A Speck of Red

My helicopter, at the orchard.

Yesterday, after doing some cleanup in my camper, which is now parked at the orchard near my helicopter, I took a drive up the hillside behind the orchard. The road winds up and around, though thousands of acres of fruit trees. When I reached the tall antenna with its scary guy-wires, I spotted a trail from the main road. I parked the truck, grabbed my camera, and went for a tiny hike.

The goal was to shoot the orchard from the hillside behind it. I found a perfect spot and took this photo.

Orchard and Helicopter

CloseupIn the foreground, you can see the orchard’s upper reservoir. Farther down, beyond many cherry trees, is a smaller, algae-covered pond. There’s a parking area on the close side and you can see my trailer parked there. On the far side is a tiny, bright red speck. That’s my helicopter.

To be fair, my helicopter’s cockpit cover is on it, so it’s not fully exposed. I assume it would be a lot easier to see with the cover off. Before I relocate, I’ll pull the cover off, drive back up to this spot, and get a shot. Hopefully, it’ll be a crisper day and I’ll get up there while the light is still good.

In the close-up, you can see the taco truck that arrived not long after I left the orchard. The folks quit working at 10 AM (they start at 5 AM) because of excessive heat. It got up to 107°F in Wenatchee yesterday; I assume it got up to at least 100°F at the orchard some 1500 feet higher in elevation. The guys — mostly Mexican farm workers — were quitting for the day. The grower offers them soda pop and beer at day’s end; I assume they get lunch from the truck.

The helicopter is parked at the edge of the pond with one skid on the gently sloping embankment. A nice easy slope landing site. (And no, it won’t fall into the pond.) There’s a road between it and the shelter (dark reddish). They use the area for staging the cherries — loading them on a flatbed truck for transport up to the chillers and refrigerator truck in the main packing area. I’ll probably get some video footage of the operation later in the week for anyone who is interested. It’s amazing how much work goes into bringing cherries to market. Hard to imagine how anyone can make a profit with prices this year as low as $1/pound.

6 thoughts on “A Speck of Red

  1. Have been reading an artical written about you doing cherry drying,in Heli-News here in Australia. You mentioned that you don’t fy at night to dry cherries, I was wondering how do the cherries that get wet at night not need to be dried. I have been involved drying cherries here in Australia and most of the flying we had to do was at night.We are required to fly as needed 24/7.

    Your site is interesting reading.


    • Ashley: I don’t know exactly what criteria the growers use to determine whether cherries need to be dried. I do know that temperature is an issue. The warmer it is, the more urgently the cherries need to be dried. Overnight, the temperatures drop, so there’s not as much urgency. However, if it does rain at night, I’ll be wakened by a phone call in the morning to make sure I’m over the trees at first light.

      Maybe it’s warmer at night where you dry?

      You helicopter pilots in Australia are cowboys! Please don’t tell the U.S. cherry growers that you fly at night. Most of us here wouldn’t dream of doing this kind of flying in the dark. After all, we’re only 5-10 feet over the trees and there are often obstacles to get around.

      And thanks for the kind words about my blog. I try to keep things interesting.

  2. Maria: No I would not tell the US cherry growers that we dry at night, you know I have never asked the growers here why at night, just provided the service. We also do frost control and that can crank up as eary as 3-4 am and you fly until after daylight.But we are duly rated with night ratings and have lights positioned around the target areas. Night work on the cherries at 5-10 feet can be interesting but I find if you have good landing lights, follow the rows and stay in your intended target area it all works well. Frost can be a little more interesting as you have to work between 60 and 120 feet, where ever the inversion layer of warmer air is so that your down wash circulates it down into the crops.

    You know I used to be one of those Heicopter coyboys! I mustered cattle in Northern Australia for many years( 12 years or more ) now I prefer the more sedate flying of Agricultural Spraying !! Some of us arn’t made for the straight and level stuff.

    I like your choice of helicopter, I have a fleet of four R44’s all on agricultural work, reliability and low pilot work load make them a very functional and user friendly helicopter.

    Cheers and safe flying.

    • Ashley: Frost control is done at night here. It usually requires light bars fixed to the helicopter skids. I haven’t done this kind of work yet. I don’t have an “in” and I’m not too anxious to get one — although with a 60-120 foot flight level, it doesn’t seem nearly as dangerous as I was led to believe. (I’m accustomed to flying in the shaded area of the HV diagram.)

      I’d like to learn spraying and other more lucrative flying. Tours/charters pay the bills, but they’re not very challenging and really don’t earn much money. Photo flights are probably my favorite kind of flying — especially for race events.

      Here in the U.S., you don’t need a special rating to fly at night. One of the things I offer in my tour business is what I call a “moonlight dinner tour,” where I fly folks around Phoenix at night and land at an airport with a good restaurant for dinner. Lots of pilots don’t like to fly at night, but I think it’s a good skill to have.

      Would love to fly in Australia some day. I think I’d be pretty good moving cattle with an R22.

  3. Maria: Night flying doesn’t come natural to me, I seldom transit any where after last light. Drying cherry’s and frost work we position the helicopter to the edge of the target paddock prior to dark so that we can lift off and slide straight onto the target, should there be movement between paddocks at night it has all been pre-planned during daylight and then hover taxi following a truck with driving lights.

    If you ever get the opertunity to experience mustering, do it.

    Mustering by helicopter is; as a pilot, you get to experience the ultimate union between pilot and machine. You instinctivly manipulate the helicopter as it were an extension of your body; to where and how you need to be positioned to get desired reaction from the herd you are mustering. Not sure if you have ever seen a sheep dog herding sheep ? the principle is the same, where to apply presure and when to leave well enough alone.A good muster pilot will have a good knowlage on cattle behaviour and hone his skill in low stress herd management. Generaly the helicopters used by the professionals are extremely well maintained and trusted as you are enclosed in the shaded area of HV chart for long periods and should you encounter a failure there is not much room for recovery. You tend to treat your machine as a living friend which has feelings, treat it how you would like to be treated; (I look after you – you look after me). There is allways an exception to this rule, as you can appreciate this type of flying can attract some “cowboy’s”, just because you have a Gentex helmet, a pair of Red Wing boots and an R22 doesn’t make you a mustering pilot.

    • Ashley: I get that feeling of being one with my helicopter quite often when I’m doing intense photo work, like race boats or cars. I think that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. Cherry drying also becomes automatic after a while, but in a less enjoyable and rewarding way. I’d like to try mustering via helicopter. I’ve had a little practice on horseback. ;-)

What do you think?