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My First Flying Job.

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A few years ago I was going to write a book about flying, but only wrote a few short stories...


...anyhow here is one about my first job in aviation..





The Tobacco Fields - By Chuck Ellsworth



For generations the farmers of southern Ontario have planted cared for harvested and cured tobacco in a small area on the northern shores of lake Erie. Our part in this very lucrative cash crop was aerial application of fertilizers and pesticides better known as crop dusting.


At the end of the twentieth century this form of farming is slowly dying due to the ever-increasing movement of the anti-smoking segment of society. Although few would argue the health risks of smoking it is interesting that our government actively supports both sides of this social problem. Several times in the past ten or so years I have rented a car and driven back to the tobacco farming area of Southern Ontario, where over forty years ago I was part of that unique group of pilots who earned their living flying the crop dusting planes.


The narrow old highways are still there, but like the tobacco farms they are slowly fading into history as newer and more modern freeways are built. The easiest way of finding tobacco country is to drive highway 3, during the nineteen forties and early fifties this winding narrow road was the main route from Windsor through the heart of tobacco country and on to the Niagara district. Soon after leaving the modern multi lane 401 to highway 3 you will begin to realize that although it was only a short drive you have drifted back a long way in time. Driving through the small villages and towns very little has changed and life seems to be as it was in the boom days of tobacco farming, when transients came from all over the continent for the harvest. They came by the hundreds to towns like Aylmer, Tillsonberg, Deli and Simcoe, these towns that were synonymous with tobacco have changed so little it is like going back in time.


Several of the airfields we flew our Cubs, Super Cubs and Stearmans out of in the fifties and early sixties are still there. Just outside of Simcoe highway 3 runs right past the airport and even before turning into the driveway to the field I can see that after all these years nothing seems to have changed. I could be in a time warp and can imagine a Stearman or Cub landing and one of my old flying friends getting out of his airplane after another morning killing tobacco horn worms, and saying come on Chuck lets walk down to the restaurant and have breakfast. The tobacco hornworm was a perennial pest and our most important and profitable source of income. Most of my old companion's names have faded from memory as the years have passed and we went our different ways but some of them are easy to recall.


Like Lorne Beacroft a really great cropduster and Stearman pilot. Lorne and I shared many exciting adventures in our airplanes working together from the row crop farms in Southern Ontario to conifer release spraying all over Northern Ontario for the big pulp and paper companies. Little did we know then that many years later I would pick up a newspaper thousands of miles away and read about Lorne being Canadas first successful heart transplant. I wonder where he is today and what he is doing?


There are others, Tom Martindale whom I talked to just last year after over forty years, now retired having flown a long career with Trans Canada Airlines, now named Air Canada. Then there was Howard Zimmerman who went on to run his own helicopter company and still in the aerial applicating business last I heard of him. And who could forget Bud Boughner another character that just disappeared probably still out there somewhere flying for someone.


I have been back to St. Thomas, another tobacco farming town on highway 3 twice in the last several years to pick up airplanes to move for people in my ferry business. The airport has changed very little over the years. The hanger where I first learned to fly cropdusters is still there with the same smell of chemicals that no Ag. Pilot can ever forget. It is now the home of Hicks and Lawrence who were in the business in the fifties and still at it, only the airplanes have changed.


My first flying job started in that hangar, right from a brand new commercial license to the greatest flying job that any pilot could ever want. There were twenty-three of us who started the crop dusting course early that spring, in the end only three were hired and I was fortunate to have been one of them.


With the grand total of 252 hours in my log book I started my training with an old duster pilot named George Walker. Right from the start he let me know that I was either going to fly this damned thing right on its limits and be absolutely perfect in flying crop spraying patterns or the training wouldn't last long. It was fantastic not only to learn how to really fly unusual attitudes but do it right at ground level.


To become a good crop duster pilot required that you accurately fly the airplane to evenly apply the chemicals over the field being treated. We really had to be careful with our flying when applying fertilizers in early spring as any error was there for all to see as the crop started growing. This was achieved by starting on one side of the field maintaining a constant height, airspeed and track over the crop. Just prior to reaching the end of your run full power was applied, and at the last moment the spray booms were shut off and at the same time a forty-five degree climb was initiated. As soon as you were clear of obstructions a turn right or left was made using forty five to sixty degrees of bank. After approximately three seconds a very quick turn in the opposite direction was entered until a complete one hundred and eighty degree change of direction had been completed. If done properly you were now lined up exactly forty-five feet right or left of the track you had just flown down the field.


From that point a forty-five degree dive was entered and with the use of power recovery to level flight was made at the exact height above the crop and the exact airspeed required for the next run down the field in the opposite direction to your last pass. Speed was maintained from that point by reducing power.


To finish the course and be one of the three finally hired was really hard to believe. To be paid to do this was beyond belief. When the season began we were each assigned an airplane, a crash helmet, a tent and sleeping bag and sent off to set up what was to be our summer home on some farmers field. Mine was near Langdon just a few miles from lake Erie.


