NAAA’s return to Reno, Nev., last week for the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo was a lot like its host city. In keeping with Reno’s slogan as the biggest little city in the world, substantively, the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo was among the biggest conventions NAAA has ever had in the biggest little city!
Here are five indicators from the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo that speak to the show’s success.
Exhibitors: NAAA had another stellar trade show, with 158 exhibitors and nine aircraft on display inside the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, as well as several UAVs. Thank you to Ag-Nav, Air Tractor, Cascade Aircraft Conversions, Fire Boss, Isolair Helicopter Systems, Thrush Aircraft and Turbine Conversions for providing the 2018 NAAA Trade Show aircraft.
Attendance: More than 1,300 attendees and booth personnel registered for the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo. While the convention has been in Reno many times before, this was NAAA’s first time back since 2013 and the first time the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa has served as NAAA’s headquarters hotel. Exhibitors and attendees alike appreciated the proximity between the hotel and the convention center, which was connected by a short walkway. That was a big plus, as well as having the ability to host nearly everyone under one roof. NAAA filled its room block at the Atlantis and had to open another one at a nearby hotel.
Auction: The 2018 Live Auction raised important and necessary resources to support NAAA programs and services. We are very thankful for all the companies that support NAAA programs by donating an auction item and greatly appreciate Pratt & Whitney Canada for donating a brand new PT6A-34AG engine. There were several bidders for the engine, but ultimately, Des Neill and Josh Calder from New Zealand purchased the engine for $415,000. Thank you again to Pratt & Whitney Canada and Des Neill and Josh Calder.
NAAA Ag Aviation Expo App: The Ag Aviation Expo App came in handy for those who used it at the convention. With 483 unique users, attendees spent an average of 10 minutes on the app. They also could develop their own personal schedule for the week and receive alerts about upcoming sessions they wanted to attend.
Sponsors: NAAA was honored to have 39 companies sponsor different events and items at the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo. Thank you again to everyone, including our Diamond Sponsors: BASF, Bayer CropScience, Corteva Agriscience, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Syngenta.
Here are more highlights from the 2018 Ag Aviation Expo. Let’s review!
MONDAY, DEC. 3
NAAA’s Kickoff Speaker Hits All the Right Notes
The convention opened with YouTube celebrity Greg Peterson of the Peterson Farm Brothers as the keynote speaker at NAAA’s Kickoff Breakfast. Peterson hit the right notes by delivering an entertaining and informative message about communicating about agriculture in a positive way.
Peterson, 27, grew up and still works on his family’s farm in Assaria, Kan. His two brothers and their dad work on the farm full-time, but technically it isn’t big enough to support him and his three siblings full-time. Greg works on their social media full-time and on the farm part-time and does lots of public speaking as well. “We like to joke that we don’t just raise cattle and crops, but we have another commodity on the farm, and that is YouTube videos,” Peterson said.
How did that start? Greg always enjoyed singing and majored in agricultural communications and journalism at Kansas State University. Those ingredients began to coalesce while watching a promotional video for agriculture in class one day in 2012. It was interesting enough to him, but Peterson doubted his friends from Kansas City would sit and watch a documentary style video about farming.
So he took the opposite route, producing a “Weird Al” Yankovic style parody video set to tune of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” Greg and his brothers version, “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” was filmed while they did their farm work. The parody video was designed to reach Greg’s friends; it was never intended to go viral, but it quickly exploded. They reached a thousand views shortly after they posted the video on YouTube and then it blew up, garnering more than 5 million views in a little over a week.
That sparked a slew of statewide media coverage and an invitation to appear on the top-rated Fox News Channel morning show Fox and Friends. Growing up in Kansas, Peterson knew there were some people who didn’t know what farming was like. Flying to New York City for Fox and Friends illustrated to him how disconnected most of the population is from agriculture, particularly urban dwellers.
The Fox and Friends appearance was one of the first interviews Peterson had ever done. “In one week we had gone from being the Peterson brothers of Assaria, Kan., population 300, to being the Peterson Farm Bros from the Internet—from YouTube.… That’s a very strange feeling to be known by millions of people around the world through the Internet.” In the six years since then, the Peterson Farm Bros have accumulated more than 50 million views for their videos in 237 countries.
There has been a lot of confusion about the value of social media over the years, but the power of social media should be clear now. Peterson said social media in the year 2018 is the main way he and his fellow millennials communicate and get their information. When they started making their farming videos, they quickly learned there isn’t much information about farming and agriculture on social media, and most of the information that was out there was usually wrong and negative. After their first video went viral, they decided they needed to make more videos promoting farming.
Online comment sections can be treacherous to read, let alone respond to, but Peterson monitored the reactions to their farming videos. The tone of viewers’ comments changed from clueless and snarky early on to more pointed criticisms about farming methods in recent years. In response, the Peterson Farm Brothers’ message transitioned from “farmers exist” and “farmers make your food” to farmers do take care of their animals and the environment and are stewards of their resources. “We’ve tried over the last six years to use social media and technology for good and for truth. We’ve also tried to utilize communication tools that 10 years ago we did not have,” Peterson said. “Now, we can do live videos from our smartphones as we’re driving through our field in the middle of Kansas and reach 30,000 people watching us plant corn live.”
Over the last six years the Peterson Farm Bros have expanded their YouTube channel to include informational day-in-the-life videos about what they are doing on the farm. The humorous videos serve as a gateway to their more serious content. A lesson the Petersons learned is the need to have a bridge. “If you want to advocate for agriculture, you’ve got to have that connection with someone from the city, and for us, our most successful way of doing that is parodying these urban style songs. That is our bridge,” Peterson said.
You don’t have to be musically or lyrically inclined, though. There are many ways to connect with people. “We all come from a family. We all grew up in a hometown, in a community. We all have a job. We are all working together toward different things that we have in common.”
After starting on YouTube, they expanded to Facebook and other social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @petefarmbros. Peterson feels that Facebook has become their most effective tool now, even more than YouTube. They also started a blog focused on misunderstood topics in agriculture to address questions and concerns about things like biotechnology, pesticides, animal welfare, hormones and antibiotics. “A lot of people just don’t know what to think. They just hear a lot of conflicting information,” Greg said.
The Petersons’ goal with their blog is to put information about those topics online so people can hear directly from a farmer. Check out their blog posts at PetersonFarmBrothers.com and feel free to use them as a resource. They have several objectives with their online agvocacy, in fact: 1) to reach people from the city and teach them about farming, 2) to correct misinformation and stereotypes about farmers, 3) to inspire people in agriculture to be proud of what they do and stay in agriculture, and 4) to be role models for youth and inspire children to become farmers one day and get involved in agriculture.
