This week marks a milestone in general aviation history, the centennial anniversary of agricultural aviation. On Aug. 3, 1921, U.S. Army test pilot Lt. John Macready flew a WWI-surplus Curtiss JN-6 Jenny to apply insecticide dust over a Catalpa (a tree species used for telephone poles and fencing) grove threatened by Sphinx moth caterpillars. The experimental flight over Troy, Ohio, was conceived by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and proved successful, dispatching the infestation and giving rise to the cropduster as a vital agricultural tool.
Since then, the agricultural aviation industry has grown to treat more than 127 million acres of cropland aerially each year in the U.S. using rugged aircraft that are designed to handle as many as 100 takeoffs and landings every day from rough landing strips. In addition, aerial applicators seed 3.8 million acres of cover crops annually and are responsible for helping to sequester 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually.
“Along with its essential place in agriculture, aerial application has become an important tool in wildfire fighting, as well as in public health for mosquito control,” said Andrew Moore, CEO of the National Agricultural Aviation Association. “It’s a safe bet that what began as an experiment in 1921 will continue to offer solutions to other challenges in the coming decades, like climate change and the increasing demand for food.”