It’s now a new year. Congratulations, you’ve just traveled another 584 million miles at a speed of 67,000 miles an hour, with a swath width of 41.8 million feet. And you didn’t run out! The year 2020 ought to be an interesting one.
One hundred years ago, we were on the backside of the loop in recovering from the first world war and entering what would come to be known as the roaring twenties. The automobile was growing from the rickety, noisy, unreliable contraptions to become a commonplace means of travel as roads and streets were being paved to suit them. Many of the new models had transformed from utilitarian crates to rolling works of art with powerful engines and comfortable seats. You could take your lady for a Sunday drive and she wouldn’t have to worry about messing up her hair or getting mud on her dress. Some cars would even sport their very own radio. How nifty is that?
The day would come when the crop duster loader truck would be invented and we would witness the degradation of everything considered mechanically right. The bane of the ag-pilot came when a modern truck for loading was converted back to a utilitarian crate; a rickety, noisy, unreliable contraption.
In 1920, wires for electricity was being strung like a crazy spider web across the nation and telephones were being wired up in homes everywhere. They haven’t stopped ringing since.
During that time, aviation was growing fast, emerging into public interest as barnstormers and air shows traveled across the country showcasing, “Those daring young men and their flying machines!” Airplanes were becoming an economic force to be reckoned with, no longer just a novelty, or a war machine.
The burgeoning air travel industry revolutionized the way people moved from one place to another. Speed and distance barriers were being kicked down like loose fence boards. Who would have thought a human being could fly all the way up to ten thousand feet, traveling almost one hundred miles an hour and live! Detractors were saying things like, “My goodness man, how in the world can the air, just air, hold up an airplane? If God meant for man to fly, your bones would be as empty as your head!”
It wouldn’t be long before folks started looking at those wood and fabric birds and figuring out how to convert them to farm machinery. Yes sir, one hundred years ago, the seeds were being planted to bring aerial application into being. What an exciting time that must have been.
Farming in 1920 was a tough business. Field size had grown extensively during the war. As did bugs. Mechanization and bank loans were taking over faster than agricultural technology could keep up. While the rest of the country enjoyed an economic boon, farmers were saddled with heavy debt, drought and worn out soil. The Sphinx moth larvae was destroying trees needed to make telephone poles and fence posts. The boll worm was chewing its way through the South like it was a no-cost, all you can eat buffet just outside a Navy base. “There has to be a better way to control all these dang bugs!”
It wouldn’t be until August 1921 that Lieutenant Mcready zoomed across a catalpa orchard slinging lead arsenate. You can bet the wheels of innovation were turning in 1920. Why not? The U.S. Marines had just recently began developing the art of combat close air support with a JN-4 Jenny. Why not see if we can kill bugs with an airplane, too? The rest is history.
So, where are we today? Ninety-nine years (or so) since the first aerial application of a pesticide. The gross weight of a JN-4 represents only half a load for a 510 Thrush. The unit cost of a brand new Jenny (to the government) was $5,450. In today’s dollars, that’s about $73,000 bucks. You can hardly cover the insurance premium of a modern aerial application business with that.
We’re flying fast and accurate, big birds capable of carrying over four tons. Enclosed cockpits with air-conditioning! Can you believe it?
Often times, when we look ahead, we see the challenges that lay before us. The problems we have to face, as well as those looming on the horizon. We take the promise of the future with a grain of salt because we’ve been conditioned that way. We go forward hopeful, but cautious. Hold on… Turn around and for a minute look at where we came from. There’s a long road back to where those who came before paved the way for us. They did their part so that we could do ours, building upon what they started. Who knows where we’ll go from here. One thing for sure, we can’t take for granted all the hard work and sacrifice that got us to where we are today. The year 2020!
I hope you all have a great year filled with success and prosperity. Keep it safe! Wings level, ball in the center and watch your airspeed! God Bless.
Fly Well and Stay Safe!