10 August 2012

Shooting In The Field(s)

17 July 2012...

It started off as one of those lazy mornings. You know, lie in bed half asleep, trying to make a list of everything you need to do that day. Mine went something like; #1 Find the motivation to get out of bed. Well, that motivation soon came in the form of a phone call.

“We’re going to be doing some work today. Want to take some photos?”
“Yes! When are you taking off, where must I meet you, and how long will you be working for?”
“10am, Malmesbury, four hours.”

It was coming up to 9am. I live about an hour from Malmesbury. I was still in pyjamas. Half asleep.

... Okay, so you’re probably thinking “What the heck is she going on about? What’s the fuss?”

Well... I was going to go take photos of very shiny new Turbo Thrush of Orsmond Aviation spraying fields, something I have never seen “in real life” before. So you can imagine how quickly I got my act together after I received that call.

ZS-OAS, Orsmond Aviation's newest machine, departing Stellenbosch. It's thanks to this photo that I got to meet the pilot of the machine... read on ;)

The drive isn’t particularly long, but Stellenbosch is a nightmare at the best of times, and every single robot turned red just as I reached it (there were about 8 of them), so I was running late. The scenery on the way to Malmesbury is fantastic, but if I’m honest, most of it went be in a blur (except when I got stuck behind trucks).

Long story short, I was a good 30 minutes late and feeling like an idiot; here I am, invited to take photos of a beautiful machine in action, and I pitch up late.

Thankfully the pilot (M) didn’t seem to mind too much.

The strip he would be operating from is east of Malmesbury, and north east of Diemerskraal, and situated next to a road.

The first fields he had to spray were a reasonable distance away from the strip, so I only saw him as he pulled up and repositioned for the next pass. I figured I’d just have to sit there and wait until he moved closer, and I could take some photos.

Well, I was wrong about that. One of the chaps helping on the ground offered to drive me to where the Thrush was spraying. Not wanting to be a nuisance I did the whole “Are you sure? It really isn’t necessary” thing, but he insisted, so off we went in his Land Rover with a Great Dane in the back (he was a very friendly dog).

After we arrived I got my first look at a Turbo Thrush in its natural environment. Simply beautiful. While taking photos I chatted to D about my photography and flying, the work Orsmond does, and I also got to taste a canola leaf (before it was sprayed, obviously). It tasted a bit like cauliflower.

After about 30 minutes we drove back to the strip, and I managed to get some shots of the Thrush landing, and then filling up for the next fields. D had to go, and M was off to spray some other fields (also far away), so I figured that now I really would have to just sit and wait.

I was proven wrong once again when J arrived and offered to drive me to the next set of fields. Well okay, if you insist...
So off we went. I felt quite bad because there were a lot of farm gates that had to be opened and closed, and I didn’t offer to help.

I think M was spraying weeds at this spot (I don’t know anything about agriculture), and it was quite amazing to see this white and red machine appear over the hills, looking as if it was about to land.

Puffs of smoke are released to determine the wind direction so that they can compensate for the drift and make sure the chemicals don’t land up on neighbouring fields.

After about 15 minutes here, J and I headed back to the strip (this time I did help and closed some of the gates), where we waited for M to return for a top up (of fuel) and wash (clean the hopper out before spraying the next fields).

By this stage he had been working for almost two hours. J stuck around for a while, and we watched as M sprayed the crops by the strip. For someone who hadn’t really witnessed this before, it was quite cool seeing this aircraft zooming along below the tree-line, pulling up and displaying its belly and the spraying equipment, and repositioning for the next run.

This went on for about 30 minutes. Most people would probably get bored with watching an aircraft fly up and down, but I could watch that for days. Not quite as poetic as seeing a fighter jet take to the sky, but still beautiful in its own way.

Once the last of the fields received their ‘treatment’ (I don’t know what was being sprayed, or what it was sprayed with), I was treated to one of the things on my “I Must Experience This” list... a taste of what it’s like to be a crop sprayer.

After taking off from the dirt strip, we did a few “spray” runs over a neighbouring field. I got my first taste of what it was like to look out the window and see that I was lower than the power lines. And then experience a couple of G’s as we pulled up, did a wing over, and shot back towards the ground again. I seem to remember that I couldn’t stop laughing.

Hugging the ground (okay, we were probably between 100ft and 200ft most of the time), we made our way back to Malmesbury.

I thought I’d just be taking some photos that day, so you can imagine how happy I was when I was told that I’d be able to fly in a Turbo Thrush, something I’ve been dreaming of for over a year. Not only did I fly in a different machine, but I got to meet some great people, and I experienced REAL low-level flying. Good things come to those who wait. They also come to those who are at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Thank you, guys, you know who you are!