Peterson entertained NAAA’s Kickoff Breakfast audience with live performances of “I’m Farming and I Grow It”; “Farmers Feed the World,” a three-song medley parody; “Takin’ Care of Livestock,” a parody of “Takin’ Care of Business,” and his personal favorite, “Chore,” based on Katy Perry’s hit “Roar.”
“If you ever want to advocate for agriculture yourself, something like this is a great way to start the conversation. A funny video or a funny story. Something has to be the ice breaker and get people thinking about farming,” Greg said.
Once people see their videos, they are much more willing to ask questions and be open to what the Petersons have to say. “These videos are very authentic. They’re honest. They are very transparent into our farming operation.… I think that’s another really good place to start when you’re trying to have a conversation.”
At first, Peterson would get into arguments with people online and spar back and forth with them. He came to realize troll warfare was a foolhardy endeavor. What he didn’t realize in the beginning is he wasn’t just having a conversation with one person. Thousands of followers were watching their exchanges online.
“When you’re fighting with someone and kind of throwing punches, that really damages your credibility,” Peterson said. “In our conversations with people outside of agriculture, you have to remain civil; you have to be respectful. Even though it’s hard, that’s your best bet of winning somebody over and establishing that credibility that you have to have to have someone listen to you.”
There are a lot of simple ways to advocate for agriculture. Share social media posts. Have a conversation with someone. If you’re building credibility within your local community, people are much more likely to trust you, he said. “You can do a lot through social media, but I still think people seeing farms and visiting them in person is the best way.”
The first question Peterson fielded from the audience was one asking when he was going to make a song video about ag aviation. It will definitely happen, Peterson said, and has been on his list of ideas for some time.
Aerial Application Technology Research Session
The Aerial Application Technology Research Session was held immediately after the Kickoff Breakfast. The session is intended to provide attendees with a look at results from current research involving aerial application. Seven presentations were delivered in Reno. The first one was by Dr. Brad Fritz with the USDA-ARS Aerial Application Technology Research Unit (AATRU). Fritz’s research compared spray patterns and droplet size distributions for pattern testing conducted both into the wind and with a crosswind. The results showed that the droplet size changes across the pattern width, with the largest droplets depositing on the upwind side and the smaller ones depositing on the downwind side.
Dr. Dan Martin, also with AATRU, presented work being done to find a faster alternative to the typical dry pattern testing methodology of hand-weighing material collected in catch bags. Plates that measure the impact of individual particles and sensors to automatically measure the material in the collection tube at the bottom of the catch bags were both tested, with the sensors providing the most promising results for future use.
Switching back to liquid applications, Russ Stocker, an aerial applicator from Woodland, Calif., talked about working with Capstan Ag’s Swath Pro system. This pulsing nozzle system provides precise flow control independent of pressure for each nozzle and can be used for a variety of things including boom shutoff, boom-length reduction, inflight adjustment of droplet size, variable rate applications, and in the future, boom configuration changes to adjust for spraying in crosswinds.
Next, Dr. Wayne Woldt with the University of Nebraska described results from field evaluations of UAS sprayers. Two UAS sprayers were evaluated using a string-based pattern measurement system and water sensitive cards to measure the spray pattern and coverage. The results showed that increasing the speed of the UAS decreased coverage and that increasing height decreased coverage and swath width.
Dr. Chenghai Yang, also with AATRU, spoke after Woldt and provided a review of the different remote sensing platforms and imaging systems available for agriculture. Satellites, manned aircraft and UAS can all be used. The best option depends on the level of detail needed and the size of the area that needs to be imaged. Speaking of UAS, Martin returned to the stage to give a second talk, this time on a comparison of the effective swath width, spray pattern uniformity and spray droplet size between an R44 helicopter and an HSE six-rotor UAS. The results showed the UAS had an effective swath width approximately half that of the R44 and that both application platforms could meet pesticide label requirements.
The final presentation was given by David Eby of AeroFlow Systems in Wakarusa, Ind. Eby spoke about incorporating risk into AgSync in order to analyze profitability. Some of the information included in the risk calculation includes number and size of fields, distance to fields, swath width, turn time, aircraft type and cost per hour, user-defined profit margin and acres sprayed per year. It also allows the user to adjust the risk calculation by considering things such as towers, windmills and nearby sensitive areas.
This year NAAA was pleased to have representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) participate in the FAA/Security Session. These representatives were Jody Hemler, assigned to FAA’s AFS-820 Commercial Operations Branch; Jude Sellers, representing AFS-350 General Aviation Airworthiness at FAA headquarters; Jennifer Rodi, senior air safety investigator from the NTSB; and Clinton Crookshanks, an NTSB aerospace engineer (structures) assigned to the Denver, Colo., office. All except Mr. Crookshanks have been regular members of this panel discussion.
Rodi has worked with NAAA and the aerial application industry since 2013 when she led an NTSB team tasked with completing a Special Investigation Report (SIR) on the safety of agricultural aircraft operations by observing and investigating ag accidents that occurred in 2013. Since that time, Rodi has assisted NAAREF and the PAASS Program by serving on the Program Development Committee and helping develop safety modules. She began by updating the 2018 ag accident numbers. Although the year is not quite over, she reported there have been 50 ag accidents and eight fatalities as of that date. She noted that the preliminary reports indicate 16 of this year’s accidents are mechanically related and 17 are considered loss of control. Mechanical accidents are one of the accident causes pointed out in the SIR. Loss of control, which may happen in any phase of flight, is one of the most common causes of general aviation accidents and on the NTSB’s “most wanted list” for improvement.
Jody Hemler is NAAA’s point of contact with the FAA on operational issues in the Commercial Operations Branch. Hemler began his presentation by saying his office is tasked with policy and regulatory activity for both manned and unmanned aircraft using the airspace system. There have been no great changes in the procedures for applying for part 137 use of UAVs for application of crop protection chemicals, although the volume of requests remains high.
Hemler affirmed that he would be working with NAAA’s committee on expanding the knowledge and skills tests given to aerial pilots and operators both by the FAA for initial 137 certification and by operators to their hired pilots. He mentioned he would like to see this training given to pilots more often as a refresher during recurrent training.
