Aerial applicators

Allen and Jeff ChormanAllen and Jeff Chorman“It is a generational thing — my dad sprayed for their dads, and now I am spraying for them,” explained Jeff Chorman. “It’s their livelihood out there in the fields, and we take care of it. I get satisfaction from that.”

His father, Allen Chorman, added, “I grew up around airplanes, and I knew what I wanted to do when I was 4 or 5.”

That was in 2012, and they have been going strong ever since.

Even back in 1997, they were considered “tops in their field,” both skilled ag pilots whose routine aerial applications resembled death-defying stunts to the rest of us on the ground.

Each could maneuver the huge Ayers S2R Thrush, with its 600 horsepower radial engine, inches above rows of cornstalks, turn, then fly under field-side telephone wires, skimming rooftops, dodging “sleeper wires” (almost invisible power lines) and/or dive-bombing rows of soybean plants — “tickling the pod” as it was once called.

Both Allen and Jeff have serviced dozens of Delmarva farmers over the years, applying herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. Fellow ag pilot and “best flight instructor in the East” Jimmy Vreeland taught both Allen and Jeff how to fly — decades apart, of course.

Jeff was flying his dad’s Thrush while still in high school, and he earned his commercial license at 18.

How does as anyone, let alone a father-son team learn such a dare-devil style of flying? Here’s how.

He had to fly for a living

It all began with Allen, born in 1946 as the oldest of five children. He grew up near Red Mill Pond and began work on his uncle’s farm. By age 10, he was clearing woods for Joe Hudson, at what is now Eagle Crest Airport in Milton. Allen took his first airplane ride at 12, was “hooked,” and he knew then he had to fly for a living. At this young age, Allen figured out he wanted to fly and be associated with agriculture.

At an honors banquet in 2010, Dale Ockels described Allen as “truly a self-made man with an extreme amount of common sense which you can only get by growing up the hard way.”

Hard work, indeed. Let’s see how he did it.

A natural pilot

Allen took a job at the old Rehoboth Airport, where his father repaired aircraft. He also washed World War II surplus military planes (used for crop-dusting) that were owned by Joe Hudson. During his high school years, Allen learned to fly under Jimmy Vreeland.

Jimmy was so impressed with Allen’s motivation and ability in flight that he called Allen a “natural pilot.” In the aviation community that designation is only given, not self-assigned. It is first earned, then expressed by someone who really knows. Jimmy knew and he was the best flight instructor around, which is why Allen traveled so far, to the flight school in Laurel, while he was still in high school in Lewes.

Sunrises and sunsets

At 17, Allen earned his private pilot certificate; then, two years later, he was flying Joe Hudson’s 450 Stearman, spraying chemicals and spreading seed. Just out of high school in 1965, Allen was spraying fulltime from Rehoboth Airport.

During the 1970s, he handled most of Joe’s aerial application duties, flying all over Sussex County in the Thrush as well. From May through November, he worked 14-hour days, seven days a week, and also flew Joe Hudson’s Twin Beech, spraying for mosquitoes. He would leave in the dark and come back in the dark. Long days for a young man, but he recalls unbelievable sunrises and sunsets to this day, and would not trade a thing.

Chief pilot

In 1972, Allen became Joe’s chief pilot and remained so for 21 years. Again, in the aviation community that is an earned position, not assumed or taken for granted. It is consistently attained, through persistent hard work and sometimes knowledge-based dare-devilish risks. Allen had a few.

What follows is one of many accounts that better explains the designation “chief pilot,” a term describing earned respect and skill, over time... lots of flight time. And that flight time included “full throttle” flying.

One day in 1976, Allen took off from Rehoboth in Joe Hudson’s Twin Beech he fondly called “01,” which had the tail number N6401C — hence “01” for short. That is how private and ag aviators refer to their aircraft — what we might call a nickname… a shortened tail number or type, as in Twin Beech, Ag Cat. The nickname “01” became “prophetic” since that day he was forced to land on only one wheel.

Allen was headed to the Bethany Beach area in “01,” loaded down with chemicals for Delaware Mosquito Control. However, upon take-off from Rehoboth Airport, Allen recognized a problem with the landing gear, as indicated on the lighted control panel. Then he felt and heard a loud “Bang!” which shook the aircraft!

He soon learned that the right wheel had retracted only partially up, and the left wheel was simply hanging in the breeze! That meant both were rather useless for a standard incident-free landing.

