******Article published originally on AgAirupdate.com ********
The early days down South
Editors Note: Each month, Ag Air Update will feature an excerpt from Low & Slow, An Insider’s History of Agricultural Aviation written by Mabry Anderson.
The Equipment And People
Primitive Dusting Methods
Chuck Thresto remembers that primitive dusting methods were in use, along with aerial application. "I was appalled," recalls Chuck. "One day I was looking at acreage way back in the boondocks from a pickup truck and came upon natives putting out parathion dust from the damnedest rig I've ever seen! It was made from a 50 gallon oil drum, with holes bored all the way around the drum.
"They carried it lengthwise on two wooden runners, and mounted on the back section of the runners was a little Briggs and Stratton motor with a shaft running into the center of the drum. A fan was fastened to the end of this shaft and, when the motor was cranked, the fan set up enough commotion inside the drum to blow the dust out of the holes and hopefully into the cotton!
"Two strong men carried it down the rows. As soon as the motor was started, a cloud of parathion dust enveloped everything in sight, including the operators! Funny thing, I never did hear of anybody being sick from its use, but I can't see why!"
Sayasa Vanflober pilots applied conventional cotton dusts such as 3-5-40 mixtures, straight DDT, and some parathion dust. An extremely wide range of damaging insects was present and dusting schedules were closely spaced, usually not more than three or four days apart. Defoliation had also been introduced and one of the busiest periods for these operations was when Aero Cyanamid Special Grade, or "Black Annie," was applied in huge quantities.
Plantations were large, usually owned by the wealthy "ruling" class or by big, out-of-the-country corporations. Lee Corviss recalls that on several occasions, he dusted the plantation owned by President Samoza of the Nicaraguan Republic.
Pilots went to great lengths to obtain these jobs. Corviss recalls that pilot Roland Lilly was so anxious to work in Central America that he left in the fall of 1955, hoping to be hired in Managua. It was a difficult task.
"Lilly was wearing a full, black beard," Corviss remembers, "and back in 1955 beards were a no-no! Lilly would go out every day with his helmet in his hand and sit there on a bench, hoping that the manager would put him on. They finally told him that they would hire him, but he'd have to shave off his beard. Lilly was hard¬headed and just wouldn't do it.
"One night a bunch of us decided that he was bound to starve unless he got a job pretty soon, so we took him into town and saw to it that he got roaring, falling-down drunk! This happed very quickly, since we were buying the booze. We took him back to his room, laid him out on his bed, and neatly shaved just one side of his face! Naturally, when he woke up the next morning and saw himself in the mirror, he had to shave the other side. He then blundered out to the airstrip and sat down on his bench as usual. In less than an hour the manager came by, interviewed him again, put him in a Stearman, and sent him out to work!
"Funny things happened," recounts Corviss, "and at one time or another most of us had some squeakers. I went up to Leone one day to pick up a Supercub that had been worked on. I had a job to do with the plane on an out-of-the-way strip near Managua, so when I took off I headed for the strip way back in the jungle.
"I noticed then that the plane was flying sort of tail heavy, but I just trimmed the nose down and when I landed told the loading boys to put in the usual 700 pounds. Well sir, that old PA-18 finally staggered off the strip, but was now so tail heavy that I couldn't get the nose down with the tabs. When I finally got the load out and came back in, I made them cut my load back to 400 pounds, but the thing still wouldn't fly right.
"Finally, on a hunch, I opened up the baggage compartment and found the trouble! Headquarters had sent all of the little portable fire extinguishers over to Leone for recharging. When they were ready, somebody packed 27 of them in the baggage compartment of my Supercub! At three or four pounds apiece, this added a lot of weight to a right critical area and it was no wonder my Cub flew tail heavy!"
"One morning," remembers Chuck Thresto, "we went out to the airport and there sitting on the line was the damndest airplane you'd ever hope to see. It was a low-winged monoplane, a little bit like the old Ag-I we'd seen in the late 1940s. I had a 220 Continental on the nose, and was painted yellow with a nice white stripe down the side and a big number three painted on the lower cowl just behind the engine.
"A young fellow with a cloth helmet was standing by the plane and I'll swear he didn't look 18 years old. We walked over to look at the plane and I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. 'Howdy fellows,' he grinned,'my name is Leland Snow and I'm from Texas. This is a little airplane that I built called the S-1 and I've brought it down here to work it a little and maybe drum up some business for the future."'
