About 30 years ago in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to conduct an evaluation flight in Air Tractor’s newly certified AT-802A. At the time, Chuck Kemper (since deceased) of Queen Bee Air Specialities in Rigby, Idaho was an Air Tractor dealer. Mr. Leland Snow had delegated Mr. Chuck to ferry the new AT-802A to different locations to demo it to other ag-pilots. My evaluation flight was at an SDAAA spray clinic in Faulkton, South Dakota. You can read the article published in November 1993 AgAir Update in this edition of the “20 Years Ago” (for this edition changed to 30 Years Ago) column.
It is amazing how the last 30 years have flown by, no pun intended. It does not seem like yesterday, lots of water under the bridge since then, but almost. In 30 years, Air Tractor has produced 1,000 AT-802 and AT-802As! I don’t believe anyone thought the 802 would be so popular with ag-pilots at the time.
Featured on this month’s cover is the delivery of the 1000th AT-802 to a Brazilian operator. I couldn’t be there for the delivery, mainly because I planned a trip to Brazil at the end of February. However, Graham joined Logan Lane of Lane Aviation in Brazil where they met with the Lane’s selling representative of Brazil, AeroGlobo. Since those pioneering days of the 802, the FAA has issued a training program requirement. Considering the sophistication of the 802, speed and weight, it was not a bad idea coming from the FAA. I dare venture to say that most 802 pilots started with a flight history in the 502. The 502 is as good as any ag-plane for transitioning to the 802, but the 802 is a significantly different bird. Literally, 100s of pilots have safely transitioned into the 802, but that is not to say that training should be excluded for pilots transitioning today, In my opinion (here we go), the younger generation of ag-pilots generally do not have the background of multiple aircraft experience. What I mean is we older ag-pilots typically started in a Pawnee or Cessna C-188. Over the years, we advanced through the “ranks” flying radial-powered Ag-Cats and Thrushes before transitioning to a 400-gallon turbine plane, only after then to the 802. Today, amazingly, ag-pilots are going directly from 502s and other relatively smaller ag-planes into the cockpits of 802s. Even with basic training to fly the 802, it speaks volumes to the unique capabilities of an ag-pilot. They are unquestionably highly talented pilots.
However, any investment in training is a good investment. Besides, if the FAA had not required training for Exemption No. 5651S, which allows a pilot to fly an aircraft exceeding the 12,500-pound weight limit type certification requirement, surely the insurance companies would have eventually cooked up something. The year 1993 was a long time ago, possibly before some AgAir Update readers were born! Our industry has continually progressed since its inception in 1921. The popularity of the AT-802A and AT-802 in crop treatments and firefighting is a testament to that fact.