At the crack of dawn, before most of us are up and going, there is a ballet being performed in the skies. Tom Burdick is a special type of pilot. He dances amidst the clouds flying high, winging over and swooping down from the heavens over southern Louisiana. He and his team crop dust the plantations that are featured in the FLYING SOLO series of books, which I have written for AgeView Press. Not only can he fly, he can write. Burdick has served as my technical consultant for the crop dusting passages in SOLO VIETNAM. In addition, he contributed to the dramatic plane crash sequence in WAITING IN THE WINGS. His heart and soul is flying and that’s what comes through in his desciptions of soaring through the heights. He once told me that he’s never happier than when flying. He described it as his lifeblood. I am elated and honored to call him not only a colleague, but a dear friend. Enjoy this article about Tom published some time ago in the Baton Rouge Business Journal.
Original Article and Photos By: Chuck Hustmyre published Nov 30, 2007 at 6:00 am. (Updated May 4, 2012)
Tom Burdick swoops in fast and low, the wheels of his airplane almost brushing the tops of the trees standing along the edge of the field. He levels the wings and dips the bright yellow nose toward the ground. He’s zooming in at 130 mph, with the afternoon sun behind him. From the ground, Burdick looks like he’s lining up for a strafing run as he aims the sleek, single-engine propeller-driven plane at a field.
In a sense Burdick is making a strafing run, although it’s not a line of enemy planes he’s attacking, but a row of crops. From a height of only eight feet, he triggers the release of the plane’s payload, and a line of nozzles along the trailing edge of the wing spews an aerosol cloud that swirls in the wake of his prop wash. Burdick roars across the field in seconds. He pulls back on the control stick and rockets skyward. At the top of his climb, he kicks the rudder over and banks into a steep turn, setting himself up for another diving pass at the field.
In the business, he’s known as an A.G.—an agriculture pilot. His munitions of choice aren’t bombs or bullets, but pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Not that he hasn’t seen a few bullets. “I was shot at once,” he says. “I found two holes—one in the tail and one in the wing.”
Burdick, a 62-year-old, who although is short in stature, stands tall, exudes quiet confidence.. He started flying right out of high school, paying for his pilot training by working the flight line at an airport in his hometown of Madison, Wis. As a newly winged commuter pilot, Burdick flew VIPs around Wisconsin, including the governor on a campaign tour. Later, he spent four years as an air traffic controller at the hyperkinetic Los Angeles Center in Palmdale, Calif., directing commercial jets and other aircraft over central California and northern Mexico. Burdick lost that job when the air traffic controllers’ union staged a walkout in 1981, a move that prompted President Ronald Reagan to fire all the strikers.Fortunately, a crop duster training school in Casa Grande, Ariz., 460 miles away, was accepting new students. “I rode my motorcycle from Palmdale to Casa Grande in the middle of the night,” Burdick recalls. During the ride he hit a patch of black ice with his Kawasaki 550 and went down, knocking off his windshield. He froze for the rest of the trip. “It was so cold my face was stuck.” At crop duster school Burdick met a guy from Louisiana looking to hire an ag pilot, so in February 1982, he packed up what few belongings he had and moved to South Louisiana. He’s been here ever since.
For the full text article, you can see it here.
Tom Burdick is pretty basic – and that is how he started his company. Aerial Crop Care, which began with only one pilot, Tom, now boasts an annual revenue upwards of 1.2 million. His team of five pilots fly Air Tractor AT-502 crop dusters, which are impressive machines that cost upwards of $800,000. The sleek, long-nosed, low-wing planes pack a 750-horsepower propeller-driven turbine engine that runs on jet fuel. They top out at about 150 mph and has a 500-gallon hopper built into the nose to hold chemicals or seeds. In addition, they founded Mosquito Squad, a company which combats mosquito invasion. Tom was instrumental in the design of the state of the art plane used to combat the pests. But Tom Burdick’s only love isn’t flying. He is the proud parent of two grown children and grandpa to a precoscious two year old pilot-in-training. During National Aviation Week, AgeView Press is proud to recognize and salute this outstanding professional in the skies!