Home-Hands On FlyingA long hot summer

A long hot summer

It’s been a long hot summer. Hot. Just plain old hot! Density altitude has been stratospheric in most places of the country.  Runways shrink during the day, power slacks off and things just become drudgery after a while. To my knowledge, everyone adapted well to the struggle and kept it as safe as possible. I don’t know, however, if I’ll ever get to the point of accepting 98°F at midnight. Like they say back home, ‘That just ain’t right.’

We always talk about loading and takeoff performance on hot and humid days. Do we also consider the difference in landings? I am sure we do in a subconscious way as we are coming over the threshold. Our ground speed is noticeably increased and a little tailwind always exacerbates the situation. I notice this often and try to plan for it.

An airplane flies on airspeed but is subject to ground speed. Especially when landing. I recall a time when I was quite inexperienced flying my little 7ECA landing at a remote strip on a hot day. My airspeed indicator read all the right numbers, but I slowed it down to just above the stall. The ground was whizzing by to my perspective. I raised the nose to try to avoid landing too fast on a short and rough runway. The airplane plunked down hard scattering dirt and gravel. I got real busy, real quick trying to salvage as much control as I could. Me and that poor little bird skidded and squirreled down the runway like a drunk sailor running up a gangplank! I got it stopped before what would have become a real crash, but not by much. I flew the thing back to the airport and borrowed as much time as I could from an AI friend to have a look at it and make sure I didn’t crack anything other than my own dreams of someday being a ‘real pilot’.  Fortunately, my little bird was no worse for wear from the incident. I’m sure if that airplane could have talked she would have chewed me out pretty good. I would have had it coming.

I bring up this old story because I know when we get in a hurry and we are working off less than textbook runways, things can go awry in an eye blink. As the day wears on the, air gets hotter and thinner. Before you know it you’re still on the ground but flying as if a mile high up in the air. For pilots who work regularly in higher elevations this stuff is all second nature. Mundane, regular airplane flying stuff. But to those of us who are flatlanders, these are seasonal things that we all have to adapt to when they come around. Without exception this always catches some of us by surprise. I think we make so many landings throughout the season that we sometimes don’t consider how much work we really put into them. Something to keep in the thought process.

There’s been a few times when I have cut the load to make three instead of two. It kind of goes against the grain to do so. We’ve all been taught and the information hammered in to get it done in as few cycles as possible. “That’s how you make money, son!”. Nursing the airplane off the end of the runway, scratching for a few feet of altitude with all the power in you can get, staggering through wide, shallow  turns in order to just keep the thing in the air is not making money. It’s courting disaster. I’ll never understand why so many guys insist on doing things that only increase their chances of being smashed in a crumpled up airplane. The time it takes to stagger around in an overloaded bird for conditions compared to the time it takes to make another load the airplane can handle efficiently isn’t that much. Certainly not enough to justify sacrificing a hot section, or blown cylinder, a ton more fuel, a smashed airplane or a memorial service.

Fortunately, fall is right around the corner now and we can start to think about loosening our pack straps up a little. It’s been a long one. That’s how we pay the bills and that’s how we live our lives. I don’t know any of us who would have it any other way. I’ll be honest though, the first thing I do when fall arrives is start missing summer.

Out here on the left coast we’re still plugging along good and steady. Long nights. One day runs into another. Tomato harvest has been well underway here. It is a huge obstacle to work around. Every time I see a tomato truck I have an urge to fly circles as it goes by, even if I’m not spraying. Yesterday, while driving into work I drove around the block a couple times just to avoid sitting at the same stop sign. You never know….  We spray tomatoes all summer long, but once they get in the truck, you’d better stay way clear of them. I wonder how many peer over the side of the trailer while we circle and stick their tongues out at us as they pass.

Yep, it’s been a long one, but a real good one. I have to keep the door open a little when I walk in the house these days to give my butt enough time to drag in behind me. I think there’s been a few times I might have forgotten and left it outside. Such is the life a crop duster pilot.

I hope you all have a fantastic September!  Fly well, and Stay Safe!




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