Employee-owners of airplane manufacturer Air Tractor, Inc. and representatives from Pratt & Whitney Canada celebrated the 1,000th model AT-802. Air Tractor dealer Lane Aviation sold serial number 802A-1000 through its Brazil agent Aero Globo Aeronaves. The airplane is painted in the Brazilian flag colors of yellow, green, and blue. It recently departed Olney, Texas for its new home at Grupo Moacir Smaniotto (GMS) Agronegocios. The family-owned farming business is located in Sorriso, Mato Grosso Brazil. In a typical year, GMS farms 44,700 hectares (110,456 acres) planted in soybeans, corn, and cotton. Their new AT-802A joins another Air Tractor 502XP purchased in 2019.
Following a luncheon and comments from Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch, Natanael Vaz and Anthony Rossi of Pratt & Whitney Canada presented Hirsch a plaque commemorating the milestone. “We’ve come a long way with the 802 series,” remarked Hirsch. “In the early 1990s when the very first 802s were built, our founder Leland Snow looked at the airplane and offhandedly remarked, ‘We’ll probably build 10 or 12 of these.’ Well, Leland would be really pleased about its worldwide distribution and success today.”
It was 1989 when Leland Snow began designing a large capacity, single engine airplane specifically for aerial firefighting. He believed it would have a positive impact in that industry. After more than two years of design, modification, certification, and manufacture, the first production single-seat AT-802A air tanker rolled out the doors of Plant 3 in 1993 into the eager hands of Chuck Kemper, owner of Queen Bee Air Specialties in Rigby, Idaho.
Sam Kilpatrick, who worked on the prototype and built those early 802s, recalls, “I don’t know that anybody really knew how popular it would become. If we built one 802 in a month or two, we thought we were really doing something, you know? And gosh, now we do it in just a matter of days.”
The AT-502B was the company’s largest and best-selling airplane until the AT-802 project began. And the design and production of the first 802s was a whole new order of scale. Craig Cowan, who helped build those first 802s remembers, “The tail was so tall we weren’t sure if the tail would fit beneath the door of Building Three. That was a concern.” WD Middaugh laughs about it now, “We thought we’d have to put a notch in the door to get it out. The 802 was like a monster compared to what we’d been building.” Roy Jones added, “The canopy was so tall with landing gear on, we had to pick up the tail end of the airplane and then set it back down after it got past the door.”
It wasn’t long before Air Tractor produced the single-seat AT-802A for agricultural aerial spraying. As an 800-gallon (3,028L) ag plane, its popularity soared with aerial applicators. By 2011, 400 AT-802A airplanes had left Olney, Texas for work around the world. In 2019 serial number 802A-800 went to its new home in Roe, Arkansas. And in 2020 serial number 802A-900 joined the fleet of Western Australia’s largest ag operator, Dunn Aviation.
The 802 series is the largest production single engine agricultural airplane in the world. Its power, rugged dependability, size made it quite versatile. Beyond its use in agricultural and firefighting applications, AT-802 series aircraft work in a variety of specialized applications, from oil spill cleanup and fuel hauling in remote areas, to timber seeding and reforestation and coca crop eradication in South America. “Its power and rugged design, low operating costs, payload capacity has helped make 802s Air Tractor’s most versatile airplane.” notes Hirsch.
“I remember making the first manufacturer’s placard to go on the airplane, recalls David Cowen, who was the AT-802 conformity inspector. “Keith Boyd, Leland’s head engineer at the time looked at me and asked, ‘Do you think we’ll ever build a thousand of these?’ I said ‘Let’s just go ahead and stamp three zeros in front of numeral 1.’ And 30 years later, just look at us now.”