100 Years of Aerial Application
A modified Curtiss JN-6 “Super Jenny” airplane spreads lead arsenate dust over catalpa trees in Ohio in a successful experiment to kill sphinx moth larvae. C.R. Nellie, an entomologist with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, came up with the idea of combating pests with an airplane. The concept was met with skepticism at first, but eventually a cooperative project was arranged to test Nellie’s idea from the Federal Aviation Experiment Station at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. An outbreak of..Read More
Curtiss biplanes are used to dust cotton fields to control boll weevils. By the early 1900s boll weevils had become a scourge to American cotton fields. The boll weevil is a perfect cotton killing machine. Boll weevils left little standing in their path and disrupted entire local economies throughout the South. Better technology was badly needed to combat the boll weevil, a resilient pest whose path of destruction extended across the Cotton Belt. Approximately 614,000 square miles had been infested..Read More
Huff-Daland Dusters Inc.—the forerunner to Delta Air Lines—is the first known aerial application business established. It does the first commercial dusting of crops with its own specially built aircraft, the Puffer.
Before and after World War II, planes used to spray crops were either civilian or military aircraft modified and equipped to apply liquid or dry materials. One of the most familiar was the open-cockpit Stearman biplane. In the mid-1930s, the Army Air Service adopted the Stearman aircraft as its primary trainer. More than 10,000 were built before production shut down around 1943. In 1946, after the end of WWII, thousands of Stearman biplanes became available on the surplus market. Many..Read More
In the first use of aircraft for forestry seeding, aircraft were used in Honolulu, Hawaii, to seed mountainous forests that had been severely damaged by fire.
Helicopters begin to be used for various forestry operations. Helicopters were used for baiting in reforestation efforts. Baiting involved spreading wheat seeds soaked with a rodenticide (pesticide designed to kill rodents) in recently planted forests in order to give the tree seeds the opportunity to germinate and grow. This ensures the planted trees establish quickly, which in turn helps prevent soil erosion. Helicopters were used in various firefighting efforts, including dumping fire-retardant chemicals on fires, transporting people and equipment,..Read More
Aerial seeding was particularly helpful on less-than-hospitable terrain. Aerial seeding was used to assist reforestation efforts in Oregon following the Tillamook State Forest burn. The Massabesic Experimental Forest research station in Maine experimented with aerial seeding in forest destroyed by fire following a drought. They concluded that aerial seeding of burned over timberland is economically feasible and provides rapid seed distribution.
The first nighttime aerial application takes place in California when a Stearman is outfitted with two 450-watt lights.
Aerial applications at night in the San Joaquin Valley of California expand in order to protect bees during applications of parathion. Bees were present during the few hours of working daylight when applications could be made. Equipping ag aircraft with lights and flying at night allowed applicators to protect the bees. Bee kills became almost nonexistent, which pleased growers. From there, night applications continued to expand in another part of California to keep up with the work demand during busy..Read More
The first flight of the Ag-1, the first plane built specifically for agricultural aviation, takes place Dec. 1, 1950. It was built under the guidance of Fred Weick at the Texas A&M Aircraft Research Center. The Ag-1 had a 39-foot wingspan and was powered by a Continental E-225 engine. Typical operating speeds were 60 to 90 mph, but it could attain a maximum speed of 115 mph. During the summer of 1951, the Ag-1 embarked on a countrywide agricultural tour..Read More
Leland Snow, the godfather of the modern ag aircraft, begins designing his first ag airplane, the S-1. The 23-year-old Snow completed test flights with the S-1 in 1953. Snow flew the S-1 on dusting and spraying jobs in the Texas Rio Grande Valley and in Nicaragua until 1957. He followed up the S-1 with the models S-2A and S-2B, which were built when Snow moved production facilities to Olney, Texas, in 1958. Image: Leland Snow and the Snow S-1 in Texas,..Read More
The Piper PA-18A Super Cub was introduced as a sub-model of the PA-18 Super Cub series of aircraft. The A stood for Agricultural and the model had been modified to allow a hopper. The original Super Cub from Piper Aircraft went into production in 1949. The Piper PA-18A Super Cub remains a popular aircraft to start new ag pilots in before moving them up to bigger, faster ag aircraft.—Image reproduced with permission from FLYING magazine.
Howard Piper of Piper Aircraft approaches Fred Weick to see if Weick and Texas A&M would be interested in developing a new agricultural aircraft sponsored by Piper. Weick agreed and eventually joined Piper Aircraft as chief engineer of its development center. He produced his most famous model, the Ag-3, at Piper. Weick had envisioned the Ag-3 as being a smaller version of the Ag-1, but it became known by another name: the Piper PA-25 Pawnee. The Pawnee became the backbone..Read More
The first use of a fixed-wing ag aircraft for firefighting occurred when a Boeing Stearman was used to help contain a fire in the Mendocino National Forest in California. Willows Flying Service removed the spraying valves from the aircraft, and the pilot released the fire retardant from the 170-gallon tank using a hinged fire gate that was opened with a rope.
