On a hot day in June, Joel Meyer’s 2009 Air Tractor AT-602 sustained serious damage to its wing and fuselage. It could well have been a costly setback leading up to his busy season. But a supportive Air Tractor dealer teamed with Air Tractor in Olney, Texas to quickly return the plane back to the air and earning money again.
“We and Air Tractor combined efforts to help Meyer at a time when he really needed his airplane back in service as soon as possible,” said Air Tractor dealer Garrett Frost of Frost Flying. “The Midwestern corn fungicide season is compressed into just a few short weeks of long days of flying. Income is lost every day that ag plane isn’t working,” he added.
Meyer, who has operated Meyer Agri-Air, Inc. for 30 years, loaned one of his eight Air Tractor airplanes to work at a friend’s business in eastern Arkansas. On June 21, Meyer said the pilot of the AT-602 had fueled up and took off from a remote strip with a full load. The pilot reported, “it seemed the airplane was lifting off but then it started settling back down again.” The landing gear impacted a berm on the dirt strip, folding left landing gear up and back into the wing and fuselage. Still airborne, the pilot dumped the load and continued gaining altitude. At some point, the left landing gear parted company from the airplane. The plane was flying miserably but was controllable. The pilot nursed it a few miles to land at Newport Municipal Airport, Arkansas. The spreader underneath kept the fuselage and left wing mostly above the concrete as the airplane settled down onto the runway.
“The pilot landed her on one main wheel and the tail wheel until the airspeed came down enough, and then he laid it down on its wing,” Meyer said. “He saved the engine and saved the prop.”
The extent of the damage quickly became clear after an initial inspection: Damage to the left wing and wing spar, the landing gear, and the fuselage frame. News of the accident travelled through the grapevine, and that’s when Air Tractor’s dealer network sprang into action.
“Any impact sufficient to knock off a landing gear means there’s likely significant airframe damage, too.” observed Garrett Frost. “And it takes special individuals to do those crucial repairs in a timely manner.”
On June 22, the airplane arrived at Frost’s facilities, where the fuselage would be inspected and repaired. The left wing was removed and trucked nine hours to Air Tractor, arriving Sunday night, June 26.
The following morning, Customer Service Manager Jeff Dobbs spearheaded repair efforts at Air Tractor. Wing repair and rebuilding activities began that same day. The wing was repaired at Air Tractor’s production facility and repainted in Air Tractor’s Building 3 repair station.
Meanwhile, in Arkansas, damaged airframe tubing and external skin panels were repaired and repainted.
By Friday, June 30, wing repairs for the AT-602 were completed at Air Tractor. The wing was transported back to Frost Flying and re-attached to the repaired fuselage. Everyone agrees the effort was made possible by the expertise of all involved and trust fostered by years of working together.
“I was confident that everything would be right when I sent my pilot to pick up the airplane,” Meyer said. “It came back to me exactly the way they said it would be, and I’m very appreciative of that.”
In fact, the AT-602 was working again spraying fungicide across hundreds of acres of corn fields three weeks after the accident. Meyer says it was clear from the start that both Air Tractor factory-dealer team understood what it means to have an airplane on the ground during the busiest time of the season.
“They did their best, knowing what time means to any aviation company. I felt that I had exactly the people I wanted working on my airplane to make sure it was done right. And in a very timely fashion.”
Meyer is grateful to everyone who worked on his AT-602. “They really did their best for me,” he said. “They put their professionalism out front, and they delivered. I think that’s just really incredible, even after all the years that I’ve been in this business. It’s pretty amazing.”