Aerospread Managing Director Bruce Peterson isn’t just a businessman and pilot. Bruce is an innovative ‘backyard engineer’ whose work to develop topdressing plane components and software is streamlining his business and delivering lower costs and safer, more environmentally friendly and efficient services to his clients and other aerial businesses.
Bruce’s business is about aerial spreading – that means applying fertiliser to the land from an aeroplane. Bruce’s clients are people who work in primary industries like farmers.
Top dressing is a distinctly Kiwi innovation from the 1940s – though historians note that, in 1906, John Chaytor spread seed over an area in Wairoa using a hot air balloon!
Farmers and other land users have become more savvy in regards to the precise application of fertilisers. This is important in order to reduce costs and to protect the land and waterways from nutrient run-off.
As an experienced top dressing pilot with over 24,000 flying hours, Bruce’s insights have enabled him to both recognise key areas to improve and 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 make his ideas a reality. Bruce says, “It’s all about the user leading change around safety and application costs as opposed to designers.”
Aerolink Pro and DZMX
Aerolink Pro is mapping software developed by Aerospread. This software can be accessed by clients on Bruce’s business website.
Aerolink Pro works with Google Earth and is overlaid with Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) data. LINZ datasets cover many areas from topographic data and maps to aerial imagery and property and farm boundary data.
The software allows landowners to map areas for sowing/spreading, exclusion zones (where they do not want fertiliser or seeds spread – such as organic farms) and hazards (such as low power lines) on their farm. The amount for spreading – the tonnage - is also entered. The landowner can then simply email in the details to Bruce who directly loads the data to the plane GPS.
This software allows for increased safety and accuracy, which is very important as fertiliser is expensive and the application must be spot on to avoid contaminating waterways. Also, the online nature cuts down on meetings and means Bruce can quote from the maps directly – saving everyone time and money.
DZMX software was developed for Aerospread by Flightcell. It was developed to dovetail with the Aeronet software. Aeronet is a global software used by many New Zealand aviation businesses to help them meet regulatory and NZ Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) compliance requirements.
A key benefit of this software is a reduction in the pilot’s cockpit workload, which greatly increases safety.
Pilots have to spend a lot of time logging data to meet compliance obligations for regulatory bodies like the CAA.
On take-off, the DZMX on the plane sends data to their operation. The software tracks and records important information like start times, take-offs and landings, hectares spread and pilot flying hours.
The software also communicates data for maintenance – by working with the maintenance schedule, it can set up alarms and notifications for when different work is due on each aircraft. Previously, this work has been done manually, Aerospread believes its software is a world first for agricultural aviation.
Lightening the load
Bruce has also developed hardware components for his planes. He developed a retrofit carbon fibre hopper-box. The hopper-box is an add-on component for top dressing – it dispenses the fertiliser at a specified application rate. Bruce’s carbon fibre hopper is lined with a special coating to stop abrasion issues caused by the payload.
The newly designed hopper-box weighs only 13.9 kg – standard industry hoppers are around 50–60 kg. Reducing weight on the plane components means the payload can be increased to 600–700 kg for every flying hour – all at a reduction in costs for the client.
Bruce has worked with engineers to draw up blueprints and specifications in order to achieve a CAA supplemental type certificate (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.
Reducing the weight of vehicles to improve payload capabilities is core to a number of industries. The work of Peter Beck at Rocket Lab has also concentrated on using carbon fibre components to increase payload and efficiency in their rockets. Peter Beck refers to this as the Spiral of Doom in this video on minimising mass. Another example of carbon fibre innovation is seen in the work of UAV innovators Aeronavics.
Bruce has a lot of projects on the go and is presently working on a game changer with financing from Callaghan Innovation – stay tuned!
Nature of science
The quest to find solutions to real-life problems creates innovation. Innovative thinking in science is key to many advances in technology.
In the activity Future flight, students explore how flight has developed over time with discussion about trends and future possibilities. Why not adapt it and get your students to look at the developments of flight and aerial solutions in agriculture in New Zealand?
The Science Learning Hub thanks Showdown Productions and Rural Delivery for its assistance in the writing of this story.