Seventy-five years ago, 1945 was a year that brought about significant international events. Most notably, the Japanese surrender, bringing an end to World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated into an unprecedented fourth term in office, where he later died from a protracted battle with polio. At his death, Vice-President Harry S. Truman took the Oath of Office and served until 1953. The United Nations formed in 1945, Don McLean was born, and Percy Spencer accidentally discovered the microwave could heat food. More importantly in ag-aviation, George Lane (1920-2003) and his brother, Milton Lane (1922-2012), both fresh out of the war as a Marine Fighter Pilot and Navy Transport Pilot respectively, officially opened Lane Airpark at the location it still operates from today, 75 years later, in Rosenberg, Texas.
George and Milton Lane recognized a need in their local community for an airport, a vision that proved to be successful and well-received. Two significant events led to this success. The Veterans Administration (VA) had made money available for flight training and local farmers had expressed an interest in having an agricultural flying operation. The Lane brothers accepted the challenge and opened Southern Air Dusting and Spraying, (in 1964 becoming Lane Aviation) with Stearmans and Piper Cubs. One of the Cubs was delivered to Lane Airpark by Mr. William Piper himself. From Lane Airpark, the company operated a flying school and an ag operation using Stearmans and PA-18A Cubs until the late 1950s, where a chance encounter with a young Texas aeronautical engineer would change the course of the company and the ag aviation industry forever. Milton Lane stayed with the company until 1964, where he left to work as a pilot for his uncle’s local company and start a gun store.
Texas A&M had scheduled Leland Snow to give a demonstration and speech on his newly designed monoplane, one specifically for agricultural operations, the A-model Snow. George Lane was present, liked what he saw, and placed a deposit on the aircraft. Over the next decade, the Lane’s phased out their Cubs and Stearmans, replacing them with the new Snow series “agricultural” aircraft. As the demand for aerial applications steadily increased, Lane Aviation became a dealer for Snow aircraft. The company operated the S2A, B, C and D models and eventually, the R model (the R represented “Rice”) with a larger hopper.
In 1965, Leland Snow sold Snow Aircraft to Rockwell-Standard, where he then started working as vice-president of the Aero Commander division. With this sale, Lane Aviation now became a dealer for the Rockwell Thrush, the successor of the Snow.
The 1970s ushered in another breakthrough by Leland Snow and, by proxy, Lane Aviation – the debut of the Air Tractor. After Snow’s time with Rockwell-Standard was over, he introduced the first Air Tractor, the AT-300, in 1973. With the advent of the AT-300, Lane Aviation became one of the first Air Tractor dealers in the world.
Turbine engines were also making their way into agricultural aviation during the late 1970s and 1980s. Lane Aviation, now both a Thrush and Air Tractor dealer, began offering their turbine engine Lane Conversions on older model radial engine Thrush aircraft. The company replaced most of its Snow aircraft with Thrushes that now utilized the PT6A-20 powered Thrush (Lane Conversion) in their agricultural operations.
George Lane’s sons, Grant and Mark Lane, only two years apart in age, grew up in the Lane Aviation business. Both were taught to fly by their father, George, and soloed at 16. Grant and Mark both started flying full-time in 1975 in one of the company’s radial Thrushes. George Lane actively flew in agricultural operations until the late 1970s.
To keep the Air Tractor and Thrush dealerships separate, along with providing parts and service, Lanair Corporation was formed. This entity operated separately from Lane Aviation and was under the guidance of Mark Lane until the late 1980s, when he sold to his brother, Grant. From there, Mark continued agricultural and corporate flying until his retirement in 2019.
In the late 1980s, Lane Aviation committed to being an Air Tractor-only operation. The Lane Conversions were slowing, as newly built Thrush were coming onto the market with turbines from the factory. This move allowed Lane Aviation to focus on its Air Tractor dealership, where sales were nationwide, and the international market soon to follow.
Lane Aviation’s continued success throughout the 1990s and 2000s allowed for extensive expansion into international and South American markets. Agricultural aviation in South America gained significant momentum by the early 2000s. It is then when Grant Lane formed a partnership with AeroGlobo Aeronaves. AeroGlobo Aeronaves became the exclusive Lane Aviation dealer in Brazil in 2007. Also, during this time, Lane Aviation forged a partnership with Falconer to represent Argentina and other South American countries and Sun Valley Aviation to handle the Mexico and Central American sales.
Today, Lane Aviation is the leading Air Tractor dealer in the world. They have 14 employees in their Rosenberg, Texas location with customers from all over the globe. Grant Lane, Logan Lane and Elise Stanton work in the main office and their extensive Parts Department is managed by long-time employee Dona Jorden (see sidebar story). Tammy Lucas, Alexia Hernandez, Brian Petrosky and Jerry Orsak all come together to keep parts on the shelves ready for delivery to Lane Aviation’s customers. Curtis Bishop is head of grounds and equipment, while the full-service maintenance shop is staffed by Chris Bexley (IA, A&P), Catarino Avila (A&P), Scott Sidwell (IA, A&P) and Lester Jones managing the Lane Brake assemblies.
The next generation of leadership is apparent at Lane Aviation. Grant’s son, Logan, graduated from Texas A & M University in 2013 and has returned to the business as vice-president. Logan is instrumental in the day-to-day operations, as well as handling sales and service.
Lane Aviation actively ran an agricultural spraying operation until 2017 when urban encroachment led to a steady decrease of acres. Grant decided to suspend agricultural operations and focus all of Lane Aviation’s energy on the Air Tractor dealership’s role in sales, service and overall support of its customers.
Three-quarters of a century is a long time to be at the forefront of agricultural aviation. Lane Aviation has done that well; from the early days of Cubs and Stearmans through Thrushes to the latest Air Tractor models, Lane Aviation has been a constant hallmark within the industry. The excitement and progression for the future at Lane Aviation ensure the company will be at the forefront of agricultural aviation for another 75 years.
The Lane Brake and Fan
The Lane Brake, on approximately 90% of all operating agricultural aircraft, was born as a brain-child of George Lane and Mel Chynoweth in the late 1970s. The two were constantly battling brakes that were simply not working, under-engineered and continually costing down-time. The constant changing of wooden blades were also causing problems in day-to-day operations. Mr. Lane knew he needed a brake with a variable pitch. The Lane Brake hasn’t changed much from the revolutionary design that debuted over 40 years ago. Materials have been replaced with more robust ones, and small design changes as technology progressed continue to make this accessory a necessity for the agricultural operator.
A staple at Lane Aviation is Dona Jorden.
Dona has been with Lane Aviation since 1992, when she answered a local classified ad for a clerical position. Today, Dona is the Parts Manager for Lane Aviation. She has won multiple awards, and has actively been involved with the state and national associations. Dona was the recipient of the 2019 TAAA Service Award, she served as the 2013 WNAAA President, the 2011 WNAAA Secretary and as an Allied Director for the NAAA.