the actual start date to be determined. Then they coordinate the beginning of the stand-by time to the first real rain after the cherries have begun turning red. If they start the stand-by time too early and the season goes long, it can get expensive for them. That’s what happened last year; we stayed an extra two weeks on the job because the cherries ran late.
On Father’s Day Sunday, we knew the forecast for Monday called for rain. If it rains overnight we have to be read to fly at sunrise, which around these parts is like 0430. Yes, 4:30 a.m.
This (Monday) morning I got up at four. I felt the top of the travel trailer I’m staying in, and it was dry – no rain overnight. But the skies were ugly and threatening, and the radar showed a big blob of green right over us, extending well south of the town of Bridgeport. But weather radar is deceptive. Light green does not always mean it’s raining on you, only that there’s moisture in the clouds which the radar beam picks. up. Where that moisture comes down (if it even does) is up to Mother Nature.
I preflighted the ship and took the blade tie-downs off; ready to punch the button when the farm manager said “Fly.” It rained for a little bit at 4:30, but it was just a light drizzle. At 5:30 it started again, more steadily this time and it didn’t let up. I knew we’d be flying. I had some breakfast and called Mikey. He was already up at his hangar as well. It had been raining harder and longer down south, so he was waiting for the inevitable signal to pull the trigger. (We pilots have a lot of euphemisms for starting the helicopter.)
Joel, our Farm Manager stopped by around 6:00 to tell me which fields to hit (we don’t normally do all of them unless it has really rained heavily). “Let’s dry when it stops,” he said. “There’s no rush – unless the sun comes out strong. I’ll check the fields, and check the radar, and I’ll stop back by to let you know.”
I went back into the trailer and lay back down. No sense pacing or doing anything. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.” Something like that. Anyway, I agree! And so I lay down and waited. The call to flip the switch finally came at seven. I was all done by eight.
Hurry up and wait! We do a lot of that in aviation…in all aspects of aviation…especially so in the cherry-drying business.