L-R: Air Tractor Sales Coordinator Chris Lockhart; Michael Hutchins, Custom Air, Inc.; Logan Lane of Lane Aviation; Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch
Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturer Air Tractor, Inc. passed a major production milestone on May 6th, 2019 with the delivery of the 800th aircraft in the AT-802 series. The 800-gallon capacity airplane, Air Tractor’s largest, took off from Air Tractor on a northeast heading toward its new home in Arkansas to work as a single engine air tanker. The airplane sale was facilitated by long time Air Tractor dealer Lane Aviation.
Michael Hutchins of Custom Air, Inc. in Roe, Arkansas is the new owner of 802A-800. Hutchins already operates four other Air Tractor 802 aircraft, two to fight wildfires and two for agricultural application. The new 802 will replace his oldest AT-802F airplane. Logan Lane accompanied Hutchins to Olney to pick up the bright red and white airplane.
Michael Hutchins departs Air Tractor on his return trip to Roe, Arkansas.
“The first AT-802 I purchased went to work in 2010, I still own it, and its serial number is 102,” Hutchins said. “So, purchasing the 800th AT-802 definitely attests to the durability and longevity of the aircraft. The AT-802 gives me the perfect balance to accomplish anything I need to do, from fighting fires to working in rice country.”
Seeing the 800th AT-802 going to a longtime customer via a longtime dealer is exciting to see for the manufacturer, said Jim Hirsch, president of Air Tractor.
“We are always excited when we hit a major production milestone,” Hirsch said. “The 800-gallon capacity AT-802 series has become one of Air Tractor’s best-selling airplanes. Since it was introduced 26 years ago, the airplane has established itself as the most productive and reliable platform for many uses.”
The 802 series is known for its versatility and efficiency. It can be adapted for agricultural application, firefighting operations, as well as other specialty uses. The AT-802 can operate from small airports and relatively short runways for quick ferry time allowing operators to operate at high capacity even in the most rural or remote locations.
Production of AT-802 series aircraft began in 1993, with two models: the AT-802, 2-seat single engine air tanker for aerial firefighting, and the AT-802A, a single-seat airplane for high production agricultural spraying. Both models have proven adaptability in aerial application of ag products, aerial firefighting, and other special mission operations.
Air Tractor designed the AT-802 specifically for aerial firefighting and initial attack with guidance from forestry and firefighting professionals. The airframe was based on the 500-gallon AT-503A with a dual cockpit in tandem configuration. Air Tractor founder Leland Snow worked with a young engineer named Victor Trotter, who is now president of Trotter Controls, to develop and patent the world’s most advanced computerized, constant flow fire gate. The aircraft proved capable of working fires from remote strips, carrying an 800-gallon load, and it had the reliability of a PT6A turbo-prop engine and easy maintenance of a new airframe. Today, the AT-802F is a respected name in the aerial firefighting community.
Not long after the completion of the AT-802F, Snow made the decision to adapt the aircraft for agricultural use. At that time, the standard for the ag industry was 300 and 400-gallon planes, and the AT-502 was only a few years into production. Though some people were skeptical that an 800-gallon ag plane with a 16,000 pound gross weight would find a place in the aerial application market as many thought it was just too big, Snow swapped the tandem cockpit for a single-seat cockpit, added spray plumbing and booms, and designated it the AT-802A. This model was the first in the series to receive its FAA Type Certificate in December 1992, and the first AT-802A was purchased by Dan Kubecka of Kubecka Flying Service in Edna, Texas.
Hirsch added that making the bold move to create this large and powerful agricultural application aircraft turned out to be a great decision for Air Tractor, as many ag operators soon followed Kubecka and ordered the AT-802A. The 800-gallon hopper, 200 mph ferry speed, and the productivity of the AT-802A allowed many operators to reduce their number of planes and pilots and become much more efficient.