The Air Tractor is synonymous with aerial agriculture in Australia and rightly so. The AT-502, in particular, has a long history of success since its birth in Onley Texas and of 117 Air Tractors on the Australian register, 50 of them are AT-502’s. Worldwide there are about 400.
Aptly named the Air Tractor, from the outside the airframe has some distinctly John Deer qualities. The cabin or cockpit area looks like an afterthought sort of glued on the top when the designer realised that this beast of a machine actually needed someone in charge. It is boxy and not very practical but does raise the pilot high enough to have very good all around visibility during flight. On the ground it is a different story due to a very long nose section incorporating both the hopper (between the cockpit and engine firewall) and the lengthy PT6-A from Pratt and Whitney. PT 6A-35 Ag turboprop engine of 750hp powers the AT-502 introduced in the late 1980s.
The hopper itself will carry 500 US gallons and is the basis for the designation At-502. A simple and self explanatory model numbering system if there ever was one!
Accolades from the Air Tractor are mainly for providing operators with a high level of productivity and relatively low maintenance compared to some piston radial equivalents (if there is such a thing). The PT6-A means faster ferry speeds, lifting of massive loads and the ability to safely carry out high altitude drops.
Underneath the AT-502 is even uglier than the top but it is the business end after all. There is a burly, tough looking undercarriage with large tires that would make laughing stock of the toughest paddock or strip. The massive slab wings carry the spraying mechanisms and facilitate the fancy manoeuvres required to dodge trees, avoid power lines and make safe low level turns in a controlled fashion all day long.
While rugged and reliable, the used Air Tractor AT-502 has probably had a tough life and would be best regarded carefully before purchase. The current owner, or more importantly, operator, is the best source of information, as is the log book to assure all CASA Air Worthiness Directives have been carried out.
If you consider buying the AT-502 it’s a bet you are putting to work (it’s a waste otherwise) so learn the specific performance and operating cost of your specific aircraft and cost it up before buying. The ag industry is strong, especially in the north eastern parts of Australia, so these are the most likely places you will be sending your Air Tractor to work.
Engine: PT6A-15AG 680hp
Prop: Hartzell 3 blade
Wingspan: 52.0 ft.
Wing area: 312 sq. ft.
MTOW: 9,700 lbs.
Landing Weight: 8,000 lbs.
Useful Load: 5,403 lbs
Hopper capacity: 1893 litres
Fuel capacity: 644 litres