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Tue, Mar 02, 2021

100 Years of Ag Flying Celebrated

2021 Brings 100th Anniversary Of Agricultural Aviation

Over the past century, American agriculture has progressed from a labor-intensive industry still largely reliant on four-legged horsepower, to a technology-driven marvel of production efficiency and environmental sustainability.

A key component in the speed and scope of change in food production over the last 100 years has been the advent and evolution of agricultural aviation.

August 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first recorded use of aerial application, when U.S. Army test pilot, Lt. John Macready, spread lead arsonate dust from a World War I surplus biplane.  From that experimental flight for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, ag aviation has evolved to become the production staple farmers rely on today.

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 a destructive moth known as the Catalpa Sphinx in nearby Troy, Ohio, would serve as the test case. The first crop dusting test flight targeted a catalpa grove infested by the moth. Catalpa trees were an important natural resource whose wood was used for building fence posts, telephone poles and railroad ties.

The plane used for the test was called a “Jenny,” the nickname for an ex-military biplane trainer (officially the  Curtiss JN-6). Lt. John A. Macready piloted the Jenny while passenger Etienne Dormoy manually dispensed the lead arsenate. Dormoy designed a crude metal hopper with a hand crank that was bolted to the plane’s fuselage. The hopper’s capacity was 32 gallons. On Aug. 3, 1921, Lt. Macready flew from McCook Field to the nearby catalpa grove to conduct the crop dusting experiment.

In all, the dusting plane passed the grove six times and distributed about 175 pounds of the insecticide. After the 54 seconds it took to apply aerially, less than 1% of the insects remained alive on the catalpa trees after six days of observation of the targeted area. The speed, efficiency and overwhelming effectiveness of the aerial dusting experiment spawned the birth of the agricultural aviation industry.

FMI: https://agaviation100.com

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