With National Aviation Day quickly approaching I figured I would touch base on a subject that does not get brought up all too often, aerial application. You might know of it as “crop dusting,” which involves spraying crops with fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides from an agricultural aircraft. The specific spreading of fertilizer is also known as aerial topdressing. These agricultural aircrafts are often purpose-built, though many have been converted from existing airframes. Helicopters are sometimes used, and some aircraft serve double duty as water bombers in areas prone to wildfires.
(Want to know more about these fertilizers and pesticides? CLICK HERE)
The first known aerial application of agricultural materials was by John Chaytor, who in 1906 spread seed over a swamped valley floor in Wairoa, New Zealand, using a hot air balloon with mobile tethers. Aerial sowing of seed has continued on a small scale. The first known use of a heavier-than-air machine occurred on 3 August 1921. Crop dusting was developed under the joint efforts of the U.S. Agriculture Department, and the U.S. Army Signal Corps’s research station at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. Aerial topdressing, the spread of fertilizers, was developed in New Zealand in the 1940s by members of the Ministry of Public Works and RNZAF, of which unofficial experiments by individuals within the government led to funded research. This exploration eventually led to several privateers and other companies to offer the service we know today as crop dusting.
If you have ever seen a crop dusting pilot performing their acrobats, you know it can be quite mesmerizing. However, these maneuvers are very dangerous and this career is said to be one of the most precarious of them all. One of the dangers for the pilot includes encountering obstacles. The plane flies low, so the pilot must be very careful not to run into electrical wires and fences. He/She is flying an aircraft close to the ground at high speeds while paying close attention to his instruments, keeping track of the chemicals that he is spraying and trying not to run into anything in the process. Many crop dusting pilots have crashed in an emergency or forced landing in a country field.
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Check out this amazing footage one crop duster captured!