Saturday, June 9, 2007

Air Tractor

Driving back from west-central Oklahoma Thursday evening, we (MSR, LCL, and BEK) were treated to a beautiful sunset, which lit up a supercell thunderstorm blowing up on the dryline far to our east like an orange beacon.

We were south of Altus, and the scene demanded a photograph. Serendipity happened to bring us to a halt roadside near a field where a crop duster demonstrated his trade, and after a couple of adjustments of location, we ended up in a great spot not only to include the Air Tractor AT502 doing his aerial gymnastics in our photos, but to have a couple of "close encounters" at the end of the field. The pilot slipped over us so close we could've nearly spat on the underside of the plane. We were close--not quite "North by Northwest" close, but close enough to make us question whether or not we really wanted to be right under this aerial applicator as he dumped God-knows-what on the fields.

Afterwards, we mused on this way of making a living. Certainly, short of flying in an air show, these pilots are the closest thing left to true barnstormers. The job seemed romantic--dipping and climbing and turning and diving over the fertile lands (check out this video on You Tube--simply amazing editing and music, and scenes of these planes flying at night to boot, headlights on, guided by GPS). It is dangerous work--it's said there's no such thing as an old crop duster pilot. One of us surmised that a HUGE set of balls were required to do this. We all agreed. It was dusk, and there were power lines and a tall radio tower near by, not to mention trees.

You gotta respect these pilots. What a show. And here's the photo (click on it for a full-sized view).

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