Crop-duster pilots working around wind farms are encountering a new and proliferating danger camouflaged among the fields.
Watch this New York Times video and say whether the statements below are true or false. The activity is suitable for advanced students.
1 Ben Lucas used to be in the Air Force.
2 A quarter of US energy is produced in Iowa.
3 Crop duster pilots die every year when doing their job.
4 Met towers are used to predict the weather.
5 Met towers can be seen clearly from the sky.
6 Brian Shirts has already made up his mind to work as a crop duster all his life.
7 Companies are willing to share the location of the Met towers with the pilots.
How do you compare? Guess it´d be like going over that first hill on the rollercoaster, so your wheels are only sitting two or three feet off the corn. There’s been plenty of times going over a wire that is a little bit too low that you get corn in your brakes. It´s intimidating.
Ben Lucas became a crop duster pilot in 2007 after years of flying F-16 fighter jets overseas for the Iowa National Guard.
Crop dusters, yes, they are pilots, they are applicators first. We are paid to be good applicators, so the flying has to be second nature.
But in states like Iowa where giant wind farms produce over a quarter of the state´s energy, the highest in the nation, even the most seasoned pilots can lose track of hazards crowding the skies. Each year, across the country, a handful of crop duster pilots die by flying smack into power lines, trees, and towers, increasingly small towers used by wind energy companies.
So there’s big blades you got 80 foot blades spinning 100 miles an hour. Those that have a hazard obviously within themselves, the biggest hazard to us, is the Met towers.
A Met tower is a metereological tower used by an energy company to track wind in a particular zone and determine if it is a good site for a wind turbine. Five people, three (ag) pilots have died in collision with met towers since 2003.
They’re small, they can be put up in less than two hours, and there’s usually no warning that they are going to be put up, and when they put them up, they are 198 feet tall, two feet under an FA graduation for markings and lighting. They´re usually galvanised metal which if you´ve ever been up above the horizon and look down at one of these things, you´d never see it.
We’re coming up on it this one, it appears there is paint on the top. This is a completely marked one.
Brian Shirts is a flight instructor in central Illinois, both his dad and his grandfather have been crop dusters and he´s debating whether or not take on the family business.
It´s certainly concerning, you know, I grew up around this. There are a lot of issues in the last ten years that they have gotten so much more… all the wind towers, all the Met towers.
In May, the National Transportation Safety Board identified unmarked towers as a critical hazard to (ag) pilots and urged the Federal Aviation Administration for the second year to require registration and clear marking of all Met towers for safety.
To just give coordinates, we’re going to put a Met tower here, tink!, and that would be something that we could use, and we would probably check it every day, just like we check bees in organic farms.
Some wind energy companies now mark their Met towers and nearly a dozen states have passed laws to require better visibility. But a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association told the New York Times that companies are reluctant to share the towers locations for fear of giving away competitive information about future wind farm sites.
The first time I saw one I was actually the field I was supposed to spray and just something caught the corner of my eye the sun was just right and I saw the wire coming down the side of it and, you know, you just can´t… you know, the son of a… At least I can see a giant wind turbine, you know, but hiding one of those things in the middle of a field is ridiculous, especially when they can be put up so quick with two guys in a four wheeler.
1T 2F 3T 4F 5F 6F 7F