Crop Dusters

Can crop dusters be used to disperse biological warfare agents?
The sprayers of crop dusters are geared to spread their materials over fields in an efficient manner, laying down fertilizer, for example, so that it settles on the crop. The key to effective biological weapons agent dispersal is exactly the opposite, to achieve a superfine aerosol spray that lingers in the air instead of settling on the ground. To infect the human lung, the required particle size of a biological warfare agent is 1 to 10 microns, ideally to 1 to 5. Yet, the sprayers on the average crop dusters aim to disperse in 100 micron particle sizes or greater, a heavier weight that improves the chances of the materials settling on the target area. These sprayers cannot be "dialed down," so to speak, to consistently disperse the payload in the necessary micron size.

Anyone hijacking a crop duster with the intent of spreading biowarfare agents would have to reconfigure the spraying apparatus to achieve the smaller particle size. Put another way, the nozzles would have to be changed. This changeover is, of course, technically possible, but it rules out a grab the-plane-and-go scenario. Prior to an attempted attack, the adjusted spraying apparatus would need to be tested to ensure that it would perform properly. In addition, anyone attempting this type of an attack would have to understand the correct throughput rate for the biowarfare agent involved. If the agent to be dispersed was in a wet form, the operation of the sprayer could be problematic. Wet slurries tend to clog spray nozzles. Moreover, the sheer mechanical forces of putting a wet slurry through a sprayer can kill 95% or more of the agent. In varying degrees, biowarfare agents are susceptible to meteorological conditions, such that once released, the microscopic particles will begin to die. In order to be effective, not only must the biowarfare agent be in a microscopic particle size, it must also be alive when it reaches the human lung.

If the individual(s) have overcome the technical hurdles involved in producing a dry biowarfare agent, dispersal from an adjusted crop duster would not be as difficult. Dry biowarfare agents do not tend to clog sprayers and are hardened against environmental conditions.

Governments, such as the former Soviet Union and the United States, when its now-defunct offensive biowarfare was operative, developed spraying equipment suitable for the dispersal of biowarfare agents. Roughly a dozen nations are now thought to be harboring offensive biological warfare weapons programs.

Among other individuals, I have spoken at length about the ability of crop dusters to disperse chemical or biological agents with an experienced pilot and spokesperson for an aerial application business.