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Helicopter AG (ground crew)?


r22butters
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To any of you out there who have worked as ground crew for an AG operation, I have a few questions, if you please;

 

1. What exactly do you do, day to day?

 

2. What are the hours like (sunup to sundown)?

 

3. Where do you live during the job (10 people crammed into a hotel room,...on a cot in a barn)?

 

4. How low is the pay?

 

5. Are you so remote that you have to bring your own food (like a trunk full of Ramen, a huge jar of peanut butter, and a spoon)?

 

6. How often do you move around during the season?

 

7. What months are the season?

 

8. What kind of driving do you have to do as a CDL?

 

9. Is the job so dirty that you need to wear coveralls?

 

10. How many other "wanna-be pilots" are also there as ground crew?

:huh:

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1) Day to day operations usually include but not limited to, looking over the maps with the pilot for the field(s) to be sprayed and how to get to those fields by road and air. Making sure all the chemical is present to complete the job. The trucks got plenty of fuel for the mixing pump, the helicopter, and the mix truck so you can get to the jobsite(s) and back. Get to the jobsite and prep the landing area (with water if needed to hold down the dirt), get out the hoses and start mixing the chemicasls in the mix tank if not already mixed (some chemicals come premixed). Once the job has started, load helicopter with fuel and chemicals, and clean windscreen if needed. Once done spraying and before moving onto the next field (if spraying a different chemical) you usaully rinse out chemical jugs and the mix tank, especially if you just sprayed roundup. If done for the day head back to home base and finish cleanup work and paperwork.

 

2) Most days start between 3:30-4:30am and finish between 5-9pm depending on daylight and temps. Some applications require early morning only and below 70 degrees, so you could be done by noon 12pm.

 

3) This mostly depends on the job locattion as it pertains to where you live. Lots of ground crews and pilots alike will get a small travel trailer or 5th wheel and move over to the location where most of the work will be done for the season. For example here in Washington State pilots live on the westside by Seattle and will come over to the eastside of the state where the farm lands and work is at and setup camp. You may get lucky and be able to go home if you know there is no work for a few days, but not likely gonna happen at a busy operation. You could stay at a hotel if you like though.

 

4) $10-$20 per hr.

 

5) It's usually wise to bring a lunch for the day.

 

6) This mostly depends on the region (area of home base) that you are working. Alot depends on what your employer sprays for crops, corn, peas, wheat, potatoes, apples, pears, cherries, bananas, oranges, onions, carrots, etc. Everything grows in different stages and therefore needs to be sprayed at different times so depending on how much work the employer wants and how far he wants to expand out from home base will also be a determining factor of how much you would move around.

 

7) Again depending on the area, most seasons run from March-October. Warmer areas like Costa Rica that have banana plantations spray year round.

 

8) Most employers want you to have the class A CDL with tanker hazmat and also have a pesticide applicators license.

 

9) You could wear coveralls but I have seen most that do not. You would be wise to wear coveralls, old shoes/boots, rubber gloves and sometimes a half mask respirator.

 

10) Most ag pilots have to work the ground for at least one season usaully two seasons before they are allowed to fly and start spraying. Also most ground operations only have one ground crew guy unless it's a large ag operator.

 

Hope this answers your questions.

 

Steve

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Thanks for the reply. I do actually have one more question though;

 

Is it reasonable to think that an operator would let a 600hr pilot fly after a couple seasons on the ground, when I've seen ads requiring 1500-2500hrs for AG pilots?

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Thanks for the reply. I do actually have one more question though;

 

Is it reasonable to think that an operator would let a 600hr pilot fly after a couple seasons on the ground, when I've seen ads requiring 1500-2500hrs for AG pilots?

 

One of my CFII buddies our at flight school here just had a job handed to him flying AG out around Milwaukee starting in May. He has maybe 300 hours. He has an extensive farming background though which probably helped get him the position. The owner of the outfit came by a couple months back and purchased an AG spraying 206 our flight school had for sale. My buddy ended up chatting with the guy and gave him his contact info. Low and behold, he called my buddy up and offered a job a couple weeks ago. Of course, my buddy did say he'll be starting as ground crew for a couple seasons first, but that was kind of expected.

 

In other words, he was in the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude. May is still a couple months away. Anything can happen between now and then, so we'll see if the owner holds the position for my buddy.

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I worked as ground/air crew for a company last summer on a pipeline support job ... mostly doing safety briefings, loading/unloading pax, and ground crew support for longline ops. They liked my work ethic, and so they brought me out to CA for some training in the 206. I took the CA Aerial Applicator Apprentice exam in the fall, started flying with the Ag GPS, working on and off the truck, and I should get to start spraying this spring. I had 750 hours when I started. No pay for the 2-3 weeks of training they gave me, but nothing out of my pocket either.

