Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch has been checking the numbers and anticipating this day’s arrival. The serial number of the 502XP sold to Mike Rivenbark of Morehead City, North Carolina differs only one digit from the previous Air Tractor. Yet another airplane in a steady progression of airplanes spanning 49 years. But to those at the company keeping track of these things, the one digit makes all the difference. On the odometer of Air Tractor history, this 502XP rolls-up three zeros following the first digit, 4. This 502XP is the 4,000th Air Tractor airplane built since 1972. And the obvious response to this rare numerical alignment is to celebrate.
Perhaps it’s also appropriate that this notable airplane stands apart from other Air Tractors with a unique white and blue striped livery. To Mike Rivenbark, it’s the right plane with the right color scheme to usher his business, Moore’s Aerial Applicators, into its next chapter of growth.
On March 26th, Mike and Tiffany Rivenbark took delivery of the new 502XP during a special 4,000th Air Tractor barbeque luncheon celebration held in Plant 2A at Air Tractor. Of course, a number of dignitaries and VIPs were also on hand to commemorate the occasion, as well as Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch, Grant and Logan Lane, and all 295 Air Tractor employee-owners.
“Celebrating this extraordinary airplane with its new owner and the entire Air Tractor team is a special moment. This 4,000th Air Tractor means a lot to us. And I know it is going to a good home.” says Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch.
“When I bought my business five years ago, it came with a 1998 model AT-402,” Rivenbark recalls. “The 402 performed great for my operation here in North Carolina. It was easy to fly and well suited to the smaller fields here. But then, around year three, I began traveling with the 402. I was spraying bigger fields out west, and I discovered that I was flying the smallest plane out there.”
That got Rivenbark to re-thinking his operation, and how it could benefit from an ag plane with more capacity. Because of his experience with the 402, getting another Air Tractor was an easy choice for him. “I didn’t shop around a whole lot. And it didn’t take long to find a buyer. The 402 actually sold much quicker than I anticipated. It had 5,800 hours when it sold. That’s a very low-time airplane for its age. Plus, it had a -34 engine in it, so it was a pretty sporty airplane also.
“Late last year, I bumped into Logan Lane (of Air Tractor dealer Lane Aviation) and we talked about what I wanted. Not long after that, I pulled the trigger on it.
“I chose the 502XP because it gives me the extra power to take off with a full hopper from shorter airstrips. It’s not too big for my work in North Carolina and will let me do more work when I travel to help out other ag operators. I feel certain that this will be the plane that I love and have for the next 10 or 15 years.”
Rivenbark worked with Logan to customize and set up the new airplane. “We ended up going with the Insero AgPilot X GPS. Two years ago, I installed the same system in my AT-402B,” Mike notes. “In the AT-402, I had the screen mounted off to the side, meaning it wasn’t directly in front of me but still easy to see at a glance. Now, in the 502XP, I’ve had the larger iPad Pro installed, and it fits perfectly on the centerline of the airplane. It’s tucked in there nice and neat.”
Air Tractor equipped Rivenbark’s 502XP with the Electronics International MVP-50P engine analyzer. “The MVP-50 and the iPad basically run everything. I am looking forward to the digital upgrade. And we went ahead and installed the Turbine Conversions single-point fueling system,” Mike adds. He says the airplane will also have CP-09 nozzles on Transland spray booms, just as he had on his 402B.
The 500-gallon capacity AT-502XP is powered by the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140AG turboprop engine. It has 867 horsepower available to carry more than two tons of liquid or dry material all day, every day.
“After 49 years of continuous production, it’s gratifying to find ourselves in this position,” says Jim Hirsch. “Only eight years ago we built our 3,000th airplane, and now we just surpassed number 4,000. This year we find ourselves in an agricultural market driving historically strong demand for our aircraft. While the output of airplanes here has its typical ups and downs, our manufacturing continues year after year on a rising trend line.”
Hirsch recalls how far Air Tractor has come since its early days when in 1975, the company celebrated annual production of 25 airplanes. “Today, we produce more ag airplanes and offer more models and choices than all our competitors combined. When the world demands more, Air Tractor delivers. That is as true today as it was back in the 70s.”
Rivenbark is thrilled to fly his 502XP aircraft home to North Carolina and eager to put it to work. “My business has been expanding around Morehead City, and I expect the 502XP will be quite a bit more efficient and productive. It will definitely be much more efficient when I am working bigger fields outside of North Carolina,” he added. Mike expects the numbers for this 502XP to be quite impressive.