One thing that is apparent throughout history is that technology travels fast. New things are developed while people are still accustomed to practicing old ways.
In military history, for example, you can see how technology outstripped the day’s tactics. The American Civil War, and World War 1, are stark examples. Larger, faster, more deadly weapons hit the battlefields while armies were still practicing tactics that were two generations behind. The result was massive casualties. Obscene numbers of killed and wounded because the men giving the orders clung stubbornly to tactics developed by past generations.
The same situation applies to our industry. Ag aviation has grown and changed by leaps and bounds. We’re flying larger, faster aircraft. We’re hauling loads and covering the kind of ground that our forefathers could only dream of. And we’re still doing it the same way as they did.
Back then, they were flying ninety miles an hour, hauling a hundred fifty gallons in a machine that weighed a fraction of what our current aircraft weigh. Compare that to flying 140-180 miles an hour in an airplane weighing anywhere from 9000 to 16000 pounds.
During this time, obstacles have proliferated. Wires, poles, towers, wind turbines, etc. America’s farmland has become a jungle of steel we must navigate daily. Add in all the things that have entered the cockpit, like GPS systems and blue-toothed telephones, and it gets pretty clear that we’ve been facing an ever-growing mission requirement while still using the same tactics of past generations.
We haven’t adapted our methods to compensate for the complexity of today’s high-speed, technological work environment. The workload and risks of the modern-day ag pilot have increased dramatically.
If we stop and think about how we’re doing as an industry, we’ve got to realize something is not working right. There’s something that needs to change.
We need to consider different methods in how we’re plying our trade. Change our tactics and mindset to meet the ever-evolving nature of the work. There’s a mentality shift that needs to happen as well as a change in methods. Ag pilots must understand that doing the job as grandpa did might not be the best way. Fly a little higher; take the time to circle the field. Identify the obstacles and hazards -before- you have to get down in there with them. Flying six to ten feet off the deck at 150 mph is no time to discover a set of power lines cutting across the field.
Workload or not, we need to slow down. We need to take the time to stay alive. We need to give ourselves room to live.
Self-preservation is infinitely more important than the urgency to get the work done. There have been too many memorial services that will speak to that fact. We simply should not be an industry that -expects- casualties.
Instilled in us is a do-or-die mentality. The first order of business is, “Roll those acres up. They don’t call it a money handle for nothing.”
Work orders stack up, we get going, “balls to the walls” at first light, and don’t stop until the last light. Of course, the job has to get done, and there are not enough pilots and machines to do it in any scheduled way. But we need to be smarter and safer in how we’re getting it done. We need not to be willing to trade blood for a few bushels of corn.
Of all the ag pilots I know, the most successful and the least stressed out are the guys who take their time. They don’t get rushed and don’t allow anyone to rush them. Their flying is smooth, and they rack up the acres just as well as anyone else. They keep their minds on the job and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. They do the job with an approach to getting good results and keeping the airplane from getting wadded up. Nothing to prove but getting home at the end of the day.
A while back, there was a math problem circulating the industry about how many seconds a guy could shave off in his work and how many minutes and gallons of fuel that would all add up to at the end of the day. It was basically seeing how narrower we could make the margins and get away with it. It turns out it isn’t much. One wrecked airplane far exceeds any cost savings. Don’t worry about being quick. Worry about not making yourself dead.
With the modern aircraft we fly, there’s no need to rush a turn. You’re covering the ground at a high rate of speed. Take a few extra seconds in your turn. Keep the airplane solidly in the air, and don’t “nibble at the stall,” as some pilots say they do. That’s stupid. Downright stupid. If you’re “nibbling,” you’re half a heartbeat away from taking a big bite.
These airplanes will break from flight suddenly, violently, and with zero room to recover. You’re playing Russian Roulette. Don’t do it. Get that BS out of your head and out of your flying.
A pilot might pull his turns around on the edge of a stall for years. He gets away with it every time. Until he doesn’t. BAM! You’re dead in a very bad way. And it happens just that fast.
Easing a little pressure off the stick and taking just a few more seconds could very well make the difference between making your wife a widow or not. That’s all there is to it. A couple of pounds of pressure and a few seconds. The difference between life and death.
Make your turns smooth and coordinated. If you have to widen them out, then do it. Take your time. Fly in a manner that doesn’t increase the risks you’re already taking.
Leave your stall warning circuit breaker in! It performs a valuable job, telling you the airflow condition over your wings. It’s an audible tap on the shoulder telling you you’d better back off a bit. Listen to it.
You are mistaken if you think it can’t or won’t happen to you. It can, and it will. If you could ask all the fellow pilots we’ve buried, they’d likely tell you they thought the same.
Fly well and STAY SAFE!