One of the helicopter companies I worked for in the ’70’s was a struggling Ma & Pa outfit that had started with a dream and not enough capitol. I was a low time pilot, with son number one just one year old and leaving home to fly in the bush was not an option.
Arrow-Smith Helicopters had started a new, two helicopter operation about 30 miles from our home. The company flew ag, (agricultural aerial spraying) and anything else that would make a buck. Arrow-Smith needed a second pilot and I got the job.
I had never flown ag but after flying low and slow over seed corn I had the basic concept. Corn pollination as it was known, involved flying around with a seed company field man and zipping down the rows of male corn plants blowing the pollen all over the tasseled female corn. We flew with the doors off for ventilation and the pollen got me sneezing as we pulled up and back down the rows. I hoped that I would be able to stay away from the pesticides that I knew I would be spraying when we got busier. Sneezing was bad enough but some of the insecticides we used could kill you or at least make you wish you were dead.
The day arrived when my boss told me to fly a couple of clean out loads on a field he had just sprayed. After I shutdown I received some quick pointers from the expert and was told to load light on the next job and try not to kill myself. That piece of sage advice has followed me my entire career and is usually given in place of adequate preparation and training.
When we were not spraying, corn pollinating, frost flying or towing banners we lifted things; did light house crew changes and my least favorite, gave rides. Joy rides at county fairs, car dealerships, shopping Malls and plowing matches. It was farm country.
After spraying tomatoes all week I was sick of looking at them. Unfortunately for me the Leamington County Fair was on that weekend. Me and my little Bell 47 would be giving rides from the fairgrounds racetrack, circling the Heinz factory and the City water tower that boasted, “Tomato Capitol of Canada”, whooppee!
Saturday morning at the fair and we already had a big line of customers waiting. Two people for three minutes, unload, load and go again. Stopped for refueling my cash taker/loader walked over and told me that a lady in line wanted to talk to me. Exiting through our snow fence opening in the make shift heliport I spotted the lady in the yellow dress. A farmers wife with that familiar lighter colored forehead that farmers get from wearing a cap for 12 hours driving a tomato picking rig or tomato dump truck.
She couldn’t have been more than 5 foot three and what made her look even smaller was the gorilla like man she held onto with her left hand. On second glance I could see that he was a boy in a big mans body.
The lady smiled and explained about her boy. “He has been terribly excited the whole time you have been flying. He will be no trouble.” I told her that they were welcome to fly and cautioned my loader when we were out of ear shot about making sure he didn’t climb up on the skids, kept his arms down and for God’s sake don’t let him grab the door to pull himself inside.
I knew then, that I should have taken a few moments to let them do a practice loading but there was a big lineup and well; I had yet to see as many things go wrong, as I have, thirty years later.
more to come… tomorrow