Sunday, May 8, 2016

High Wind

There are times when an agricultural pilot must make instant decisions. Sometimes he makes the right decision and sometimes it is definitely the wrong decision. These quick wrong choices can result in bad stuff happening. Here is an example of a quick wrong decision.

I was working for an ag-operator in the state of Washington. The owner, whom I will call Watkins, was a pilot himself. He would take a hired hand with him in his Cub-type aircraft and fly out to a field that was to be fertilized. He would land in the field if it was not muddy and they would then walk to each end and commence to flag for the planes that were sprinkling the dry fertilizer pellets on the field.

The terrain was not at all level but more like rolling hills and swales. Watkins had parked his plane on top of one of these smooth rolling hills. He walked about 150 yards to his end of the field and began waving his flag. While this operation was going on as planned, suddenly a weather frontal boundary struck. The wind switched to the north and began to blow with increasing velocity. 

Watkins could see his Cub on the next small hill as the wind rocked it, making it bounce rather more than was safe. Watkins dropped his flag and began making tracks to his plane. He was a short man, maybe five foot five or six and a little on the beefy side in weight. As he was running and puffing toward the plane, the wind was rapidly increasing. When he finally reached it, the ship was actually leaving the ground with each big puff. He had set the parking brake before he left so he quickly set the throttle and went to the front of the plane to swing the propeller to start the engine.

The engine started on the first swing and he ran around to the right side of the Cub to climb in. Just as he was climbing in, the wind made a mighty blast and the little plane left the ground. He was half in and half out when he made the quick decision to grab the throttle and open it, hoping it would help stabilize the airborne machine. 

The reverse happened. With the high wind and the thrust of the engine the plane rose straight up vertically and then suddenly fell over on it’s back - kerblam! 

Watkins was thrown out on the wing which was now lying upside down on the ground. Somehow he landed on his feet. Both feet burst through the fabric covering.

When the other pilots doing the fertilizer flew over and saw he wasn’t injured, they burst out in gales of wild laughter. Watkins stood there knee deep in his upside down airplane, shaking his fist at them. He couldn’t hear the laughter but he could see the grins on their faces.

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