Last year I tried without success to find the field where my Cub and I spent a lot of that first summer. Time and change linked with my memory of its location being from flying into it rather than driving to it worked against me and I was unable to find it. Remembering it however is easy, how could one forget crawling out of my tent just before sunrise to mix the chemicals? Then pump it into the spray tank and hand start the cub. Then to be in the air just as it was getting light enough to see safely and get in as many acres as possible before the wind came up and shut down our flying until evening. Then with luck the wind would go down enough to allow us to resume work before darkness would shut us down for the day. The company had a very good method for assuring we would spray the correct field.


Each new job was given to us by the salesman who after selling the farmer drew a map for the pilots with the location of the farm and each building and its color plus all the different crops were written on the map drawn to scale. As well as the buildings all trees, fences and power lines were drawn to scale. It was very easy for us to find and positively identify our field to be sprayed and I can not remember us making any errors in that regard.


Sadly there were to many flying errors made and during the first three years that I crop-dusted eight pilots died in this very demanding type of flying in our area. Most of the accidents were due to stalling in turns or hitting power lines, fences or trees.


One new pilot who had only been with us for two weeks died while doing a low level stall turn and spinning in, he was just to low to recover from the loss of control. He had been on his way back from a spraying mission when he decided to put on an airshow at the farm of his girlfriend of the moment. This particular accident was to be the last for a long time as those of us who were flying for the different companies in that area had by that time figured out what the limits were that we could not go beyond.


Even though there were a lot of accidents in the early years they at least gave the industry the motivation to keep improving on flying safety, which made a great difference in the frequency of pilot error accidents. Agricultural flying has improved in other areas as well especially in the use of toxic chemicals.


In 1961 Rachel Carson wrote a book called "The silent spring. " This book was the beginning of public awareness to the danger of the wide area spraying of chemicals especially the use of D.D.T. to control Mosquitoes and black flies.


For years all over the world we had been using this chemical not really aware that it had a very long-term residual life. When Rachels book pointed out that D.D.T. had began to build up in the food chain in nature, she also showed that as a result many of the birds and other species were in danger of being wiped out due to D.D.T. Her book became a best seller and we in the aerial application business were worried that it would drastically affect our business, and it did.


The government agency in Ontario that regulated pesticides and their use called a series of meetings with the industry. From these meetings new laws were passed requiring us to attend Guelph agricultural college and receive a diploma in toxicology and entomology. I attended these classes and in the spring of 1962 passed the exams and received Pest Control License Class 3 - Aerial Applicator.


My license number was 001. Now if nothing else I can say that I may not have been the best but I was the first. Without doubt the knowledge and understanding of the relationship of these chemicals to the environment more than made up for all the work that went into getting the license. From that point on the industry went to great length to find and use chemicals less toxic to our animal life and also to humans.


It would be easy to just keep right on writing about aerial application and all the exciting and sometimes boring experiences we had, however I will sum it all up with the observation that crop dusting was not only my first flying job it was without doubt the best. I flew seven seasons' crop dusting and I often think of someday giving it another go, at least for a short time.

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" so what was your 1st helicopter flying job?? "


Aerial applicating in Windsor Ont flying the mighty Hughes 300....


I really lucked in they needed someone with an aerial application license to apply for their OC, so they paid me to get my helicopter license, I did it in Detroit with an American instructor in a Canadian Hughes 269 with a manual rotor engagement...


..things were more lax in those days and the cross training from fixed to rotating wings was 25 hours.....and my instructor was a real magician because he figured that I could set a new record for him and he soloed me in 3 hours and 40 minutes of dual...did one solo circuit before sanity returned to him and he hopped back in and gave me a bunch more training before I soloed again...


...yeh things were different then but some of us survived and over the years learned a lot about aviation.....


....here is another short story...about learning and luck...



Arcturus, Missing Hours and Fate - By Chuck Ellsworth


Finally after over a week of just plain tough flying weather the stars came out and we would depart Johnston Point on Banks Island for what should be an easy flight. This flight would turn out to be remembered forever as one of the closest calls I have ever had in almost fifty years of flying. The year was 1975, late February. We were flying supplies to a cat train that was shooting seismic lines for oil exploration on Banks Island in the high Arctic.


Johnson Point, an oil exploration base camp with a paved runway, was the main airport for supplying the western Arctic. In these very high latitudes winter means total darkness for months and navigating in that very hostile environment is difficult at the best of times. We had just gotten our first twin otter equipped with a new navigation aid called Global Navigation System. G.N.S. was based on very low power radio transmitters located in various parts of the world. In order for the computer to be able to navigate it had to acquire at least three G.N.S. transmitters.


