Ag Aviation - Uptown

I recently spoke at the Missouri Agricultural Aviation Association. If you think ag aviation (cropdusting, for you folks my age) hasn’t changed a lot, you shoulda been there.

Back in the 1950s, ag aviators flew Stearmans, and for good reason. My old boss Bob Hudgens could buy a new Stearman in a crate and modify it, ending up with a cropduster for a grand total of about $1,000.

By the time I started selling and insuring cropdusters, Stearman operators were fading out, replaced by purpose-made ag aircraft with names like Cessna, Piper, and AgCat. Today many ag aircraft are powered by turbine engines that cost a fortune, but work like the legendary Tasmanian Devil.

What fascinated me most was a terrific safety program called the PASS program, which is put out by the National Agricultural Aviation Association. Presenters Dennis Gardisser, PhD, and Barry Wilson did a great job.

One shocker to me was that it is now illegal to land an ag aircraft (or other restricted category aircraft) at any airport served by airlines, unless you have written permission in advance. Wow! I remember operating those aircraft in/out of Little Rock, AR; Montgomery and Huntsville, AL; Charlotte and Greensboro, NC, and other such fields. Someone said he thought that law was changed after 9/11.

PASS included stats on accidents with details that were very informative. You can bet the ag pilots paid attention.

New info indicated that above 160 miles per hour, current spraying equipment can’t keep the droplets of liquid from drifting. Dennis suggested that — until better nozzles are developed — the pilots should slow down to 159 mph or less to avoid the liability.

Back when I was selling to the industry, there were not — to my knowledge — any airplanes that could spray at 160 mph. Now, with PT-6 P&W engines, they can. BTW, I learned last year from P&W that the ag aircraft market makes up a big percentage of all the small aircraft engines they sell.

There was also a lot of fun to be had at the convention. I didn’t know many of the group, but that didn’t matter. Ag aviation is a small group of people in every state, and many of them knew many people I had known in the old days. We swapped stories aplenty.

From my home in east Tennessee to Cape Girardeau is 520 miles, and I drove it each way. It danged near killed me. I do this every few years when I get tired of dealing with airline schedules, and it is always a mistake. I say I won’t do it again, but somewhere down the road, when the flight schedule doesn’t fit my plans, I probably will. More’s the pity.

I have speeches for aviation groups scheduled in the near future for the Montana DOT in Butte, MT, and for Women in Aviation in Nashville. Both are repeats, and both will — as was the Missouri speech — be fun and informative.

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