Autorotation is Not a Low Rotor RPM Emergency Procedure

Especially when you’re two miles out at sea.

Picture this: An R22 helicopter without floats operating two miles off the coast of Miami, FL. On board is the CFI-rated pilot with 600 790 hours of total flight time and the private pilot rated “passenger” with 115 hours total flight time. They’re operating at about 40 knots 100 feet above the waves on an aerial photo mission, photographing boats. The wind in Miami, 13 miles away, is from 120 at 13 knots and it’s 26°C with a dew point of 21°C, resulting in a balmy 74% humidity.

The pilot had just completed a 180° turn to the south when the low rotor RPM horn sounds.

The pilot adjusts the throttle to compensate — in other words, we should assume that he adds throttle. The horn stops blaring, but 3 seconds later, it does it again.

So what does the pilot do? Despite the fact that the helicopter does not have floats, he enters an autorotation. The helicopter crash-lands in the ocean, the occupants escape, and the helicopter sinks. The pilots are rescued 10 minutes later by a privately owned boat. The helicopter is left unrecovered (so far) in 150-250 feet of seawater.

What We Don’t Know

There are a few things we don’t know that could explain the reason for the low rotor RPM horn:

  • How much did the pilots and their equipment weight? An R22 Beta (not Beta II) is a very small helicopter. Although they had burned off 45 minutes of fuel, there is a possibility that they were still heavy for the flight conditions.
  • Which direction did they turn? A turn that would have put them into a tailwind situation — especially at low speed — could rob them of airspeed. If airspeed dropped below ETL, the helicopter would have to work harder to stay in the air.
  • What speed were they operating at? Without the benefit of forward airspeed and effective translational lift, the helicopter would have to work harder to stay in the air. If the speed was close to zero, the aircraft might have gotten into a settling with power situation. The natural (but incorrect) reaction of increasing the collective to arrest the rate of descent could have triggered a low rotor RPM warning if available power was exceeded.
  • Were the engine and its components functioning properly? If the engine or magnetos were not performing to specifications, the resulting reduction of engine power could cause a low rotor RPM horn. We have to assume the engine was still running because the NTSB report didn’t mention an engine failure.

But regardless of the reason for the low rotor RPM horn, it’s the pilot’s decision to perform an autorotation to into the ocean that needs to be questioned.

The Robinson Low Rotor Horn

In a Robinson helicopter, the rotor RPM green arc is 101% to 104%. (Please don’t ask why; I don’t know. Yes, it is weird.) The low rotor RPM warning system is designed to alert the pilot at 97% RPM. (See it in action for yourself here.) This is a very early warning. The idea is that if rotor RPM is deteriorating, once it gets past a certain point, it could could become unrecoverable very quickly. The earlier the pilot is warned, the better off he is.

At the Robinson factory safety course — and, one might assume, at many flight schools that train in Robinsons — pilots are taught that a Robinson can generally fly at an RPM of 80% plus 1% per 1000 feet of density altitude. Given the temperature, dew point, altitude, and altimeter setting (30.01), the density altitude was 1,612 feet. That means that the helicopter should have been capable of flight when operating at only 82% RPM.

I need to stress here that this is a general rule of thumb. Do not attempt to fly around at low rotor RPM to test this. While it’s true that my flight instructor at the Robinson safety course had me fly for a few minutes in the Long Beach, CA area at 90% RPM with the horn blaring just to prove that flight was possible, RPM is not something we play with in non-training situations. The formula is simple: RPM = life.

Low Rotor RPM Emergency Procedures

The Robinson R22 Pilot’s Operating Handbook is quite specific on what to do in the event of a low rotor RPM warning. On page 3-10, in the red-tabbed “Emergency Procedures” section, it states:

A horn and an illuminated caution light indicates that rotor RPM may be below safe limits. To restore RPM, immediately roll throttle on, lower collective and, in forward flight, apply aft cyclic.

The NTSB report indicates that the pilot initially “adjusted the throttle to compensate for the [low rotor RPM warning] condition” and was immediately rewarded with recovery. But that was followed by the horn sounding again only 3 seconds later.

