Cherry Drying Season

Spring is cherry season, which means all kinds of helicopters come into our area for cherry drying contracts. This year, I was fortunate enough to know one of the pilots working what turned out to be a pretty rainy season. Luck wasn’t all working for me though–I had a 1-week business trip and had scheduled my BFR right in the wettest period. I ended up with just 0.8 hrs actually flying the contract with him, but got to see him work a couple of fields from the ground as well as from the air.


Yeah, he’s doing it in an R22. I watched a UH-1 do the same field a few years ago, and it seemed like he was 50-75 feet up. In contrast, the R22 was right down on top of the trees. Once the R22 is low enough, the force of the downwash is the same though–it looks like the trees are going to lay over flat when you’re right over the top of them.

On the flight that I did with him, we covered what seemed to me to be a nightmare scenario. Lots of farmers out here have small cherry orchards–one of the reasons why you need to find a cherry contract is because those contracts serve lots of small plots. It’s not uncommon to find a house in the middle of an orchard which brings all the other obstructions. Rows of trees to break the high winds border many orchards, and there are usually wind turbines spread throughout for frost control during the cold desert evenings in the spring. This field had all those obstructions, plus an unusual layout, power lines running at an angle through the middle, uneven terrain, and a few birdhouses just for fun. It’s unnerving enough to be hovering so high (even though we were only a few feet off the tops of the trees) and in gusty conditions. Being surrounded on all sides by obstructions–and having to maneuver close enough to them to dry the trees below them–added to the fun. Just keeping track of what to look out for was beyond my ability, and I was content to watch this 1000+ hour pilot do his work.