Due to the short days and long nights of late fall , the temperature was low and the humidity was visible in the crisp early morning air. The dominant feature in the sky was a thin slice of a golden moon casting an eerie shadow under the wing as we taxi through patches of mist clinging to the ground. The hold short line seemed to fluoresce as the taxi light crept toward it. The hash marks and the 15 were not yet visible in the dim moonlight. The inbound traffic on final approach looked like a ghost ship as it went in and out of patches of fog. As it passed over the fog covered numbers the white mist engulfed the aircraft, the tail looked like a shark fin breaking the surface of the water.
Just as the monster cleared the runway we crept into position , our strobe lights overwhelmed the misty white runway lights as we raced to “rotate” speed.
We were a flight of two ,and as soon as we left the ground the cool air hoisted us like a hot air balloon. The air was so clear you could see forever. The stars were fading; giving way to the morning sun light.
As our shadows pass over the flocks of birds feeding in the fields far below, they too take flight. Like a giant magic carpet they move in unison back and forth. They land like a pinwheel, creating ripples in the shallow water.
The sunlight is no help finding our destination, all the rice fields look the same. The landing strip at the Nelson ranch has no markings. The narrow strip of packed rice hulls blends in with the harvesting crops as far as you can see. The only distinguishing feature visible from the air is the circle of silos with an American flag atop the highest roof. Nothing that can be found on a flying chart. So the navigator got creative and Googled the ranch on the iPad. There it was and there we were, a little blue dot skimming across the ground. We followed a county road to the power lines, and there it was. Our friend Greg standing in some giant machine waving his arms directing us in the direction of the dirt strip. We made a large half circle and came in for a landing. We touched down with the ease of an eagle returning to a nest of chicks. Dick in his Just home built came in right behind us choking in our dust cloud. By the time we parked the Cessna the dust had settled and we were transported by limo to the ranch house. There we were treated to soft drinks and fresh cooked rice right out of the field.
After a short explanation of the workings of a large rice plantation, we gathered around a conveyor that fed the large silos. Fresh cut rice is fed into one silo to dry. After a period of time it gets pulled out from the bottom and fed to the top of another silo. The conveyor is moved manually to all five silos to insure proper drying of the rice.
After a tour of the rice field and a chance to climb on some of the giant harvesting machines we were transported back to the airstrip.
As the propeller turned, it again formed a dust cloud that consumed the small aircraft following us down the dirt strip.
We flew direct to Lincoln and made it back in half the time , just in time for lunch at the Pizza Round up.
It was a great trip and it gave me a much better understanding of what it takes to get food from the field to table.
Words by Dave Harris