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?