Home-United StatesAg Aviation Expo Shines in Palm Springs

Ag Aviation Expo Shines in Palm Springs

Attendees and exhibitors at NAAA’s 2023 Ag Aviation Expo couldn’t have asked for better weather, scenery, education, networking and friendship in Palm Springs, California in early December. The expo hosted nearly 1,300 attendees and exhibitors from around the globe eager to network with friends and peers, educate themselves at 26 education sessions and improve their businesses by visiting with exhibitors on the trade show floor.

The show was a success thanks to stellar programming, a lively auction, outstanding exhibitors and a beautiful setting in Palm Springs, which hosted the Ag Aviation Expo for the first time.

The NAAA Trade Show featured 143 exhibitors with an Air Tractor and Thrush Aircraft outside the facility and three helicopters inside the Palm Springs Convention Center. This year’s convention numbered nearly 1,300 attendees and booth personnel registered for the 2023 Ag Aviation Expo.

A fixture of the convention, the 2023 Live Auction raised funds to support NAAA programs and services. The association stated its continued appreciation for all of the companies and individuals that support NAAA programs by donating an auction item. The NAAA also offered a special thank you to Pratt & Whitney Canada for donating a Best Tug aircraft tug and a brand-new PT6A-34AG engine.

The NAAA convention featured 37 companies sponsoring different events and items throughout the show, including Diamond sponsors BASF, Corteva Agriscience, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Syngenta and UPL.

Many great sessions took place during the week, including the Kickoff Breakfast and General Session, and below is an overview of several sessions.


The Expo opened on Monday with a Kickoff Breakfast address by Burt Rutan, famed aerospace entrepreneur and spacecraft designer, who has developed 49 types of manned (unclassified) aircraft. As part of his keynote addres, Rutan mentioned his first solo in an Aeronca Model 7 Champion on his 16th birthday in 1959.

Rutan founded his first company in 1974 and his second company, Scale Composites, in 1984, which he retired from in 2011. About 30% of Scale Composite’s work is classified, but Rutan stated that he is very proud of the national security projects they accomplished.

“My exposure to ag aviation was early on and I learned how to fly the Aeronca Champ at an airport where many crop-dusting planes flew out of,” stated Rutan. “There were many Stearmanns and the accident rate at that time was horrific. I learned about the industry’s current fatality statistics and calculated that the industry has lost about three-tenths of one percent, which is a reasonable risk that people take.”

Rutan developed his only ag aircraft, the Model 120 Predator in 1984 and unfortunately, it was the only one built because the customer crashed the prototype. The Predator wing was optimized for canard down/up wash, which is a wing configuration in which a small forewing or foreplane is placed forward of the main wing of a fixed-wing aircraft, there was a jump seat behind the pilot, the structure was corrosion-resisting and the engine was a Lycoming 0-720 eight-cylinder 400 BHP.

Rutan went on to discuss his aircraft Voyager, the first non-stop and non-refueled world flight in 1986, and SpaceShipOne, the first non-government manned spaceflight, which was funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Both now hang in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.

SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize, the competition created to spur the development of affordable space tourism. SpaceShipOne claimed victory as the first privately developed spacecraft to reach the boundary of space, which is 100 kilometers, twice in five days. The craft was hand-flown and simple to fly, but Rutan stated the biggest challenge was building a motor for SpaceShipOne. The flight time on SpaceShipOne was about an hour, with most of it climbing and about fifteen minutes gliding back down to the ground.

2023 “Ag Wings of Tomorrow” Scholarships Awarded 

Also during the kickoff breakfast, sponsorships were awarded by BASF and Thrush Aircraft who co-sponsored the 2023 NAAA “Ag Wings of Tomorrow” Scholarship program. Thanks to their generous support, the NAAA awarded scholarships of $5,000 each to the four aspiring ag pilots Macy Arbuckle of Vinton, Iowa, and Mark Noe of Noe Aviation LLC in Vinton, Iowa. Scholarships were also awarded to Max Gschwendtner of Pontiac, Illinois, sponsored by Scott Petersen of Pontiac Flying Service in Pontiac, Illinois, Delfino Martinez of Brownsville, Texas, sponsored by Pat Kornegay of Sun Valley Aviation in San Benito, Texas and Saint-Andre Roux of Seneca, Kansas, sponsored by Scott Heinen of Heinen Bros Agra Services in Seneca, Kansas


Tuesday’s General Session explored the EPA’s pesticide policymaking process, adjuvants and mentoring new pilots into the industry. Ed Messina, Director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) presented about EPA’s work with (re)registering pesticides and labeling them for aerial use.

