Leland Snow, founder and president of Air Tractor, Inc., and the inventor of modern aerial spray aircraft, died Sunday morning, Feb. 20, while jogging near his home in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was 80 years old.
Snow leaves behind a 53-year legacy of aircraft design and innovations that ushered in the era of the modern aerial spray plane. Olney Texas-based Air Tractor, the company he founded in 1972, produces aerial spray aircraft and single engine air tankers for aerial firefighting. The company’s product line includes 400, 500, 600 800 and 1,000-gallon capacity aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney piston or turbine engines. They are used for agricultural purposes, forest and wildfire fighting, narcotic crop eradication, fuel-hauling, fighting locust plagues, and cleaning up oil spills in coastal waters. Air Tractor aircraft are found working not only across the United States, but around the globe, in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, North and South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Leland Snow designed his first aerial spray airplane, the S-1, in 1951. The 23-year old Snow completed test flights with the S-1 in 1953. Snow’s S-1 flew dusting and spraying jobs in the Texas Rio Grande Valley and in Nicaragua until 1957. He followed up the S-1 with the models S-2A and S-2B, which were built when Snow moved to production facilities in Olney in 1958.
In 1965, Snow sold his company to Rockwell-Standard and was appointed a vice president of the Aero Commander division. During this time, the Model S-2R was developed and named the Thrush. The first 100 Thrush aircraft were built at the Olney Division before the plant was closed and Thrush production moved to Georgia in 1970. More than 500 aircraft were produced under Snow Aeronautical Corp. and Rockwell-Standard in Olney.
Snow resigned from Rockwell and devoted the next two years designing the Air Tractor. Construction began in 1972 on the Air Tractor AT-300, which later became the AT-301. Air Tractor’s first turbine engine powered aircraft, the AT-302, was introduced in 1977. In 1990, Air Tractor introduced the AT-802, the world’s largest ag plane. By 2011, more than 400 AT-802s had been produced.
In 2010, Air Tractor delivered the 2,500th aircraft to an aerial spraying operator in Brazil. In 2010, Air Tractor produced 123 aircraft and its international sales accounted for more than 50% of its business.
Actively involved in Air Tractor aircraft design and manufacturing until his death, Snow was also a great supporter and contributor to the agricultural spray aircraft industry, helping to promote agricultural aviation, educate the public about the benefits of aerial agricultural spraying and supporting efforts to introduce and train young pilots in agricultural spraying careers. To that end, Air Tractor introduced in 2008 a two-seat, 500-gallon ag aircraft, the AT-504, which was specifically designed for on-the-job training.
In July 2008 Snow transferred ownership of Air Tractor to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. That same year Snow published an autobiography of his career in aviation, “Putting Dreams to Flight.” Snow was an avid runner, and competed in three marathons, including twice in the New York marathon.
Memorial donations may be made to the Professional Aerial Applicators Support System (PAASS), which is a safety program for pilots sponsored by the National Agricultural Aviation Association. Make checks payable to NAAREF (National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation) and mail to: NAAA, 1005 E Street SE, Washington, DC 2003-2847.
For more information: AirTractor.com