Throughout the years, one of the main complaints about the FAA is the lack of standardization between different flight standards offices within the FAA. Hemler believes a recent reorganization of the Flight Standards Branch will go a long way toward solving this problem. There are no longer regional offices in the chain of command between FAA headquarters and the district offices. Flight Standards has initiated a General Aviation Safety Assurance (GASA) outreach program which consists of meetings every two weeks between the FSDOs and headquarters covering policy questions and announcement of any changes throughout the FAA. Information will be passed directly to the district office instead of through the regional offices.
Jude Sellers serves in a similar capacity as NAAA’s point of contact with the FAA General Aviation Maintenance Branch to assist with airworthiness concerns. Sellers began by urging cooperation between the FAA and industry to solve compliance problems that may occur. He encouraged members to contact him directly or through NAAA when unusual events develop. This year an operator with firefighting aircraft spotted at various locations was told his home FSDO wanted him to bring his aircraft back to the home base for a routine inspection. When consulted about the problem, Sellers arranged for another FSDO near the aircraft’s current location to do the surveillance and report back to the operator’s home FSDO, thereby saving the operator time and money. Sellers also mentioned he is often asked about field approvals. He stated the FAA does still issue field approvals, regardless of rumors that get circulated. There may be some work involved to complete the process, but it can usually be done.
Clinton Crookshanks is an aerospace engineer for the NTSB. After investigating a wing structural failure, he asked for the opportunity to share some of his investigation into the use of CAM 8 weight increases in ag aircraft. Crookshanks began his presentation by reading the NTSB report of a Weatherly 602B airplane that suffered a structural failure of the wing attachment resulting in fatal injury to the pilot.
The investigation, as is standard protocol for the NTSB, led into a variety of investigations including maintenance of the aircraft and the load placed on the wing’s structure. This aircraft has a Certification Basis of FAR 21.25(a) with policies contained in CAM 8 Appendix B Airworthiness Requirements for Special Purpose of: Agricultural Operations under FAR 21.25 (b)(1). It has been understood that this allowed the aircraft to be flown with a special purpose load above its Maximum Weight of 4,000 pounds.
NAAA believes that CAM 8 is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted documents in use by the FAA today. Those who have tried to figure the proper interpretation of CAM 8 have been given widely different interpretations by different FAA offices. Mr. Crookshanks, according to his interpretation of CAM 8, believes that the increased weight limits do not apply to the Weatherly because Appendix B (see Certification Basis above), by his interpretation, applies to “Airworthiness Criteria for Agricultural and Similar Special Purpose Aircraft,” but Appendix A has the weight change criteria for use on altered aircraft.
Regardless of the interpretation, Crookshanks reminded attendees that when aircraft are used at higher weights, CAM 8 has some cautions that should be followed to keep from overstressing the aircraft. These include: the landing gear and its supporting structure are particularly critical if landings are to be made in excess of the design gross weight; keep taxiing speeds low when the aircraft is overloaded; due to higher wing loadings associated with overload conditions, both flaps-up and flaps-down stalling speeds are increased above their normal value; landing speeds are higher and stalls in turns are more easily encountered when the aircraft is overloaded; the level flight speed and the never-exceed speed should be reduced when the airplane is loaded above its normal gross weight; pull-ups at speeds in excess of the design maneuvering speed should be conducted with extreme caution so as not to exceed the reduced overload factor; etc.
During the question and answer portion of the discussion, Crookshanks was asked for the address of Weatherly Aircraft Company, which he sent to us to include in this newsletter article.
Weatherly Aircraft Company
PO Box 12189
Wichita, KS 67277
1900 Flightline Drive, G3
Lincoln, CA 95648
Phone: (316) 361-0101 (9 a.m.–5 p.m. PST Monday–Friday)
Low-Level Obstacles Session
Once again, this year’s Low-Level Obstacles Session had a heavy focus on the safe integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the national airspace. Andrew Moore, NAAA’s executive director, moderated the panel and discussed NAAA’s efforts to keep ag aviators safe from UAVs, including serving on many federal advisory groups such as the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee, the FAA UAS Safety Team and the FAA Drone Advisory Committee. He also discussed the latest FAA reauthorization bill that requires all towers between 50 and 200 feet tall and less than 10 feet in diameter in rural areas be logged into a database accessible to ag pilots and that meteorological evaluation towers (METs) fitting these specs must be marked. He said due to political pressure exerted by the powerful communications industry, Congress succumbed and removed marking for communication towers fitting the above specs; but they must still be logged into a database. Moore also said NAAA will continue to fight for marking requirements for all towers and referenced a recently updated NTSB safety alert for low-altitude aviators on unmarked towers that broadens the threat to include not just METs but also RTK and communications towers.
The first panelist of the session was Raquel Girvin from the FAA’s Integrated Pilot Program (IPP). The IPP was created October 2017 through an executive order from President Trump. Under this pilot program, states and cities can apply to test new unmanned traffic management systems under 200 feet, allowing flight beyond visual line of sight, nighttime operations and flights over people. These operations are currently allowed only with a waiver from the FAA. The program also allows communities to test different types of ID and tracking technologies—capabilities NAAA believes are necessary for all UAVs.
Over 200 localities applied for the program, and in May of 2018 the Department of Transportation announced 10 program sites throughout the country, each with a different focus on the use of UAVs. Girvin is responsible for overseeing the pilot programs in the Ag Aviation Expo’s host city of Reno and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Under this program the city of Reno is using UAVs to quickly deliver life-saving AED devices and other medical equipment. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is using UAVs for livestock management. Girvin explained the data collected from these sites will make UAV operations safer and more routine. Operations in each of these pilot sites will cease after three years.
The next panelist was Dan Gerecht, a manager for the FAA’s Obstacle Data Team. Gerecht explained to the audience that his team produces both the Daily Digital Obstacle File (published every business day) and the Digital Obstacle File (published every eight weeks), which can provide ag aviators with information about potential obstacles in their flight path before they even take off. Most of these obstacles are over 200 feet, but there are some obstacles under 200 feet added as well. You can read more about how to access these files here. Gerecht’s team is also implementing the 2016 law NAAA worked hard for (referenced above), which requires all towers between 50 and 200 feet tall and less than 10 feet in diameter be logged into a database accessible to ag pilots.
Next was Brad Anderson, the unmanned systems division manager for Yamaha Motor Corp. He gave an overview of Yamaha’s aerial application work and the training and qualifications necessary to operate Yamaha’s UAVs. For example, all UAV operators applying crop protection products must have their commercial pilot certificate. He assured the audience Yamaha’s operators make safety a priority and take several precautions to avoid conflicts with manned aircraft.