To increase the possibility of a safe landing, he decided to drop the heavy load as planned, so he sprayed Bethany and aimed for home. Colleague Buddy Lewis flew under him as they both headed for a safe landing and/or rescue at Sussex County Airport.

Allen landed safely on one wheel and kept the wings up, “as easy as it can be,” certainly all due to pilot skill. Joe Hudson subsequently donated the plane to Midway Speedway Park, where it now floats over a go-kart track. You see it is without landing gear!

Allen Chorman Inc. to Allen Chorman & Son

In 1987, Allen bought Joe Hudson’s aerial spraying business and ran it out of Milton and Milford. The company grew; then with help and advice from son Jeff, together they eventually purchased other ag aviation businesses from local ag pilots, such as Paul Nuwer, David Hrupsa, Doug Gary and the Collins brothers, Rob and Skip.

When his son Jeff joined the business, the name changed, and so did some of the operations. Along with applying pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, their pilots also applied seed and fertilizer to farm fields. Their company grew and changed again.

By 2006, Jeff had purchased a company in Dover, and he added waterfowl counts and reef surveys to their operations. From October through January, Jeff counts waterfowl and eagles over Delaware and Maryland, and reports swan nest locations, as the birds have become an invasive species and harmful to some marsh grasses. Jeff also flies over the Atlantic and counts fishing boats clustered over artificial reef sites.

Luxury condos for fish — Davy Jones’ locker

From April to November each year, Jeff flies over water… miles and miles of water! He checks 14 artificial reef sites in the Delaware Bay and 26 miles off the Atlantic coast. Annually, he conducts 70 flights, counting fishing vessels and reporting the number of fish being caught.

Most of us know that the Mid-Atlantic shore bottom is usually flat, sandy or muddy. Right? So, what attracts the fish? It is the non-toxic reef materials that have been submerged! They provide luxury accommodations for reef fish, such as sea bass and trigger fish, and game fish, such as bluefish or striped bass.

These structure-oriented fish thrive in this habitat. And the Division of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) is happy to provide it.

Since 2001, DNREC has submerged thousands of retired New York City subway cars, ballasted concrete and tire products, decommissioned military vehicles, commercial tugboats, the ex-destroyer U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford and the Shearwater, a 180-foot Army-Navy ship.

They all lie quietly in Davy Jones’ locker on the Atlantic Ocean floor, just 20 miles east of Fenwick Island, and continue to attract fish and fishing boats to be counted.

A few years later, Jeff added more aircraft and more work for the company.

Helicopter frost control

In 2010, Jeff introduced a Bell helicopter to the business for mosquito work, and then, in 2016, he added another Bell 47. Jeff uses these to spot-spray mosquitos as needed on marshlands, where broad, straight-flying/aerial application would not be effective or appropriate.

This same kind of vertical controlled flight was needed spring of 2016, when the Delaware weather threatened peach orchards. During a rare air inversion, with only hours to spare, Bobby Fifer called on Jeff to for his helicopter flying skill. Jeff hovered his Bell over the Wyoming peach trees, and his propellers pushed down the warm air, lessening the extent of frost damage. Some orchards in Lower Delaware were not so lucky.

Beyond crop spraying

As of 2016, Jeff uses the two Bells for mosquito and phragmites work. He has contracts with the states of Maryland and Delaware to eliminate and/or control phragmites, which are very invasive reeds on the marshes. This common reed is a large perennial grass, with tall stems and large showy plumes at the top, and it thrives in the wetlands of Delmarva.

The spray apparatus of the Bell helicopter allows “spot spraying,” and that means it can easily move over, down, up and away from small areas. For this application, the Bell works better than the large spray booms of the Thrush, which is designed to cover acres of row crops in farm fields. In late August 2017, Allen said Jeff was out in his Bell spot-spraying phragmites.

All in all, the Chormans have been very lucky and safe in flight, and they have been most blessed to have wonderful farmer friends and loving supportive families. As of 2016, Jeff Chorman was the owner, still flies full time for the company and is chief pilot in Greenwood, following in his dad’s footsteps.

Father and son admit they “have no hobbies,” and they both have said all they “ever wanted to do was fly a spray plane.” They both know and have said that “any success they had was due to two things — loving families and a team of workers.”

Allen and Jeff continue to work with each other’s strengths, and they illustrate an excellent example of a successful working father-and-son relationship, as well as an effective agricultural aviation service.

They also represent two generations of “full throttle” aerial applicators here on the Cape.