Agricultural Pilots


Exploring this Job

You can explore this occupation through a number of activities. Join groups such as your high school aviation club and the National FFA Organization. These groups may give you the opportunity to meet with professionals in the field, learn about farm products and management, and find others with similar interests. Read publications related to these industries such as the magazines AgAir Update (https://www.agairupdate.com), Agricultural Aviation (https://www.agaviation.org/agaviationmagazine), and The Progressive Farmer (https://www.dtn.com/agriculture/progressive-farmer/). If you have the financial resources, you can take flying lessons once you are 16 and have passed a physical exam. Also, consider learning how to operate a ham radio. This skill will help you when you apply for your restricted radio operator's permit, a requirement for commercial pilots.

The Job

Agricultural pilots perform a number of duties that benefit the farming industry as well as the environment, assisting farmers in the prevention of crop damage and other duties performed. Some work for pest control companies while others are self-employed. In farm work, agricultural pilots spray chemicals over crops and orchards to fertilize them, control plant diseases or weeds, and control pests. They also drop seeds into fields to grow crops.

Before agricultural pilots begin the process of spraying farmland, they must survey the area for buildings, hills, power lines, and other obstacles and hazards. They must also notify residents and businesses in the general area where they will spray so that people and animals can be moved away from target areas.

Some agricultural pilots, particularly those who work for pest control companies, may mix their own chemicals, using their knowledge of what mixture may be best for certain types of plants, plant or soil conditions, or pest problems. Crop dusters fly small turboprop planes, which are slower compared to larger, transport craft, but which are good for flying close to the ground and for carrying heavy loads. They must fly close to the ground, often only a few feet above a crop, so that the chemicals will be spread only in designated areas.

Agricultural pilots can also help farmers by dropping food for livestock over pastures, photographing wildlife, counting game animals for conservation programs, and fighting forest fires by dumping water or fire-retardant materials over burning areas.

No matter what the job, pilots must determine weather and flight conditions, make sure that sufficient fuel is on board to complete the flight safely, and verify the maintenance status of the airplane before each flight. They perform system checks to test the proper functioning of instrumentation and electronic and mechanical systems on the plane.

Once all of these preflight duties are done, the pilot taxis the aircraft to the designated runway and prepares for takeoff. Takeoff speeds must be calculated based on the aircraft's weight, which is affected by the weight of the cargo being carried.

During flights, agricultural pilots must constantly be aware of their surroundings, since they fly so close to the ground and frequently near hazards such as power lines. They need good judgment to deal with any emergency situations that might arise. They monitor aircraft systems, keep an eye on the weather conditions, and perform the flight's assigned job, such as spraying fertilizer.

Once the pilot has landed and taxied to the appropriate area, he or she follows a "shutdown" checklist of procedures. Pilots also keep logs of their flight hours. Those who are self-employed or working for smaller companies are typically responsible for refueling the airplane, performing maintenance, and keeping business records.