By most accounts, it’s fair to say that Air Tractor founder Leland Snow did more to advance the AG aviation industry than any other single individual. To examine the career of this extraordinary man is to trace the development and advancement of the modern spray plane, and the heritage of Air Tractor.
Leland Snow designed his first AG aircraft, the S-1, in 1951. The 23-year-old Snow completed test flights with the S-1 in 1953. He flew the S-1 on dusting and spraying jobs in the Texas Rio Grande Valley and Nicaragua until 1957. The next year, Snow moved his aircraft production activities to Olney, Texas where he established The Snow Aeronautical Company. In his new manufacturing facilities, he began building the models S-2A and S-2B aircraft.
In 1965, Leland Snow sold his company to Rockwell-Standard and became a Vice President of the Aero Commander division. During his time at Rockwell-Standard, the Model S-2R was developed and named the Thrush. The first 100 Thrush aircraft were built at the Olney Division. Then the entirety of Thrush aircraft production was moved to Georgia in 1970. In all, more than 500 Snow-designed aircraft were produced.
Snow resigned from Rockwell in 1970 and devoted the next two years to designing the first Air Tractor. It was to be an improved, modern AG plane with a sleek, aerodynamically efficient airframe. Construction began in 1972 on the Air Tractor AT-300, which later became the AT-301. Air Tractor’s first turbine model, the AT-302, was introduced in 1977.
It was the right aircraft, introduced at the right time. And in no time at all, AG pilots were lining up to buy an Air Tractor for their operation. You might say the company’s business took off… and sixteen short years later, Air Tractor delivered its 1,100th aircraft and began expanding the Olney plant for increased capacity. Less than five years later, the 2,000th Snow-designed, Olney-built aircraft rolled out the factory doors.
On February 20, 2011, at age 80, Leland Snow passed away while jogging near his home in Wichita Falls, Texas. On his desk at home were his plans and notes for the next day’s engineering meeting. Snow is remembered as a quiet, generous and kind-natured family man whose focus and determination built one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturing companies.
And yet for all his many accomplishments and a busy schedule, Leland Snow would always make time to visit with AG pilots who dropped by to see him at his office or National Agricultural Aviation Association meetings. His commitment to pilot safety and drift minimization programs helped to improve the public image of our industry.
His wish was to pass the company to the employees who had devoted their skills and passion to Air Tractor. On July 1, 2008, Air Tractor, Inc. became an employee-owned company with the establishment of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Today, the employee-owners at Air Tractor produce the most extensive line of AG aircraft with 400, 500, 600, 800 and 1,000-gallon capacities powered by reliable Pratt & Whitney piston or turbine engines.
Air Tractor aircraft can be found working over fields and forests across the globe — in The USA, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Spain, Eastern Europe, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. As was Leland Snow’s dream, the Air Tractor is truly the world’s AG aircraft.