A New Member To The Mustering Crew?

On Friday I was lucky enough to be able to go for a burn in a gyro and I have to say it was the most fun I’ve had in a while, by the time we landed I had a ear to ear grin that would have rivalled the Jokers. So what is a gyro and why did it leave me so excited?

A gyrocopter (also known as autogyro or gyroplane) looks like a cross between a plane and helicopter, the power provided by the rear mounted engine powered propeller while the lift is generated by the free spinning rotor. Today’s gyro’s have evolved into thier own type of aircraft, they are a far cry from old “build Sunday crash Monday  home builds and even further from their distant 1920’s ancestors that looked like a mongrel cross between a helicopter and a plane.

The Original gyro

The Original Style

While today’s gyro’s may look a bit like a helicopter it flies and handles more like a fixed wing aircraft in the air but it there are some key differences, particularly during take off and landing. During the take off roll you start with the stick fully back and slowly push it forward to keep the nose just off the ground it gets airborne, on landing is different in that you land with a very steep approach and very little speed due to stall speed of zero. These characteristics give it some advantages over both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft that may be of use in agriculture and farming.

The New Generation

The New Generation

The gyrocopter that I flew in was the MTO Sport by the German company “Auto-Gyro” (bet thought long and hard about that one), it seemed to be a very stable aircraft in level flight but if you started to play with the stick you’d soon find out that it could be as manoeuvrable as you wanted it to be, with the only disadvantage being  that it can’t go negative g with out losing its lift. One of the biggest advantages is that it can’t stall, the aircraft can fly at almost any speed, with it being able to even drop back to zero without the aircraft plummeting from the sky, instead it just gently drops giving you plenty of time to apply the power (I know I was nervous watching the air speed indicator steadily drop back to zero). Another advantage is the incredible amount of visibility, the open cockpit and lack of wings allow for a brilliantly clear picture of the ground below as well as the surroundings making it easy to spot cattle, check fences and turkey nests. While the cockpit may be open the windshield keeps you well protected from wind and even the rain (so I’ve been told).

300ft

300ft

The hard deck for a gyrocopter is 300ft above ground level (AGL) which is 200ft below a what RA-Aus registered aircraft will be allowed to do, however if you get a low level endorsement you can go as low as you want over your own property (you here some stories of the grass brushing the bottom of the aircraft). Cost factor has to be the biggest advantage of all as a brand new gyrocopter will only cost you somewhere $80k-$100k depending on the options you choose and has a running cost of about $60 a hour compared to the $400 a hour a R22 would cost.

I believe the gyrocopter shows great potential for use on stations for mustering as well as other station duties, I’ve even seen you tube videos of one with a spray boom set up on it. But there is one thing I know for sure and that is I’m defiantly getting my endorsement when I can.

As always feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments below, and enjoy the videos of some gyros in action.

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Technology Moving Straight Ahead

Last weeks post came to you live from the tractor, which I think just goes to show how far technology has come to allow me to write a post and publish it on the Internet with pictures all while sitting in the seat of a working tractor in the field. While that shows the power of the smart phone, how was I keeping the rows straight? With most of my attention focused on writing the post the rows must be wonky, but they weren’t, why?

The GPS Will Kept The Tractor Running Straight Night Or Day

The GPS Will Kept The Tractor Running Straight Night Or Day

Well firstly I didn’t put the rows in I was on the roller so the rows were already there, secondly I wasn’t driving. So who was driving? Well the tractor was, via the GPS. During normal work in the field the tractor steers itself using the GPS system, multiple satellites work in conjunction with a ground station which has a fixed location to work out the exact location of the tractor in the field and where it should be in order to keep a straight line. The GPS computer then tells the tractors steering system which way to turn and by how much so it can keep a straight line or at least with in two centimetres of it which is more accurate than any operator can drive. How ever a operator is still needed to turn the tractor around at the end of the row as well as monitor temperatures, pressures, levels and the such. So where to from here?

The Green Star Unit Is What Keeps A John Deere Running Straight

The Green Star Unit Is What Keeps A John Deere Running Straight

Well in an exciting development coming out the USA we may soon have fully automated tractors that not only keep straight but turn around as well thanks to the development of the Spirit Autonomous Tractor, while it may look like a German WWI tank minus the guns it is jammed packed full of the latest technology and doesn’t even have a cab or need operator. This diesel-electric tractor is fully autonomous with only one controller needed to control up to 16 tractors with in a 40km radius, you can even have multiple tractors working the same field. While these machines are not in the production stage yet there are working prototypes. While this technology is promising and shows great potential I do have some questions about it, how well can it dodge an obstacle like a tree or power pole with the twelve row rig it could be potentially taking to the field? And how well can the controller identify a problem such as a broken pin on the rig or a the rig clogging up with trash from his control room? I guess only time will tell and I’ll be very excited to see a working model in Australia hopefully very soon.

