Home-EditorialsFrom the Cockpit - Remembering Mr. Leland

From the Cockpit – Remembering Mr. Leland

As you may know, Air Tractor is celebrating its 50th year manufacturing agricultural aircraft. That is an impressive milestone for any company. It seems like an unusual influx of 50-year celebrations in ag aviation this year, including myself.

Air Tractor began this journey not as “Air Tractor” but as Snow Aeronautical Company, named after its founder Leland Snow. This was in the late 1950s, moving from south Texas to Olney, Texas. He then sold the company to Rockwell-Standard. The Snow S-2A and S-2B became the Thrush, and over 500 of the Snow-designed aircraft were produced. When Rockwell moved the company in 1970 to Albany, Georgia, Mr. Leland resigned and formed Air Tractor in Olney. From that point on, history was made as Air Tractor started its path to become today’s most popular ag plane.

While Mr. Leland was building the first models of AT-300 series Air Tractors in the mid-1970s, I was starting my ag aviation career in a 235 Pawnee in Dawson, Georgia. In the winter of 1980, I upgraded from a 600 hp, B-model Ag-Cat to a more productive turbine-powered ag plane. The choices at the time were a 400-gallon Turbine Thrush or possibly an Air Tractor. I knew that I wanted the reliable P&W PT6A engine; however, at the time, that was not available on the Air Tractor. The decision was made for me: a new Turbine Thrush with the newly introduced PT6A-11AG engine, serial number 1.

Mr. Leland and I became good friends, but understandably, it was not until after I got AgAir Update up and running with national coverage. Since then, Air Tractor and Mr. Leland have always supported the publication, for which I owe much gratitude.

I remember after many interviews, on one occasion, he explained to me how pricing worked. He told me that if you raise your prices (rates, in my case) a small amount each year in line with ever-present inflation, your customer/client will rarely object. Those that did usually were about to leave you anyway. But, if you did not raise your prices/rates annually and allowed several years to pass, you would have to raise them dramatically. He said this could easily lead to losing that account—excellent and accurate advice.

On another occasion, Mr. Leland called me at my office. A bit surprised to receive his call, I answered the phone. “Bill, this is Leland. I want to talk to you about your pictures in AgAir Update.” I could not begin to imagine where this conversation was headed. Of course, I said sure, let’s talk.

Mr. Leland said, “I have noticed in the photos you have taken of my aircraft that the prop appears to be stopped while in flight.” Where was he going with this, I asked myself. “I believe it would be better if you could publish these pictures with the prop turning,” he explained. Gee, I had not thought about this. It was an easy enough request to comply with, and I gladly did!

Then there was the time he took me for a drive in his 1996 Lincoln Continental. I recall this very well because it was precisely the same color and model car my parents had at the time. Should I mention that Mr. Leland and my father were born in the same year, 1930? Such a coincidence.

During this drive, Mr. Leland explained to me that this model car would tell him the miles per gallon of gas it could achieve. He would do his best to increase those miles per gallon by altering his driving techniques. This drive had nothing to do with ag aviation except maybe highlight his innate desire to be as efficient as possible, something that carried over into his aircraft designs.

It has been 12 years since the passing of Leland Snow. It doesn’t seem like long ago, but that is what happens as you age; time passes quickly. He passed while jogging at 80 years of age. Mr. Leland questioned me about my jogging not too long before his passing. I told him my average time/speed. “Bill, that really is a good rate.” Of course, I was only 50-something at the time. He never told me his minutes per mile. I often think of him these days when I walk at a reasonable pace. Eighty is not that far off!

Until next month, Keep Turning…





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