Single Point Fueling was brought to the Ag Aviation industry in October 2000 when Turbine Conversions, Ltd received STC SA001323CH. The TCL “AKA Hatfield” Single Point Fueling was approved for installation on all Air Tractor, Thrush and M18 models. And soon after, all models of Ag Cats were added, as well as approvals around the globe.
What is Single Point Fueling? SPF is a refueling process that involves connecting a single fueling nozzle to a designated point on the aircraft’s exterior, allowing fuel to flow directly into both of the aircraft’s tanks simultaneously. This streamlined approach eliminates the need to use multiple fueling ports or to climb onto the aircraft’s wings, leading to quicker turnaround times and enhanced safety.
Advantages of Single Point Fueling for Agricultural Aircraft
- Time Efficiency: SPF significantly reduces the time required to refuel agricultural aircraft, which is crucial during busy agricultural seasons.
- Enhanced Safety: Reducing fuel handling with SPF lowers the risk of fuel spillage. It eliminates the need for ground crew to climb on wings or walk in front of the aircraft, thereby increasing safety for personnel.
- Improved Fuel Management: SPF ensures a more accurate and consistent fuel distribution among all aircraft tanks and gives the pilot control of the fueling operation.
- Cost Savings: The increased operational efficiency, safety to ground crew and reduction in fuel spillage and over-pressurization risk lead to operator cost savings.
Today, when you hear Single Point Fueling, you probably think of the original Bill Hatfield-designed Single Point Fueling (SPF)—working to solve a need for Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) aircraft Bill, the National Ag Aviation Hall of Fame 2014 inductee designed and installed the first SPF on his PT6A-34 Turbo Cat. Although a popular choice today in the early days, SPF required an explanation of the benefits, and at every NAAA Expo, the demo SPF was busy at work. Word of mouth from pilots who flew aircraft with SPF installed and the aircraft dealers promoting the benefits of SPF made the system an industry favorite.
TCL owners Bill and Nancy started Hatfield Spraying Service in Nunica, Michigan in 1970. Bill often tells people, “My wife Nancy was the best salesperson in the beginning because she was so happy that she no longer had to climb up on the wing of my Turbo Cat to refuel during our blueberry season.”
Always looking at what was on the horizon for the ag aviation industry, Bill started bidding on Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) contracts with the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the early 1990s. Hatfield Spraying won a SEAT contract for their Dromader in Nevada. Bill and Nancy both became integral in developing the program in the US and serving as the SEAT Association President and Secretary for several years.
Also, during the early 1990s, Bill was approached about modifying the M18 Dromader to PT6A power. Bill’s experience with PT6A engines and the Polish M18 Dromader aircraft made the project attractive to him. There was an existing STC in the works for converting the M18 to PT6A purchased by Bill, and Turbine Conversions, Ltd (TCL) was born. Affectionately named the M18 Whispering Dromader because of the quiet PT6A-65 engine, TCL’s first STC was received in 1998. The Whispering Dromader was the perfect fit for the SEAT program in the US.
While Hatfield Spraying Service and Bill were working in firefighting, Bill was challenged to build a more durable fire gate. The first “Clam Shell” designed fire gate for M18 Dromader and Air Tractor, STC SA009161CH, was also received in 1998. The Hatfield Hydraulic Fire Gate (HHFG) was one of only three approved fire gates by the US Bureau of Land Management for SEAT contracts. The HHFG has inspired the future of SEAT equipment and is actively proving its durability in fighting fires worldwide today, 25 years later.
At that time, SEAT aircraft needed a safe and fast way to refuel and return to fighting fires more quickly. Bill loves a good challenge, and his team developed the SPF. The SPF was engineered for hot refueling with safety and reliability in mind. It was quickly evident that this was the perfect fueling system not only for SEAT aircraft but for ag aircraft as well.
Single Point Fueling Dealer & Installation Network
How did TCL go from the prototype to 1,200 SPF worldwide? When Bill started TCL, he envisioned selling directly to the customer. The Air Tractor and Thrush aircraft dealers quickly realized the benefits of SPF for their customers’ businesses and promoted the system. The dealers became instrumental in getting SPF into their client’s aircraft, offering quality installation and customer support. The success of SPF wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic support of our dealership network.