The next two panelists were Steve Willer, a business development professional for AirMap, and Laurent Huenaerts, the vice president of business development for Unifly. AirMap and Unifly are unmanned air traffic management (UTM) software companies that develop applications to monitor UAV operations. Both AirMap and Unifly are working with some of the IPP program sites as well as international governments to develop technologies to ensure the safe integration of UAVs into the airspace.
The last panelist was Madison Dixon of the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory of Mississippi State University. His work at Mississippi State includes collecting manned aircraft GPS data to better establish safe distances between manned aircraft and UAVs. Dixon encouraged operators in the audience to donate their GPS data so researchers could develop a model that would allow ag aircraft to deconflict with UAVs, something NAAA has been working on with Raspet for the past two years. Dixon stressed how donating GPS data is a way for ag aviators to contribute directly to the safety of the ag aviation community, and that GPS data collected will be stripped of all personal identifying information and held securely. Data collection is expected to finish around March 2019 with modeling analysis to conclude around the following summer.
You can learn more about how to donate your GPS data here.
NAAA Engine Sessions
Several engine sessions were offered for turbine and radial powered aircraft over the course of the convention, starting with the PT6 Turbine Session.
PT6 Turbine Session
At the PT6 Turbine Engine Session, Covington’s Fletcher Sharp moderated, with experts from Pratt & Whitney Canada, Dallas Airmotive, Covington Aircraft Engines and Turbines Inc. serving as panelists. Approximately 75 operators were in attendance.
Topics discussed included the large PT6A-60AG and -65AG Woodward Fuel Control Units that can have an Airworthiness Directive against them. Those ADs will become required by the middle of April 2019. Other topics addressed included the relatively new HTS (high thermal stability) Aeroshell 560 oil and an older Airworthiness Directive from quite a few years back, applicable to older, small PT6A engines.
The engine experts also covered the need for a solid review of engine logbooks by a qualified person if you are considering purchasing a used aircraft or engine; dynamic propeller balance along with a complete engine vibration survey at the same time, and the results of foreign object damage to the engine air inlet compressor area. The session closed out with a discussion on the light overhaul programs of several large PT6 overhaul facilities.
TPE331 Engine Session
The TPE331 Engine Session was moderated by Bruce Hubler of Ag Air Turbines Inc. and featured Danny Moore from CD Aviation Services, Terry Cooley from Copperstate Turbine Engine Co. and Intercontinental Jet’s Neil James as panelists. The group discussed the direct effect that recently published ADs have on pilots and operators in the industry. The importance of tracking major and minor engine cycles, as called for in AD 06-14-03, to determine the remaining life of turbine wheels also was discussed. Not tracking this data properly is not only a regulation violation, but also poses a serious safety risk and may cause higher maintenance costs.
Radial Engines Session
Approximately 18 operators attended the Radial Engine Session on reciprocating or round engines. Sharp moderated and steered questions to panelists Ron Hollis, Covington Aircraft, and Rex Vaughan and his son Derik from Tulsa Aircraft. Topics included the questions of new parts availability to keep the reliability of radial engines strong, and when fuel injection might be made available on the R-1340. Both Hollis’ and Rex Vaughn’s opinions were that if the fuel injection were to become available, it is several years away. The importance of checking manifold pressure gauges was discussed, as well as takeoff power settings, and insuring the proper sequence of power reductions and propeller rpm reductions are always followed.
A long discussion ensued on the inherent danger of using automotive gasoline in place of aviation gasoline. This can easily lead to cracked cylinder heads, due to higher peak temperatures that can occur. The quality control in the production of aviation gasoline does not exist for automotive gasoline. The session ended with the discussion of the proper sequence of reducing power with throttle and propeller control movement, and insuring idle rpms were not set too low.
The Chemical Session offers attendees an opportunity to hear from pesticide and adjuvant manufactures about new products or updates to existing products. The 2018 session was a full program, with seven companies presenting. It was moderated by Tracy Norcross of Bayer CropScience.
The first presentation was given by Cathy Tomlinson of GarrCo Products, who provided information about Stimulate, a highly concentrated microbial product that can be applied with fungicides on corn. Stimulate increases root mass, which in turn enhances water and nutrient uptake. Following Tomlinson, Steffan Busch with EGE Products spoke about one of EGE’s adjuvants, Extend. Extend encapsulates the active ingredient to protect it from UV decomposition, which extends the amount of time a pre-emergence herbicide can survive before incorporation by rain.
Matt Malone of BASF discussed BASF’s educational efforts aimed at helping growers understand how fungicides work and the benefits they get from applying them. They are using thermal imagery to help show the impact on plant health and have developed a video. Tater Erickson with Corteva Agriscience reviewed the many products Corteva offers for pasture and range management and described some of the new products coming to the market, including MezaVue, which will be launched in 2019, with more new products coming in 2020 and 2021.
FMC was represented by Greg Justice who talked about FMC’s purchase of sulfonylurea herbicides from DuPont as part of the Dow/DuPont merger. Justice discussed the fact that FMC is not affiliated with a specific seed company and described its Freedom Pass incentives program. Eric Honeycutt of Syngenta gave an overview of Syngenta’s new fungicide, Miravis Ace, which has a new mode of action. Miravis Ace controls fusarium headblight in wheat and expands the timing window of control for this disease by allowing applications as early as 50 percent head emergence.
The session wrapped up with Tom Hogan of Precision Laboratories, whose many adjuvants include Volare DC, which was specifically designed for aerial applications and evaluated thoroughly in both wind tunnel and field studies. Volare DC is a multifunctional formulation, combining both a drift reduction agent and a premium nonionic surfactant.
TUESDAY, DEC. 4
2018 NAAA General Session
For the 2018 General Session, NAAA assembled four of the brightest minds in communication and politics to teach attendees how they can strengthen their ability to effectively “articulate the benefits of aerial application for all.”
Steve Powell of Solum Consulting moderated and presented. Powell is a strategic communication specialist specializing in agriculture-related issue management and the longtime facilitator of NAAA’s Leadership Training Program. He was joined by Anthony LaFauce, a digital communications expert with Porter Novelli; Glenn LeMunyon, a well-regarded political strategist in Washington, D.C.; and Steve Savage of the Crop Protection Benefits Research Institute, an arm of the CropLife Foundation. LaFauce specializes in using social media as a barometer for issues management, LeMunyon runs the LeMunyon Group, a full-service government relations practice, and Savage has been working in the field of agricultural technology for over 35 years. He has worked with the CropLife Foundation since 2016 seeking to communicate the benefits of crop protection technologies and explain how they fit into the future of sustainable agriculture.
