As an advocate for the industry or from the seat of his AT-802, Eric Klindt swings for the fence every day.
Either go big, or go home. That’s the motto Eric Klindt lives by. That’s what landed him in the cockpit of his Air Tractor AT-802. That’s what got him involved in the National Agricultural Aviation Association. That’s what drives him to share his passion for his profession with the next generation of ag pilots.
“I like to get things done. I’m a ‘get it done’ type of person. Does that get me into trouble sometimes? Perhaps. But I’ll make a decision and go with it.”
Eric also believes in contributing to his community – to improve things for those he shares the skies with, and those on the ground.
“I like to serve. Whether it’s in the NAAA or in my community or anywhere. To help people, your religious beliefs and family values, those types of things are important.”
Striving for Better
A veteran ag pilot at Wilbur-Ellis Agribusiness in Wahpeton, North Dakota, Eric grew up on the family farm in Minnesota. When the Klindt farm was sold, Eric worked for other farmers in the area. He attended the University of Minnesota at Crookston where he received his commercial pilot’s license and aerial applicator training.
He got his start in aerial spraying in 1997 and has loved it ever since.
“I got my first flight. I’ll never forget that flight,” Eric recalls. “Then I worked for a large farmer who also did aerial application and that’s where I first saw aerial application. I was quite impressed. I loved the fact that I was in a tractor, and then I could go help out on the airplane and then go back to the tractor and vice versa. I liked the job and what it entailed. It sparked my interest.”
Educating the Next Generation
Now more than twenty years later, Eric continues his career as an agricultural pilot for Wilbur-Ellis. Moreover, both Eric and his wife Shana are active members of the NAAA and the Minnesota AAA. That all started when Eric attended the association’s Syngenta Leadership Training Group in 2002 where he realized how much the NAAA accomplished behind the scenes for operators and ag pilots like himself.
“I really couldn’t believe the amount of work that was being done for our industry on the national level. I didn’t realize how much the NAAA was doing for us nationwide,” he recalls.
Eric vowed to assist wherever he was able. Before he knew it, he was heavily involved in all different facets of the NAAA. However, one aspect sparked his interest in particular: Education. As the son of two educators, it only made sense.
“I’ve always thought that I’d like to be a teacher, but that would drive me more nuts than what I do now,” Eric jokes. “But I like talking with kids about our industry. It gives me that opportunity to educate, like my parents did, and it’s rewarding.”
Listen to Experience, Listen to Your Airplane
With over 20 years of ag application experience, Eric shares his expertise and lessons learned with those new to the game as well as those who have clocked more hours than he has. He believes that communicating, listening and learning can keep you alive.
There is no room for complacency, no matter how many years you’ve been flying.
“When you think you have it all figured out, you better quit. Because once you think you have all the answers, they change all the questions, and so you always have to be prepared for the unknown. Things change all the time in our industry and I have to be prepared for that as best you can,” Eric cautions. “You’ve got to have a little bit of cockiness to do our job, but you better know that there’s a lot, a lot of things that can happen really quick, and do happen very quick, and you better be humble enough to do the right thing and get yourself through it.”
“Always listen. Listen to not only yourself, but the airplane. It’s always talkin’.”
There’s a lot of truth in that.
About People, Tech and Growing a Culture of Safety
Eric is passionate about his safety. He flies an airplane he trusts. He believes in taking advantage of technology and safety innovations that make his job safer, easier and more productive. He relies on his experience. In other words, in the cockpit of his 802, he has a certain level of control over his own destiny. Through his work with the NAAA, he is able to affect some change to improve safety for the broader industry.
“I look at our industry and we are having accidents. What are the causes? What are people hitting or what’s happening that’s causing accidents? It still comes down to human factors. People and decision making. So, trying to break that hurdle is probably the biggest thing that we need to get on top of. What it is, I’m not a 100 percent sure. But we need to talk about it and promote a better safety culture.”
Technology has been a key factor.
“The technology that we’ve embraced, you know, things that you wouldn’t fly or or operate without, is huge. Obviously, the GPS is right on the top of the list. I mean, how sophisticated and accurate!” Eric says. If there is a legitimate safety item for the airplane, absolutely put it on the plane.”
“The technology, the safety measures are out there. There are so many different things that we can do.”
The industry has made great strides. But more work remains to be done.
Giving the Industry a Voice
Positive changes have happened because people came together and changed how things were done, by building community and advocating on behalf of those taking the risk every day. Eric says he would like to see more pilots and operators to join the ranks of the NAAA and their state associations.
“Get involved!” he says. “I like to be involved in things, but I’d say, the mentality of our industry is we don’t wanna fight back. When people say bad things about our industry we just kinda blow it off.”
However, those criticizing the industry make their voices heard.
“If lawmakers and people around the country are listening to that all the time… like they say ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ Well, they’re squeaking all the time and we need to make sure that our voice is heard. When something happens we need to all come together and help out. It is a small industry, so it’s important that we have people that’ll step forward and – and get their voice heard.”
Better Days, Smarter Ways
That said, what drives this pilot to get up every morning and go to work is a passion for the job. Even after all these years, Eric is excited to get into the plane and go to work for the growers and farmers in his area. Showing up and getting it done is the name of the game.
“It’s a customer-driven industry. I came into this location, not having many acres to spray, but I knew there was good potential here. I had the drive to succeed and so I thought ‘what do you have to do to overcome and gain customers?’”
Eric figured it out, got the job done and he still has the trust and loyalty of many of these farmers from the early years.
“I have a philosophy: Act like you own it. Take ownership in what you’re doing and that’s kinda how I’ve done it here – and how you do anything.”
Every day is a full load of family, farmers, and passion for this life of flying. Eric is always aiming for a better day and a smarter way. And at Air Tractor, we’re here to make sure Eric has the plane and technology to move ag flying forward.