Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cotton Chopping with a Ryan PT 22

As you may have noticed, in the banner picture I have my hand on the propeller of a Ryan PT 22 which was the military version of the Ryan ST.  After the war there were many, many trainer types of aircraft that were termed "surplus" and sold to private companies and individuals.  They were usually very cheap and some were in practically new condition.

As you see in the picture, I was admiring this beautifully restored little tail-dragger plane and it reminded me of an incident that made me smile. I went to work as a cropduster in 1960 and as the years went by, I had many little encounters with these surplus aircraft. 

On this particular occasion I was employed by an ag-flying company in West Texas.  My boss and company manager was a non-pilot, but had somehow acquired one of these surplus planes - a Ryan PT 22.  I flew it quite a number of times off of our cropdusting runway which was nothing more than a sandy strip in the middle of a cotton field.  The width of the strip was not much more than the wing span of the planes that were using it. It was a fun little plane to fly - fully aerobatic. A nice toy to play with.

My boss decided one day that he needed to learn to fly the thing.  It just looked so easy and like so much fun.  Being a flight instructor for some years, I agreed to teach him the wonderful and exhilarating skills of flying in my spare time.  After a couple of hours of dual instruction, he informed me he was ready to solo.  The poor guy had never even made a take-off or landing, but was convinced that he could do it.  He had watched his pilots for a number of years and was very sure it wasn't all that complicated.

I did my best to talk him out of this hair-brained idea, but to no avail.  Finally, in desperation I said, "Boss, if you can taxi this little plane down to the end of the strip and go just fast enough to raise the tail wheel off the ground, then chop the power and come to a stop, then turn it around and do the same thing back up the strip to where we are standing, I think you may change your mind."  I knew that like all tail-draggers this little aircraft needed an experienced hand when on the ground.

He quickly put on helmet and goggles and climbed in, muttering more or less to himself, "Piece of cake." He strapped himself in, grabbed the throttle and pointed her down the strip. 

As the tail wheel lifted from the sandy strip, the plane made a quick swerve to the left out into the cotton, which was about thirty inches high.  He was chopping cotton with the prop and throwing it into the air.  He cut the power and quickly came to a stop in the soft sandy soil. 

Then using lots of throttle he managed to get the Ryan turned around and back on the strip, where he repeated the same crazy scenario. Only this time he careened to the right of the strip, chopping cotton to beat the band. 

Back to the strip again. He lined up and pushed the throttle in for more power. The tail came up much faster and he did a full-fledged ground-loop to the left, crossed the runway again, and went ripping out into the cotton on the left side again. 

By this time, with the extra power he had raised a cloud of dust.  Yessir, it was quite a sight!  The air was full of good ole Texas sand, well mixed with cotton bolls and stalks and leaves. 

When he finally wrestled it onto the strip again, he headed back up to the point of departure very slowly so as not to raise the tail wheel. The plane was covered with cotton leaves and stalks and the prop was green with juice.

He climbed out, his face covered with sweat and dirt, and was spewing forth all the cuss words that he could muster.  By this time he had collected quite an audience of ground crewmen and other pilots who were enjoying the show. He seemed to think the whole debacle was entirely my fault and gave me a good cussing too. He stomped into the office swearing and muttering all the way and I heard him say, "I didn't want to fly the ##%@$**& miserable, wretched piece of sky junk anyway!"

Shortly after that, he sold it.


  1. Funny story Cousin Dale - keep it up!

  2. I mean, now that I think about it, I've watched lots of airlines take off and land--I betcha I could fly one. Piece of cake. *snicker*

    1. A modern airliner might be piece of cake, given all the computer controls these days. And they sure ain't no tail-draggers!