Still getting thrills from spraying the hills

Patchett Ag-Air owner Ray Patchett has been training two pilots in the sweet science of top-dressing at Richmond Brook ...

Patchett Ag-Air owner Ray Patchett has been training two pilots in the sweet science of top-dressing at Richmond Brook Station in the Awatere Valley

She is 53-years-old, has done more than 18,000 hours of flying and is affectionately called the "Nana" of the sky. 

Nigel Griffith's 1962 Cessna 185 is the only Cessna in the world used for agricultural farming and by the looks of things it will be a while yet before she can retire.

The former Mt Cook ski plane was purchased by Griffith last October as the answer to one of Ray Patchett's, owner of Patchett Ag-Air, prayers. 

"Without her I wouldn't have been able to retire," Patchett said.

Griffith planned to take over from Patchett as the owner of the Omaka-based agriculture flying business once he was trained up and certified.

That is where "Nana" comes in, fitted with dual controls, a requirement for training agricultural pilots, this Cessna was the only option for a small and independent company to train up new recruits. 

Modified to fit her new purpose,"Nana" will take to the Awatere Valley skies this week to train new agricultural flying recruits Griffith and Stuart Marshall. 

The training for the new recruits will be rigorous, 80 hours on top of their already completed commercial pilot licence.

Top-dressing, or aerial spreading of fertiliser, was a bit of a precise science with no room for error and you had to be efficient to make a profit, Patchett said.

"It is like trying to paint the side of the house with a stick," he said. 

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On top of that, Patchett said it was physically demanding. As a top-dresser you were expected to fly a (legally) overloaded plane, low to the ground with a short landing strip, he said.

"There is a lot to learn that you will never learn in any other form of aviation," he said. 

Patchett said the training was no mean feat, given top-dressing was highly risky. Out of the 180 fatal accidents over the past 65 years, a large majority had been student flyers.

But Patchett was still standing after 30 years and said he still got a thrill from spraying the hills. 

Patchett would be handing over the control of his business to new recruit Griffith in due course, thanks to "Nana", he said.

"She is a much-loved airplane. Some say she should be retiring," Patchett said. 

 - The Marlborough Express


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