Ag pilots and operators have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, including the ability to earn a living doing something they love. The vast majority of aerial applicators who ply their trade with an airplane—and airplanes make up 85 percent of the industry’s fleet—owes a debt of gratitude to the late Leland Snow. In fact, all Americans should be thankful for Snow’s ingenuity. A new Texas Monthly article on Air Tractor Inc.’s founder appropriately describes him as the “Thomas Edison of agricultural aviation.”
Snow is much more than the person responsible for the Air Tractor planes that dominate the ag aviation market. Per Texas Monthly:
It’s not a stretch to say that if you’ve eaten a vegetable or piece of fruit or worn a cotton shirt, you’ve probably benefited from Snow’s innovations. “Thanks to Leland Snow, we’re flying much more efficient, much safer, much more reliable, and much more powerful aircraft,” says Andrew Moore, the executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.
In all, Snow is responsible for nearly 30 aircraft designs, including the S-2, a precursor to his Air Tractor designs, and the basis for today’s Thrush Aircraft ag planes.
While Thrush Aircraft is headquartered in Albany, Ga., the companies that previously owned the production rights to the ag planes Thrush manufactures were originally based in Olney, Texas. North American Rockwell, the predecessor to Ayres Corp., purchased the product line of Snow Aeronautical in 1965. North American Rockwell continued to produce its 400-gallon aircraft in Olney, Texas, until 1970, when it moved the entire product line to Albany, Ga.
Unwilling to leave Olney, Leland Snow resigned from Rockwell. Two years later he founded Air Tractor and began producing a new design, the Air Tractor AT-300.
Meanwhile, in 1977 Rockwell sold the production rights for its agricultural aircraft to Ayres Corp. Thrush Aircraft Inc. acquired the production rights from Ayres in 2003 and continues to manufacture planes in Georgia.
Since both companies were founded, more than 6,000 purpose-built airplanes of Snow’s design have been manufactured. After delivering its first plane in the early ’70s, Air Tractor delivered its 3,000th aircraft to a Brazilian agricultural conglomerate in 2013. According to Thrush’s website, more than 3,000 Thrush aircraft have been delivered since 1966. Thrush puts its current worldwide fleet of aircraft at over 2,200.
That’s a lot of “Snow” flakes helping farmers produce a safe, affordable and abundant supply of food, fiber and biofuel—and one more reason why we all should be thankful for the man many affectionately referred to as Mr. Leland! Reading Texas Monthly’s article
on one our industry’s most important forbearers would be well worth your time this Thanksgiving season.