Deere & Company—60 years of plowing the airways and sowing seeds of business

Gulfstream V, 2 Cessna Citation Xs and a Sovereign link MLI with ag and forestry markets in North America and around the world.

By Phil Rose
Managing Editor

More than 2 dozen strong, Deere & Company’s MLI-based flight department with company GV and Citation X. Annual utilization runs around 700 hrs across the fleet.

Mention the name John Deere anywhere and your audience thinks immediately of tractors and an endless range of farm equipment. John Deere is that rare thing—a global brand, its signature green and yellow colors as unmistakable as its leaping deer logo.

It was a plowing innovation that started blacksmith John Deere on the long furrow to immortality and fortune. In 1836 the 32-year-old Deere moved from Vermont to Illinois and saw that the heavy Midwest soil posed a huge problem for settlers used to the lighter soils of the East.

Quite simply, the soil would stick to the cast-iron blade of the traditional horse-drawn plow, requiring the farmer to stop every few feet to clean it off. Deere developed a plow blade of polished steel—what he called a “self-scouring plow”—that repelled the soil effectively.

Its first public demonstration in 1838 was a resounding success, orders for the new plow came flooding in, and John Deere’s invention went on to change the course of agriculture. Within 10 years Deere was producing 1000 steel plows a year, and in 1848 he moved his successful and growing business to Moline IL on the banks of the Mississippi.

In 2008, Deere & Company, its world headquarters still in Moline, reported net sales of $25.8 billion. A world player by any standard, its non-US business last year accounted for 49% of total sales—up from 43% in 2007.

Worldwide, Deere & Company employs more than 50,000 people. The company that John Deere founded more than 170 years ago has evolved into a gigantic enterprise whose products include tractors, harvesters, backhoes, excavators and mowers.

Deere & Company is also engaged in construction and forestry, water and irrigation technology, and development of intelligent vehicle systems.

Developing business and aviation

Deere & Company’s association with aviation began in 1926, when it subsidized a hangar at Moline to be used for the Chicago–Moline–Dallas air mail route.

(Top L–R) Founder John Deere, 1855 plow ad, 1920 Waterloo Boy tractor, Riding Greens Mower, R-Gator unmanned ground vehicle, harvester and construction equipment on display at John Deere Pavilion in Moline. (Main photo) Early group shot—Beech Bonanza 35, Aero Commander 500, Beech 18, Aero Commander 500 and Bonanza 35 at MLI. (Bottom L–R) Travel Air, Grumman Widgeon, Douglas DC3, Lockheed JetStar, GV, today’s fleet in hangar.

Later that year a Travel Air owned by Campbell–Deschepper was painted with the name “John Deere,” but this appears to have been solely for advertising purposes. Recognizing the importance of seeking out new business and maintaining links with existing customers, Deere & Company was an early practitioner of business aviation philosophy.

In 1945 it established a flight department and acquired a Grumman Widgeon amphibian to land on Lake Mich­igan—which facilitated attendance at business meetings in downtown Chicago.

This was the first of a huge array of aircraft that Deere & Com­pany would use over the years. (Early types included the Beech 17, Beech 18/C45, Fairchild PT­26, Navion and numerous other single and twin pistons.)

First John Deere pilot was Joseph James, a former barnstormer who had earned his license in 1916. By the mid-1960s Deere & Company had acquired its first turbine equipment—a Gulfstream I.

A decade later it had moved into the jet age and was flying 3 Citation 500s, a Lockheed JetStar and a GII. In the years that followed there were Citation 550s, 650s (Citation VIs), a GV and a Challenger 601-3R.

Today, the Deere & Company flight department employs 24 people—15 of them pilots—and operates a Gulf­stream V, a Citation Sovereign and 2 Cessna Citation Xs from MLI (Moline IL) on domestic and international missions.

Running today’s operation

Deere & Company’s Citation Xs were delivered in late 2002 and late 2004, replacing an earlier GV and one of 2 Citation VIs, respectively. The company traded its remaining Citation VI to Cessna against the Sovereign, which was delivered new in late 2006.

At about the same time—Nov 2006—it acquired a preowned 2001-model Gulfstream V. All 4 aircraft have Honeywell avionics—Primus 2000 on the Citation Xs, Primus Epic on the Citation Sov­ereign and SPZ8500 on the GV.

Heading up the flight department is John Deere Global Aviation Services Dir Larrie Dahl—a 20,000-hr pilot who describes joining Deere & Company in 2002 as “the best choice I ever made in my life.” Dahl had spent the previous 21 years as aviation mgr for a Midwest manufacturing company.

The flight department consists of 15 pilots (including Dahl), 6 technicians and 3 schedulers, plus 1 contract administrative assistant. Contract flight attendants are employed as required. Seven people report directly to Dahl—4 pilots, the scheduling supervisor, the chief inspector and the supervisor of technicians.

Deere & Company Senior VP & CFO Jim Field (L) with Dir Global Aviation Services Larrie Dahl and the company’s EVS-equipped Gulfstream V. Field says, “Larrie and the team have built a unique esprit de corps which is really gratifying to see and be part of.”

International pilots—who account for about half—report to Mgr Flight Ops Jay Sears, while newer pilots report to Sears’ counterpart, Mgr Flight Standards Tim Toal. Salaries are “in line with industry standards,” says Dahl. Benefits include medical, dental, 401K and a specific loss-of license insurance program for pilots. Utilization runs at about 700 hrs annually across the fleet.

As Dahl says, “We do a lot of flying.” Most pilots are cross trained and may fly as copilot (SIC) on any of the 3 types. However, as Dahl explains, to avoid pilots having to stay current on 3 different types, company policy requires that they only fly as captain (PIC) on 2. Typically, the 3rd type would be the GV—in part because missions involving an overnight flight require 3 pilots.

Overseas trips are a key part of the department’s mission, says Dahl, and about 40% of all flights are international. In addition to its world headquarters in Moline, Deere & Company has headquarters facilities in Mannheim, Germany, Porto Alegre, Brazil and Singapore.

Consequently, visits to FKB (Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden, Germany), POA (Porto Alegre RS, Brazil) and SIN (Changi, Singapore) are quite frequent. The Citation Xs are often used on missions to South America, Europe and Russia—but not to China, India or Australia because of fuel stop requirements. For such ultralong-haul trips, the Gulfstream V comes into its own.

Deere & Company also operates a regular domestic shuttle linking MLI with the company’s Agriculture & Turf Division marketing centers in Lenexa KS and Cary NC, flying into IXD (New Century, Olathe KS) and RDU (Raleigh–Durham NC), respectively.


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