It was early-August, 1921 when John B. Macready flew a Curtiss JN-4 over catalpa trees near Troy, Ohio, killing 99% of the leaf caterpillars, saving the 5,000 trees with 175 pounds of lead arsenate pesticide. Crop dusting was actually developed under the joint efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ 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 the lead arsenate to kill the catalpa sphinx caterpillars at a Catalapa farm near Troy, Ohio. The first test was considered highly successful. In 1922, Curtiss biplanes were used to dust cotton fields near Tallulah, LA, to control bollweevils. Also, highly succesful.
The first commercial operations were thought to start a few years later in 1923 and 1924, in Macon, Georgia, 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 across the U.S. and to a lesser extent to other nations in the 1930s. The name ‘crop dusting’ originated here in the U.S., as people perceived actual dust being spread across the crops.
It wasn’t until1951, that Leland Snow designed the first aircraft specifically built for aerial application, the S-1. In 1957, The Grumman G-164 Ag-Cat was the first aircraft designed by a major company for ag aviation. Currently, the most common agricultural aircraft are the Air Tractor, Cessna Ag-wagon, Gippsland GA200, Grumman Ag Cat, PZL-106 KRUK, M-18 Dromader, PAC Fletcher, Piper PA-36 Pawnee Brave, Embraer EMB 202 Ipanema, and Rockwell Thrush Commander but multi-purpose helicopters are now also being used. Recently we have started to see the use of more UAV (drone) crop dusters, such as the Yamaha R-MAX, which is currently being expanded into use in the U.S. for the spraying of vineyards. From what I understand, the UAV’s are up in the sky 10–12 hours a day seven days a week.
Aerial application is used for many different purposes today. Planes. helicopters, and UAV’s are used to seed rice and wheat, defoliate cotton prior to harvest, fight forest and grassland fires, protect forests, feed fish, melt snow and control mosquitoes that threaten public health. All of this is in addition to the usual function of applying herbicides, insecticides and fertilizer to fruit, vegetable and feedgrain crops. Approximately 2,700 professional aerial application operators and pilots operate in the U.S. today. Aerial application is estimated to account for up to one-fourth of the delivery of crop production products in American agriculture. I tip my hat to the men and women who risk their lives in this line of work each day to help better American agriculture!
Just for fun… I thought I should mention, a group of investors purchased Huff-Daland Dusters in 1928, and they renamed the company Delta Air Service for the Mississippi Delta region it served and started offering passenger air service the following year with some of the pilots and planes they acquired. In fact, Delta continued to operate a crop-dusting division until 1966. Today, there are two original Dusters remaining in the Delta museums. One was restored by Delta employees in honor of Delta’s principal founder C.E. Woolman. This plane was later donated to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.