Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

15 June 2013

2013 Cherry Drying Season Start

Everyone has been complaining about the late start to the 2013 cherry season here in the Brewster, Washington area. The weather has been very moderate (and beautiful!): absolutely clear and comfortable (70’s) during the day and downright chilly at night – a far cry from the heat we’d usually expect up here by now. Some farmers are hedging their bets, gambling that they might not need to be dried at all. Heh. If they wait too long to put us on contract they may find that our ships are committed to others who know better.

The contract I’m assigned to normally begins in the middle of June. We supply one helicopter for the first two weeks, then a second ship joins the fun and we both dry until all the cherries are picked.

This year, the orchard owner said that the contract for the first ship would begin around June 20th. Other growers were saying the same thing. So there was not the usual pressure to get things ready – and you wouldn’t believe the amount of logistics that goes into fielding seven helicopters working out of four locations. There are fuel trucks and service trailers (for oil, grease, tools, etc.) and RV’s that have to be positioned. The landing zones (LZ’s) have to be prepped (mowed) and tie downs for the aircraft hammered into the ground.

Suddenly it rained the other day – big storm came blowing through! And just as suddenly, all the farmers who’d been putting us off went into Panic Mode, ringing our phone off the hook. The orchard owner I’m assigned to called up after lunch and said, “How soon can you be here?” This did not take us by surprise. We had already positioned “my” motorhome and a fuel truck at the orchard (where the owner has graciously installed hookups for power, water and sewer).

When the rain stopped and the wind finally died down I climbed into the same ship I’ve been flying for the previous two seasons, N955TC and headed out. With me was my friend Brandon, who spent the past two seasons with us as a trainee and who will be a Command Pilot this year on the second ship with me. Brandon was taking the opportunity to get familiar with "my" fields, which will soon be "his" fields too, which he'd not previously worked. We ended up drying until it was so dark we could barely see to land back in our LZ. Hey, it gets dark in these orchards!

So I’m ensconced in my RV at the LZ, looking at nothing but clear skies for the next several days. Orchard owner: happy; his cherries are looking good. My boss: not so happy if we don’t fly; we obviously make more money when we do. Brandon: not so happy as well; he’d appreciate some more flight time. But me? I'm happy! ...Happy to sit here with nothing to do and get paid for it. In fact, that is one thing that I do really, really well. Brandon and I both brought our guitars up, and so this year the hope is that I arrive as a helicopter pilot and depart as Eric Clapton. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

12 June 2013

Back In Washington State

Faithful readers of this blog know that I spend my summers in Washington State flying helicopters for a company that dries cherries after it rains. Only it hardly ever rains up here. If you’ve never been east of the Cascade Mountains, you might never know that the interior of Washington is so desert-like and dry, but it is. The landscape along the Okanogan and Columbia River valleys is stunningly beautiful and I marvel at it as I drive and fly around. It changes constantly depending on the time of day.

I got up here late in the first week of June. The season is starting late this year – seems everyone in the country is having a late Spring. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon as I write this, and the temperature in the town of Okanogan is only 71 degrees – very pleasant! - although the nights have been downright cold. We’re not exactly sure what this means: Will the season run long? Some cherries look bright red and ready to pick; others are nowhere near ready. The farmers are hedging their bets and not putting us on stand-by just yet. Normally they’d all be getting antsy and nervous by now.

We’ll be having seven helicopters doing drying this year: Four piston engine versions of the venerable Sikorsky S-55 and three turbine conversions (in which the old piston engine has been replaced by a modern jet engine). As an enticement to get me to come back this year (which was “iffy” to be honest), the boss called and offered me one of the turbines. They’re smoother and quieter and arguably more reliable than the old piston engines. But the fact is I like those old radial engines; makes me feel like I’m flying a bomber from WWII. And I’ve got enough “turbine time” anyway. So part of my compensation package this year was that I would have the same helicopter I've flown for the past two seasons.

We have a really great group of pilots this year, perhaps the best group we’ve had in my three seasons. Some older, more experienced guys (like me), and some young kids who are eager to learn. We all get along really well and I’m looking forward to a fun, safe season…if it ever starts.

More stories and pictures to come!