 

The Future?

The Future?

 

Thanks for reading and as always please feel free to leave your comments or questions in the comment section below.

 

Under Threat And Under Water

In late 2011 I was working as an irrigator on a Cotton property just outside of Moree in Northern NSW, everything was pretty constant so when one cycle finished the next one started with their sometimes being a day or two in between. Smoko time consisted of working out if there was going to be a gap between cycles so we could have a day off and staring at the weather forecast on our phones. But there was something different about this week, Friday had a ninety percent chance of over one hundred millimetres of rain or one sixth of our annual rainfall in one day, there was nothing of note leading up to Friday so we assumed it was a typo or glitch. But as the week progressed the prediction didn’t change and then sure enough on the Friday the skies opened up dropping inches of rain. So the rush was on to open up the irrigation gates and starting the pumps so we could get the water off the fields and into the dams all while trying to drive around the slippery roads without sliding into a channel, then during the afternoon the call came through that they were shutting the road to town, two people had to stay to check the pumps and stop the water building up too much but the rest of us were wasting no time getting into our cars and high tail it back home.Pic_1125_027

 

The rain continued over the weekend with the flood water rising up threatening the town, people where stranded with two people even getting airlifted off a tractor. I ended up getting called up and asked to help fill sandbags that were distributed around the town, with nothing else to do I imminently agreed and after a quick trip to town I was soon filling sandbags with other volunteers. We got a good system going that allowed us to keep up with demand where we had six people lined up in front of the Bob Cat bucket and filling them straight from the bucket, although some people would deem it unsafe no one got hurt and it was the only way we were able to keep up with demand as it was quicker than using the sand bagging machine and way quicker than using the shovel.

The Team

The Team

 

At Work

At Work

 

After a few days the road was reopened to four wheel drives only (I didn’t know that at the time) so I got in my Mum’s trusty commodore and started driving to work, when I came across the flood water I was lucky enough to be behind a road train so I sat right up its tail which helped to push the water away with only a bit of the muddy flood water seeping in through the door. It wasn’t the biggest trouble of the trip though, that came when I tried to get up the farms black soil driveway. The two wheel drive automatic struggled for traction as it slipped from side to side and it even managed to push through even more flood water until I reached the shed.

I'm Sure There Was A Cotton Field Around Here

I’m Sure There Was A Cotton Field Around Here

The farm was still that coved in water that the only way to get around was by boat, the old tinnie was getting a real work out traveling along the flooded channels while dodging the submerged cement structures and pipes. This was the only way we could get around to check the pumps that were essential to moving the water off the cotton fields and into the dams as some of the fields were completely under water. Between checking the pumps we were just working in the shed, taking care of the odd jobs that had built up over the year. After a couple of days we thought the farm may have dried up enough to start driving back around the farm, we were wrong; after a couple of kilometres we were bogged axle deep in the soft black soil. Luckily the whole farm has mobile reception so we were able to call for help and a tractor was soon on its way to pull us out and pull us around the farm for the rest of the bore run. Eventually it all dried out but the damage was done and were left with the aftermath.

Getting Around Moree Style!

Getting Around Moree Style!

The flood did a lot of damage dropping massive amounts of silt on the paddocks as well as knocking the squares (flowers) off the cotton that was growing in the river paddocks, levee banks were washed away but the most significant damage was done to a pump site by one of the dams. One of the large underground pipes had dropped a couple of inches and opened up a small gap, even though the gap was small the large amount of water  that ran though it had created a large hollow cavern which we only discovered when a bloke stood on top of it and the ground gave way beneath him. To fix it we had to dig out all around the pipe, jack it back up and support it in place while cement was poured around it encasing any remaining gaps. On the positive side on things all the dams on the farm were filled up including one that had only been full once before.

Big Problem, Big Hole

Big Problem, Big Hole

Shortly afterwards I went on a month long hike from Canberra to Bairnsdale in Victoria, after a month’s hiking I emerged from the bush and started talking to a person at the campsite we ended up at only to find out the Moree had been hit by another bigger flood.

