CARL MASON: A COMMON AMBITION TO MAKE AGRICULTURAL OPERATORS SUCCESSFUL
When field support representative (FSR) Carl Mason speaks of agricultural, or “Ag” operators, there’s a hint of reverence in his voice. “Being an Ag operator is choosing a lifestyle as much as a profession,” he says of the pilots/operators who help feed the world and protect forestry through aerial application.
“Ag operators are driven by their passion for the job, and it’s a challenging way to make a living,” he says. “It’s absolutely amazing to watch these men and women flying 10 feet [three metres] off the deck at 140 knots, keeping an eye out for obstacles, using GPS devices to track their spray patterns, releasing their loads at just the right moment and making it all look effortless. They really do lend new meaning to the phrase ‘multi-tasking.’”
Based in Savannah, Texas, just north of Dallas-Fort Worth, Carl has been with Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) for 27 years, but he’ll quickly tell you he’s been working on PT6 engines for 36 years. “My first night on the job with an FBO [fixed-base operator], in Bangor, Maine, I was told to do a hot section inspection on a PT6, an engine I’d never seen before,” he recalls. “The job went off without a hitch, which tells you a lot about the simplicity of the PT6 engine.”
In 1968, Carl joined the U.S. Air Force working on aircraft engines and then later received his airframe and powerplant (A&P) licence. These days, Carl provides support services to P&WC engine operators in West Texas. He’s also the company’s day-to-day liaison with Air Tractor, the iconic company launched by Ag industry legend the late Leland Snow. “I met Leland once, and the moment has stayed with me ever since,” says Carl. “He really was the embodiment of the Ag profession. It’s a tough job, as tough as being a farmer, where you really are at the mercy of the weather.”
Carl says that because of the vast distances Ag operators must travel, they often set up mobile bases near the fields they are treating or seeding. This allows them to refuel and refill their hoppers without long flights back and forth to a central base. It also means that their runway may end up being an abandoned dirt road or just a stretch of hard-packed earth. There is no other turboprop engine that will power a single-engine aircraft, bearing a 500-gallon (1,893 litres) payload, taking off and landing in such conditions, sometimes making 40 or 50 flights in a single day. “There’s a definite affinity between the PT6 engine and the Ag industry,” says Carl. “These operators are very inventive, and when the PT6 came along they immediately recognized its potential. I think it’s a magnificent piece of machinery.”
As he travels over his territory meeting operators and helping out with technical issues, Carl refers to P&WC CFirst specialists as his “best friends” and his local mobile repair technicians as vital to providing rapid, efficient service in the field.
In season, Ag operators are extremely busy, and they have a small window of opportunity to fly and make their business successful. An Aircraft on Ground (AOG) situation can cause the loss of a large amount of money. He says there is a shared ambition among the P&WC team serving the Ag industry to help these operators excel and keep them in business. “For me, this is an incredible job,” says Carl. “It provides me with a sense of great gratitude that I am able to do whatever I can to keep these incredible men and woman flying and delivering on their mission in life.”