Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fast Money

In the cropdusting field, military surplus planes eventually began to be replaced with newly manufactured aircraft that were designed especially for ag-flying. Piper came out with the Pawnee, Cessna Aircraft Co. started producing the Ag-Wagon, Grumman got into the action with its Ag-Cat. The Leland Snow Company developed the Snow Aircraft, later to be called the Thrush. These planes were much more efficient and productive than the old converted military types, but they were expensive and not necessarily as tough as the old military trainer. We still had engine failures from time to time.

I was proud to be sitting in the middle of a brand new Cessna Ag-Wagon one day and it was noon. I usually carried a lunch bag with me and ate in the plane so I didn’t have to stop. This particular day I had eaten my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was chomping on an apple as I took off of a muddy strip with a load of dry fertilizer to be spread over a wheat field.

I climbed up to about two-hundred feet or so and as I leveled off there was a sudden silence. The only noise I heard was me chomping on the apple. The engine had shut down as if I had turned the switch off. 

I quickly turned to the right toward an open field and at the same time hit the dump lever and pulled full flaps, preparing to land in the mud. It had rained the night before. The field I had chosen was a wheat field that lay up the side of a hill. I hardly got the flaps down when I touch down and my wheels were sinking in the mud. 

Fortunately, I landed going uphill and the hill was steep enough that it kept the plane from going over on its back. But the wheels were hub-cap deep in the mud and I went up the small hill plowing deep tracks. I arrived at the top of the hill and there was a fence. I stomped on the left brake and full left rudder and the plane slewed around just shy of the fence and stopped. 

I was so rattled that I forgot I had opened the dump gate to get rid of the load of fertilizer. The problem was dry fertilizer does not dump out as quickly as a liquid. The stuff was still pouring out of the hopper and when I climbed out of the plane, I saw I had a huge pile of fertilizer beneath the belly. Oh well, at least the plane didn’t end up lying on its back.

My boss had taken off right behind me in another plane and had seen the whole thing. He landed, got in his pickup, and drove up to get me. It turned out that my practically-new engine had shut down because a small shaft in the air intake had broken and fallen out, closing off the engine. Cessna soon changed the design after we filed a Malfunction & Defects report with the FAA.

As I climbed into the boss's pickup truck, he stuffed a hundred dollar bill in my shirt pocket. Surprised I looked questions at him. "That’s for not bending my new airplane," he said. The thought went through my mind, "Hmmm, that’s the fastest money I ever earned... but I don’t believe I want to do it again!"


  1. LOL! That's a story I hadn't heard before!

  2. LOL! That's a story I hadn't heard before!