The four presentations from the General Session panelists fit together seamlessly, and an advocacy exercise featuring two operators tied everything together well. It was interesting to see operators Damon Reabe and Kyle Scott work through a mock ballot initiative scenario involving buffer zones around organic fields with the presenters. Overall, the communication and advocacy pointers were extremely well received by attendees.
NAAA would like to thank all the General Session participants for contributing to an outstanding program on advocacy and communicating the benefits of aerial application to the public.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 5
Longtime Helicopter Session moderator Jeff Reabe of Reabe Spraying Service once again skillfully guided conversation and questions on topics ranging from fuel quality to retaining good pilots and ground crew during the free-flowing format controlled by topics the audience and Reabe felt were important to discuss.
A few of the attendees were fixed-wing operators considering buying helicopters for their fleets. They wanted to know from fellow attendees what motivates them to have a mixed fleet. The audience gave some interesting answers, such as people who live closer to cities and aren’t familiar with aerial application will sometimes be more tolerant of helicopters flying near their homes as opposed to airplanes. Overall, attendees agreed it’s all about the right tool for the right job. Airplanes and helicopters don’t compete, they complement each other; the only true competition is with ground rigs.
Reabe made a point to mention the industry is largely transitioning to turbine-powered helicopters, leading to a host of additional challenges. Turbine helicopters must follow highly specific manufacturer maintenance programs as opposed to traditional annual inspections. Additionally, the jet fuel used in turbine helicopters is starting to have lower sulfur levels than operators are used to. The problem with this is the process to remove sulfur also removes paraffins, causing problems with fuel pumps and fuel values. Attendees exchanged advice on the different brands, prices and shelf lives of different lubricating products to mitigate these problems.
The conversation then moved on to pricing, and many helicopter operations are shifting to charging on a per-hour basis as opposed to the traditional per-acre charge. There were several examples where growers were operating inefficiently, delaying pilots and operators and causing them to lose money. Many operators said they simply view their helicopters as pieces of equipment that are being rented by the grower, making an hourly rate appropriate. It does take growers some time to get used to this, because they are so used to thinking on a per-acre basis, but it can lead to growers being more efficient.
Additionally, Reabe mentioned the importance of having a fuel clause in your larger contracts. While fuel prices have been stable in recent years, having a clause that allows you to increase or decrease your prices based on fuel prices has come in handy in the past during volatile years.
Finally, Reabe discussed issues facing the ag aviation industry in general, such as finding and keeping good pilots and ground crew. To illustrate how dire this situation is, Reabe explained to the audience that if 100 percent of A&P mechanics coming out of school in the next two years get jobs, there still won’t be enough to meet the industry’s needs. Reabe said when you find a good worker you can’t give them any reason to leave. Reabe said his senior pilot who just retired worked for his family’s operation for 47 years, and there was a time when Reabe’s rookie pilot had been flying with him for 12 years.
Oftentimes, money is not the key to keep people from moving on. Maybe a pilot wants a full three months off in the winter, or stable housing in exchange for slightly less pay. To improve working conditions and pilot comfort, Reabe installed air conditioning in one of his helicopters and said it really makes a big difference with combating fatigue throughout the day, calling it “the best 45 pounds I’ve put on a helicopter.”
A few operators in the room said they took the “grow your own” approach, by finding people with an ag background who want to fly and slowly training them. After identifying the best workers by keeping them on the ground for a year or two, operators will then pay for their pilot training. An operator said he has trained five pilots over the years and only one of those did not work out. It can be an expensive investment, but it’s even more expensive to have an aircraft sitting on the ground with no one to fly it.
USDA Aerial Image Processing Workshop
With UAVs quickly expanding in the agricultural aerial imaging world, NAAA believes manned agricultural aviators can also take advantage of the demand for crop sensing. The USDA Aerial Image Processing Workshop taught applicators how they can use their aircraft to take pictures of crops and then sell that data to farmers to help them identify crop pests and make nutrient status assessments. Farmers can then use this data to make decisions regarding pesticides, fertilizer and water allocation, and aerial applicators can use the data to make variable rate applications.
Chenghai Yang, an agricultural engineer at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Aerial Application Technology Research Unit, led an aerial image processing workshop on Dec. 5. About 30 people attended this year’s workshop. A tutorial he gave on Pix4D software demonstrated how to process aerial images into a mosaicked image for prescription maps. A guide on how to get started with Pix4Dmapper is available here. For more information on aerial image processing, contact Yang at Chenghai.Yang@ars.usda.gov.
The Athena Program was presented as part of the NAAA Support Committee’s Meet and Greet time at the Ag Aviation Expo. The educational program is written by the six Athena presenters—Beverly Jerger, Mary Lambrecht, Erin Morse, Ashley Olivier, Jane Barber-Pitlick and Sue Stewart—with final approval by the NAAREF Board. Athena’s primary intent is to provide support to the women of the agricultural aviation industry, but many of the lessons can be just as applicable to men.
This year’s Athena presentation was on becoming a more confident public advocate for the aerial application industry. The presentation touched on talking points to help shape each person’s own unique story in a way that is consistent with the industry’s message and respond to questions in an informed, credible way. The presentation included some beginning “how-tos” for talking with media, legislators or the neighbor next door, key statistics for current aerial application topics, and resource guides for further individual investigation.
The Athena presenters emphasized the need to build relationships with elected officials and media personnel and brought up points on being quotable, managing an interview and relatable industry statistics. “Our goal with this program was to provide the encouragement and beginning resources for further research, so when walking out of the room each person feels like they have a good starting point to make their voice for the aerial application industry stronger,” Athena chair Erin Morse said.
The presentation hit on various policy initiatives happening in the ag aviation industry, including the importance of aerial application to agriculture, environmental safety aspects of ag aviation, aviation safety aspects of ag aviation, and towers and other obstructions to low-level aviation, to name just a few of the topics raised.
Due to the size of our industry, it is important each person connected to aerial application makes their voice heard and contributes to the positive cumulative effect that is grassroots advocacy, Morse noted. Also discussed were the many examples of individuals advocating at state levels across the nation and how their efforts benefit the industry on a national level. The information and resources available on NAAA’s website were noted as well.
Quite a few new NAAA members and younger wives attended the 2018 Athena Program. The thought of public speaking, talking to the media and getting involved in advocacy can seem daunting, yet there were a several women in the room who have been active advocates of the aerial application industry and NAAA. They gave the others confidence in the knowledge the NAAA Support Committee and the Athena Program are there to help as they take ownership of their industry.
