In the 1950s, Harley and Clara Wells settled into a small farmhouse just outside of Holdrege, Nebraska. Harley had begun learning how to fly in 1954 in a Cessna 120, all the while aspiring to be an aerial applicator. Harley readied his dream and, in 1958 purchased his first agricultural aircraft, a CallAir. Harley Wells found himself busy on the family farm, utilizing his new aircraft to treat his land and branch out into custom work. Wells Flying Service had officially begun.
Over the course of the next few years, after an accident with the CallAir, Harley added Stearmans to his fleet. The all-Stearman arsenal carried Wells Flying Service into the 1960s, where the iconic bi-wing aircraft were replaced with Pawnees. The operation ran two Pawnees into the 1970s, when Harley’s son, Dave, began helping with the flying.
Dave started flying in 1973 in Greeley, Colorado, earning his Private Pilot’s License, then eventually his Commercial license in 1974. Immediately after obtaining his Commercial license, Dave began working for his dad, Harley. 1974 through the late 1970s were a busy time period for Dave. He married Candy in 1975 and the pair purchased Wells Flying Service from Harley the same year.
After Dave’s second season as an ag-pilot, and now an owner/operator, Dave upgraded the fleet of Pawnees to 300 and 400 series Piper Braves. He kept one of the Pawnees to help out in times of increased workload. The 1970s brought spider mite pressure to most of the corn planted in the area, and the flying service was treating mostly corn with insecticides and herbicides.
As work increased in the 1980s, Dave and Candy began raising a family as well as tending to the family farm and spraying operation. Candy migrated from keeping the books to teaching, which allowed her to spend more time with what, eventually, would be three boys.
Dave continued using the Piper Braves and began to habitually lease both Thrush and Air Tractors each year to help with additional work. This exposure to other airframes led Wells Flying Service to add an AT-301 in the late 1990s. The Air Tractor was actually purchased with another local applicator, but Dave soon realized it was beneficial to have this additional aircraft and bought out the other partner’s share.
During the latter part of the 1990s, the older Wells boys, Ryan and Nick, were approaching the end of their high school years and looking at going to college. Dave was adamant that all of his children received college educations (and would not be spray pilots) and so, one-by-one each son attended school and then eventually returned to the flying service. Ryan and Nick are currently private pilots.
Ryan Wells graduated college in 2002 and returned to help his dad run the business. During this time, from 2002-2007, Ryan and Dave were constantly bringing in turbine airplanes to help with the workload until in 2007 they added an AT-402 and a 510P Thrush.
Wells Flying Service traded airplanes off and on, from the AT-402 to a small stint with an AT-802, then back to a 510 Thrush over the next few years, trying to find the right combination of owned airplanes that, with minimal outside assistance would handle the now booming corn runs. After all, the area they treat is almost 80% corn! Wells Flying Service also hired Don Hills full time during this time, who continues to fly for the operation.
Nick Wells returned to the family farm and flying service as a licensed chiropractor in 2009. The family farm (3,000+ irrigated acres of mostly corn and some soybeans) needed someone to step in and manage it, like only a family member could do. As of 2019, Nick is currently managing the family’s farmland, whereas brothers Ryan and Randy own the flying service.
Randy Wells returned to the flying service in 2008 when he and Ryan realized the opportunity for business expansion. The two brothers started a second location from scratch for Wells Flying Service in 2012, Ogallala, Nebraska. With this addition, Dave, Ryan and Randy increased the aircraft inventory to two PT6A-42 powered 510 Thrush and one PT6A-34 powered Thrush.
A steady increase in sprayable acres led Wells Flying Service to add Greg Grothoson as a full-time pilot after helping the operation during the entire 2012 season. With Greg came his own -41 Thrush.
Fast forward to early 2014, as the flying service seemed to be expanding in leaps and bounds, an opportunity to acquire Pioneer AgViation Inc. in Minot, North Dakota surfaced. The purchase included an AT-802, AT-502 and AT-301. The brothers bought the flying service and nearly doubled the business during the first year with the advantage of having airplanes from both locations and staggered seasons between Nebraska and North Dakota.
Wells Flying Service expanded into Campbell, Nebraska during the 2016 season, which brought with it an additional airstrip, office and an AT-502 and AT-402. This would cement the three locations (plus seven to eight satellite strips) for Wells Flying Service – Campbell, Olgallala and Holdrege, Nebraska. Pioneer AgViation II still operated from Minot, North Dakota.
Wells Flying Service had also expanded into ground rigs in 2003 when Ryan returned home from college, trying to mold the business into a one-stop shop for local growers. This expansion allowed the business to sell fertilizer. Realizing that chemical sales and the ground-side of the application business grew more rapidly than they expected, which was a great problem to have, they sold the fertilizer and ground-side to Nutrien Ag Solutions in 2019, but continue to manage the operation.
Ryan and Randy then acquired Wells Flying Service from their father, Dave, in March of 2019, with Dave retiring. The two brothers currently operate two flying services out of four locations and utilize four AT-802s (the latest acquired from Frost Flying Service in Arkansas), an AT-502, a TPE331 powered AT-402, a 510P Thrush and a Piper Brave.
The aircraft have a mixture of GPS systems, from Ag-Nav to SATLOCs, and all utilize a model variant of the CP nozzle. The seasons in their Nebraska and North Dakota operations begin in April with pasture spraying, then progress to winter wheat fungicide, to the corn run. Bugs in soybeans arrive sometime around August, along with pre-harvest of, spring wheat, pulse crops (Peas and Lentils mostly), canola, and sunflowers in North Dakota, to cover crop applications in Nebraska during September to finally a Tordon application on local pastures after the first frost. Wells Flying Service uses FlightPlan Online to keep all applications and work organized and efficient.
Wells Flying Service operated off the original family farm that their granddad, Harley, started in the 1950s. The increase in aircraft and runway requirements, as well as a need for more streamlined loading caused the flying service to build a custom drive-thru hangar and loading facility, as well as state-of-the-art office buildings on the Holdredge Airport, where current operations are located. Ryan and Randy contribute the success of Wells Flying Service to their team: Brian Sturm (Original owner of Pioneer AgViation), Jay Blessum (mechanic and an 802 pilot), Greg Grothsen (North Dakota Operations Manager and 802 pilot), his wife Melinda (North Dakota Office Manager). Kathleen Orcutt (Nebraska Office Manager), Alex Wells (Ground Operations) and all the seasonal pilots, ground crews and sales people that are a part of the daily operations.
Ryan and Randy continue the legacy their dad and his dad kept for so many years. Ryan and wife Melissa have six children, from two-months through 19 years old. Alex, the 19-year-old (and 4th generation) is keeping the college education tradition alive and is in school full-time while helping with the operation during his time off.
Randy and his wife, Jordan also are keeping the generational succession in check with three children and one due in December of 2019.
Over the course of the last ten years, from each brother coming back to the family business to each brother finding their niche in operations, flying or sales, or being a business owner, Wells Flying Service is thriving. The Wells are truly doing it well.