Magnificent men in flying machines

An aerial crop sprayer just scraping the tops of a field of potatoes.
An aerial crop sprayer just scraping the tops of a field of potatoes.

For many people of a certain age living among Lincolnshire’s fields, the antics of the aerial crop sprayers was a familiar sight until the 1980s.

Now, a Ruskington man has co-written a book about the subject, focussing on one pilot in particular.

Under The Wire is an autobiography of crop spraying pilot Digby Goss, from Boston, who died in 2006 before he could finish it.

He had worked for Lincs Aerial Spraying Company, based at Boston Aerodrome, finally setting up Boston Aviation Services.

Malcolm Haywood, of Ruskington, was ground operations manager for the company from 1966 until 1984 when the company was disbanded due to new rulings against aerial spraying in the UK on health and safety grounds.

Mr Haywood said: “The book had laid dormant and I asked Digby’s wife, Marlene, if she would mind me completing it. My contribution is more facts and figures on aerial spraying locally.”

Digby had learned to fly in the RAF and spent time in the army before seeing the job advert for crop sprayers in a magazine.

Back in the 1950s and 60s the crop sprayer pilots used Austers and specially designed Piper Pawnee aircraft to spray pesticide, top dressing and fertiliser for farmers across Lincolnshire and surrounding counties – as well as flying their little craft over to Sudan to do work in the winter.

They were mainly needed when farmers could not get on the fields because the ground was too wet. A specially-concreted airstrip was built on the South Kyme farm of John and Jean Morris so that planes could land and reload, although the pilots would also put down in grass fields, private roads and farm tracks. Most pilots would amazingly fly under power lines to get a clear run at fields, skimming crops at just four or five feet.

Mr Haywood said: “It was a skilled profession. Most pilots had a few spills, you could easily get snagged if you were a rookie.”

These methods are still used in the USA and Australia but pilots never have to contend with the small fields surrounded by properties that were experienced in this country.

A dedicated website, www.underthe wire.co.uk, has been set up to promote the book with any profits from the publication, priced at £12 (plus £3 postage and packaging), going to the Lincs and Notts Air Ambulance appeal.