Helping Feed the World

There has always been something of an adventurous image surrounding aircraft that are used for agricultural applications – aerial applicators (or crop dusters) as they are typically known. The agricultural segment within general aviation has been around for a long time but it has grown dramatically in the past couple of decades and Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6A has been the turbine engine of choice in this segment.

“These are solo pilots flying single-engine aircraft working to keep crops healthy and help feed the world,” says Yves Houde, Service Engineering, PT6, Customer Service, P&WC “so it’s easy to see how their adventuresome image has evolved over the years. It’s a profession that requires an experienced pilot aboard a powerful, versatile aircraft. We were the first gas turbine engine manufacturer to recognize the potential of the agricultural segment and we worked closely with both Air Tractor and Thrush (leading agricultural aircraft manufacturers) to meet the unique needs of the market as it expanded.”

Air Tractor

Air Tractor

In terms of performance, the aircraft must be able to fly more slowly and at lower altitudes and the engines need to produce the power required to carry the weight of the product which is contained in the aircraft’s storage tanks, or ‘hopper’. Fuel efficiency and multiple-cycle capability are also important as the pilot wants to make as many runs as possible before stopping to refuel. The pilot must be sensitive to wind patterns and be able to make the necessary adjustments to ensure the product lands where it’s supposed to. Time is of the essence during an operator’s spray season – he counts on the engine to be durable and work day in and day out.

“We know this business extremely well and have been designing engines specifically for aerial applicators for many years,” says Houde. “We also understand it’s a seasonal business and that we need to help operators plan their hot section maintenance and engine repairs outside their operating season as much as possible. We have many service engineering specialists working in our customer service organization who are dedicated to supporting these operators.”

Thrush Aircraft

Thrush Aircraft

In 2011, P&WC decided to further focus the way in which it serves the needs of the segment by creating an internal advisory board with members drawn from virtually every department in the company. The board meets quarterly and has already made changes to the way in which P&WC serves the segment – all designed to improve the customer experience. Changes include greater options for accessories replacement, simplified contracts, a larger agriculture rental engine inventory and larger inventories of parts and accessories.

P&WC is also a long-time supporter of the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) and helps support NAAA causes.

Houde says the segment will continue to grow and P&WC will further its work with OEMs and operators to develop engines that provide the outstanding, unique performance the industry demands.

OEM and Aircraft 

Thrush: 510P, 550P, 710P 

Air Tractor: AT-402B, AT-502A, AT-502B, AT-602, AT-802A, AT-802A, AT-802


Comment on this article