Cherry Drying: A Narrated Video

Experience the glamour of being a helicopter pilot!

Drying Cherries
The camera position offers a clear view out the windscreen, as well as the instrument panel, and my hand on the collective. It also offers partial views out the side windows.

I’ve been fiddling around with my GoPro camera setup. A few years back, I positioned a mount between the two back seats. A few weeks ago, I put my Hero 3 Black in there and played around with various video options. I was satisfied with — I can’t say I really like — the results. Other people who saw stills and videos seem to like it a lot.

I think adding audio really made it better, though. Through the use of a cable I bought online, I can get audio right from the helicopter’s intercom system. That means you can hear anyone talking in a headset as well as radio communication. I think this can be an excellent teaching tool.

Cherry Drying?

I’ve been drying cherries in Washington state since 2008. As I write this, I’m starting my ninth season.

If you have no idea what this is all about, here’s the short version: In the last few weeks before harvest, cherries are susceptible to damage when it rains. When the cherries get wet, they absorb water though the skin and they split. They can also get mold or mildew growth. It’s bad; if 50% or more of a grower’s crop is damaged, he won’t pick at all. So growers hire helicopters with pilots to stand by in the area. When it rains, they call us out to hover low over the trees. This shakes the branches, thus shaking off most of the water.

Want more info? Here’s a post I wrote about this years ago.

I gave it a try on Saturday when I dried a new (to me) cherry orchard in East Wenatchee. The resulting video was about 45 minutes long. But when I edited out the flight to the orchard and the flight home, it shortened up to 25 minutes.

So if you’d like a good, long look at what it’s like to fly a helicopter low and slow over 16 acres of cherry trees in a wire-rich environment, here’s your chance. I warn you now: it isn’t riveting stuff. In fact, it’s downright tedious. The only thing that makes it remotely sharable is the narration, where I chatter away about what I’m doing and thinking. See for yourself:

I warned you!

And yes, I should be wearing a flight suit. I promise to wear it for the rest of the season.

And while I should also be wearing my helmet, there’s a limit to how much discomfort I’m willing to endure these days while doing this work.

8 thoughts on “Cherry Drying: A Narrated Video

  1. That was riveting, way better than anything on the telly.

    That was far harder than I had imagined. Trees of different heights, a sloping bumpy orchard and worst of all those poles and wires cutting across the job. Full concentration required throughout. Good job.

    • Riveting? I was kidding when I used that word in the description. It’s tedious but, in the case of this particular wire-filled orchard, challenging. It isn’t that difficult if you have the hovering skills and really know your aircraft. I’ve flown 2,000 hours in mine and the darn thing is like an extension of my body and mind when I fly — no real thought required. Just watching for obstacles and staying as close to the trees as I can to really shake them like crazy.

    • Well, I can hover an R22 and turn carefully and gently at low altitude, over a flat training area, but my natural response to seeing posts and wires is to want to raise the collective, twist the grip and get the hell out! You have over- ridden that instinct and if there is any worry, you certainly aren’t showing it. Respect.
      Question. Can you get too low? I mean can you create so much down draft that you blow the cherries off the trees? Those branches were really shaking.

    • Well, the goal is to get the trees dried as well as possible. I’m flying so slow and know the wires are there so I don’t react in panic. I just try to estimate exactly where the wires are and where the ends of my rotor blades are. (I think that’s what gets R22 pilots flying R44s in trouble — they are so accustomed to a smaller aircraft.) I get as close as I’m SURE I can — not as close as I THINK I can — and then move back away to start another row. You get used to it.

      There’s a saying that some of the pilots have: “It’s all just cherry pie.” The meaning: It’s not worth risking your life for a bunch of fruit. Anyone who doesn’t get that should not be doing this work.

      And yes, you can get too low. An R44 can damage rainier cherries at the altitude I was flying at. I need to be about 10 feet up for those. Larger helicopters — like the Sikorskys they use up in the Chelan area to dry the very big orchards — can break trees if they fly too low.

  2. Thanks for posting this Maria! I’ve recorded most of my flights with a gopro (later a virb elite) with an audio cable and find it to be a great review tool for going back in a flight.

    • I’m just getting started with the narrated flying videos. I have some ideas for using them on flights with passengers, too. As you probably realize, editing them for sharing can be a time consuming pain in the butt. I have HOURS of GoPro video just sitting on hard disks because I simply can’t be bothered editing them into something presentable.

  3. I really enjoyed your video, thank you so much! I watched another one also (you were in a flight suit). I was very impressed by your zero reading on the VSI and the perfect control of altitude and power settings throughout all the passes you made through the sections of orchard. I recently got my 44 endorsement (up from a 22) and I did get a low rotor RPM horn from holding the collective too tight on the taxi back to the hangar! The lower I fly, the tighter I seem to grip the collective. My question relates to airspeed – on the video it looks like you’re going between 0 and 10K although the reference ground speed looks faster than that through the side windows. Are you going above ETL at all times? I couldn’t see any wind either – the trees not being shaken by the helicopter were very still and the only suggestion there was some wind was looking at the water surface. Do you worry about wind direction when you decide how to cover a particular orchard – would you pick crosswind passes or upwind/downwind passes or just go with the rows and aisles? If you’re going so slowly, how much of a concern is it? You may think the work is tedious, but I think it shows how skilled you are! Thank you again

    • I think I just watched the flightsuit video the other day. Forgot I did that one.

      It’s easier to dry cherries when there’s no wind. When there is wind over more than maybe 5 kn, you have to start dealing with the helicopter wanting to point into the wind, as well as your downwash trying an area other than that right below you. I have dried trees in wind up to 15-20 knots. Much more than that and Mother Nature does the job without me.

      I generally dry cherries at 5 to 10 kn groundspeed. I am never above ETL. I don’t pay attention at all to the airspeed indicator, since I’m flying sideways quite a bit of the time and am rarely in trim. I am always flying within the shaded area of the height velocity diagram — the dead man’s curve. I’m usually 5 to 10 feet over the treetops, although my skids can often be in the upper leaves of a tree. I usually fly with a case of engine oil in the front passenger seat footwell to add more weight to the front of the helicopter and keep the tail rotor out of the treetops. I once cut off the top of the tree with my tail rotor and that was a frightening experience.

      My direction of flight usually depends on how the trees are planted and whether there’s a hillside involved. I always go up or down an aisle of trees – never across. I will fly sideways when flying forward would put my tail rotor in trees on a downhill slope. I very rarely fly backwards.

      It’s funny that you should mention the skill involved because I never really considered it until I watched that video again the other day. I kind of make it look easy. The one thing cherry drying does for a pilot is teach hovering skills. There’s absolutely no room for error. I’ve been doing it for 10 years now and Must have close to 300 hours over the trees. Hovering comes naturally. The more you practice anything, the better you get at it.

What do you think?