Aerial Application

Table of Contents

Aerial application, also known as crop dusting, topdressing or aerial topdressing.
Is the process where fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides are sprayed or dispersed over crops or pasture.

Wanganui Aero Works Cresco
Image uploaded from


Aerial seed sowing 1906
It was in 1906 when the first known aerial application of agricultural materials was spread by John Chaytor in 1906. John spread seed over a swamped valley floor in Wairoa, New Zealand using a Hot air balloon with mobile tethers. To date aerial seed sowing still continues on a small scale.

Crop dusting 1921
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. Under the direction of McCook engineer Etienne Dormoy, a United States Army Air Service Curtiss JN4 Jenny piloted by John A. Macready was modified at McCook Field to spread lead arsenate to kill catalpa sphinx caterpillars at a Catalapa farm near Troy, Ohio in the United States. The first test was considered highly successful. The first commercial operations were begun in 1924, by Huff-Daland Crop Dusting, which was co-founded by McCook Field test pilot Lt. Harold R. Harris. Use of insecticide and fungicide for crop dusting slowly spread in the Americas and to a lesser extent other nations in the 1930s and 1940s.

Top dressing 1939-1946
Aerial topdressing, the spread of fertilizers such as superphosphate, was developed in New Zealand in the 1940s by members of the Ministry of Public Works and RNZAF, led by Alan Pritchard and Doug Campbell - unofficial experiments by individuals within the government led to funded research. Initially fertilizer and seed were dropped together (1939), using a window mounted chute on a Miles Whitney Straight, but by the end of the 1940s different mixtures of fertilizer were being distributed from hoppers installed in war surplus Grumman Avengers and C-47 Dakotas, as well as some privately operated de Havilland Tiger Moths in New Zealand, and the practise was being adopted experimentally in Australia and the United Kingdom. Crop dusting poisons enjoyed a boom after World War II until the environmental impact of widespread use became clear, particularly after the publishing of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Topdressing In New Zealand
Video embedded from YouTube on 07 August 2012 (see Cineflix, undated-a3)

Water bombing 1952
Aerial firefighting, or water bombing, was tested experimentally by Art Seller's Skyways air services in Canada in 1952 (dropping a mix of water, fertilizer and seed), and established in California in the mid 1950s.

Firefighting Aircraft
Video embedded from YouTube on 12 August 2012 (see Cineflix, undated-b4)

Night aerial application 1973-present
Crop dusting at night is mostly liquid spray and is conducted in the Southwest U.S. deserts. The rising cost of pesticides and increasing immunity built up by continuous spraying reduced the effectiveness of spraying in daytime. In high temperature areas, the insects would travel down in plants in daytime and return to the top at night. The aircraft — both fixed wing, autogyros and helicopters — were equipped with lights, usually three sets: Work lights were high power and aimed or adjustable from the cockpit; wire lights were angled down for taxiing and wire or obstruction illumination; and turn lights were only turned on in the direction of the turn to allow safe operation on moonless nights where angle of entry or exit needed to be illuminated. These aircraft were equipped with pumps, booms, and nozzles for spray application. Some aircraft were equipped with an elongated metal wing called a spreader, with inbuilt channels to direct the flow of dust such as sulfur, used on melons as a pesticide and soil amendment. Very little pesticide dust was used day or night in comparison to spray, because of the difficulty in drift control. Workers on the ground, called "flaggers", would use flashlights aimed at the aircraft to mark the swaths on the ground; later, GPS units replaced the flaggers due to new laws restricting use of human flaggers with some pesticides.

1. WIKIPEDIA (2012). Aerial Application. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 06 August 2012.
2. TEARA (2012). Top Dressing. Retrieved from TEARA on 06 August 2012.
3. CINEFLIX (undated-a). Top Dressing New Zealand, Undated. retrieved from YouTube on 05 August 2012. 
4. CINEFLIX (undated-b).Firefighting Aircraft, Undated. retrieved from YouTube on 12 August 2012.
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