OLNEY, Texas — Aircraft manufacturer Air Tractor has passed a production milestone with the recent 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.
Michael Hutchins of Custom Air 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.
“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 is exciting 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 can be adapted for agricultural application, firefighting operations, as well as other specialty uses, according to company officials. It can operate from small airports and relatively short runways for quick ferry time allowing pilots to operate at high capacity even in the most rural or remote locations, officials note.
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.
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 a 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, company officials note.
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 said 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.