Innovation at Aerospread

May 2016

A topdressing company's innovations for efficiency and cost control

Aerospread managing director Bruce Peterson is a businessman and pilot. Bruce is also an innovative ‘backyard engineer’ who is developing topdressing plane components and software to streamline his business, deliver lower costs to his customers, and solutions to other aerial businesses. 

Bruce is passionate about delivering excellence and ‘giving back’ – he wants all his customers to thrive and to be a part of that. With a passion for both farming and flying, Bruce first enlisted as a farming cadet. He credits his early farming background for providing him with a good inside knowledge of what his customers need. Eventually he gained his pilot’s licence and worked as a top dressing pilot, buying his first plane in 2002.

Aerospread was established in 2012. It presently employs 10 people fulltime and has 2 PAC Cresco 750 crafts and 6 loading vehicles. Bruce say’s, “Get a passion and run with it – I’ve only ever worked 2 days in my life.” 

Bruce is an innovator – constantly looking for ways to better safety, improve efficiency and reduce costs for his employees and customers. “It’s all about being efficient, so clients get a better deal”.

Aerospread’s full schedule is testament to Bruce’s quality of work and vision.

“I’m never going to be the richest man, but I want all our customers to do really well”.

Bruce’s insights as a topdressing pilot with over 24,000 flying hours have enabled him to not only recognise what key areas could be improved, but to come up with practical solutions that work for the pilot/operator in the field. Bruce then works in collaboration with experts such as software developers and engineers to achieve his ideas. “It’s about the user leading change around safety and application costs as opposed to designers”.

Aerolink Pro is software developed by Aerospread which has Google Earth overlaid with LINZ data (i.e farm boundaries). This free software allows farmers to map areas for sowing/spreading, exclusion zones and hazards (such as low power lines) on their farm. Tonnage for spread is also entered. They then simply email in the details to Bruce who can then directly load the data to the plane’s GPS. The farmer enters the info on the Aerospread website in the “Map my farm” area.

The software allows for increased safety and accuracy while meeting legal and compliance obligations. Further, the online nature cuts down on meetings and travel time and allows Bruce to quote from the maps direct. At this stage the software package has been sold to a ‘few other’ outfits.

DZMX is software developed for Aerospread by Flightcell. It allows loader vehicles and aircraft to communicate, to ensure weights are counted accurately and the area covered is accurate. The main benefits are enhanced communication, application planning, traceability and lessening the pilot’s cockpit workload, which greatly increases safety.

DZMX reduces the hours spent on compliance paper work. On take-off of each plane, data is sent to Aeronet to meet CAA requirements. This software was developed to dovetail with the Aeronet software. It tracks and records:

  • Starts
  • Take-offs/landings
  • Hectares spread
  • Pilot flying and hours

The software also communicates data for maintenance – by working with the maintenance schedule it can set up alarms/notifications for when different work is due.

To date this work has all been done manually. Aerospread understand their software is a world first for agricultural aviation.

Bruce has developed a retrofit carbon-fibre hopper-box. The hopper-box is a key component for topdressing. It enables fertiliser or seed to be dispensed at a specified application rate.

Bruce’s hopper-box comes in at a spritely 13.9kgs, with standard industry hoppers weighing around 50-60kgs. Reduced weight on the plane components means the payload can be increased to 600 to 700kg for every flying hour – all at a reduction in costs for the farmers.

The carbon fibre hopper is lined with a special coating to stop abrasion issues cause by the payload.

Bruce has worked with engineers to draw up blueprints and specifications in order to achieve a CAA ‘Supplemental Type Certificates (STC)’ in an incredible 9 months. An STC is a national aviation authority-approved major modification or repair to an existing type certified aircraft, engine or propeller.

At this stage they’re awaiting final “OK’s” in order to attach the hopperbox – it’s expected to be in action from late February 2016 for final drop tests.

Aerospread retains highly qualified staff, testament to a strong focus on staff and work to ensure their team can achieve a better life/work balance. One staff member leaving on his OE has said he does not want to leave the company.

Bruce mentors and puts a lot of energy into his staff and in return they work enthusiastically with him to scope ideas and prototypes. James Ross, a pilot and engineer (and Bruce’s 2IC) is an important collaborator.