 

Nice thing is that they also brought me out for frost control work a couple of times which did fill my pockets quite nicely.

 

Can it happen? Sure, but as RagMan said ... right place at the right time.

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Most operators like to see around 500hrs or more but some will do 300-500hrs, and you will be ground support for at least one season. You might get some flight time during your first season doing cleanouts or something but do not expect it. The second season is usually where you get to start doing some flying. Also most employers that want high hours(1500-2500) are the ones looking strictly for the pilot who has ag experience and they want him to start flying right away with no training required.

 

Steve

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1,2,3: What yzchopper said

 

4: I made 12.50/hr the 1st year and the 2nd year it went to 3,500/month. When I got paid hourly I made good money on the overtime. An average week was 60-70hours during the busy season. It just didn't pay well in the very beginning and end of the season when everything really slowed down.

 

5: I always had food or at least snacks and lots of water. A lot of times we would just jump in the helicopter and go land in a field near a gas station for lunch. It's good to have a few extra snacks and water for you pilot.

 

6, 7: What yzchopper said

 

8: I don't think many would require a class A. I don't think anyone uses a class A truck. Class B with hazmat and tanker will fit the majority of ag operators. Some operators would only need a class C with hazmat/tanker if they just tow a mix trailer behind a truck and land on the ground. If you go to a truck driving school you may as well get a class A though. Class A is only to tow a trailer with mgw 10,000+. That's in WA at least could be different elsewhere that I don't know about.

 

9: Not a bad idea. My minimums were goggles, rubber gloves, and hat. Have a respirator for mixing powders. I never used coveralls but I wish I had a few times. A couple time the pilot accidentally turned on the spray on the truck while I was under the booms. Hope I don't get cancer.

 

10: We only had one truck/truck driver per helicopter. Which leads into your next question.

 

 

Yes. If your pilot likes you you might even start getting dual ferry time the 1st season. A lot of times we'd leave the mix truck in the field and fly the helicopter back to our base where my boss had a double wide we all lived in. The pilots would always put the duals in and let me fly to base and then to the truck in the am. Usually the deal was I'd wash the helicopter when we got back but since we did that every day and they usually helped me out anyway it didn't make any difference. Problem is if you're the only driver for your helicopter the majority of the time you'll have to drive the truck back. They started teaching me to spray at the end of the 1st season when it started to slow down. The 2nd season the pilots started teaching me to spray more and they'd let me do the rinse loads most of the time. 0.2 a day is still 0.2 a day. They'd watch my ag turns and load the rinse water for me. After a while I'd get to spray the last 10 acres if there was still sunlight and I'd get small spray jobs here and there. After 2 seasons of working. I got 170ish hours flight time Around 50-70 hours was spraying with some cherry drying on top of that. The 3rd season I was supposedly going to be hired on as a pilot. My boss was planing on getting another 206 to start doing more work. I decided to stop though. That 2nd season I worked from may-oct 7 days a week. There were some only 2-3 hour days in there. I had a lot of fun, learned a lot, but I also learned that I didn't want to make a career working that much. I don't mind working but I want some of my own life too. Ag is NOT a time builder and that is why most companies require 1-5 years on the ground before you start flying.

 

At 600 hours you should get some ferry time the 1st season or 2 and possibly you'll get some ag training. They can have you spray when they want you to. Insurance and hour minimums aren't the issue when they're teaching you. As yzchopper said, the 1500+- minimums are for hiring a spray pilot off the street. The other truck driver was ground crew with only 250-300 hours. She was getting ferry time and ended up in the fuel truck for the fire fighting part of our operations. I don't think she got much time on the fire side but she met enough people to land her a sic job fighting fires with someone else. So even if you don't get much time the 1st season or 2 you'll most likely meet a connection to some flying later on if you prove you can bust your ass and people generally like you. Now we're back to the it's who you know not what you know thing that's the same in all parts of this and many industries. Good Luck.

Edited by rotormandan
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  • 3 weeks later...

1. What exactly do you do, day to day?

 

Wake up early, load the truck, head out and wait for the pilot at the first spot. After that its about 5 minutes of work every 15 minutes or so. Once you're mixed just sit around and watch. Or drive to the next field

 

2. What are the hours like (sunup to sundown)?

 

Depends on what you're spraying. Corn funigice season is 18 hour days. I've had truck drivers guide me back to the truck with spotlights or even cell phone screens.