It had to be scary for the pilot. After all, he’s only 100 feet above the water and he’s supposed to react by lowering the collective. But the emergency procedure and repetitive training doesn’t tell us to enter an autorotation, which would be a full-down reduction of the collective. The reduction of the collective, coordinated with the rolling on of the throttle, should be slight — perhaps an inch or so. This reduces drag on the blades while the increased throttle provides power to increase their RPM.

What Was the RPM?

One of the things we don’t know is what the RPM was when the pilot decided to enter autorotation. If it had deteriorated to the point where autorotation and cyclic flare were the only tools to recover RPM, his decision was probably a good one. Better to hit the water relatively softly than from 100 feet up, falling like a brick.

If RPM had deteriorated to that point that quickly, however, it’s important to recover the aircraft to learn why. Other than a complete engine failure — which was not mentioned in the report — it’s hard to imagine what would cause RPM to drop enough to warrant such a drastic recovery action.

Who Was Flying?

There may be more to this than what meets the eye.

The helicopter was operated by Helicopter Academy, a flight school with locations across the U.S. The school’s Web site clearly advertises it as a low-cost training company:

$250 PER HOUR R22 HELICOPTER TRAINING TIME BARGAIN and we are the ONLY company in the world that can guarantee you a job.  We operate a fleet of helicopters and like other schools our insurance requires 300 hours helicopter time and an instructor’s rating to fly for us. We train you to work for us and offer a job to all graduates, including transfer student and instructors who can’t get jobs elsewhere.

Helicopter Academy’s other business is BoatPix, which uses helicopters to photograph boats and then sells the photos to the boat owners and others. It’s widely known that BoatPix pilots pay BoatPix (or Helicopter Academy) for the time they fly aerial photo missions. The company’s Web site alludes to this:

…you pay for the first 100 hours at $250/hr, the second 100 hours at $200/hr and the third 100 hours at $150/hr….It’s  $25,000 for the first 100 hours where you’ll do mostly training, $20,000 for hours 100  through 200 where we’ll introduce you to our photo contract which will subsidize your flying and $15,000 for hours 200 through 300 where you’ll do almost exclusively photo and will learn this skill that is valuable to our photo contract and making you a valuable pilot to us.

I added the emphasis in the above quote. It begs the question: who was actually flying this aircraft? The NTSB report suggests that it was the 600791-hour CFI. But was that really the case? Was the 115-hour private pilot paying $200/hour to be “introduced” to the photo contract — as a pilot — while the 600791-hour CFI took the photos?

High Risk Operations

In March 1999, Robinson Helicopter issued Safety Notice SN-34. The latest version of this Safety Notice is dated April 2009. Titled “Aerial Survey and Photo Flights – Very High Risk,” it starts out saying:

There is a misconception that aerial survey and photo flights can be flown safely by low time pilots. Not true. There have been numerous fatal accidents during aerial survey and photo flights, including several involving Robinson helicopters.

It goes on to list some of the possible dangers of low time pilots conducting aerial photo flights. It also makes some recommendations for minimum requirements for aerial photo/survey pilots, including a minimum of 500 hours pilot-in-command. BoatPix is one of the operations that has chosen to ignore this recommendation.

My question to helicopter pilot wannabes out there: Are you that desperate to become a pilot that you’re willing to trade your safety for flight time?

Pilot Experience and Decision-Making

What it all comes down to is whether the pilot made the correct decision for the situation he found himself in. I’m not convinced that entering autorotation over the ocean on hearing a low rotor RPM warning horn is the correct decision.

True, both pilots walked (or perhaps I should say, swam) away. But if the rotor RPM could have been brought back into the green while in flight — something a well-trained or experienced pilot could have accomplished if there wasn’t a mechanical problem — the watery autorotation and the resulting loss of the aircraft could have been avoided.

Hopefully, the Probable Cause report for this accident will shed some light on what really happened. Until then, it certainly gives pilots some food for thought.

