So another Washington State cherry-drying season is in the bag! All our ships are off contract and safely back. Now it’s a matter of getting them all inspected and worked on and then put away for the winter. There are some small items to repair, but no major maintenance to do aside from one engine change on what would have been a spare ship this year. Oh well.
Next year we’ll have, God willing, eleven Sikorsky S-55s, a Bell UH-1B and a Bell 206 available. (We don’t like using the small 206 though because we don’t like messing around with the smaller growers.)
It was a busy, rainy year! I won’t tell you how much our fleet flew, but I will say that by the end of the season our boss was walking around like one of those cartoon characters with big dollar signs where his eyes ought to be. He was happy. Our customers? Not so much. They had to write some pretty big checks. Then again they got off really easy in 2014 and 2015 which were very dry years in which hardly anybody flew.
I did the hiring and firing this year - and yes, there was some of each. It’s tough being an HR person. The job is so stressful. In the first place you agonize over whether you’re hiring the right person for the job. Then, if it turns out that you were wrong, you agonize about letting them go. At least I do.
This year we had one guy who looked really good on paper. But people sometimes “massage” their resumes, and they can fool you into hiring them when you otherwise might not. This particular guy was a really good guy and not a bad pilot… but he just couldn’t get with our program. I gave him more than double the amount of training we usually allot, and he still was struggling. He knew it too. When I pulled up at his quarters to give him the bad news he was already packed. Still, I felt badly.
Another (fairly young, single) pilot met a local girl with whom he struck up a…umm...err…relationship. Thinking that it would not rain overnight, this pilot stayed at her place. Of course it did rain, requiring us to fly at sunrise, which by the way was five a.m. The pilot didn't show up for the launch, and we couldn't get a hold of him. They had to call the Boss out to cover his ship. The pilot finally showed up around nine a.m. He was miffed when I let him go, but he had no one to blame but himself.
I am finally pretty comfortable in the Sikorsky S-55. Even though I have quite a lot of flight time and it’s my sixth season on this particular job, I haven't been super-comfortable in it. Because I usually don’t fly all that much. Whenever I’m with another pilot I try to let them fly as much as possible. Hell, I don’t need to build flight time, but the ones I often fly with usually do.
Still, I felt really good this year. When that aforementioned pilot missed the launch that morning, they called me to come down and fly with the Boss. I was happy that I acquitted myself well…at least…I hope so. I act like I know what I’m doing, which is 50% of making people think you do. Maybe more.
In addition to operating helicopters, my boss is also a cropduster. He mostly utilizes airplanes to do this, but we do have a helicopter set up for spraying. Late in the season we got a contract to drop Boron on 10,000 acres of orchards. For that we'll use a plane...a big plane. Since I'm not an "ag-pilot" (and have no desire to be) this means ol' Bob is going to be a Loader Boy - one of the guys who humps the 50-pound bags of Boron into the hopper of the spray plane. Oh, and I refuel it too and wash the windows. Oh what fun it shall be! Until I throw my back out.
So in the end it was a safe, fun, productive cherry season. And now, if we can get done with this big spray job soon, I might just be back to Florida by Christmas. Fingers crossed!