SDSU Aviation graduate starts own aerial application business
By SDSU Marketing & Communications

It took a visit to another college to convince Isaac Wilde to attend South Dakota State University.

He was heading to visit the University of Northwestern Ohio when Wilde made a stop in Dayton, Ohio—the aviation capital of the world. While in Dayton, he decided he wanted to pursue aviation at SDSU. He had been split between studying motor sports or aviation.

“We went to a bunch of aviation museums and I decided that this stuff was way too cool,” he said.

The Lake Preston native came to SDSU in August 2011 and graduated in December 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in aviation and a minor in business. Now, he is starting his own aerial application business, Wilde Air Service LLC. He said by coming to SDSU, he has more training than most people who fly sprayer planes.

“Technically, I am overqualified to be a crop duster,” he said. “What SDSU does is they start you from ground zero and build you all the way up to become a flight instructor … where technical schools, they give you the minimum and it’s up to you to go out and build up the rest of your hours.”

Thanks to his number of flight hours, Wilde feels that his customers can feel at ease knowing they have hired someone with experience.

“I personally feel that SDSU has made me and a lot safer pilot,” he said.

Assistant Professor Cody Christensen said the FAA requires 250 flight hours and usually 50 to 100 hours of tailwheel time for aerial applicators to be minimally qualified to fly. He said that Wilde exceeded that and has a lot of valuable experience in a various areas. Wilde has flown planes based out of Bethel, Alaska, hauling everything from people to freight and mail.

“We were the only way other than boat and snowmobile that people could travel and get vital supplies to the their village,” Wilde said.

He was also a flight instructor for Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown.

Wilde doesn’t just have experience flying planes, but also working for different aerial application services. Christensen said that this is typical for people looking to become aerial applicators. He said it typically takes three summers for students to work their way up to loading and flying the sprayer planes.

Wilde started in Estelline, working for a company that now has been bought out. He also worked for a company in Huron. So far, he has successfully sprayed more than 100,000 acres. He said his aerial application experience while studying at SDSU provided a different perspective in his aviation classes.

Wilde said several of his classmates went into different areas of flying such as cargo, military and commercial. He was the lone one going into aerial application.

“It made for interesting discussions in the class,” he said.

Christensen said not many students take SDSU’s aviation program to become an aerial applicator, but a degree can be designed that works for them.

“We have done the research for what people need for aerial application,” Christensen said.

Christensen said not only was Wilde one of the few students to pursue aerial application, but he is also the only aviation student Christensen has seen start their own aerial application business.

“Isaac has done really well for what he has done. He is a hard-working student and has a knack for figuring stuff out. He has always been directed toward aerial application,” Christensen said. “We are excited to see Wilde Air Service in business. It’s one of the best feelings knowing he will succeed.”

Wilde said the past few months starting his business has been exciting. Being in the local agriculture and spraying scene, Wilde has been working on developing his clientele. He has connections with Lake Preston- and Brookings-area farmers and local elevators. He said the response has been good, because farmers have not had a crop-dusting service nearby in years. Farmers would seek services from Huron and Watertown to spray fields.

Since November, Wilde has been working on buying his sprayer plane, which he just received March 5. Since the purchase, he has become FAA certified.

“There’s nothing easy about buying an airplane,” he said.

As warmer weather nears, Wilde hopes that he can begin spraying in April.

“It’s [aerial application] all kind of a game. You need to know when is the best time to do this and the best time to do that,” he said.

According to the National Agricultural Aviation Association, Wilde is one of 2,700 agriculture pilots in the United States. The NAAA said that the average age of an agriculture pilot is over 50 years old. At 24-years-old, this works to Wilde’s advantage. Being from the area, Wilde plans to stick around.

As his business grows, Wilde hopes to become a resource for students looking to become an aerial applicator. He said he often hears people like looking at airplanes sitting at the Brookings airport, but don’t know that becoming a pilot is tangible.

“You can do it. Just because there is a fence up around the airport, doesn’t mean that you can’t come in here and say hi.”

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