By DICK HAGEN
After 27 years as an aerial applicator, Rich Sigurdson of Olivia, Minn., notes that this year has been a “cantankerous” one: “This spring brought in a little more work than normal. This is the latest for putting crops in the ground since I’ve been in the business.” But he’s picking up time thanks to his new hangar, which sports Schweiss bifold doors at each end.
When he lands for a refill, he taxis his Air Tractor directly into the hangar. Staying in the cockpit with engine running, his two-man crew quickly (less than 3 minutes) refills the plane in less than three minutes. He taxis out the other end and is airborne again in less than five minutes.
His Air Tractor 502B is turbine powered with a 500-gallon product tank. At a 2-gallon application rate, 250-acres per refill is the arithmetic. And that’s important in aerial application work when time is critical, especially considering the winds of Minnesota. Wind speeds over 18-20 mph cause aerial applications to shut down to avoid spray drift.
One of about 150 licensed aerial applicators in Minnesota, Sigurdson started as a 19-year old. Two local college kids are working with him this season at his company, Willmar Aerial Spraying. Their task is mixing the various products, loading the right amount of each product for each refill, keeping the loading pad clean, and restocking new chemicals as needed.
Sigurdson is big on turbine power. “When turbines came into the market for us aerial applicators, it was a huge step forward. The reliability factor is so much more than with a piston-powered plane. I’ve flown Air Tractors now for about 20 years. I think they make the best spray plane in the market. Plus they haul more; they get you to your target fields quicker. We all remember those earlier days with smaller planes when we’d use the nearest road for landing and reloading; only 65-80 gallon tanks too.”
Another advantage of the turbine is less frequent down time and no set schedule for majors, he said. “About every 1,200 hours we break the engine down and look at the components. That’s called a ‘hot section’ inspection and you replace only what needed.”
Sigurdson’s value of time is evident with his new 60-foot x 80-foot “taxi through” hangar. It features 20-foot x 65-foot wide Schweiss Bifold doors on both ends. “It’s a matter of time,” he said. “When coming in for a refill, I taxi directly into the hangar through the west door. My guys do the refill in three minutes or less. I taxi out the east door and am airborne again in about five minutes. That was the reason for bifolds on both ends. In essence I’ve got a drive-through load facility.”
Sigurdson is a fan of the Schweiss Bifold doors. “I think they make the best hangar doors in America. These doors are strong, maintenance free, quiet, and totally dependable regardless the weather. That bifold design is a winner in every way you measure doors. We’ve got a 60-foot bifold on our main hangar; 12 years since the installation without a single problem.”
Being an aerial applicator in Renville County, Minn., is a sweet spot, he noted. It’s a big county with nearly 600,000 crop acres and it perennially leads the state in corn, soybeans and canning crops, plus ranks in the top five in sugar beet acres. “I’m fortunate to be positioned where I am. This is some of the best farm country in the state with a bunch of good, innovative growers also. I’ve been here 20 years with good crop application work every year.”