With Air Tractor’s recent announcement of Federal Aviation Administration certification of the Air Tractor 502XP, President Jim Hirsch reports deliveries of the XP series aircraft are taking off—and just in time for the upcoming season. The new airplane was introduced at the 2015 National Agricultural Aviation Association Convention last December. “We showcased both the 502XP and its PT6A-140AG engine. They both drew a lot of interest from convention attendees,” says Hirsch. Air Tractor dealers began receiving calls from ag operators and pilots after they heard about the airplane’s debut in October at Air Tractor’s launch party.
Deliveries of the 502XP have begun. Hirsch reports Air Tractor is ramping up 502XP production to address orders on hand and anticipated demand for the remainder of 2016. Currently, four 502XP aircraft are in the delivery stage, with one going to Lane Aviation for buyer Glinz Ag Aerial in North Dakota; one headed to Frost Flying, and another to Farm Air.
On April 19, Terry Mundell, of Mundell Enterprises, with Air Tractor dealer Robert and Larry Neal, took delivery of the very first production 502XP.
Hot As A Panhandle
Ag pilot and operator Terry Mundell ranches and farms 5,000 acres and runs his aerial spraying business in Rosston, situated on the eastern edge of the Oklahoma panhandle. It’s a region of wide-open spaces and is known for record-setting weather extremes. Temperatures hover around 100° F for a good portion of the summer growing season.
Mundell has flown an AT-402B for ten years, working within a fifty-mile radius of his FBO. He puts in an average of 300 hours a year of spraying and Spike work as far south as Canadian, Texas. “We work with alfalfa and little bit of wheat. Pasture is our big thing,” says Mundell.
As the southwestern plains of Texas and Oklahoma extend to the west and north, elevation steadily increases. From Rosston to the west side of the Oklahoma panhandle, elevation increases 3,000 feet. And when the high plains meet high temperatures, Mundell says he could use the extra horsepower of the 502XP.
“By 10:00 in the morning we often have density altitudes of 5,000 feet. About a year ago I decided to trade up from my 402 to something with more horsepower. I had heard about the 502XP and talked with Robert Neal (dealer Neal Aircraft).” Neal explained that the 502XP had 187 more horsepower than Mundell’s 402B, and was particularly designed for working in high and hot conditions. Based on what he learned from Neal, and from information provided by Air Tractor, Mundell traded his 402 last July for the new 502XP. “I hope it’s as good an airplane as I think it’s going to be. I haven’t flown it, and don’t know the torque or RPM settings with that 4-blade prop, but the engine should be a good one, since it already has a proven history on the Cessna Grand Caravan.”
An Aircraft for Every Mission
With the addition of the 502XP, Air Tractor now offers four 500-gallon capacity spray planes: the AT-502B, the AT-504 trainer/spray plane, AT-502A and the 502XP. When news of the 502XP was released last year, some wondered if it would unseat one of the other models. Jim Hirsch put those questions to rest: “Rather than reduce our product line, we are adding to our capability. Each of our 500-gallon models allows us to offer an aircraft that uniquely meets the diverse requirements of operators around the world.” The 502XP has its place in the industry, he notes. For operators like Terry Mundell, the XP provides an extra margin of power that boosts productivity when high density altitude challenges aircraft performance. All of the 502XP’s attributes contribute to faster ferry times, more acres covered in less time, and reduced pilot fatigue on long, hot days.
The 502XP is based upon the AT-502A airframe, which has a taller tail than the AT-502B. It is powered by the new Pratt & Whitney Canada 867 horsepower PT6A-140AG turbine engine and is paired with a 4-blade Hartzell propeller. The combination of the 4-blade propeller with the PT6A-140AG engine that produces 117 more horsepower than the -34AG engine provides substantially more overall thrust, Hirsch reports. “The 502XP performs and flies great with a full 500-gallon load in high and hot conditions. It’s an ag plane that will help pilots finish more acres, in less time and with less effort,” he adds. “The larger fin and rudder, coupled with a rebalanced airframe and additional power, has yielded an airplane with excellent flying qualities. With its slower-spinning 4-blade prop, the 502XP is quieter than a 502B, too.”
Right Airplane, Right Time
Climatologists’ forecasting models suggest there will be higher temperatures in the southern United States, particularly in the Southwest. This means more days during the spraying season when high/hot conditions can be a factor. Even in lower elevations, such as in Mississippi delta and Texas rice country, high density altitude can be an issue. According to Pratt & Whitney Canada, their PT6A-140AG turbine engine has 1,075 thermodynamic SHP, which is unmatched for any other engine in its class. Practically speaking, that means the 502XP provides 867 SHP up to 111°F—the highest takeoff and climb capability of any 500-gallon ag airplane on the market. And because the -140 has no warm-up or cool-down requirements, the 502XP is ready to work as soon as a pilot climbs into the air-conditioned cockpit.
“The AT-502B is Air Tractor’s most popular 500-gallon ag plane. It continues to be a solid, reliable and productive airplane for ag operators around the world,” says Hirsch. But for those operators who experience high temperature days for a significant portion of their spray season, the 502XP may well be the ideal solution for them.