The Transland Company produces the Ag-2 ag airplane. The success of the Ag-1 plane from Texas A&M caught the attention of the Transland Company. Founded in 1945, the Torrance, California, company found success converting surplus World War II aircraft into crop dusters. Transland worked with Texas A&M on designing and building the Ag-2, which also became known as the Transland Ag-2. Construction began in 1954 and the first test flight was on Oct. 11, 1956,in Torrance, California. The idea behind..Read More
The use of agricultural aircraft for firefighting continued to increase. A 1956 report from the USDA Forest Service documented its effectiveness. In 1956 following the success of Willows Flying Service’s Stearman for firefighting, six more agricultural aircraft were converted to air tankers in California. These aircraft became the Willows Air Tanker Squadron and were a critical part of the firefighting force there. These aircraft, piloted by agricultural aviators from northern California, dumped 83,000 gallons of water and 66,000 gallons of..Read More
Pratt and Whitney Canada assembled a team of 12 talented young engineers after studies showed a market opportunity for 500 shp (shaft horsepower) class turboprop engines in the aircraft market then powered by piston engines. Pratt and Whitney Canada channeled some of the profits from its piston engine spare parts business toward the development of gas turbine engines smaller than those made by its U.S. parent. About a decade and a half later, ag aircraft embraced the technology. —Image: Twelve key..Read More
The Grumman G-164 Ag-Cat is the first aircraft specifically designed by a major aircraft company for agricultural aviation. The purpose-built ag aircraft represented a huge step up in safety and reliability from converted dusters. Grumman originally considered marketing the G-164 aircraft under the name “The Grasshopper.” However, an aerial applicator named Dick Reade in Missouri suggested “Ag-Cat,” following the naming convention Grumman used of adding the suffix “-Cat” to its other aircraft names, such as the F6F Hellcat. Grumman agreed..Read More
Pawnees and Cessna Ag Wagons are introduced, further increasing aircraft options for the agricultural aviation industry. Cessna Aircraft entered the agricultural aviation sector in the mid-1960s. Its first aircraft designed solely for agricultural aviation was the Ag Wagon, which quickly became popular with aerial applicators. Building upon the original 150-gallon-hopper Piper Pawnee, future iterations in the 1960s brought more improvements and power. In 1964, the Pawnee B was upgraded to a 235-horsepower Lycoming O-540-B2B5 six-cylinder engine. The hopper increased in..Read More
The origin of what would become the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Aerial Application Technology Research Unit begins work at College Station, Texas. The roots of ARS aerial application research can be traced to the beginnings of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Dense jungle vegetation, which provided cover for enemy forces, posed a serious challenge to air support for U.S. ground forces. The Department of Defense requested USDA-ARS assistance to find ways to defoliate jungle areas in Vietnam...Read More
Leland Snow sells Snow Aeronautical Co. to Rockwell-Standard. The Model S-2R was developed during this time and named the Thrush.
The National Agricultural Aviation Association is founded to, among other things, be the “recognized public policy advocate for the agricultural aviation industry.” Before this period, much of the industry was organized via regional associations, as well as operators and pilots exchanging information at “fly-ins.” Some in the industry, such as a group in the Great Plains region, wanted to regulate themselves to better control the application of pesticides before the government would step in. However, 14 CFR, Part 137 was..Read More
Leland Snow resigns from Rockwell when the company moves its aircraft factory from Olney, Texas, to Albany, Georgia. Back on his own, Snow devotes the next two years to designing the first Air Tractor ag plane.
Leland Snow founds Air Tractor Inc. in Olney, Texas. Construction begins on the Air Tractor AT-300, which later became the AT-301.
The World of Agricultural Aviation debuts as the official magazine of the National Agricultural Aviation Association. The publication, which is now named Agricultural Aviation, focuses on providing substantive information promoting aviation safety and environmental stewardship to the ag aviation industry and continues to publish to this day. Agricultural Aviation has a circulation of about 4,500 and is read by aerial application owner/operators and pilots, allied suppliers, ag aviation supporters, educators and government officials.
Turbine engines introduced. Turbine engines increased the speed of agricultural aircraft, boosting the speed of what was already the fastest way to treat crops. Turbine engine technology represented a quantum leap forward for agricultural aviation, because in addition to being more powerful and able to hold more payload, turbines were more reliable than piston powered radial engines. Turbine engines increased the cruising speed of agricultural aircraft by 20 mph or greater and allowed the hopper capacity to increase 75% from..Read More
Air Tractor’s first turbine model, the AT-302, is introduced.
Rockwell sells the production rights for its agricultural aircraft to Ayres Corp.