November 1, 2011 Update: The Probable Cause report doesn’t add much to what’s reported here other than to clarify airspeed and PIC experience. The official Probable Cause is “A loss of main rotor rpm for undetermined reasons.”

Update, March 17, 2012: Just found another accident report with someone else using autorotation as a cure for low rotor RPM. He crashed, too.

Another Lazy Job Seeker

It’s so easy for them these days, but they still take the lazy way out.

When I was getting ready to graduate college with a BBA in the early 1980s, my school provided some advice about how to look for a job and prepare for an interview. There were basically two different paths:

  • For a posted job opening, research the company to see whether it would be a good “fit.” The write a cover letter to send in with your resume that explained how you not only qualified for the position but could bring additional benefits to the company.
  • For a company you wanted to work for that didn’t have any posted job openings, research the company to learn more about it. Then write a cover letter to send in with your resume explaining what job or department or division interested you and how you could benefit the company.

There’s an underlying theme here: research the company. Learn about it. Understand what it did and how you might fit in. Even if the job you were looking for wasn’t available, the person on the receiving end of your cover letter and resume might realize that you’d done your homework and that might make enough of an impression to forward your resume to someone who was hiring people like you.

In those days, researching a company meant going to the library, tracking down annual reports, and combing through the periodicals Index to find articles about the company. It meant microfilm and microfiche. It mean spending an hour or two or even more to gather enough information to become informed about the company and sound that way if a phone call came. If you got an interview, it was back to the library to learn even more.

These days, we’re lucky — oh, so very lucky — to have the Internet. Researching a company is as easy as visiting its Web site or Googling its company name. All the information you could possibly want — and more! — is there, at your fingertips, in the comfort of your dorm room, living room, or a coffee shop.

Yet people still continue to take the lazy way out, sending generic e-mail messages to anyone they find online that might possibly have a job for them. In many cases, they don’t even bother to research the company and possibly job openings while they’re on that company’s Web site. Instead, they zero in on the Contact Us page or link and paste in their job request.

Here’s the most recent gem to cross my e-mail inbox:

I am seeking an internship position in the helicopter industry and was wondering if your company has any positions available in Phoenix. I am approaching my senior year in my Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Administration and training for my Instrument and Commercial Rotorcraft Rating. I am very interested in doing an internship with your company so any information would be greatly appreciated.

Contact FormI should note here that this e-mail message was sent using a form on Flying M Air’s Web site, which is reproduced here as an image (reduced to fit). At the very top of the form is the parenthetical statement, “Note to Pilots: We are not hiring.” I added this when I got tired of getting e-mail messages very similar to the one quoted above. I figured I’d just tell them up front that no jobs were available so they wouldn’t waste their time — or mine. Evidently, reading the page the form was on was too much for this soon-to-be-college graduate.

I composed a response:

You’re “very interested in doing an internship” with my company? Really? What do you know about my company?

I’m sure you sent this same message out to every helicopter operator in the Phoenix area who you could contact. Copy and paste makes it pretty easy these days. Are you just as interested in working for all of them?

And tell me: when you used the contact form on our Web site, didn’t you see where it said “Note to Pilots: We are not hiring?” Did you think that somehow did not apply to you? Or did you skip over all the information about my company and that note right above the form so you could quickly fire out yet another generic request for work?

Did you ever think that maybe you should put a little more effort into your job hunt? That some people in the industry aren’t interested in hiring lazy people who can’t be bothered to learn about a company or read available information about job openings — or lack thereof?

Still interested in doing an internship for my company?

We’re not hiring.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can be a real bitch. But I didn’t send this. Instead, my husband and I agreed on a better response:

Information about job availability can be found on our Web site.

This is actually a more evil response. It will require him to do some work:

  1. Figure out what our Web site is. I didn’t include a signature line with the URL and my e-mail domain name does not match that of my company.
  2. Search the site to find the one place — which is right above the form he used to contact me — where it says we’re not hiring.

And why shouldn’t he put a little effort into a job hunt? Won’t he be required to work if he gets a job?