Over And Out

Its been other great season working at Norwood in Moree, we finished the last irrigation on Monday which fitted in well with me finishing up on Friday  So between Monday and Friday it was a mixture of chipping, shed work while flying in the afternoon to build up hours for my licence.

We were chipping because it was a CSIRO plant trial for new varieties of cotton and was surrounded by conventional cotton so neither of them could be sprayed with round up. This means large weeds have been able to grow in the cotton which could damage the cotton picker and  the cotton samples.

The slasher and root cutter was in the shed to have all the blades replaced and the root cutting disks measures and adjusted so they would have the correct overlap allowing them to cut efficiently for the upcoming picking season. This was a slow process made even slower by getting the fork lift bogged, with the heavy rear end and the small tires it made it really easy for the fork lift to fall through the soil causing it to bottom out. A quick tow with the tractor and it was back to work.

Because of all of the rain in the past few weeks we hadn’t been able to do any slashing and the airstrip was becoming over grown along with other some spots. The old tractor had no radio, the only air con was a open door and it struggled to hold the three point linkage at hight but it got the job done and the airstrip cleared.

Now I’m about to start my next challenge; starting university hopefully it’ll go alright but I’ll still be going back to Moree from time to time so I can write about what they’re are doing. In the mean time I’ll be writing about farming issues or other aspects of farming, feel free to leave a comment or check out my other websites Farming Photo’s and Cotton Careers.

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Its A Bit Wet

Well its not flooding in Moree but its still very very wet and its making it a bit tricky to get around the farm or just get any where, including up the driveway where I had water go over the bonnet of my Holden ute (water wasn’t moving only risk was electronics failure and a short walk in the rain). By around lunch time today we’d had 100 millimetres of rain and counting but it seems to have stopped now, worried that it might keep raining and cut the road I made the mistake of going out to the farm to drop in my time sheet and then decided to stick around and take a few photos.  Three hours later I was still there.

I was tagging along with manager and the other two fellas who had came into work, water was backing up into the cotton fields and had to be moved quickly to stop water logging. It is a challenge that is a lot easier said then done as the backing up water wasn’t just from the rain falling on the fields and the farm but it was also from the water that was rushing across from the neighbouring property. Even with pumps going at full pace and the gates fully open water was still managing to run over the drop boxes and blow out some channels. The majority of gates are hand operated but some need a hydraulic pump that it run off the ute’s gear box, its a great help for opening some of the real big gates on the property. The water also made it a real challenge to get around.

Just going up the driveway was a big enough challenge with the mud and the neighbours run off giving my commodore a bit of trouble (again there was no danger even though it was fast flowing water it wasn’t deep and the only risk was getting bogged and a awkward phone call), but the commodore powered through and made it to the shed. When I got the shed I got it the old 1996 Toyota Hilux, its an old thing and really battled in spots to get through when the speedo was reading a very optimistic 30 kmph, the engine revving over 4000 rpm, steam coming off the bonnet and more smoke coming out the exhaust then a steam engine. We didn’t get bogged but there where a few close calls and we got very close to the edge of some channels at various times.

We eventually got all the gates set up and water was starting to drain, so as soon as we were back at the shed I jumped soaking wet into my ute and heading straight out the gate. With over 100 millimetres of rain we’ll be able to skip an irrigation so I’ll have a bit of spare time on my hands, I got a fair bit of video footage so I’ll probably try and put them together into some sort of video.

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Getting Home

I’ve made it back in near record time travelling the 3000km in under 46 hours, the trip took me through a wide range of terrain from the thick hedge wood around Daly Waters to the low scrub of the Barkly(were fires still burned amongst all the storms) and the open nothingness of Queensland channel country, fortunately the kangaroos weren’t too bad with Mitchell to St George being the only bad section (it took me three hours to travel that stretch I guess its a record of sorts).  I think it’d be better to take the trip slower over about a week so I’d have more time to check out the sights such as the QANTAS Museum, Stockman’s Hall Of Fame and the many pubs along the way such as Walkabout Creek Hotel in McKinlay.

After arriving home it was a quick trip down the coast for Christmas I’m back in Moree and starting work again irrigating on a cotton farm just outside of town, first shift is New Years Eve night. The blog will soon be redesigned to make it more relevant to life on a cotton farm but information from life at the station will still be available.

So stay tuned

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