Automatic flagman, GPS triangulation, vortex generators and pitch pump analysis are introduced. These technologies increased the accuracy of aerial applications and the safety of ag aviation crews by minimizing exposure to the agricultural products being applied. Automatic flagmen offered the first technological advance to remove the need for a human flagger in the field being treated. At the end of a pass, an ag aviator would dispense a biodegradable paper flag to mark the location of the pass. This allowed..Read More
Operation S.A.F.E. (Self-Regulating Application & Flight Efficiency) was designed by the National Agricultural Aviation Association to enhance aerial application efficacy and precision through the establishment of professional application analysis clinics to calibrate spray equipment technology on ag planes and helicopters.
NAAA’s Board of Directors establishes the National Agricultural Aviation Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to foster research, technology transfer and advanced educational opportunities among aerial applicators, allied industries, government agencies and academic institutions.
The first high speed wind tunnel used to measure the droplet size from aerial applications begins operation at the USDA-ARS aerial research facility in College Station, Texas. This wind tunnel provided accurate droplet size data for aerial applications, which allowed for agricultural aircraft to be better equipped with spray equipment that properly balanced efficacy and drift mitigation. The data has since become critical for getting pesticides registered for aerial applications. Aerial applicators rely on the data for setting up their..Read More
Mabry Anderson’s history of the agricultural aviation industry is published in his book Low & Slow: An Insider’s History of Agricultural Aviation. It is the first known history of the industry written and is beloved by those in the industry who have read it.
AgAir Update is converted from a newsletter of the Georgia Agricultural Aviation Association into a national newspaper published by former aerial applicator Bill Lavender. Today, AgAir Update, along with Agricultural Aviation magazine, provides industry news on safety and professionalism. AgAir Update is published in English, Spanish and Portuguese and has more than 4,000 subscribers worldwide.
NAAA and NAAREF release “Aerial Application’s Growing Role,” a videotape designed to inform the general public about the benefits of aerial application to production agriculture. In 2009 the video was remade.
GPS becomes commercially available to aerial applicators. GPS provides a very accurate way to provide swath guidance that reduces overspray and results in a markedly more targeted application. It also provides a key tool needed to allow aerial applicators to begin practicing precision agriculture, allowing applied materials to be administered much more efficiently by treating only where needed, and in specific doses, based on a plant’s health.
A 1994 NAAA survey finds that 25% of the agricultural aviation aircraft fleet is equipped with GPS for swath marking, signifying a strong start to a revolution in avionics that will significantly enhance the industry’s precision and effectiveness.
The National Agricultural Aviation Research and Education Foundation introduces the Professional Aerial Applicators’ Support System (PAASS), a safety education program created to teach ag pilots the latest in aviation safety, security and environmental stewardship. The PAASS Program is offered at state and regional agricultural aviation conferences across the country each year. The PAASS Program has been successful in helping reduce both drift and agricultural aviation accidents. Data from two Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO) surveys, conducted before..Read More
The Aircraft-Integrated Meteorological Measurement System (AIMMS), a tool that can be installed on ag aircraft and used by aerial applicators to monitor in-flight weather conditions in real time, is developed. It enhances aerial applicators’ ability to mitigate drift by measuring wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity in flight. Real-time weather data is transmitted to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which lines the aircraft up accordingly to account for the air movement. By checking the temperatures at different heights, AIMMS..Read More
After the Federal Aviation Administration issues a complete ground stoppage for all U.S. aircraft following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, NAAA succeeds in obtaining government approval to fly again, making agricultural aviation the first sector of general aviation allowed back up in the air after the tragic terror attacks against the U.S. on 9/11. 9/11/2001 Aftermath: Academic, medical, and government experts conclude that due to the size, air wake and nozzle type typically used in ag aircraft, it..Read More
Strobilurin fungicides, useful in controlling a broad spectrum of common plant pathogens on many different crops, are introduced to the market. Because of their ability to thwart crop diseases and increase crop yields, these fungicides soon became a game-changer for farmers and aerial applicators alike due to strobilurin fungicides’ terrific results and the fact that aerial application is the preferred method of application. Why? Three reasons: its speed, better efficacy and the fact agricultural aircraft can make applications to mature..Read More
After a six-year NAAA legislative advocacy campaign, Congress enacts legislation unconditionally allowing aerial application operators to be exempt from the federal excise tax on fuel used to ferry and apply crop protection products in ag aircraft. The fact that ag aircraft operate in remote areas and do not commonly use public airports or the air traffic system paved the way for the exemption.
