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Mark Edwards in a turbine Air Tractor (Grant/DCP Inc.)

That Old-Time Profession

The airplanes are faster and the power lines more plentiful, but cropdusters fly today just as they did in the 1920s.

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When I asked Gary Hubler about retirement, and if he could sell his business, he said, “I’d have to get a cheap plane and break a young guy in like my Dad did me. Get his hours built up, watch him fly, and talk to him about all the ways to avoid getting hurt. Eventually he’d be coming out of a turn, in the dark, checking the GPS, while shooting an approach back down to the field under a power line, and exactly when and where he needs to, he’d open the old ‘money handle’ and put the spray exactly where it has to go and then he’d know he had arrived and I’d be happy and so would some farmers.”

Kenneth Trahan, a fifth-generation Louisiana rice farmer, put it this way: “Thank goodness there’s a few pilots brave enough to do it. We can’t grow rice without ’em.”

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