Messina discussed the agency’s work with NAAA and other associations on how EPA can improve the accuracy of their risk assessment by incorporating drift reduction technologies into its risk assessments. If EPA can be more precise about risk assessments, more products can be approved and used.

Also featured in the general session was speaker Terry Kippley, President of the Council of Producers and Distributors of Agrotechnology (CPDA), who spoke about the importance of adjuvant use and how adjuvants can enhance a pesticide’s performance and can improve the properties of the spray mixture.  He discussed the CPDA’s adjuvant certification program and the scrutiny these approved products must undergo to be certified under the program.


After the general session, the NAAA featured dozens of sessions for ag pilots on a variety of topics including safe operation of aircraft, vendor lead sessions on specific aircraft and technology within the industry and multiple sessions centered on safety as the NAAA continues on its mission to reduce accidents within the ag aviation insdustry through outreach programs and educational inititatives.

Transland Breakfast

This longstanding staple to the Ag Aviation Expo provided both sustenance and substantive updates to those in attendance. The Satloc Falcon system was the star of the show, not only as their newest project, but as the integration hub for many of their other products such as the electric Wingman and gate box. The Transland crew reported positive feedback from applicators on currently fielded units and expressed enthusiasm for the continued development of features such as AIMMS-directed swath offsets, integration with Micronair rotary atomizer sensors and the addition of Canadian legal land descriptions to the mapping interface.

Support Committee Athena Presentation

The 2023-2024 Athena presentation focused on how to maintain both the physical and mental health of pilots as well as their families. Just like the prop on a high-capacity turbine ag airplane, there are five “blades” to propel health and wellness. Each blade must be attended to, to ensure pilots stay healthy, not only during the season, but year-round.

Relationship Drift Session

This year’s Relationship Drift session took a different approach and instead of dividing operators/pilots from  spouses and/or office crew into separate rooms to ask the same questions, Dominique Youakim of Aerinova Aerial in Mattoon, IL presented the DISC profile and how it can benefit relationships and communication. In addition to Youakim’s work as an ag pilot and operator, he is also a certified DISC facilitator. The DISC profile is a behavioral assessment tool that helps individuals understand their behavioral tendencies in various situations.


After the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the 2022 Ag Aviation Expo addition of this course into the yearly convention,, Robert “Bob” A. Feerst, President of Utilities / Aviation Specialists Inc., was brought back to teach a full day Flying in the Wire and Obstruction Environment Course. The course covers a variety of subjects all focused on the single mission of helping ag aviators avoid hitting wires and other obstructions.


As with previous years, the annual convention was concluded with the awards banquet headed by MC’s Rod Thomas and Eric Klindt who lead the presentation with their unique banter and comedy that has been a staple of the conventions annual banquet event for many years.

The annual banquet also paid homage to outgoing president Craig Craft, who passed the gavel to incoming president Ray Newcombe with the passing of the ceremonial gavel and the presentation by NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore to Craig Craft of his framed magazine cover to celebrate his year of service as the president of the organization, along with recognizing the service of multiple past presidents in attendance in the audience.

In addition to the annual presidential transfer duties, the industry paid tribute to eleven award winners in attendance with the presentation of plaques to celebrate their achievements within the industry.

The annual convention was another successful show for the NAAA, hosting for the first time in Palm Springs, which was well received by attendees, vendors and visitors to the show as many escaped the colder climates from the northern states for the California centered event. The next convention will no doubt be another highly anticipated event as the convention heads to Fort Worth, Texas in 2024.





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