You'd Starve To Death If I Didn't Do My Insanely Deadly Job
If you, like us, believe that all food comes from the back of the grocery store, you may not be familiar with the practice of crop dusting. And no, it's not just diffusing your farts: Dusting crops via a small plane is a real job, still done to this day. We talked to Peter, an Ag pilot in Colorado, and he told us ...
Crop Dusters Die All The Time
When someone refers to us as crop dusters, it's because we're effectively dusting the crops with our landing gear. I'll regularly fly, no joke, about 10 feet above the ground. For shorter crops like potatoes, that number shrinks to about a foot. See for yourself.
I'm less "Goofy's Barnstormer" and more real-life kamikaze pilot. My flight instructor has been at this since the 1960s, and it still requires his total concentration. This is not like driving, where once you get it down, you can start distracting yourself with podcasts or preparing crepes on the hotplate you have plugged into the lighter port. Flying so low to the ground requires you to constantly adapt to wind and obstacles. Especially power lines.
I'll admit I got cocky during my flying lessons. After my first few flights, I thought I had a feel for my yoke and could level the plane out, after coming out of a dive. My instructor knew that wasn't gonna happen, and yanked up. We grazed over a pond, and mist hit my windshield. That's a bad thing. See, while flying, you generally want to be far enough away that you can't actually taste the scenery.
Around a dozen crop dusters die a year, and in one unfortunate seven-year span, there were nearly 100 deaths. That's 10 percent of all deaths in the entire aviation industry. Remember, there are only around 5,000 people in the United States qualified to fly crop dusters. We're practically an endangered species.
We Work Dangerous, Unhealthy Hours
Crop dusting runs usually go from April to the beginning of fall, but make no mistake: This is a year-round job. We spray fertilizer in spring, fungicide and pesticide during summer, some maintenance sprays during fall, and then make repairs during the winter. Here in Colorado, there's an annual rush to get everything sprayed as soon as the snow starts melting. If the weather starts acting up, that's money out of my pocket and potentially ruined crops for the farmers.
Our busy season is early summer. Because each crop requires different sprays at different times, I usually only have a window of a couple days in which I can hit a particular run for a particular crop. I'll head out around five in the morning and work an 18-hour day with virtually no break. My summers are basically nothing but sprays and sleep. Long-distance truckers are downright healthy compared to us, and that's the first time anybody has ever said that in the history of man.
This is scary enough on roads, no one wants it in the damn sky.
If something breaks on one of our planes during the season, it needs to be fixed literally overnight. I've gone days without sleeping because I had to fix a plane before I could work again. Coffee becomes your best friend, and you get months behind on news and sports. Imagine my shock last year when I emerged from spraying season to find Donald Trump was the clear front runner in the Republican primary. Sadly, there is no spray for that.
Sometimes We Spray Animals And Even People
Our biggest problem isn't obstacles or even the harm Randy Quaid has done to our reputation: It's people. With more homes encroaching on farmland, accidents will happen. Sometimes you'll inadvertently spray a school bus passing on the nearby road. Or maybe just a bunch of kids chilling in a swimming pool beside the intended farm. And if you screw up like that, you will hear about it -- if only because the sprays friggin' reek.
"If you want to spray liquefied goat ass from a plane, that's your business, just keep it off my lawn."
I've never sprayed humans, but I know I've washed down animals on occasion. If we're talking livestock, and they're listed on your flight line, you can pull up to an appropriate height well in advance. But if they just run out beneath you? Rex is getting an impromptu flea bath. Don't worry; it's totally legal!
Oh, that wasn't what you were worried about? You were worried about all the poison? That makes sense.
Well, good news! Pesticides have been tested on these types of animals!
Bad news! The tests didn't go super great!
You don't want to see the udders.
That's why we need to avoid animals if possible, and humans at nearly all costs. If only because the latter can (and happily do!) sue the crap out of us.
Crop Dusting Jobs Are Like The Private Sector's Top Gun
With so many crop dusters near retirement age (or, you know, dead), there's a pretty critical need for replacements. Unfortunately, it's very hard to get a job in this field.
That field, too. And the one next door. Basically all of the fields, really.
Farms go with established firms first, and they will only hire younger pilots if the older ones are already booked. I lucked out because my dad was one of my instructor's top clients, so I had an easy foot in the door. Even then, it took about four years of flying with an instructor before I could go solo.
And organic farmers will only let you do it if your plane runs on algae fuel and the wings made from locally sourced kale.
I've seen experienced airline pilots have a much rougher start in this business than I did. And then there are all the veterans who apply: They got their experience piloting multi-million dollar war machines, but that doesn't totally transfer here since flying a fighter jet and flying a prop plane to spray crops are two different beasts. As my boss said, "They're not ready. I don't care if they have thousands of hours and shot down planes. They aren't flying on instinct."
You can see the rest of the speech here.
You may have flown in literal wars, but it didn't prepare you to battle your newest and most unforgiving enemy: Weevils.
Without Crop dusting, Millions Would Die
A lot of our pilots come from farming families, and there's a reason for that. These guys know firsthand how necessary crop dusting is: Without it, total agricultural production in the US would go down by 50 percent, otherwise known as literal mass famine. Losing California alone would cause food costs to skyrocket, and countless people to starve.
"Well, looks like we're eating another one of you this year.
Prepare your brothers and sisters for the tournament."
I'm one of those farm-born pilots: I remember one year as a kid, a pesticide run missed part of our wheat crop, and we lost almost all of it. We had enough money to stay afloat, but just barely. My parents' life savings were basically depleted by the end of that year. One tiny oversight and your whole livelihood is gone. Sure, some pilots think the money is good, and others just live for the thrill of playing chicken with Mother Earth, but I became a crop duster to save farms.
Okay, maybe a little of it is because I legally get to do this everyday.
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder guy at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience? Hit us up at email@example.com today!
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