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. This required research to find the most effective herbicides and spray methods to get effective spray doses into the canopy. As research continued, the USDA-ARS explored new methods for assessing spray penetration and movement. Early flight testing used an Ag-Cat. Wind tunnel testing of aerial technologies was part of these early research efforts, the first testing of this kind in the world.

Throughout its existence, the USDA’s aerial application research arm has made aerial applications more efficient, effective and precise. The USDA-ARS Aerial Application Technology Research Unit (AATRU), as it is known today, conducts a variety of research projects related to aerial application. It is the largest aerial application research group in the country and has access
to resources that no other research group has available.

The work of the USDA’s aerial application research arm helps the aerial application industry improve technologies and best management practices. Information supplied by AATRU is used by aerial applicators to improve the quality of their applications. For example, aerial applicators consult with aerial spray nozzle decision support tools developed and updated by the Aerial Application Technology Research Unit to determine the right nozzle or settings for their nozzle of choice for the application job.

The USDA’s AATRU also serves as an unbiased government source that regulatory agencies can use to assist them in developing reasonable regulations. The data can be used to show that aerial applications are both extremely effective and safe.