In closing, the audience was reminded that should a situation arise where they don’t feel comfortable answering a question or representing the agricultural aviation industry, they can always refer to NAAA at (202) 546-5722 or their state/regional association.
ASU Night Vision Goggle Session
Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU) spoke to attendees about the benefits of bringing night vision goggles (NVGs) into their operation. A panel of three ag pilots gave their perspectives on how NVGs have improved their operations and answered questions from pilots and operators in the audience who might be considering adopting NVGs.
ASU’s Twain Josephson started the session by giving a brief introduction about ASU. ASU provides high-quality products and services to a wide range of customers around the world. These include numerous government and private agencies such as civil emergency medical services (EMS), military services, and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Department of Energy. ASU’s products support search and rescue, fugitive apprehension, airborne surveillance and security, and fire suppression missions.
Kip McDermott, ASU’s vice president of engineering, then explained the process to get STC approval for NVGs from the FAA, saying it takes about three to four months. It takes ASU about eight weeks to build the parts and do installation, followed by testing from the FAA. The FAA will first do day and night ground testing, followed by a day VFR flight, a night VFR flight and finally a night flight with the NVGs. Next, the FAA will issue an STC. ASU has seen an STC issued as quickly as 24 hours, but it can also take as long as several months. Every aircraft that gets certified for NVGs makes it easier for the next aircraft he added. McDermott said ASU has done about 1,500 to 1,600 civil aircraft worldwide across the U.S., Canada, the EU and Australia. That doesn’t include the military aircraft they work with as well.
The three panelists included Bruce Hubler of Caldwell, Idaho, Bob Klein of Lawrenceville, Ill., and Ken Meines of Pullman, Wash. All three panelists explained that NVGs let you see exactly what you see during the day, albeit in black and white. There is no limit to how far you can see, and while NVGs can’t see through clouds or fog, they are extremely useful for seeing approaching storms on the horizon.
Another panelist said he always considered his operation anywhere from a 1 to 1.75-aircraft operation. He could never quite justify the purchase of a second plane, so he invested in NGVs to expand the capabilities of his existing aircraft. He said since installing the NVGs he has never been more than three days behind on work, while a non-NVG equipped competitor with two aircraft can get up to 10 days behind.
An operator considering adopting NVGs asked the panel what qualities he should look for in pilots to see if NVGs are right for them. One panelist said that while an instrument rating is not necessary, he won’t let his pilots fly with NVGs unless they have their instrument rating.
NVGs do require some maintenance and must be sent back to the manufacturer every 180 days for an inspection, which lasts approximately two days.
All panelists agreed that while it might be an intense process to get a lightbar and NVGs installed in your aircraft, it’s well worth it due to the expanded times you can fly, cooler temperatures and pollinator protection issues.
THURSDAY, DEC. 6
Air Tractor Session
The final day’s activities of the 2018 expo began with an update from Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch on the company’s activities at Air Tractor’s airframe session. He opened by discussing the latest innovations in Air Tractor’s manufacturing process, including its electronic coating system, which came online in 2017. Air Tractor’s e-coat system uses electricity to fully coat aluminum parts in primer, ensuring 100 percent primer coverage to protect against corrosion.
About a year ago the company bought a laser cutter/punch. It cuts sheet metal parts with a laser, punches holes, and has accuracy from .004” to .001”. For many years, Air Tractor would take parts across town to stress relief test them in a stress relief oven. It bought its own stress release oven and now can stress relief heat treat them in-house. The benefit of that is more precise control of process time and temperature.
“We had a big capital year, and we’re starting to see the benefits of reinvesting back into our processes and procedures,” Hirsch said.
In keeping with the theme of Air Tractor’s new ad campaign, “performance by the numbers,” Hirsch shared several impressive figures. For example, Air Tractor has 280 employees and has had 44 years of uninterrupted aircraft production. Since 1974, Air Tractor has built and delivered 3,657 airplanes in Olney, Texas. The factory produced 1,057,493 parts in 2018 and processes well over a million parts in a given year.
2017 was the 25th anniversary of the certification of the AT-802, and by the end of 2018, Air Tractor will have produced 800 AT-802 aircraft. Fifty 502XP airplanes have been built since 2016. Air Tractor produced 142 total airplanes in 2018, including 29 AT-502Bs, 25 502XPs and 38 AT-802s.
A new generation of Air Tractor’s Fire Retardant Dispersal System (FRDS) was on display at NAAA’s trade show. The new Gen III FRDS is 260 pounds lighter and offers 25 percent increased flow rate over the Gen II FRDS through the aluminum gate box. It also has fewer maintenance requirements. Unlike the hydraulic Gen II FRDS, the Gen III is an all-electric design with about 30 percent fewer components. The gate box has the same installation footprint and aerodynamic fairings as the Gen II FRDS, but with a simplified hinge system and door design and a fully mechanical EDUMP system. Two Gen III pilot systems are in service now, and an STC is expected soon. Hirsch anticipates certification by early summer 2019.
Air Tractor also displayed a new tail wheel lock for its airplanes at the trade show. Attendees had an opportunity to view the lock mechanism installed on an AT-802A ag plane. The new tail wheel lock can be retrofitted onto all Air Tractor models and is designed not to slip. It’s a bolt-on, direct replacement for existing wheel locks. A positive locking mechanism prevents loss of the adjustment point. FAA approval is expected by spring 2019.
Air Tractor also has been working with PPG on a stronger piece of glass for the center windshield. PPG has come up with a product in the glass that is “really tough,” Hirsch said. The companies are working on FAA approval and Hirsch anticipates approval in the spring or early summer. At some point, the stronger windshields will become standard on all new Air Tractors.
Air Tractor has been trying to get the AT-1002 certified for years to no avail but may have reached a turning point. Hirsch said he is more optimistic now about the progress being made on the 1002 certification process than he has been in a long time. The FAA finally approved the 1002’s certification plan. “They signed it here about a month ago. After 13 years, they signed the cert plan,” Hirsch said. The FAA agreed to a schedule, and the 1002 certification is slated to be finished in August 2021.
Air Tractor also made some significant design changes to the 1002 this year. To improve the pitch stability and directional stability, the manufacturer is going to stretch the fuselage to put the rudder and fin further back. “FAA is moving with us, and the relationship is pretty good these days,” Hirsch said. “The 1002 is still in the spotlight and something we are focused on and working to get certified and finished.”
Air Tractor continues to study the UAV market and position its Yield Defender drone. Its initial focus was on crop health monitoring and aerial imagery. “Quite frankly, we didn’t sell very many, and that did not catch hold,” Hirsch said.
