MONTE MOR, SP, BRAZIL – Except for a few experimental applications on cocoa crops in the late 1970s, and over other crops in the 1980s, no rotary-wing aerial applications have been made in Brazil – until now. This is finally changing – and this change is taking place in a whole different way! Usually, most operations start with an ag pilot. He begins flying as a hired pilot, then after becoming experienced he buys a small piston airplane and starts his own spraying service. As he makes more money, he upgrades his airplane and/or buys more airplanes. Eventually, a few of those operations will become airplane dealers.
It is a whole different history with Climb Aircraft Division. Based in Monte Mor, a small town close to Campinas, in the state of São Paulo, Climb Aircraft Division is a division of Quimigel Indústria, Comércio e Serviços Aéreos Especializados Ltda., a company with over 30 years in the chemistry business. Since 2013, Climb Aircraft Division has been selling new and used helicopters, besides being a Robinson Helicopter Company certified helicopter maintenance shop, a pilot school and training center, an FBO and now it is also an ag operation.
For a fixed-wing operator, using a helicopter to spray crops may not make much sense. Helicopters are more complex aircraft and therefore more expensive to operate. Flying at lower speeds and carrying a smaller load than fixed-wing aircraft of the same category, they seem to be unable to compete with them. Well, as is often the case, appearances can be deceiving. When topography gets too hilly, helicopters can often go where it is not practical to spray with an airplane. Their turns are much tighter and the downwash from their rotors “throws” the spray down into the crops, making for a virtually drift-free application. This makes them highly desirable for applications in sensitive areas, like crops close to urban areas.
They also compensate for their slower application speed and smaller loads by using any open space close to the crop as a landing pad – or, as is often the case, having a landing pad on the top of your loading truck. Just park it next to the crop and take advantage of virtually zero-distance ferries!
It gets easier to understand why a helicopter operator decided to go ag instead of the other way around, a fixed-wing ag operator deciding to add a rotorcraft to expand his fleet, if you realize that ag airplanes have to be specially designed to carry a load and have the performance and maneuverability to spray safely and efficiently by flying “low and slow”, since most “regular” airplanes are designed to fly high and fast.
Almost all helicopters, on the other hand, are built to fly low and slow! So you can get mostly any chopper of your choice and just strap spraying equipment to it – the Simplex spray system under Climb’s Robinson R44 can be strapped on and removed in minutes. Therefore, if you already have a helicopter, it is a comparatively small investment to turn it into an aerial applicator. Plus, when your spraying is done, you can remove the spray system from the chopper and use it for any of the several missions these versatile machines can accomplish!
Additionally, Climb has incorporated the SPE electrostatic spray system with its Simplex system. The SPE electrostatic spray system allows the operator to make highly effective applications using low volumes of spray mix. This is especially advantageous for a helicopter with its limited hopper tank size.
When Climb Aircraft Division Executive VP Ramiro Leal realized that because of this several operations in the United States, Chile and Australia treat crops with rotary-wing aircraft profitably, while no one was doing it in Brazil, Climb Aircraft Division decided to get in the helicopter aerial application business.
But recognizing aerial application is a specialized service, they needed an expert, someone experienced who knew the ag aviation industry and how it works. Enter Rafael Machado, Climb’s operations supervisor, and Maicon Souza, a helicopter and airplane pilot with 13 years experience and 7,000 flight hours, with ten of those years flying ag in airplanes up to the Air Tractor 502. With no other active helicopter ag pilot in Brazil, and no training course available either, Maicon applied to ANAC (Brazil`s FAA) for a rule exemption, and has thus been certified as a helicopter ag pilot – the first one under ANAC rules.
For him, Climb Aircraft Division equipped a Robinson R44 with a Simplex spray system with a 490-liter (129 gallons) hopper, which is limited by the Robinson’s performance to 320 liters (85 gallons), and conventional spray booms equipped with CP Nozzles. An Ag Nav Guía GPS with internal light bar is used for guidance. An SPE Electrostatic systems is also available. With this setup, the R44 sprays a 14-meter swath (46 feet) at 50 to 70 knots, depending on the application requirements. An Isolair external bucket is being acquired for solid applications. Climb owns a similar operation in Imperial Valley, California, from where much of the expertise being applied in Brazil is being brought.
Climb Aircraft Division knew they were being pioneers in Brazil, and that they would have to prove to farmers, agronomists and chemical company representatives that the helicopter could be a cost-effective solution to their crop pest and disease issues. For that, they had their Robinson spray tested by independent and chemical company consultants over citrus, sugarcane, soybeans and corn, all with excellent results. The tests confirmed the experience from abroad, showing that in tall crops the downwash from the helicopter rotor, by shaking the leafs, allows the spray to hit targets that are much harder to hit by other application technologies. Customers have lined up and Climb already is an active ag operation.
Feeding the world requires all kinds of crops with different treatment demands. Some operators found their customer needs are better served by big turbine airplanes, some that small piston ones are better suited to their customer’s needs. Others have found that only a helicopter could solve their customer’s needs in an effective and efficient way. Until today, they didn’t have that option in Brazil. Now, Climb Aircraft Division is a one-stop solution for operators with such customers, offering helicopters, ag systems and soon, helicopter ag pilot training. It is expected that other operations in Brazil will soon follow the path that pioneer Climb Aircraft Division has paved with its ag-helicopters.
Climb Aircraft Division´s Robinson R44 spraying sugarcane, using a Simplex ag system fitted with SPE electrostatic nozzles.
Climb´s R44 spraying a row of citrus trees with its Simplex/SPE electrostatic spray system. Making effective applications at lower volumes, the electrostatic is a great match for a chopper with smaller load capacity.
Park your support truck with a landing pad on top, right next to the client’s crops and you’re in business with zero-distance ferries!
Climb Aircraft Division is based at Monte Mor in São Paulo state. It is a dream facility for any ag pilot! Any of these helicopters could be quickly turned into an aerial applicator. Note the turbine powered R66 models.
Climb Aircraft Division’s team posing with a fleet of Robinson helicopters – three of them already converted to ag choppers!
Climb Aircraft Division’s helicopter pilot, Maicon Souza, first ag helicopter pilot certified by ANAC.
The AgNav Guía GPS unit is installed to the right of the panel because choppers are traditionally flown from the right seat.
A close-up photograph of SPE nozzles mounted on Climb Aircraft Division’s R44 with material supplied through the Simplex tank mounted on the belly of the helicopter.