Early Morning, Over the Orchards

More cherry drying stories.

I slept like crap last night. The wind was blowing hard and the awning of my camper was out, acting like a big sail. It caught the wind and tossed around the camper. Around 2 or 3 AM, it started drizzling just enough to make me wonder how hard it would rain. I dozed fitfully in all of this until around 4:30 AM, when the drizzle turned to a steady rainfall. It started getting light and I knew my phone would ring. I wanted to make sure I had some coffee in me before I had to go out.

I was contracted to dry cherry trees for three growers in the Quincy area. One grower had a “priority contract,” which meant he’d get dried first — if he called. He had 47 acres in Quincy and another 10 acres in East Wenatchee, a 10-minute flight away. The other two growers with their total of 27 acres would get dried afterwards in the order they called. And if I finished that, there was another 50 acres up for grabs in one 10-acre block and one 40-acre block.

My big worry was that I’d have to dry the 47 acres in Quincy, then shoot over to East Wenatchee to dry another 10 and shoot back before drying the 27 total acres belonging to the other two growers. I figured that with drying and travel time, I probably wouldn’t be able to get to that 27 acres for a good two hours after my start.

That was the worse case scenario. It’s also part of what kept me up last night — worries that I wouldn’t be able to provide prompt service to my growers. But, in my defense, the two non-primary growers knew what they were getting into when they signed the contract with me. They were paying considerably less in standby monies to be second and third on my list. They were willing to gamble; I’d just do my best to make everyone happy.

Yellow BlobI thought about this as I made my coffee and fired up my computer to check the weather. I also thought about the other ways the drying flight could play out — ways that were better for all concerned.

Radar showed a line of heavy rain moving west to east across the area. A big yellow blob was sitting right on top of my location at Quincy — which would explain the sound of heavy rain on the roof of my camper. The storm had already mostly passed through Wenatchee. I peeked out the window at the brightening sky and could clearly see where the storm front ended. Beyond it was clear sky. The wind had already died down.

I was sipping my coffee when the first call came. It was the orchard manager for a grower with 15 acres in Quincy. He was also the owner of the 10+40 additional acres that were at the bottom of the priority list. He told me it had stopped raining at the orchard and they needed me to dry. But they’d already picked most of the bings, so the only thing they needed drying in the main block was the sweethearts. He described where they were in relation to a house on the property. It was about 5 acres. When I was finished, I could do the 10 acres near his house. I told him I’d be at the orchard within 15 minutes and reminded him that his 10 acres needed to wait until I’d filled all the other requests. He understood.

I pulled on my flight suit and tank top. It was cold, so I zipped up securely. Then I grabbed my GPS, paperwork, and telephone and headed out the door. It had stopped raining by the time I got out of the truck at the helicopter and started pulling off the cover and tie-downs. It was already preflighted and fueled, but after putting the truck away, I did a good walk-around anyway.

That’s when the second call came. It was a grower with 12 acres in Quincy. I knew he’d started picking, and asked him where I should dry. He said that I may as well dry it all; the trees they’d picked were mixed in with the ones they hadn’t picked. He asked if the priority grower had called. “Not yet,” I said.

“Call me when you’re on your way,” he said. “I’ll have my wind machines running until you get here.”

They all knew that I wouldn’t start drying a block if wind machines were operating in it.

We said our goodbyes and hung up. Now I had two growers with 3 blocks in Quincy: 5 + 12 + 10 acres. The blocks were less than 2 minutes apart. This was looking good for everyone.

Unless the priority grower called.

MG

The first orchard I dried today. The black border indicates the entire orchard block. The blue is the area I understood needed to be dried. The rest was apparently already picked.

I climbed on board and started the engine. While the engine warmed up, I hooked up my cell phone to the intercom system and pulled on my helmet. I punched in the waypoint identifier for the first orchard. A few minutes later, I was climbing out, heading northwest. Within 6 minutes, I was dropping back down at the first orchard, setting in to begin my drying runs.

