The Ag-Aviation Evolution

Submitted by: Regina Farmer

I was recently talking to a friend of mine from a hilly area in Missouri where there was not much farmland but plenty of pasture. I asked her if she was familiar with the ag aviation industry and she had no clue. It seemed so odd to me that people from other areas didn't grow up to the familiar sound of what we called "crop dusters" flying over the house on a summer morning.
I often stayed at my grandparents' house on the weekends and even more in the summer. The farm was in an area that was considered rice country. We often played in the flooded fields and ran across the levees under the watchful eye of my grandmother. It was a great time to be a child running and playing on the farm.

My husband also grew up on a farm where his dad was a farmer. The other day we were walking next to our rice farm and he told me that as a teenager he often helped "flag" the plane to help guide it to where it needed to spray. With the high-tech GPS systems we have today, I found it so interesting that it wasn't really that long ago where flaggers were used. I asked him to tell me more.

Technology helps us to be more efficient, more precise, and hopefully, safer. But with technology comes more things to learn and use.

He said that they would usually get up around daylight and then head to the fields. He would get on one end of the field and another flagger would get on the other. He would usually have a pole with either a rag or some sort of flag to wave at the plane. Sometimes he would just wave his hands. When the plane was approaching he would know to get out of the way because it would be pretty low.  I couldn't believe my ears when he said that sometimes the plane would fly so low that he could see tire tracks on the levee. 

He flagged for dry and liquid work. When it was liquid it would spray the chemicals all over him and he could smell it all day until he was able to go home to take a bath. He said the most common chemicals were stam and fertilizer, but there were a few chemicals where they weren't allowed to stand in the field.

As we talked about the past, I thought about how far the industry has advanced in terms of technology. I often use my GPS to help me find my location in unfamiliar territory and this same technology helps our ag aviation industry be more precise.
Technology helps us to be more efficient, more precise, and hopefully, safer. But with technology comes more things to learn and use. The ag pilot is responsible for so many things that it is a dangerous profession. My hope is that someday our technology will make it so easy that there will be very few accidents, if any.  I'm anxious to see what evolves in the coming years to make this happen because we want to keep our ag pilot friends safe.

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