About a year ago Air Tractor was contacted by a company in Sri Lanka and is in the process of delivering 55-pound drones to spray in tea plantations. It’s an interesting, unique spray challenge in steep terrain dotted with thin tall trees located right in the middle of the plantation, Hirsch said. Workers there have been hand-spraying hundreds of acres of tea with backpack sprayers for years. “In that particular special instance, it makes sense, so we’ve got a number of those sold over there.”
“I think we all realize it’s coming,” Hirsch added, referring to UAVs and unmanned aerial sprayers. “We’re wanting to stay involved so that as this thing gets integrated we can do our part to help get it done right and as safely as it possibly can.”
Thrush Aircraft Session
Thrush VP of Sales Eric Rojek reflected on the OEM’s year in 2018 and plans for 2019 at the Thrush Aircraft Session.
The past year was a challenging one for the company, Rojek confided, referring to it as a year of resiliency for Thrush. “It’s been a challenging year, but we’re very excited about our team members and what we do. Tough times come and go; tough people stay,” he said.
The first challenge Thrush faced was the passing of Frankie Williams of Souther Field Aviation in Americus, Ga., last January. Souther Field Aviation is an authorized Thrush service center and parts dealer, and Williams was the longtime executive director of the Georgia Agricultural Aviation Association. Along with Terry Humphrey, Williams was one of the two biggest mentors Rojek has had in the industry. “The cool thing about Frankie was he wasn’t nice to Eric because I work at Thrush. Frankie was just that way to everybody.”
Another challenge came in October when Hurricane Michael passed over Thrush’s factory in Albany, Ga., and the homes of many of its employees. Thrush lost power for more than a week at the factory.
This was also the first NAAA convention that Thrush President Payne Hughes was not able to attend due to some health problems he experienced this year. Hughes’ absence from the company during his recovery led to some soul-searching at Thrush, which is in the process of being sold to a new owner. Rojek encouraged operators to consider what would happen to their businesses if they were no longer around. The takeaway he wanted to impart was to really look at your team and management structure and have a plan in place to ensure the viability of your company if you’re no longer in the picture.
In Thrush’s case, Hughes is transitioning out to focus on his health and selling to a new owner. That’s positive, Rojek said, because when ownership changes hands the new owners inject new capital, which gets used for new programs and projects.
“It’s exciting times,” he said. “Transitions are always challenging, but one thing that we have at Thrush is good people, and more importantly we’ve got good products. It’s all about the product, and we look forward to moving forward in regards to the ownership change that should be coming.”
Among its changes, Thrush installed a new leadership team and has gone back to its roots. The team it has in place now is the same team it had in 2013. “We had some challenges and maybe didn’t make the best decisions, but we took some corrective actions, and we’re moving forward,” Rojek said.
Despite those challenges and some uncertainty in the market, sales were up in 2018 and Thrush’s forecast is strong for 2019. Thrush delivered 43 aircraft this year. Seventy percent of Thrush’s business is international, so that included more deliveries outside than inside the U.S.
In a big win for the company, the Thrush 510G Switchback was officially certified by the FAA in 2018. True to its name, Rojek said it can go from doing spray work to firefighting work, or from liquid to dry spray work, in a matter of minutes. With more pine trees than any other state, Georgia Forestry took delivery of two 510G Switchbacks at the end of 2017. Thrush has also delivered five 710P Fire Bird firefighters to Spain, the last of which was on display at the trade show in Reno. The 710P Fire Bird is Thrush’s standard 710P equipped with a fire gate box. The firefighting aircraft is in the process of FAA certification testing.
That will be important as Thrush enters new market segments and creates different revenue streams. The agriculture segment is clearly its most popular one and the one Thrush works with the most, but the company also has fire and border patrol segments. “We want to keep rocking and rolling with the ag side,” Rojek said, “but when you do 70 percent of our business in international, we’re only as good as next year’s dollar pricing and next year’s commodity pricing. For us to diversify in different revenue segments is a huge win for us.”
A point of pride for Thrush was the training programs offered at the Thrush Training Center, which opened at its factory this year. More than 200 pilots and mechanics were trained through Thrush’s recurrent training programs in 2018. It’s maintenance training is offered at the factory and travels around the world.
Thrush’s training center has undergone some changes, but it still has all its training programs available. Right now, the pilot training it provides with every aircraft purchase is classroom and simulator-based. The full-motion similar has been a great tool for practicing emergency procedures and learning aircraft safety features, while the classroom curriculum focuses heavily on human factors.
The pilot familiarization training is currently being headed by Terry Humphrey, and Thrush is hoping to bring back the dual-cockpit aircraft portion of its training in 2019. Reservations are being taken for spring 2019 classes, and Thrush is looking to gear its training program toward the months of March through June as pilots’ seasons approach.
Among its major FAA projects, the Thrush 510G with electronic engine and prop control is trending toward certification in the second or third quarter of 2019, and Thrush is finalizing certification of the PT6A-67F engine on the 710P.
Rojek closed his talk but returning to the theme of resiliency. “It’s our watchword,” he said. “We’re going to be here today. We’re going to be here tomorrow.… We’re going to get through the transition, the new ownership group, and we’re going to move forward.”
NAAREF Safety Sessions
NAAREF provided two safety sessions on the final afternoon of the convention. The first one was based on a video titled “Fatigue,” which was prepared to educate ag pilots and other employees in the ag aviation industry of the adverse effects of working while in a fatigued condition. Fatigue has proved to be one of the frequent causes of ag accidents.
NAAREF President Rod Thomas opened the program by explaining how the video came about. The NTSB conducted a Special Investigation Report (SIR) of ag accidents that occurred in 2013. Fatigue was one of the leading factors in the cause of accidents, the study found. The NTSB tasked NAAREF and the FAA to produce and distribute information on fatigue in ag aviation. This video was one of the informational releases along with magazine and eNewsletter articles, safety bulletins, brochures and a PAASS Program module on fatigue.
With the assistance of an expert in the field of sleep medicine, Dr. Mark J. Ivey, a board-certified physician in internal medicine, pulmonary diseases, critical care and sleep medicine, this video was created to help understand the hazard of flying or working while fatigued. Knowing how and why fatigue affects your physical well-being is critical to keeping yourself safe when the workdays becomes long and stressful.