This first orchard had mature trees of mostly uniform height. I settled down between the first two rows with my skids about 5 feet over the tops of the trees and flew at about 5 knots. I twisted my head around to see where my downwash was going — it was covering the trees nicely. There was no wind — at least not enough to bother me — and I had no trouble turning at the end of the row and coming up the next row.

On the ground, I could see workers waiting by some storage sheds and the road. No one signaled to me or called me, so I just ignored them and and kept working my way back and forth, up and down the rows. I was at it for about 15-20 minutes. Then I was done.

I lifted off and headed in the direction of the 12-acre block. I punched it into the GPS so I could zero in on it without having to waste time looking for it. I had it in sight when I remembered to call the grower. “I’m coming in,” I told him.

JT

The second orchard block I dried today. You can see the pole for the wind machine in the middle of the block.

He had a wind machine running in the block and he hurried to shut it down. As I came down, I watched the pattern of the wind machine’s output on the tree tops. I chose the northwest (lower-left in the photo) corner of the block to begin. These trees were densely planted, but not quite as mature. I could tell from the start that going up every other aisle would throw enough air to dry them. The trouble was, the rows were so close together that I couldn’t always see the gap between them. That cleared up when I’d gotten about 10 rows into the orchard. Suddenly, there were long, white tarps in the empty space between the rows of trees. Well, most of them, anyway. It made it a lot easier to find where I needed to fly.

I was about halfway into it when my phone rang. It was the orchard manager, the guy with 10+40 more acres to dry. He wanted to know if the priority guy had called yet. I told him he hadn’t and that I’d do his 10 acres next.

“How about the North 40 block?” he asked. That was his 40 acres, which was about a 5 minute flight from where I was.

“If I don’t get any other calls, I can do that, too,” I said.

“What about the J and R block?”

He was referring to a 40-acre block owned by another grower. This other grower had another 40-acre block, bringing his cherry blocks to a total of 80 acres. I knew where they were and had their GPS coordinates. But I’d already warned him that I couldn’t take on that much more work. If he wanted those two blocks dried, he’d have to get on contract. I’d find him a pilot, and he’d have to pay standby costs. When I called and told him all this, he said he wasn’t interested. Now, true to form, he was trying to get drying service without being on contract. This really pissed me off and I wasn’t about to let him get away with it without paying a hefty premium.

“I spoke to him,” I said into my helmet’s microphone (and, hence, cellphone), “and told him he’d have to get on contract. He didn’t want to. If I have time, I can dry it, but he’ll have to pay more.” And then I quoted him a rate that was nearly three times what my contracted growers were paying. “It he wants to pay that,” I said, “let me know and I’ll go dry it.”

He told me he’d call back.

I finished up the orchard, being careful to avoid the wind machine tower and powerlines along the last row of trees. Then I pulled up and made the 60-second flight to the 10 acre block.

PB

The third block I dried.

The wind machine was still running when I arrived. I stayed high and called the grower. After a bunch of rings, it went through to voicemail. I was leaving him a message when I saw someone speeding to the base of the wind machine on a quad. A moment later, the blades slowed and stopped.

This block had big, wide aisles between rows of youngish trees. I could easily dry them by flying over every other aisle. The only obstruction was the wind machine tower in his block and another tower in an adjacent block that might be a bit close to my tail rotor when I turned. When I got close, I flew sideways down the aisle until I knew I’d cleared it, then turned and continued, pointing in the direction I was flying. I was finished in less than a half hour.

The grower called again. He wanted to know if the primary grower had called. He still hadn’t. But I wasn’t about to head on out to the North 40 block until I’d spoken to him. We discussed this and hung up as I left the block and started flying towards North 40. I called the primary grower. He said he was on his way to the orchard, but his manager said he didn’t think his cherries needed drying. He’d let me know.

So I flew out to the North 40 block. It was quite a distance from town — a good 15-minute drive on dirt roads — and I don’t have a photo of it. It’s basically an 80-acre block of well-irrigated land with cherries on the north half, apples (I think) on the south half, and a line of windbreaker trees between them. There’s a mobile home on part of the cherry block’s land and a 5-foot fence around the whole block.