TCL is proud there is an approved sales and installation center to support our customers wherever they are in the world. Currently, there are eleven centers in the US, three of which serve both the US and South America, two in Australia, two in Canada, and one in Brazil. Brazil is unique because four Brazilian dealers can ensure new aircraft have SPF installed. Crosslands/Ag Sur, Lane Aviation/AeroGlobo Aeronaves, Frost Flying/DP & Aeronaves is our official partner for sales and post-sales support within Brazil.
AeroGlobo offers a network of three approved installation centers around the country that can provide installation: ABA Manutenção de Aeronaves in Bahia, Soma Aviação Servicos in Mato Grosso and Tangará Aeroagrícola in São Paulo. AeroGlobo also offers post-sales technical and parts support from their Botucatu, São Paulo offices.
Our US network consists of longtime partners providing quality installation services. Harley Curless of Farm Air, Inc. in Illinois and Grant Lane of Lane Aviation, Inc. in Texas were champions early on, ensuring new Air Tractors were fitted with SPF after they came off the production line before delivery to their customers.
“We continue to develop our partner network; we are cautious not to over-saturate the market to protect our longtime dealers but to offer quality services in areas that need it. TCL’s newest US-authorized dealership and installation center is Beckman Maintenance in Nebraska. Drew Beckman and his team are a great fit for our dealer network because they are right in the middle of the Mid-West and do exceptional work,” comments Ann Hatfield–Grahek. “This provides a great option for current aircraft owners that want to upgrade their aircraft to SPF.”
Meeting the Growing SPF Demand
In 2017, Ann Hatfield–Grahek, Bill & Nancy Hatfield’s daughter, realized that the growing demand in the US and potential of SPF in the Brazilian market required some changes for TCL. Ann and her husband, Mark Grahek, joined TCL in 1998. Ann’s primary responsibility at TCL had been customer service and marketing, as well as in the summer managing Hatfield Spraying Service. “In a family business of our size, job titles are fluid,” says Ann, “On any given day, I could wear multiple hats, human resources, customer service, etc. But as the demand changed, I realized my focus had to change and be on SPF production if we wanted to meet the increasing global demand.”
TCL set three goals: 1. Increase production to meet growing demand, 2—control costs to keep a good value for customers, 3. Reduce lead time from months to days. The unforeseen outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 disrupted the supply chain, and then, in its aftermath, record-high inflation rates could have made it impossible for TCL to achieve its goals. But TCL was prepared.
Already factoring in supply chain issues, reorganizing current staff and using the increased volume to improve our purchasing power, TCL was ready to meet the need.
“Between early 2020 and today, we have been able to triple SPF production, minimize price increases even with record-high inflation and meet all our promised ship-by dates! I am proud of our team; while everyone chose government payouts to stay home during the pandemic, they all chose to keep working towards our goals. We are very blessed to have such a great team.” Ann “2022 was a record year shipping SPF. When we sent SPF #900 to be installed in February, we realized we were reaching a huge milestone.
In August 2022, the #1,000th SPF shipped to Lane Aviation for installation on a new Air Tractor 402B to be delivered to an AeroGlobo Aeronaves’ customer in Sorriso, Mato Grosso, Brazil. “Demand from Brazil has been steadily increasing since 2017.” says Ann. “Brazil is a historically challenging country to export to. The government has protected their industries for decades by paying huge import taxes on non-Brazilian products. The bureaucratic red tape is overwhelming.
When I attended my first 2017 SINDAG Congresso in Canela, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, I didn’t have any contacts in the country, but I had been watching the market, and I knew it was getting ready to explode.
The event was an excellent opportunity for us. Just before attending, Fabiano Zacarreli of AeroGlobo Aeronaves emailed us about our SPF and bringing it to Brazil. The one thing my mom Nancy told me to do while I was there was to make sure to meet Fabiano!” comments Ann.
