Powell (Wyo.) Tribune via Associated Press

POWELL, Wyo. (AP) -- Sounding like a diving World War II Grumman Hellcat determined to strafe an enemy position, the crop duster dives from the sky. In his Grumman Ag-Cat, Orville Moore is pursuing enemies, but those adversaries are invasive weeds and insects invading cultivated fields.

Moore is a crop duster or more precisely, as his friend and fellow duster, Pauline Atkinson put it, an "aerial applicator." The Ag-Cat is built specifically for crop dusting. Moore, of Powell, flies for Brett Bush of Crop-Air Aerial Sprayers. The Ag-Cat resembles an aluminum-skinned World War I biplane on steroids. It looks tough.

"They built this stout," Moore said of his Ag-Cat, "like the World War II fighter planes."

Contemplate dive-bombing a constricted field hemmed-in by fences and power lines. Like a falling rocket, Moore aims for the ground, then at the last second, he yanks his stick to level off, seemingly inches from the plants he is spraying. The plane's wheels fly four feet from the crop canopy, he said.

"You got to be pretty precise with your flying," Moore said.

Words straight from the pilot's mouth: "It's pretty tight. No room for error. It's classified as dangerous."

Indeed. Like an elevator, the Ag-Cat plunges, turning on a dime before trees. Then, like a dart, it flings across the field. Like tall grass bending in a formidable wind, sunflowers bow in his slipstream as the plane zips away, trailing fine spray like a feathery mist. Zoom.

"This, you get a sense of speed," Moore said.

Moore has been flying since he was a kid. At 5-years-old, Moore recalls saying: "Momma, some day I'm going to be a pilot." Sure enough. Moore has been crop dusting since 1975. He wrecked one plane, made three forced landings and has flown through three sets of power lines.

"Fun," he said.

It hits the fan pretty fast when you're flying at 110 mph and the ground is scant feet away. But you're too busy to get scared, Moore said. Right. So it's dangerous as all get out?

"It looks a lot more hot-dog than it is," Atkinson said as she makes a preflight inspection of Moore's Cessna 172 Skyhawk. But, you've got to be mighty mindful of what you are doing, she added.

Power lines: The crop duster's bane.

"You're aware of them," Atkinson said. "Then one sneaks up on you."

"You just pay very close attention all the time," Atkinson said.

Atkinson takes off, flying the Cessna as a chase plane while her passenger fumbles in the back seat with a camera. Below, the farms surrounding Powell resemble multihued green squares on a giant checkerboard. Like a fleet, bi-winged wasp, the Ag-Cat vaults power lines and trees. Up, up, up. Then down, down, down. Diving like a fierce hawk swooping on a rabbit. And, like a hawk's grasping talons pushed forward, the wheels nearly brush the field of beans and the spray flows from the bottom wing like a long, filmy veil.

Moore turns over the field and for a split second, his Ag-Cat seems to stand on its wing. It's poetry in motion. It's way cool.

"He's good," comes the back seat voice via headphones. "He's a great pilot," Atkinson said.


Information from: Powell Tribune - Powell,

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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