The trees are very young and very widely spaced. I could fly up every third aisle at about 8-10 miles per hour and still get them all covered. Because there were no obstructions, the work went quick. I was on one of the last passes when a deer ran out from a row of cherries. It was inside the fence. I made a note to myself to tell the grower.

Then I was done. I’d flown nearly 2 hours straight and had about 1/3 tanks fuel left. I decided to refuel and give the primary grower another call. It was a 6-minute flight back to my base where I shut down, pulled my helmet off, and went about the task of adding 15 gallons of fuel to the main tank. I wanted to have enough fuel on board in case the primary grower needed me to dry all his blocks. But when I called him, he confirmed that the trees were okay. He was worried about the cherries getting beat up more than necessary and decided to take his chances with the moisture on them. And in East Wenatchee, it had hardly rained at all.

I thought I was done, but then my phone rang again. It was the manager for the first orchard. He told me I’d forgotten to dry three rows of sweethearts on the west side of the wind machine. His description confused me. He’d originally told me the cherries were behind the house. It wasn’t until I was airborne over the orchard again that he called and directed me to the orange shaded area shown in the first photo here. I hadn’t “forgotten.” He hadn’t told me they needed drying. It was a shame because it took another 1/2 hour to start up, fly out there, dry it, and fly back. If I’d known about the rows from the start, I could have probably knocked them off in 1/10 or 2/10 hour.

The sun had broken through the clouds by the time I landed back at my base. I made a beeline back to my camper for a bathroom, change of clothes, and cup of coffee. Outside, it was shaping up to be a very nice day.

I was done flying for the day. I’d logged 2.5 hours. It was 8:35 AM.

Later in the day, I spoke to the owner of the second block I’d dried. He complemented me on my flying and said he liked my helicopter. He said I’d done a great job and that I’d arrived at his place faster than any other pilot he’d ever hired. Then he said what they all say: “I hope I don’t have to call you again this season!”

The End is Near

The end of my cherry drying contracts, that is.

I came to Washington State in the beginning of June to start a pair of cherry drying contracts. I was fortunate enough to get a third contract wedged in between the first two, giving me almost seven solid weeks of work.

Well, “work” is not quite an accurate term. I was on standby for all three contracts, but only flew 5.2 hours on two days during one contract.

Thank heaven I was getting standby pay. Without it, I would have taken a heavy loss this summer. But with it, and thanks to the availability of a pilot willing to share ferry costs on both 10+ hour flights between Washington and Arizona, I’ll stay in the black.

My third contract officially ends on Monday, July 28 at nightfall. Unless the weather looks threatening, they’ll likely cut me loose a few hours earlier. It doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving until Tuesday.

But in the meantime, I figured it might be a good idea to drive my orchards, just to see if there was still fruit on the trees. I was in Wenatchee today, so I drove past the one near Wenatchee Airport. There are two cherry orchards across the street from each other. I’m not sure which one is mine. (Heck, it’s hard to tell from the ground when all the photos I have are from the air!) One of them still had plenty of cherries, the other had none. I continued on to Quincy and visited two of my three orchards there. Both were heavy with cherries. One of them is likely to be picked soon — fruit boxes had been laid out neatly in the rows between the trees.

As long as there’s fruit on the trees, there’s a slight chance they’ll ask me to stay on. Although I don’t mind staying an extra day or two, I really don’t want to stay longer than that. I feel done with this place, if you know what I mean.

