There is a great deal to be told about this occupation, about this
strange interface between agriculture and aviation. There is the
never-ending encounter with red tape of all sorts. There are countless
rules, and laws, and regulations, and requirements. There is the constant
interaction with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of
Agriculture, the state and local law enforcement agencies, the EPA, the
OSHA, suit-hungry lawyers, angry farmers, bootleg chemical salesmen,
and hard-eyed bill-collectors.
Early in the game, the beginner crop-duster comes to recognize that it
is impossible to follow this trade and remain within the constraints of the
law. There are just too many laws out there. Too many laws, too many
rules, too many regulations, too many restrictions, too many requirements
levied by countless people, agencies, bureaus, governments. To start with,
it is impossible to figure out what all the rules are. There are just too
many. If a man made an honest effort to live by all the rules, he would
first have to hire a full-time secretary, a full-time research assistant, and
a full-time attorney just to find out all the rules.
Consequently, the men who fly crop-dusters tend to be a little bit
out-laws at heart. The best way to live in this out-law profession is simply
not to go around asking people, agencies, bureaus, and governments if
they have rules that apply to you. Don't worry, they'll find you soon
And believe me, they will have plenty of rules that apply to you. They
will have rules, and forms, and requirements, and regulations. They will
have directives, and guidelines, and procedures, and authorizations. They
will have questions for you to answer, and recurring reports for you to
make, and requirements that neither you nor they understand. And they
will have fees, and fines, and an exceedingly large amount of paperwork
that will be mailed to you by the ton, and applicable to you, and essential
to you, and will be stacked in cardboard boxes and collect cobwebs for
years to come.
But bureaucrats are people too, and something must be said in their
defense. After all, they are only "trying to do their job". And if ever an
army of men was given an impossible job to do, it is that group of
bureaucrats given the task of taking care of crop-duster pilots.
The most important goal to all bureaucrats, next to keeping their job, is
to take care of other people. Especially those people who don't want to be
taken care of. And the crop-duster pilot, engaged in an absurdly
dangerous job and highly resentful of anybody telling him how to do it, is
probably the most difficult of all professionals to take care of. Woe be unto
the poor bureaucrat who is assigned the job.
But there is a solution. The Bureaucrats soon learn that they can not
only take care of this poor fellow, but also protect their own jobs, by
compiling vast data on the dangers of this occupation. Simply by
conducting exhaustive research on the multiple ways crop-duster pilots
have devised to kill themselves over the years, the bureaucrats can soon
generate exhaustive requirements that will assure that no crop-duster
pilot will ever again engages in these dangerous actions. But of course, to
assure that the reluctant pilot recognizes these dangerous actions and is
instructed in avoiding them, the pilot must first be compelled to
thoroughly familiarize himself with the vast body of literature compiled in
order to take care of him.
Best of all, the bureaucrat can now require the pilot to prove that he is
knowledgeable of the content of this literature before being "allowed" to
fly. The pilot can be lectured, and instructed, and tested, and compelled to
attend training classes.
And after the mind numbing indoctrination finally ends, and the pilot
stumbles out the door and goes right back out and kills himself, the
remorseful bureaucrat not only knows in his heart that he did his best, but
he can also produce a thick file to prove it. All concerned can now sigh
sorrowfully, shake their heads wisely, and sadly note that in spite of all
their best efforts the man simply wasn't abiding by the rules.
And life goes on. The pilot is dead because he violated the basic rule of
all life, "take care of yourself". His fellow pilot scores that rule a little
deeper into his own heart, and the bureaucrat solemnly closes his file and
is advanced a pay-grade.
But the files endure forever. Like bedrock, they become the corner
stones on which we build our lives. The files are there, to be reviewed by
the succeeding waves of bureaucrats. To be examined by the attorneys, by
the judges, by the legislatures. To be gleaned through and extracted from
by the investigators, by the insurance examiners, by all the people who
have a bone to pick, a case to make, a point to prove.
Yes, the files remain. The files that prove conclusively that the compiler
was doing his job. The files that show clearly that the studies were made,
the reports were written, the test was administered, the square was
checked, the requirement was levied. The training was completed, the
record was recorded, the rule was published, the authorization was signed,
the inspection was made, the form was filled out, the briefing was
conducted, the individual was counseled, the rule was enforced.
The files remain to give eternal evidence that everyone did his job
correctly. Except, of course, for the pilot, who, unfortunately, is dead.
But it wasn't the bureaucrat's fault. He did his job and did it well. The
files are there to prove it. But what the bureaucrat eternally fails to
understand is that he didn't have anything to do with it one way or the
other. Of course it wasn't his fault. It was the pilot's fault.
It was the pilot's fault and he knew it even as it was happening. He
knew it then, and surely he knows it now. No pilot who ever lived,
confronted with the final moments of that life, cried out, "I'm fixin' to bust
my ass, and it's all the fault of that damn bureaucrat!"
Nope, that ain't what pilots think when they are staring at the bitter
end. I have no way of knowing the final thoughts of all those who went
before. No doubt they were varied, and as unique as the men who choose
aviation as a way of life. But I think I am on firm ground when I state that
no pilot ever went to meet his maker muttering about the shortcomings
of some bureaucrat.
And life goes on.
The experienced pilot has long ago learned that the only way to get the
job done is to endure those who are dedicated to the thankless job of
taking care of him, and to take care of himself. He learns to use common
sense. He learns to go about his business and avoid doing those things
that are foolhardy, dishonest, or immoral.
And most of all, he never forgets the basic rule of all life, "take care of