Precision application is embraced by the aerial application industry. This includes remote sensing, which uses geospatial images taken by satellites, manned aircraft or drones to pinpoint, via various types of imaging, pest problems and nutrient deficiencies in the crop. Prescription maps are made from these images, which, along with GPS and flow-control plumbing/application systems, provides specific doses of pest control products or nutrients depending on the needs of individual plants in a particular field. The use of precision agricultural technologies..Read More
National Agricultural Aviation Association launches a public outreach campaign to raise awareness about the worrisome effects of wind energy development on agriculture and aviation. Meteorological Evaluation Towers (METs) are used to measure an area’s suitability for a wind farm. These towers can be erected very quickly and often did not need to be marked, making them a major hazard for low-altitude aviators. From 2008 to 2018, there were 22 agricultural aviation accidents from collisions with METs, communication towers, towers..Read More
The aerial application of seeds for cover crops expands. Cover crops are grasses, legumes, small grains and other low-maintenance crops planted specifically to improve soil health and biodiversity. By sowing the seeds aerially with a preharvest cover crop application, cover crops control erosion, retain and recycle soil nutrients, build organic matter to improve soil health, improve water quality and moisture availability, and break disease and insect cycles. Census of Agriculture data indicates an increase in cover crop acreage of 10.3..Read More
Night vision goggles expand nighttime aerial applications. The 2019 NAAA Aerial Application Industry Survey shows that 7% of the aerial applications are made after dark, and night vision goggles are used in 15% of those. The top two reasons for making nighttime aerial applications is to protect bees and protect field workers, who are not present at night.
National Agricultural Aviation Association releases its Aerial Application Industry Survey of Part 137 operators and ag pilots, which shows that operators are embracing a range of methods and technologies, such as GPS (utilized by 99% of pilots by then) and flow-control valve technology, to increase efficiencies and minimize drift. The data is used to preserve the aerial use of a crop protection product and/or prevent aerial use restrictions for a crop protection product while still ensuring environmental and occupational safety.
The FAA considers how best to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems (a.k.a. drones) into the National Airspace System. Drones are a double-edged sword for the aerial application industry. On one hand, drones have become a significant safety obstacle for agricultural pilots operating in the same low-altitude airspace. On the other hand, drones could become a complementary tool that aerial applicators adopt for certain smaller spray jobs or to perform aerial imaging for land and crop monitoring purposes. At present, drones’..Read More
During the summer of 2013 Walt Disney Animation Studios released the movie Planes followed by the sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue in 2014. Planes is about Dusty Crophopper, an ag plane that spreads fertilizer by day but practices aerobatic maneuvers and dreams of being a racing aircraft. It doesn’t help that he has a fear of heights. The sequel has Dusty training to get certified as a firefighting plane. He has water tanks installed and becomes a single engine air..Read More
The National Agricultural Aviation Association marks its 50th anniversary of representing the aerial application industry. Accident rates have declined markedly, multiple vegetative management products have been allowed to be applied by aerial application, and a less intrusive regulatory environment exists due to NAAA’s policy advocacy and educational programs.
NAAA advocacy results in Congress enacting a federal statute requiring the FAA to develop and enforce the marking of meteorological evaluation towers (METs) between 50 and 200 feet in rural areas and to develop a database requiring these towers’ geographical coordinates be logged. Communication towers in rural areas within the same height range must be either marked or have their coordinates logged into the FAA’s tower database.
NAAA releases its 2019 Aerial Application Industry Survey of Part 137 operators and pilots. The new survey documents an increase in the number of aerial application operations and agricultural aviation pilots in the U.S. since 2012 and an increase in acres treated compared to the 1960s. Today there 1,560 aerial application businesses treating 127 million acres of cropland or 28% of the commercial cropland in the U.S. There are approximately 2.3 aircraft per agricultural aviation operation, or a total of..Read More
With the coronavirus disrupting daily life globally, NAAA—through contact with the White House, Vice President Pence’s Coronavirus Task Force, the FAA, USDA and Department of Homeland Security—ensures crop input services, such as those provided by aerial applicators, are listed as essential. The Department of Homeland Security identified 16 “Essential Critical Infrastructures” that includes both the agriculture and chemical industries. The “essential” designation allows aerial application work safeguarding the nation’s food supply to continue uninterrupted during stay-at-home orders from state and..Read More
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the agricultural aviation industry, the National Agricultural Aviation Association launched a promotional campaign to highlight the historical significance, continued importance and technological advances that cemented agricultural aviation as a vital cog in the production of a safe, affordable and abundant supply of food, fiber and bioenergy for the benefit of worldwide consumers. This included a broad, nationwide public relations campaign to educate the media, public and policymakers about the industry’s past and its importance..Read More
Confronting environmental challenges from a growing population to ensure a stable and ample food supply is the next great challenge facing agriculture. Aerial applicators are well-suited to help farmers face these challenges. According to the United Nations, the world population is projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, meaning the next three decades may see an additional 2 billion people occupying the planet. That means cities and urban areas will continue to expand and farmland use will likely continue to..Read More