Cessna Ag-Trucks are built to dust crops. They have a large hopper between the engine and the pilot that holds up to 250 gallons of chemicals which are released from nozzles attached to the trailing edge of the wing. Some of these chemicals are so toxic that coverage of a square inch of skin can prove fatal. Keeping the plane in the air and
getting it back in one piece are prime concerns.|
Spraying needs to be done in almost still air to keep the chemicals from drifting onto other crops or missing the intended ones. Good times are at sunrise and at dusk. In either case, flying low at night has it's own special set of risks. You can get caught in power and phone lines which are difficult to spot in the daytime and are essentially invisible at night. For this reason, special knives, called cable cutters are attached to crop dusting aircraft to allow the cable to be cut before the aircraft becomes entangled.
Another special item is lighting on the aircraft. These special spray lamps are so large that they must be retracted into the bottom of the wing when they are not in use. The drag would be significant otherwise. They are bright, too. At 600 watts, they are ten times more powerful than the high beams on a car. You can extend these lights at night and read freeway signs while flying along at 100 feet, going 100 miles per hour.
The average ferry pilot has no particular need for these lamps but the idle mind can find very imaginative ways to put them to use.
It had been a long and uneventful series of flights which had brought two Ag-Trucks to the South Pacific somewhere between Samoa and Norfolk Island. The hour was late, or maybe it was early. In any case, it was very dark and had been for a long time. Conversation from one plane to the other had dropped to the once per hour check to see if the other guy was still there. Boredom had set in, again.
Without my knowledge, Earl had maneuvered his plane so it was directly over mine. Then he slowly decreased the vertical distance between the two planes until only twenty feet separated them. Without saying a word, he reached down to the switch for the spray lights. They were still retracted into the bottom of the wings when they came on, so they were pointing straight down toward my plane.
I thought the world had ended. From the pitch blackness of midnight, it was as though the sun had risen to a point directly above me in one second.
I haven't yet figured out how to pay him back for that.