The video will help to recognizing the symptoms of fatigue and what can be done about it. The only cure for fatigue is proper rest—your body must have sleep to build itself up to fight the cumulative effect of lack of sleep. Are you a person that depends on energy drinks to keep going through the day? See what the experts say about using energy drinks or sleep-aid medication. Learn about when the two sleepiest times of the day are and plan your rest period to coincide with them.
The fatigue video will be posted on the NAAA’s website along with other videos featured in past NAAREF Safety Sessions. Once posted, it can be viewed in the “Safety & Education Videos” page found in the Media section.
The second NAAREF Safety Session addressed “Safety Management for Ag Operations” and was presented by Michael Schwartz, an aviation safety inspector at FAA headquarters with the Safety Management System (SMS) Program Office in Washington, D.C. He is responsible for developing and promoting policy and guidance concerning SMS implementation. Schwartz was the point of contact between NAAA and the AFS-800 Commercial Operations Branch for 2½ years.
NAAA and NAAREF are always striving to make our industry a safer place to work and as such, we try to find ways to reduce accidents. The FAA has had good success with using SMS to improve the safety culture and reduce accidents. In fact, it has made SMS mandatory of some operations like airlines and air taxi. When we hear of a safety management system for airlines, we automatically think the process would be too large and cumbersome for a small one or two-aircraft operation. This presentation was designed to show that SMS is a benefit to any size operation since it is scalable and flexible. The best part is that it is a voluntary program for ag aviation, not mandatory!
You can make your processes and procedures as simple or complex as you need. It can be as simple as one of your pilots spotting a hazard such as an unmarked tower that has been erected. The pilot tells the operator about the tower and the information is disseminated throughout the company to make everyone aware of the hazard. With this straightforward employee reporting and feedback system, you have the start of a simple safety system. The next step once you have identified the hazard is risk analysis and assessment. Then you control the risk by making sure your pilots all know about the location of the tower. Occasionally, you monitor your operation and ensure your goals and objectives are being met. That’s all there is to a basic safety system!
Why should you be involved in such a safety program? Here are several reasons why:
- Potentially reduced insurance premiums
- Lower maintenance costs
- Increased productivity due to better planning.
This simple introduction to a volunteer SMS for small businesses can build into a program that can be the key to accident reduction.
Compaass Rose Sessions
The recently revised Compaass Rose program was back with its new format for a second year. The PAASS Compaass Rose series is designed to provide professional support and direction for agricultural aviation pilots who are new to the industry and people who want to learn more about the industry and what it takes to get into ag aviation. The goal is for participants to enhance their own knowledge, continue to gain agricultural aviation experience, and improve their individual professionalism. There were two Compaass Rose session offered at Expo—the first was on Dec. 2 and the second was on Dec. 5.
The Compaass Rose format was updated in 2017 to create an environment even more favorable for those pilots new to the industry or looking to get in to it. Compaass Rose sessions are led by two PAASS presenters. Sunday’s session was led by Darrin Pluhar and Doug Thiel; Wednesday’s session was led by Brian Rau and Damon Reabe. The sessions both began with all participants in the main room. After introductions, participants were split into two groups for new pilots and experienced pilots. New pilots were those with no more than five years of experience as agricultural pilot. The experienced pilot group was everyone else.
The new pilots were moved temporarily to a separate room. A series of questions were presented to both groups. The goal of the questions was to facilitate a discussion about topics related to growing professionally as an ag pilot and helping operators learn how to recruit and mentor new pilots safely and effectively. While the two groups were asked different questions, the questions were paired up by topic, so that the perspective of both the new pilots and experienced pilots could be shared and discussed when the two groups came back together. The questions at the 2018 Compaass Rose sessions fostered discussions on whether the current pilot shortage in the aviation industry is making it easier to get into agricultural aviation, developing a plan for getting new pilots into the aerial application industry, and attitudes related to successfully mentoring a pilot and how to deal with situations that might arise during that mentorship.
Once each group had gone through their series of questions and discussed issues of concern or interest, the new pilots were brought back into the main room to rejoin the experienced pilots. The responses to the questions of both groups were reviewed together. The whole group then discussed the questions, answers, and any other topics of interest. Both Compaass Rose sessions were successful, with participants sticking around long after the session ended to continue the conversation.
Speed Mentoring Session
NAAREF’s popular “Ask the Expert” Speed Mentoring Session was once again one of the more popular events for pilots new to the industry. Moving it from its former Thursday timeslot to Monday afternoon resulted in higher attendance, with ample time remaining throughout the expo to continue to network with operators and pilots. Again, this year, organizer Brian Rau did an excellent job of bringing a knowledgeable group of mentors to share their experience with mentees.
The mentors included six ag operators; six ag pilots currently flying in the industry; six individuals from the insurance industry representing either an underwriter or agent that provides ag insurance; and four representatives of ag flight schools. The 35 mentees were divided up between six tables staffed by the mentors. At predetermined times, the mentors switched tables. This format allows for a more direct personal interaction and benefits mentees by allowing them to hear views from several different perspectives.
The mentees in the groups varied from non-pilots to pilots with several years of ag flying experience. A few had been able to work up into flying jobs in turbine-powered aircraft. Topics discussed by each group of mentees were pretty much the same, but with the advantage of rotating the mentors, the answers to the questions were not the same for each group. Many of the non-pilots’ questions were about attending an ag school to get started in the business. A common theme was how to select which school to attend. The advice from mentors and mentees that had attended an ag school was to ask the school for contact information from former graduates now working as ag pilots. Potential students should contact those pilots to find out about their experience with the school and quality of instruction they received.
One of the flight school representatives summed up flight school experience by saying the student should attempt to find an operator willing to mentor him or her when the school training is complete. There are just too many important things to learn after leaving the school to take a chance learning on their own. A graduate is usually not ready to go out and work on his or her own as an operator without guidance.
One group had several questions about relationships with potential employers and how to pick a company for which the pilot would want to work. The common opinion was the potential employee should look at the interview process as a two-way street. Just as an employer should not hire just any new pilot that applies, the pilot should not accept just any job that comes along. It is important for both the employer and employee to be able to get along in a professional manner to make the interaction process positive for both.
NAAA’s thanks go out to Brian Rau and the other mentors that volunteered their time to help others become a valuable part of the ag aviation industry.
In Closing …
We could go on, but we’ll save other details about the convention, including details of 2018’s best and brightest acknowledged at the concluding Excellence in Ag Aviation Banquet, for the next issue of NAAA’s magazine. If you like what you learned in Reno or read here, save the dates for Nov. 18–21, 2019, and join us the week before Thanksgiving in Orlando at our 53rd annual Ag Aviation Expo.