“What a stroke of good fortune. AeroGlobo partners with Lane Aviation
and has become a fantastic advocate for TCL products in Brazil. AeroGlobo owner Fabiano Zaccarelli is a visionary. He has contributed extensively to the development of the Brazilian Ag Aviation industry. Fabiano thinks differently, not just about the sale but the entire relationship with the customer, the aircraft, the equipment, the training of the pilot and mechanics, as well as after-sales support.
He partners with his customers to guarantee their success. I was happy to be present in April 2022 when the new state-of-the-art AeroGlobo Aeronaves showroom was opened. Complete with a full-sized Air Tractor equipped with SPF!”
TCL does not rest on its laurels, looking for ways to improve the SPF program for our customers and dealers. In 2022, TCL began to include the 1″ Emco Wheaton adapter installed in all new SPF, eliminating that after-purchase expense for customers. TCL offers options such as Low Full Warning (LFW) kits, Emco Wheaton butterfly valves, lockable fuel caps, and dual-sided and dual cockpit SPF kits.
Although the need for replacement parts hasn’t been an issue, with early SPF systems approaching 20 years of aircraft service, improving our parts support was more critical. In 2020, an SPF Parts Book was developed, and our inventory of spare parts in-house was increased to eliminate any wait times. All SPF dealers can offer spare parts; our international dealers have replacement parts in stock in their respective countries to assist their customers and avoid global shipping delays.
1,000th Single Point Fueling
Roderigo Alves de Oliveira, AeroGlobo Aeronaves sales representative, was working with Fazenda Concordia owners Luana and Natan Belusso when purchasing a new Air Tractor for their farm. He knew they saw value in new technologies. Fazenda Concordia raised 2,500 hectares of soybeans, corn, rice, carioca and black beans to be treated with their latest Air Tractor 402B. Roderigo recommended Single Point Fueling be installed on the aircraft. Luana and Natan realized the value the SPF could add by increasing the aircraft’s productivity and safety.
In January 2023, Ann Hatfield-Grahek traveled to Sorriso with Roderigo to visit Luana & Natan and the 1,000 SPF installed in their new AT402B. During the visit, Fazenda Concordia Pilot Cmte Vilson sang high praises of the SPF in the new AT for saving him time on the ground and keeping this crew safe as he worked the demanding Brazilian season.
January was a fascinating time for Lane Aviation/AeroGlobo Aeronaves. While visiting the 1,000th SPF, the 1,000th AT802 was being delivered to Mato Grosso, Brazil. TCL was thrilled that the AT802 arrived in Brazil with SPF installed! A gift from TCL for the owners was sent with Roderigo to present a set of lockable fuel caps.
TCL SPF Giving Back
Supporting the NAAA, CAAA, and SINDAG Brazil through attending events, sponsorships and donations to auctions have always been a priority for TCL. Over the past decade, TCL has donated more than $100,000 in SPF systems to the NAAA’s live auction to support their work in Washington, DC, protecting our industry’s interests. TCL will again donate an SPF system, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting the NAAA. We hope it will be a huge success again this year. We hope that attendees at the 2023 NAAA Ag Expo in Palm Springs, California, will again bid generously to support the NAAA.
Recently, Bill and Ann attended their first Australian Aerial Applicators Association (AAAA) Convention in Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast, Australia. “Australian operators and dealers have been huge supporters of our STCs since the beginning of TCL. We could not attend in person because the AAAA event and our blueberry season coincide, and I was always busy flying. We were so pleased to attend and meet the Australian operators in person this year.” said Bill Hatfield.
“When approached by Field Air’s James O’Brien about donating an SPF to the AAAA Live Auction to support their work advocating for the industry in Australia, we couldn’t say “yes” fast enough!” Ann comments, “We must work together to support Ag Aviation worldwide. Every day, our industry continues to encounter new obstacles. And we feel that supporting these organizations is the best way to protect our interests.”
“The TCL Family is extremely thankful for all the aircraft owners and dealers’ support for our SPF. This is a way we can give back. It is incredible to us that a small family business has had such an impact in our industry” Bill Hatfield, “As we move forward to the next 1,000 SPF, myself and my family will continue to offer quality products and customer service that you have come to expect from TCL to all of our customers around the world.”
TCL would love to hear from SPF owners about their experiences. Please reach out to Ann at email@example.com.
Until next time, Fly Safe!