The National Agricultural Aviation Association says It is vital that growers, foresters and others desiring aerial application services know the facts about the capabilities of manned aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles before making financial decisions. Here are five facts regarding the more commonly repeated inaccurate claims about manned aerial application.
- Aerial application by manned aircraft is by far the fastest application method. Every year aerial application pilots treat approximately 127 million acres of cropland in the U.S. This equates to 28% of all commercial cropland in the country. A relatively small number of pilots accomplish this feat by using agricultural aircraft holding between 100 and 800 gallons of product. UAVs do not have payloads approaching anywhere near this size, nor do they achieve speeds even close to the 90 to 150 mph speeds manned ag aircraft travel across a field during an application. The large hopper size and high speed of manned agricultural aircraft make them capable of treating up to 2,000 acres per day per aircraft. UAVs treat fewer acres per day and complement manned aircraft by making applications on small plots of land that are not suitable for traditional airplanes or helicopters.
- There is not a single technology available on UAVs that is not available on manned aircraft. Each technology available on a UAV has already been in use by manned aerial applicators across the country, in some cases for several decades. These include onboard weather monitoring, flow control for both liquid and dry applications, in-flight boom length reduction systems for drift mitigation, and pulse width modulation technology that can provide flow, pressure and on/off control to each individual nozzle, markedly enhancing efficiency and accuracy.
- Aerial applicators can and do operate at night. Night operations are conducted with the use of high-performance lighting systems or night vision goggles. Seven percent of aerial application operators conduct applications after dark, treating a total of 1.9 million acres.
- There is no evidence UAVs are more efficacious or create less unintentional drift than manned aircraft. Manned aircraft are generally larger, weigh more and take up more physical space than UAVs. Aerodynamically, this means manned aircraft displace more air, causing the product being applied to go deep into the crop canopy for excellent coverage. Additionally, thanks to extensive research done by the USDA's Aerial Application Technology Research Unit and the EPA, manned aircraft have sophisticated spray nozzle models showing how products applied aerially are dispersed based on aircraft size, aircraft speed, wake vortices, windspeed, temperature, boom length, droplet size and many other factors. However, these models only apply to traditional manned aircraft that are either single-rotor helicopters or single prop airplanes moving at high speeds. The models are not applicable to multi-rotor drones moving much slower and weighing much less. New spray models applicable to unmanned aircraft with two, three, four or even eight rotors need to be developed to show how airflow is affecting the movement of applied materials from a drone before anyone can confidently state the efficaciousness of UAVs. This research has been sparsely conducted on drones, if at all, compared to the nearly 100 years of data that has been accumulated on manned single prop/rotor aircraft. The efficacy and drift aspects are things that pesticide manufacturers, state regulators and the EPA are concerned about and are looking into as part of their role to ensure occupational and environmental health.
- Applications made by UAVs might not be in compliance with EPA policy. As mentioned in No. 4, the models used by the EPA to calculate aerial drift only apply to traditional manned aircraft. The purpose of running these models is for the EPA to create a legally binding label that details the time, manner and place a pesticide can be used that is applied aerially. Due to legal requirements to conduct the precise and methodical work that goes into developing models to ensure the safe use of these products by air via manned aircraft, similar policy must be followed to develop label language on the proper way to safely apply these products by drone.
NAAA welcomes the use of UAVs in agriculture—whether for application or imaging or other yet-to-be-determined uses—and believes under the right conditions they can be a useful tool for growers. However, while this technology develops it is vital that it follows established, confirmed procedures that ensure its safe, effective and protective use.
Source: National Agricultural Aviation Association, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.