Aircraft By Type

Aircraft Make & Model:
Huff-Daland Duster Petrel 31
2,381kg (5,250 lb.)
180 km/h (112 mph) maximum, 80-85 mph dusting speed
1 or 2
7 m (23 ft 1 in)
10.1 m (33 ft 3 in)
2.5 m (8 ft 4 in)
Liberty 12
HP or Thrust:
400 hp
No. flown by DL:
About 18
Crop-dusting operations in the U.S. included Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Also operated in Mexico and Peru.
Low speed flying, heavy payload capacity, low maintenance costs
First Delivery:
March 17, 1925
First Scheduled Service:
March 25, 1925
Reason Aquired:
Creation of first aerial crop-dusting company, Huff Daland Dusters. Incorporated on March 2, 1925.
Last Retirement:
ca. 1948
Reason Disposed:
Replaced by war surplus Boeing PT-17 aircraft.

Narrative:  Huff-Daland Duster 1925-ca.1948

The Huff-Daland Duster, nicknamed the "Puffer," was the first agricultural airplane. Aircraft manufacturer Huff, Daland & Company, Inc. built the first aircraft specifically designed for crop dusting in 1923-1924. Developed to protect the cotton fields of the southern United States against the boll weevil insect.

For over a year, Huff, Daland & Company collaborated with entomologist B.R. Coad and his team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Delta Lab in Tallulah, Louisiana. They tested various models and engines, and ended up with a large version and smaller version of the Duster. By 1928, the company only produced the small model, the Huff-Daland Duster “Puffer” (Petrel 31), an upgraded version of Petrel Model 5 biplane. Suitable for dusting fields of all size.

First Test Flights, Demonstrations & Commercial Use

  • July 28, 1924 First test flight of the Huff-Daland Duster. Test pilot is world-famous Harold Harris on loan from the Army to the USDA.
  • Aug. 26, 1924 First public aerial dusting demonstration is hosted in Athens, Georgia, by the Georgia State College of Agriculture (at the University of Georgia), Huff, Daland & Company and the USDA. Loaned Army pilots fly three Huff-Daland Dusters.
  • September 1924 First commercial airplane dusting for insect control in the United States. Huff, Daland & Company dusts 1,800 acres at 35 cents per acre at Robertshaw Company Plantation at Heathman, Mississippi.

For more information about the development of commercial dusting, see our timeline.


In 1925, Huff, Daland & Company moved from Ogdensburg, N.Y. to Bristol, Pa., as Huff-Daland Airplanes, Inc. (renamed Keystone Aircraft Corp. in 1927). To promote commercial use of its new agricultural aircraft, Huff-Daland established a crop-dusting division named Huff Daland Dusters, which was incorporated on March 2, 1925. Huff Daland Dusters was the world's first aerial crop-dusting company and formed the roots for Delta Air Lines. For more information, see Founding.

On March 25, 1925, Huff Daland Dusters began commercial work dusting peach trees in Montezuma, Georgia. This was the first dusting of fruit orchards by airplane for insect control.

Huff Daland Dusters' fleet of up to 18 aircraft operated in the U.S. in the summer months, and shifted to Peru in the winters of 1927 and 1928.  It was "the largest unsubsidized air fleet in the world in those days," C.E. Woolman, Delta's first CEO, recalled in 1965.

In 1928, General Manager C.E. Woolman led a movement to buy the crop-dusting division. The new company, named Delta Air Service, began passenger flights on June 17, 1929.

In 1936-1937, Delta Dusting Division mechanics and helpers built three new crop dusters "from scratch," while maintaining the other airplanes in Delta's fleet in Monroe. The new crop dusters were Ship 70 (NR17606), Ship 71 (NR17607) and Ship 72 (NR17608). More information in our Online Collections.

The "Huffer-Puffers" were replaced by war surplus Boeing PT-17s by 1948. Delta continued dusting operations until 1966. As late as 1948, some of the original Duster airplanes were still in use.

See Duster artifacts in our Online Collections here.

"Satisfactory Airplane"

In 1944, C.E. Woolman replied to aircraft designer Loyd Stearman, who had sent a letter requesting the characteristics of a successful crop duster:

The most satisfactory airplane; and the airplane which is standard in our [dusting] operations, is the old Keystone “Puffer,” originally manufactured by Huff Daland Airplane Company, and which we have continued to build for our own use, and which seems to incorporate most of the desirable features; in fact, we have found nothing quite as satisfactory.

Generally speaking, a dusting plane should have a quick takeoff and a slow landing speed, good visibility (and I would emphasize this point), and should be very maneuverable. It should be ruggedly built, especially the landing gear which should be equipped with balloon or semi-balloon tires. It should have good load carrying capacity both from the standpoint of weight and cubic capacity which should be locate as near the center of gravity as possible. The opening of the dustbin should be sufficiently large and so located as to facilitate fast loading. The power plant should be ample for cruising at 80 or 90 m.p.h. with ample reserve for steep climbs in order to clear obstacles at the ends of the fields which are sometimes well over 100 ft. Gas capacity should be sufficient for four or five hours with the tanks located in the upper wings. Exhaust stacks should not exhaust over the top wing nor under the ship as sparks might ignite the inflammable dust.

The Restored Huff-Daland Duster

Following the death of C.E. Woolman in September 1966, several hundred Delta volunteers restored a Huff-Daland Duster as a memorial to Delta's founder.

The remains of two of the original 18 Dusters were transported from Monroe, Louisiana, to Delta's Technical Operations Center in Atlanta. One aircraft was rebuilt with parts from the other.

In January 1968, the restored Duster was donated to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It was displayed in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building for about six months before being earmarked for storage.

The Duster was loaned back to Delta in the late 1970s for display at its Technical Operations Center in Atlanta. The Duster was temporarily displayed at the Louisiana World Exhibition from May to November 1984, and at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1997, for the airport's 50th anniversary celebration.

The Duster was on long-term loan to the Delta Flight Museum and displayed in Delta's original hangars in Atlanta until 2005, when it was returned to the NASM and installed in the new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. In 2022, the restored Duster was moved to the NASM's building on the National Mall and installed in the refreshed and expanded America by Air exhibition.

Interested in building your own model of the Huff-Daland Duster? No kits exist, but you can purchase a scale Duster drawing from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

  • huff-daland_duster_in_action_1920s
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