In 1980, the National Agricultural Aviation Association, based in Washington, D.C., voted unanimously to locate its new museum in the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum. Today, the special section, which traces crop dusting from early biplanes to the aircraft of modern times, is a favorite of visitors from around the world.
Covering more than 5,000 square feet, the National Agricultural Aviation Museum’s floorspace and airspace provides a comprehensive and fascinating look at an industry that literally reshaped the history of agriculture. On display are actual planes that once flew over Southern farms and plantations complimented by an informative video and a series of colorful photographs and panels.
Also on display are photos of the members of the National Agricultural Aviation Hall of Fame. Three Mississippians are members – Jesse Orval Dockery, who established one of the nation’s first commercial firms for agricultural aviation in Clarksdale in 1933, and brothers Aubrey and Jimmy Finklea, who founded and operated Finklea Brothers Dusting Service of Leland during the 1920s.
Back in 1921, aviation was in its infancy and centered primarily on the military. While it had played an integral part in World War I, it was largely a novelty to civilians. On August 31 of that year, Lt. John A. Macready bolted a crude metal hopper to the fuselage of a Curtiss JN-6H (Jenny) aircraft, loaded it with powdered lead arsenic, and took off from an airfield near Dayton, Ohio. He headed to a grove infested with the Catalpa sphinx moth and, as a crowd of spectators cheered delivered the first load in the history of crop dusting. He reported immediate success – a 100 percent kill rate.
A year later in Louisiana, Delta Laboratory became the center for the design, construction, and testing of airborne dusting equipment. Hundreds of test flights, dusting on both sides of the Mississippi River, were made in hope that such action would thwart the boll weevil.
A favorite of Museum visitors is the Stearman A75 two-seat biplane which served as the cornerstone of the new industry. Built primarily by Boeing for the Army Air Service during World War II, the aircraft was easily adapted to accommodate dusting and spraying equipment. With a 36-foot wingspan, the duster is equipped with a 450 HP Pratt & Whitney engine and a combination wet-dry dispersal system.
Suspended from the Museum’s ceiling is the Piper J3 built in 1946 and used initially as a flight school trainer. In 1957, the plane was converted into a “cut-back duster.” Its small size allowed it to fly from farm turnrows and strips that could not handle larger aircraft.
Featured nearby are two products from the Lone Star state. The Piper Pawnee used in the Texas Panhandle boasts a history of 4,600 hours of aerial application. Meanwhile, the Ag-Cat Serial X-I, on loan from the Texas Department of Agriculture, was the first of several craft manufactured by Grumnan solely to meet agricultural demands.