Latitude and longitude had to be entered, for both our departure and destination points, in the computer. This entry was done with little wheels to select the numbers and other information for each trip. A further limiting factor with G.N.S. was that we had to have accurate positions or the computer to navigate to wherever we set it. Cat trains are always on the move, consequently requiring a navigator with each train to take celestial shots whenever he could to accurately keep track of their new location.


Once the G.N.S. stations were acquired and the trip was set up it was so accurate we could fly several hundred miles and then return to our parking ramp at the airport without a hitch. To us G.N.S. was like having died and gone to heaven. Being able to navigate so accurately in the high Arctic, where the magnetic compass always points strait down, was a "god send". This particular trip to the seismic train was uneventful with no cloud cover at all just the stars from horizon to horizon. After the last week of flying all our trips from takeoff to landing on solid instruments while relying on two radar altimeters one in front of each pilot for our landing decision height this one had been easy. The only visibility restriction we had was the complete loss of forward visibility in the snow which blew up when we went into reverse to stop on the short runway, which had been ploughed for us, on the ice.


Sometimes these strips were not much over 1000 feet long due to the location of the cat train at that time therefore, reverse was a necessity to stop before we ran off the landing strip. With clear weather and no rush to get back to Johnson Point we went to the cookhouse, had a leisurely meal, listened to the tape recorder playing music such as North to Alaska, which we of course changed to South to Alaska. Finally, off to the airplane we went where we decided to **** with waiting to reset the G.N.S. Instead, with such a clear night, we would fly back to home base using the astro compass. After lighting up the two P.T.6's we taxied back to the runway and lined up with the flare pots. We got the almanac out and shot Arcturus. It is one of the easiest stars to identify and shoot due to its position and brightness in the sky. Arcturus is the first bright star out from the handle of the Big Dipper. We read our heading on the astro compass, set our direction indicators (gyros) and off we went for Johnston Point. Once leveled off in cruise there was nothing but the sound of the engines and the big canopy of stars that ended in a faint white blur which was the endless Arctic snow just barley visible below us in the faint starlight.


Sitting in the warm cockpit with only the sound of those dependable turbine engines and no sense of movement through the dark night I slowly became aware that something was wrong but could not quite figure out what it was. I remember asking the co-pilot to see if Johnson Point was showing up on the A.D.F. After a few minutes he had no luck, now I came wide awake and said, "This doesn't look right. Let's get another shot on Arcturus.". Once more I gave him the time and he read the almanac to set the astro compass. Again there was no change in our D.I. settings. All of a sudden a possibility came to me and I asked him what time he had. When he read his watch we both knew we were really in trouble as there was almost three hours difference between our watches. I will never forget the feeling of real fear when I realized that we had departed the cat train with a D.I. setting that was almost forty-five degrees in error.


The sudden realization of just how serious our position was made it very difficult to convert the position of the stars versus what I figured they should look like. Now there was no doubt, in my mind, we were far off our track for Johnston Point, so far in fact I knew we might never be found.


Time was now critical. We had to decide which watch was right. Making a quick position guess based on nothing but the time we had flown on this heading and instinct we turned ninety degrees to the right starting a slow cruise climb for better fuel burn. All we could do now was wait and hope.


In this part of the high Arctic, at night, there is absolutely nothing but endless white, to try to recognize any feature below you is hopeless. Now both of us were really worried, questions and doubts started. Whose watch was set wrong? Had we turned the right way? Why had we not noted the runway heading after landing? Why had we not written the heading down so as to be able to confirm our star shot? Why did we not check both of our watches, especially in that the clock in the airplane did not work which in these temperatures was normal? Radio reception was so poor we could not raise anyone on H.F. or V.H.F. then all of a sudden the A.D.F. came alive and there was the Johnston Point N.D.B. strait ahead. Soon we could see the lights of our destination on the horizon. For some time I had been quite concerned about our fuel state. Seeing the lights in the distance was just to good to be true. However, to be on the safe side we stayed at eleven thousand until we could definitely make the airport as distances can be so deceiving at night in the high Arctic.


Descending through one thousand feet the low fuel light came on telling us we had eleven minutes of fuel left in the front tank. I really don't remember how much fuel remained in the rear tank. Of course, how much fuel there was in the rear tank is now a mute point. It really doesn't matter, because like in Earnest Gann's great book "Fate is the Hunter", that night so many years ago the hunter did not find my young co-pilot, whose name I cannot even recall, and me. Had we turned left instead of right we would have been so far off course it is possible no one would have ever found the airplane or us in those millions of square miles of ice and snow. After landing and going into the Atco Huts, that were our accommodations, we finally found out it was my watch that was wrong. To this day I do not really know why I chose to make the decision it was my watch, even stranger the **** thing worked just fine after this what should have been an uneventful trip.


That just leaves fate as the best explanation for my decision to turn right that night. Isn't it strange how words like Arcturus, Missing Hours and Fate can have such chilling meaning when flying airplanes?




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