Aerial applicators need every opportunity to protect the food supply while working to bring everyone home safely. (Photo: Jon Slikker Jr.)

Jon Slikker Jr., Aerial Applicator, Vince Dusters

When pulling up to a railroad crossing and patiently waiting for the train to pass, you give consideration to the large piece of iron chugging down the tracks. When a school crossing guard is parked on the side of the road at an intersection, the ultra-loud whistle blows, and traffic stops to give consideration to any children that may be crossing the road. When a siren is heard in the distance, we all look for a combination of flashing red and blue lights, anticipating the need to give room to any emergency services to rush and save a life. The biggest similarity between these examples is the public giving the right-of-way because the consequences could likely result in an accident or loss of life.

Aerial Applicators are not rushing around saving lives with lights and sirens. We are conscientious applicators that hold the highest regard for human life and safety. During an application, communication to the public is very limited. There are a few options we have in our tool chest that might help.

Assume the pilot in an aircraft making an application does not see you right away. Many times, a pilot is looking at five things at once. Pilots in the field are looking at wires, cell towers, buildings, instrument gauges, and for anyone else that might be at the application site. If you notice a pilot making an application, please give the pilot a moment to recognize you’re there and more than likely will pause the application for you to make your way past.

Listen to the spotter or field man. A spotter is another set of eyes for the pilot on the ground. We all have jobs to do and places to be. Pilots do not want to hold you up, and more than likely, we are in the field working for a relatively short amount of time. Mostly here in Kern County we employ a field spotter that has direct communication with the pilot. If you have a question, talk to the spotter away from the application site and we can work with you to make sure you’re not in harm’s way.

Smokers. Crop dusters usually have a device that creates a white puff of smoke. Smoke is a tool used to help applicators determine the direction and velocity of wind movement. We are trying diligently to eliminate offsite movement of any crop protection materials. Smoke is also a valuable tool to help us communicate to the public that we see them. We are not simply waving and saying hello; we are making sure we have your attention and warning you that you have entered into an application area, we need you to give us room to work. Your health and safety are our priority. Please wait at a minimum of ¼ mile away.

When making aerial applications, we need every chance and opportunity to protect the world’s food supply while working together to bring everyone home safely at the end of the day. The goal as a pilot is to make safe and effective applications while safely returning ourselves to our families and our aircraft safely back to the hangar.

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