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piston engine versions of the venerable Sikorsky S-55 and three turbine conversions (in which the old piston engine has been replaced by a modern jet engine).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!