Flying M Air has been providing cherry blowing/drying services in the northwest United States since 2008.
We got our start in 2008, when we worked as a subcontractor with other pilots on several overlapping contracts, covering approximately 100 acres of cherry blocks at any one time. We have returned to the northwest each season since then, contracting directly with growers for standby and hover service. In 2011, we began adding additional helicopters for the busiest part of the season; since 2015, we’ve had up to five helicopters available to serve our clients.
Flying M Air’s helicopters fly low and slow over tree tops to ensure thorough drying. Depending on the tree size and density, we’ll fly every row, every other row, or every third row to save time and money for our growers. Because our clients pay by the hour instead of a flat fee based on acreage, we’ll fly as long as clients need us to to ensure the fruit is dry. We can also adjust height and speed on request to help prevent damage to more delicate varieties, such as Rainiers.
In addition to our helicopters and experienced pilots, Flying M Air offers the following benefits to growers and their agents:
- Local base of operations. Our pilot remains in the area for the duration of the contract. (Other pilots think it’s okay to return to Seattle if rain is unlikely; we don’t.)
Weather monitoring. We monitor the weather every day using at least three up-to-date weather resources. We have in-flight weather radar monitoring capabilities, so we know where the rain is coming from, where it’s going, and when it’s most likely to start and stop.
- Ground transportation. We don’t depend on someone else to provide transportation for the pilot or fueling system.
- DOT-approved AvGas fuel system. This gives us a total of 8 hours of flight time without needing to refuel at an airport.
- Lodging flexibility through the use of a fully self-contained travel trailer. In many instances, we can base our pilot at your orchard to save you time and money.
- Maximum 80-100 acres coverage per helicopter. We won’t spread ourselves too thin to provide the best service possible. If we contract for more than 100 acres per helicopter, we bring in another helicopter.
- In-flight cell phone capabilities. You can provide instructions to the pilot in flight.
- GPS for quick location of sites. When covering more than one orchard we can move between them quickly by the most direct route.
- Part 135 certificate. Allows us to legally provide point-to-point transportation of growers, their employees, or their guests.
For large orchards or multiple orchard blocks exceeding 80-100 acres, we can bring in another experienced pilot and aircraft to ensure thorough and timely coverage. We are available for cherry drying as early as May and as late as September. We can provide services in Washington, Oregon, and California and will travel with the growing season.
Our rates vary depending on the contract. We do, however, require a daily standby fee to cover pilot living expenses, salary, and the cost of taking the helicopter offline for other work. Drying services are billed by the hour. Our R44’s rotor system moves the same amount of air as a Jet Ranger’s at a much lower operating cost. We can dry from 30 to 50 acres an hour, depending on orchard layout, tree size, orchard density, moisture amount, and wind conditions; 40 acres per hour is a good rule of thumb. We generally require a 3-week contract; 2-week contracts are available for early and late season work.