My trip home will be completed in multiple steps:

  • Tuesday: Fly the helicopter from Quincy to Seattle. Then take Horizon back to Wenatchee and drive back to Quincy. I hope to get all that done on Tuesday, but might have to take an early morning flight on Wednesday to get back to Quincy.
  • Wednesday: Drive the trailer to Walla Walla. That Washington town consistently comes up as a top choice when I go through the quiz on the Find Your Spot Web site. I was there in 2006 during my Midlife Crisis Road Trip and I liked what I saw. But I was only there long enough to do my laundry and visit a downtown independent bookstore. This time, I’ll stay two nights and check it out.
  • Friday: Drive the trailer from Walla Walla to Salt Lake City. I’ll be staying with the family of one of my editors, Megg. She’s going to take me hiking on Saturday.
  • Saturday: Drive the trailer from Salt Lake City to Page, AZ. If I get a late start from SLC, I’ll spend the night on the road and get in sometime on Sunday.
  • Monday: Fly in Mike’s plane from Page, AZ to Wickenburg. I need to get Alex the Bird home.
  • Friday: Fly with Mike on US Air from Phoenix to Seattle.
  • Saturday-Sunday: Fly with Mike and another pilot from Seattle to Page, AZ. I’m hoping to spend the night in the Reading area, where a buddy of mine is on a fire contract. I think we’d all get a lot out of seeing how a fire operation works.

I still have four chapters of a book revision to finish. I goofed off in Wenatchee most of today, but I expect to finish up over the weekend. There’s another book right after it, but I’ll get that started when I get back to Wickenburg and finish it when I settle down in Page.

Cherry Drying on Google Earth

Putting the tracks on a satellite image.

I had my handheld GPS (a Garmin GPSmap 60c) running while I was drying cherries and the GPS tracked my movements. Today, on a whim, I saved the tracklogs and downloaded them to my Mac. Then I brought them into Google Earth and looked at a few of the orchards.

The tracks are not very accurate. They show a zig-zag motion that appears to cross diagonally across the rows. In reality, when I reached the end of each row, I moved to the side and turned to go down another row. So rather than pointed endings and diagonal tracks, an accurate rendering would show squared off endings and parallel tracks.

But I still think it’s interesting to see how I moved over the land. Take a look and see for yourself. These are the tracks from my flights on July 4.

In this first example, I’d flown past the orchard on the south side from west to east, then circled back. I made a wide clockwise circle of the orchard to get my bearings, then came in on the south end, near a white single-wide mobile home. There was a woman there, waving happily when I arrived. She’d left the door of her house open and I blew a bunch of leaves into it. (Oops.) My track took me back and forth up the triangular orchard. Although the track makes it look as if I had a short row near the top, it’s just another inaccuracy in the track. I departed the area with a clockwise circle to the west.

Cherry Drying Tracks

Here are two others representing three dries. I went to the lower one first, passing it by on the south from west to east. I circled back, then came in on the southwest corner. I went back and forth from west to east, then broke off. It started to rain so I repositioned to the airport, which was less than a mile away. I read for a while, then got a call with a new list of orchards. I started back up and took off, returning to re-dry the lower orchard in this image again (hence the double set of track lines) after doing others a bit farther to the west. I did the upper orchard about an hour later, coming in from the northwest and departing from the southeast side back to the west.

Cherry Drying Tracks

Here’s a sloppy looking one that really wasn’t this sloppy. I did the lower orchard first, coming in from the southeast and departing out the northwest. I then went directly to the upper orchard, beginning the dry at the southwest and exiting at the northwest. The pair of diagonal lines going across the bottom of this screenshot represent overflights of the orchard on my way to or from the ones in the previous screenshot.

Cherry Drying Tracks

This is the first orchard I described in some detail in my “I Dry Cherries” post. Again, I really didn’t fly a zig-zag pattern in the main orchard. and I’m certain I flew at least two more rows (one in each direction) in the smaller orchard. But the GPS doesn’t seem to pick up all the points when it makes its tracks. The two other straight lines near the bottom right of the image are overflights to/from other orchards. That’s the Columbia River/Lake Pateros in the bottom right corner of the shot.

Cherry Drying 4.jpg

These are just a few of the orchards. You get the idea. Next time I fly, I’ll use my new geotagger. It can save up to 600,000 waypoints (I think) so I have a feeling the pictures it draws will be a lot more accurate. If they are, I’ll show them off here again.

We all know what a geek I can be.