20 years ago – Air Tractor AT-802 Gaining “World-Class” Status as Fire-Fighter

    OLNEY, TX – While Air Tractor, Inc. has easily earned the reputation for the finest ag aircraft in the industry during the past 21 years, gaining this same, high-quality status in the aerial fire-fighting industry has been a bit more difficult.
    But within the past few months, three of Air Tractor’s largest models – the 800-gallon AT-802 – have gone to fire-fighting operations in South Africa and Spain, vaulting the Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturer into a leading air tanker supplier both domestically and abroad.
    A fourth 802 will be leased in Canada this summer for fire-fighting work. In South Africa, where Air Tractor already has several agricultural spray planes at work, one of the AT-802’s is now in service with Celfire, a fire-fighting operation located in Amersfoot, South Africa.
    Celfire, a partnership between Mike Du Toit and Juan Van Ginkel, performs their fire-fighting work under contract with the Forest Fire Association of Nelspruit. Du Toit, a former corporate and ag pilot, began fire-fighting seven years ago, with four Ag Cats, as managing director of what was then called Celair Pty Ltd.
    Out of those years of experience came a modified 400-gallon aircraft called the Celfire 400, which is still in operation today, together with a ZLIN 137T. “The 802’s huge capacity computer-controlled fire gate and -67 AG engine will certainly help our fire-fighting work significantly,” said Du Toit. “Fire season in South Africa runs from approximately June through September, and I have no doubt we’ll keep the Air Tractor busy during this time.”
    “While we appreciate the superior capabilities of the AT-802 for fire-fighting, we’re also excited about the other work we can do with the aircraft during the months November to May,” continued Du Toit.
    “We are prepared to travel to any country in the world to find crop dusting, oil spill control or fuel transport work. We know the 802 is capable of anything, and plan to acquire another one of these superior planes by the 1996-97 season.”
    The South African AT-802 is also unique in the manner in which it was delivered to Celfire. Previous Air Tractors have been disassembled, shipped to the country, and then reassembled on site. But Celfire’s AT-802 was the first-ever Air Tractor to be ferried from Olney, Texas to Johannesburg, South Africa.
    Handling this important task was ferry pilot Doug Frost, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot with over 12,000 hours of flight time, 2000 of these hours being general aviation ferry time. During the course of his career, Frost has logged more than 50 ferry flights to Europe and South Africa, and the delivery of the AT-802 marked his fourth ferry mission to Johannesburg, a seven-and-one-half-day journey encompassing more than 10,000 miles and 64 hours of flight time.
    A bit closer to home, the twentieth AT-802 to roll off the production line in Texas is being sent to Canada under consignment to Air Tractor dealer Chuck Kemper. Various government organizations and private firms have leased the services of the AT-802 for fire-fighting work through October 1995. After the fire season in Canada, number 0020 will go back to Kemper’s base in Rigby, Idaho.
    “The AT-802 is gaining more recognition for its fire-fighting abilities every month,” Explained Chuck Kemper. “The North American market was tough to crack, but we’re seeing more and more usage of the Air Tractor all the time.
    Having the AT-802 being utilized throughout the world in fire-fighting efforts reinforces its capabilities to fire suppression operation here in the United States.”
    Castanets and flamenco dancers permeate the atmosphere where AT-802 numbers 0018 and 0019 have found a home. Avialsa is a major agricultural air service in Spain, working for the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture since 1965.
    The firm first began fire-fighting operations in 1973 and since that time, has earned the reputation as the leading fire-fighting company in Spain. Coordinated with the help of Air Tractor dealer Tradelink, Inc., Avialsa took delivery of their two 802’s in April and May of this year and immediately put the aircraft to work.
    In fact, during the first 20 days after delivery, AT-802 S/N 0018 logged over 100 hours of fire-fighting and patrolling missions. “The 802 is a magnificent aircraft,” Said Avialsa owner Vicente Huerta. “While we have had many years of experience fighting fires with other types of aircraft, we figured it was time to investigate the Air Tractor.
    The efficiency of the 802 puts our operation on the cutting edge, since we now have the latest and most advanced technology available for fighting fires in Spain.”
    With the addition of the Air Tractor AT-802’s, Avialsa will be able to work for several other forestry agencies throughout Spain, in addition to agricultural services for the Ministry of Agriculture and patrol operations.
    Introduced in 1993, the Air Tractor 802 was America’s first aircraft designed from the ground up to fight fires. “The aircraft employs a level of technology in the fire gate controls not found in any other aircraft used for this purpose,” explained Air Tractor president Leland Snow.
    “The pilot may select the coverage level, amount of retardant to be dropped, make his ground speed correction, and then depend on the aircraft computer to make continuous dump door adjustments to provide an even flow rate through the doors…which results in even coverage on the ground.”
    “An accelerometer senses turbulence or airplane pitch accelerations and adjust the door opening accordingly,” Snow continued. “With these state-of-the-art controls, and the ability to accurately select coverage levels, the 802’s 800-gallon hopper load can do the work of 1600 or more gallons from a conventional gate design.”
    Powered by the large and dependable P&W PT6A-67 AG 1350 SHP engine, the AT-802 fully loaded has a rate of climb and cruise speed comparable to twin-engine ex-military tankers in this size range, but with the advantage of much lower maintenance and increased safety of the pilot. The quiet, slow-turning prop allows the 802 to be based on small airports near towns and strategically located to potential burn areas.
    In business since 1974, Air Tractor, Inc. manufactures more aircraft for the agricultural aviation industry than any other company at production facilities in Olney, Texas. For information on the AT-802 air tanker, other Air Tractor models, or for the name of the nearest authorized dealer, contact Air Tractor, Inc. at 817-564-5616.

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