Day In The Work Life: Crop duster

Marketplace Staff Mar 27, 2009
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Day In The Work Life: Crop duster

Marketplace Staff Mar 27, 2009
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TESS VIGELAND: A little bit ago we talked about negotiating your rent. But there are things that you can’t haggle over, namely airline fees. This week US Airways President Scott Kirby said that fees for checked luggage, meals and even postcard-sized pillows are here to stay. Even for frequent fliers.
But on this week’s a Day in the Work Life, we’ll meet another kind of frequent flyer, who’s not too concerned about those a la carte comforts.


Ray Dyson: Mothers should always caution their sons about making a career choice that requires a crash helmet. My name is Ray Dyson. I’m 58 years old. And I’m a pilot for Southeastern Aerial Crop Service in Fort Pierce, Fla. Many people refer to us as crop dusting. Nowadays we refer to ourselves as aerial applicators.

I’ve been doing this since 1973. I had a childhood passion for flight, so I started flying as soon as I could get a driver’s license and drive to the airport. Here at Southeastern we fly air tractor aircrafts. It’s a large, single engine turbo prop airplane. It has about a 50 foot wingspan, about 800 horsepower.

Most mornings around here, like this morning, was pretty typical where I started at daylight and I covered about 720 acres. And on a good day I can cover anywhere from 500 to 1,000 acres.

Most of our application is for spraying and that sort of thing is done at an altitude of between seven and ten feet above the crop, and we generally go in at about 140 to 150 miles per hour.

A good ag pilot in today’s world can expect to make up to $100,000 a year or more. The industry’s changed a lot in the last 25 or 30 years. When I started in this business I was flying converted World War II trainers, stearman biplanes, and operators has bought these things surplus after the war and didn’t have a whole lot invested in them. And basically if you were crazy enough to fly it, they were willing to hire you and let you do it. Nowadays things have to be a whole lot more sane than that. These airplanes cost close to a million dollars a copy, so they’re very, very strict about the kind of pilots that they put in the airplane.

The primary hazards that we have to look out for is wires. There’s naturally barns and structures like that. And one big problem that’s developed over the last number of years is cell phone towers. They’re going up everywhere, so we’ve got to watch out for those because sometimes they’ll just seem to spring up overnight.

When you’re doing well at this, it becomes like a zen-like meditation. There’s no more acute sense of living in the moment as when you’re flying an 800 horsepower ag airplane 150 miles an hour and being totally focused on what you’re doing and everything else is outside.

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