There are few things that will make a young man’s heart palpitate and cast his mind into an elongated daydream more than having a fighter jet scream over his head so close he can read the call letters with the naked eye! And, since 1986, the name that immediately jumps into that young man’s head is “Maverick!” You remember Maverick – the Tom Cruise character from TOP GUN? What many people don’t realize, however, is that the first “Mavericks” of the Aviation World were none other than Ag Pilots! And, as head of one of the leading Turbine Training Centers in the world, located in Manhattan, Kansas, Dale Wolcott has done his share of Crop Dusting!
“I have,” Wolcott shared with a smile in his voice, “enjoyed a number of accomplishments in the Aviation World, and perhaps some of my greatest ones occurred while I was flying an Ag Plane. There is no doubt that some of my best memories come from that endeavor!”
Today, Wolcott does Cessna 208 Caravan and Beechcraft King Air training. It is safe to assume that Crop Dusting was around long before the advent of Turboprop Planes! In fact, if you accept the fact that the PRATT & WHITNEY CANDADA PT6 was the first Turboprop, then Crop Dusting was around 30 years prior to the PT6’s 1956 conception.
Interestingly enough, the first Aerial Crop Duster did not use an airplane. Rather, Crop Dusting began in New Zealand in 1906 when a Hot Air Balloon was used to dump seeds over some swampland.
It took a decade and a half for Crop Dusting to come to the U.S. And, like most inventions and/or innovations, it was “mothered” by a need. It all started when Harry Carver, who had a farm just west of Troy, Ohio, had a problem. Carver had a stand of about 5000 catalpa trees that was causing him more than a little consternation. His farm had been invaded by the catalpa sphinx worm, which created a caterpillar who thrived on only one form of foodstuffs — yep, catalpa trees.
Wellllll, Carver knew he needed some help so he got in touch with the Wooster Experiment Station, which was an Ohio state agency devoted to preventing and eradicating diseases in animals and infestation of pests in plants. Little did he know that he had just opened the door to Aviation and Agricultural History!
The folks at the Wooster Experiment Station put their heads together and decided that perhaps the best way to thwart this invasion was by an Aerial Attack. To carry this off, they enlisted the aid of the US (Army) Air Service in Dayton, Ohio. As you may, or may not, know, this was the predecessor of the US Air Force. To fly the plane to be used in the experiment they chose Lt. John Macready, who was in the cockpit of a Curtiss NJ4 “Jenny.” Alongside Macready was an unknown French Aviator who was in charge of operating the actual Crop Dusting Equipment. (Interesting side note: This is the same Lt. Macready who, with Lt. Oakley G. Kelly, was the first to fly a plane non-stop across the United States.)
Today, with the use of a Cessna Caravan Simulator, Wolcott and his staff can train you to be an Ag Pilot. However, these day having Cessna 208 Training isn’t enough. Rather, you will undoubtedly be expected to also know about safe pesticide use and even entomology. Too, you will be expected to always strive to maximize all aspects of preserving the environment.