 

3. Where do you live during the job (10 people crammed into a hotel room,...on a cot in a barn)?

 

Depends on the operation. All of our drivers are local guys that live at home.

 

4. How low is the pay?

 

We pay $20 an hour. $10 an hour during the season, then we double your earnings if you stay the whole season. Helps a ton with turnover.

 

5. Are you so remote that you have to bring your own food (like a trunk full of Ramen, a huge jar of peanut butter, and a spoon)?

 

Depends on the operation. The furthest we get away from home base is about 30 miles.

 

6. How often do you move around during the season?

See #5

 

7. What months are the season?

Our season is the middle of June to the middle of September

 

8. What kind of driving do you have to do as a CDL?

Our trucks see pavement maybe once a day for a few miles and that's it.

 

9. Is the job so dirty that you need to wear coveralls?

I wore shorts, a t-shirt, sunglasses and gloves. Use common sense, and hide in the truck when the bird is working close.

 

10. How many other "wanna-be pilots" are also there as ground crew?

:huh:

 

It was just me. We usually hire out of work truck drivers.

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Just out of couriosity. How would your employers feel about a guy, who after working a couple of seasons on the ground, quits after his first season in the cockpit because he's finally built up enough hours to move on?

:huh:

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you would be despised. we are looking for people who want to do this. we all understand this isn't for everyone and better opportunities do come up but if we are going to be the one to give you the break into this industry we expect more for giving you the privelege.

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you would be despised. we are looking for people who want to do this. we all understand this isn't for everyone and better opportunities do come up but if we are going to be the one to give you the break into this industry we expect more for giving you the privelege.

 

That's what I was thinking,...but then again, how do flight school and tour operators feel, as it happens to them on a regular basis?

Edited by r22butters
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Just out of couriosity. How would your employers feel about a guy, who after working a couple of seasons on the ground, quits after his first season in the cockpit because he's finally built up enough hours to move on?

:huh:

 

How many hours do you think you're going to score? I fly my ass off all season and I still only bank about 250 hours.

 

Not sure why you'd want to leave either. Pay is great and best of all YOU HAVE A JOB.

Edited by Rotorhead84
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  • 4 months later...

How much of the AG market is serviced by heli rather than fixed wing?

 

In the Cali central valley I see 750hp fixed Wing turbine birds that I imagine have quite the payload.

 

Are there any operators that are both fixed and heli?

 

What crops or terrain favor heli applications?

 

Do you recon that there is more of a demand for fixed wing pilots due to the higher load capacity? Thoughts?

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1. We begin our day at 3:30 A.M. Meet with the pilot in the morning to plan route, chemical pickups. Check our trucks, then leave to our first stop of the day. Once in the field, find a safe lz (obstructions, wind direction, adequate room to take off, nearby workers, nearby crops that can be damaged by rotorwash) and water down the area to prevent brown out and unneccessary dirt flying into helicopter components. Then mix chemicals when intructed, fuel up helicopter. Could be multiple mixes per spot sometimes. Wash bubble if neccessary. Once job completed, rinse if necessary, then move to next spot. End the day by fueling truck, av gas tank and water tank. Inspect truck at the end of day and turn in driver log and fuel receipts.

 

2. Hours vary. I have worked a short day from 3:30 a.m to 7 a.m. Many days I have worked 3:30 to 7 p.m. It depends on the thresholds of insect pressure, disease pressure. Also depends on timing of year and where the crop is in rotation (some fields are planted up to 3 times a year with varying crops). During busy season, we work 6-7 days a week. If a day off, most likely monday.

 

3. I live locally. Our operations work within 45 miles or airport base.

 

4. I work on a salary of 1400 per month (going on my third season). But, my boss did pay for me to finish the rest of my comm (During first season). It worked out to about 60 hours of intruction.

 

5. I always bring food. No telling how long the day is and I love to eat. Water and coffee provided by company.

 

6. Our busy season is from June to end of October. We also do applications in the winter but only a few days a week.

 

7. No CDL required. We have a AG Operator cerification, which allows us to drive our trucks without CDL.

 

8. I am the only "Wanna Be" as of right now, but I think another is coming on soon. I am just starting to do spray jobs this season, but it looks like a while before i make any living at this. I did get to do rinse loads and ferrying in my second season.

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  • 4 months later...

Its not a time building job. Itll take quite a few years to build anytime worth while. If your looking to get to a hireable amount of time doing ag starting at 600 hrs u might spend 5-7 years to get to 1500-2000 hours.

 

Not true everywhere. My first season as an AG pilot was in 2010. I had 160TT. I just finished my 3rd season, and I have 920 TT ~750 turbine.

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