Yes, you read it right – beef. Usually, the operations we feature are situated in countries that significantly produce grains and fibers. Uruguay, a small but progressive country in South America, mainly has grains, rice and soybeans, but the country’s main export commodity is beef. Over 70% of this country’s 3.5 million inhabitants is covered by pastures, where 12 million cattle heads graze.
This affects the whole ag aviation industry in the country, including a fascinating operation we found in the small town of Vichadero in northeastern Uruguay. AeroSo uciones SRL, a new but fast-growing operation, was created by two ag pilot partners, Hernán Benzano and Martín Ramos, in 2020.
Hernán Benzano is the son of a farmer who grew up watching ag planes flying and longed to be there. With this goal in mind, he went to the Instituto de Adiestramiento Aeronáutico (IAA) in Montevideo, a Uruguayan government agency that provides ground school training for aviation professionals. After that, he went to the Aero Club del Uruguay, where he got his private and commercial pilot licenses.
To learn the tricks of the trade in the ag aviation business, Hernán went to Brazil in 2002, where he worked as a loader for an operation in São Gabriel, Rio Grande do Sul. While in Brazil, Hernán also jumped with a parachute and enjoyed a taste of aerobatic flight. In 2020, he returned to Uruguay and obtained his ag pilot rating. At that time, there was no ag school in Uruguay; all you had to do was attend a ground school course at IAA and pass a checkride after getting some training from an ag operation.
Hernán then flew as a hired pilot, accumulating experience in the Grumman, Pawnee and Turbo Kruk until he met Martín Ramos. Martín also grew up in a rural environment, seeing ag planes operating and wishing to fly them. Like Hernán, he attended ground school at the Instituto de Adiestramiento Aeronáutico and progressed quickly, earning his private pilot license in 2012, his commercial in 2014 and his aerial applicator license in 2015. Flying for the same operator as Hernán, Martín also got experience in the Pawnee and the Grumman.
In February 2020, Hernán and Martín decided to work independently and started AeroSoluciones with a leased Pawnee. They took turns; while one flew, the other one loaded. Then, in March 2020, they bought a 1996 Weatherly 620B, already registered in Uruguay. In May 2021, the Weatherly had an engine failure, and Hernán had to land on a pasture. He didn’t hit any obstacles, but the main gear collapsed, writing off the prop and requiring a complete engine inspection. Fortunately, the airplane was insured, and in October 2021, AeroSoluciones got another Weatherly 620B, imported from the United States, because it would take too long to fix their first Weatherly.
In February 2022, AeroSoluciones bought its second aircraft, a Grumman G-164B Ag Cat; this model was chosen for having the same Pratt & Whitney R-985 450 HP radial as the Weatherly, facilitating maintenance through parts commonality.
Hernán and Martín have definite preferences for airplanes. Martín prefers the Ag Cat, while Hernán prefers the Weatherly. He says its cockpit is roomier and that the Weatherly flies very well thanks to its light weight, being “almost as fast as a 600 HP airplane”. Hernán and Martín agree that both airplanes are very similar in performance, as they’ve operated them from the same runway, with the same productivity.
Hernán and Martín admit they could finish their jobs with smaller aircraft. But they prefer the bigger ag planes for their more powerful radials and the safety that extra power provides – they say their main idea when creating AeroSoluciones was to work safely and without worries.
This flight safety philosophy is extended to the runways AeroSoluciones operates from. In 2022, AeroSoluciones got a permit from DINACIA, the Uruguayan FAA, to operate the then-closed Vichadero Airport. Hernán and Martín hired heavy earth-moving equipment to reopen the airport and graded the grass runway. They built a hangar and an office facility for the company and brought electricity and an internet connection to the airport. With this, the Uruguayan government is considering the installation of an automated weather station at the airport to support the civilian and military flights now operating there.
AeroSoluciones flies out of only twelve satellite strips, all within 50 miles of their base. Of the twelve, the four most strategic are also maintained by AeroSoluciones. They used the same heavy equipment to grade the strips and built wire fences around them to keep those prized cows from invading them.
Hernán tells us that until 2009, rice was the main crop treated by ag operators in Uruguay. After that, soybean areas started to grow exponentially until 2015-16, when most of the soybean crops were turned into pastures as the country turned heavily into beef production, and today, 70% of AeroSoluciones works is seeding and fertilizing pastures, while rice makes most of the 30% left. Thanks to that, AeroSoluciones flies all year round, not just in the rice summer season as before 2009.
Most of AeroSolucione’s applications are seeds and dry fertilizers, and Transland Swathmasters are a must to be productive. The Swathmaster had to be adapted for the Ag Cat to fit its gatebox. For the liquid applications on rice – herbicides and insecticides – CP Nozzles are used, and both airplanes have Ag-Nav GPS units.
Hernán and Martín already have plans for the future. They’re buying a 600 HP Grumman Ag Cat from the United States and are setting up their maintenance shop. Then, they intend to repair their first Weatherly back-to-flight. With AeroSoluciones’ quick success and growth, Hernán Benzano and Martín Ramos have proved that with sound decisions, dedication and quality work, an operation doesn’t have to be stingy in operational safety to succeed.