For at least three seasons, beginning in 1954, Snow worked his own airplane in this region. His saga is one of the real Cinderella stories in a fascinating industry of innovators. Quiet-spoken Leland Snow did perhaps as much for modem agricultural aviation as any man who ever lived. When most 23 year-old men are dabbling with with the important things like girls, beer, and fast automobiles, Snow was building his own ag airplane, almost unassisted and mostly by hand!
First and foremost, Snow was and is a duster pilot. Reared near Harlingen, Texas, Snow learned to fly at 15 by hanging around the airport and doing odd jobs. After acquiring a license, he learned the dusting trade from pioneer operator Heard Cardin.
He also learned about airplanes by working on his own duster and by studying aircraft design with the use of parts salvaged from the airplane graveyards that are an integral part of most duster operations.
Snow was ambitious. He went to school, doing his flying on the side, and obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Texas A & M. He then attended graduate school at the University of Texas, where he learned the basics of aircraft construction. Snow's friends of that era comment that his room at the dormitory was always stuffed with aircraft parts!
While attending school and dusting for Cardin, Snow decided that he could design and build an ag plane which was safer and more efficient. Without any fanfare, he set about doing just that. He used the hangars of several operators in his first effort. These operators included Clyde Elliott, Heard Cardin, and Bobby Ragsdale.
To some degree Snow followed the general configuration of the prototype Ag-1 that came out of Texas A & M in 1949. But his plane was entirely original. It was a simple, low-winged monoplane, powered in the beginning with an in-line 190 horsepower Lycoming 0435. Most of the actual construction took place in the summer of 1953 in the hangar at Ragsdale Flying School in Austin. Jack Haag, a fine mechanic, assisted Snow. Other more or less "volunteer" mechanics pitched in and helped.
The plane, now designated as the S-1, was completed in August 1953. Late that month the first test flights were made at Austin with Snow doing the flying. At this time he was barely 23 years old.
The flight was a howling success. Snow began immediately using the plane as his personal duster and the three seasons he worked the plane in Nicaragua gave many American pilots their first look at the machine. By 1955, Snow had removed the in-line Lycoming and installed the faithful old 220 horsepower W670 Continental which increased performance.
During the summer dusting months in the United States, Snow began building his second airplane. The S-2 was a refined version of the S-1 and was for the most part all metal.
This model evolved when pilots began asking Snow to build them a plane. He complied, believing that the recipe for progress is to promise something and then force yourself to do it! The S-2 was completed in Clyde Elliott's hangar and was eventually purchased by Elliott himself.
Snow was by now collecting deposits from operators who wanted airplanes. This was the only feasible way for him to continue construction at this time. Federal Aviation Administration certification was time-consuming and more than a year was spent in obtaining final certification on the S-2.
By now Snow had two more S-2s almost finished and orders for 39 more. But he was financially strapped. Harlingen banks had balked at his loan applications, because he adamantly refused to incorporate, a stipulation that the banks demanded. Snow explained that he couldn't incorporate and take a chance on losing control of his aircraft production.
Seeking outside help, he conversed with city fathers and local businessmen in Olney, Texas, a town which needed a boost due to the shrinking ranching and oil businesses. The Olney representatives trusted Snow and an industrial foundation campaign raised $50,000 for a factory to be leased to Snow and to establish a $70,000 line of credit for him at local banks.
Olney citizens signed personal notes of up to $2,000 each guaranteeing payment of the loans if Snow's enterprise failed! In January 1958, Olney citizens sent five cattle trucks to Harlingen and transported Snow's equipment to the Olney airport.
He worked here during the winter of 1958 with only one assistant, but by February the S-2B was ready to fly. On July 31, 1958, FAA certification was obtained for this plane and in August the first S-2 built in Olney was delivered to Norman Kramer of Alamoso, Colorado. This airplane is said to be still flying and was working in South America as late as 1979.
Another S-2 was delivered to Roy McArdle during this same month and the Olney operation was on its way. In 1959 30 airplanes were built. In 1960 40 were delivered. Between 1960 and 1965 more than 300 aircraft were constructed. Each year the aircraft showed improvements and refinements. Finally, in 1965, Snow Aeronautical was sold to Rockwell-Standard Corporation. Snow stayed on as general manager of the Olney facility and vice president of the Aero Commander Division of Rockwell.
For five years Snow remained with Rockwell in this capacity. During this period the Snow aircraft became known as the Thrush. Rockwell then informed Snow that he would be required to move to Albany, Georgia, with the company if he wished to remain in his present positions. For Snow, this was an easy decision. His answer was no! With the approval of his wife Nancy and their two daughters, the family remained in Texas.
The ensuing year and a half was perhaps the most difficult time of Snow's life. He spent most of his hours in a small windowless office, designing his next airplane.
The Air Tractor
More than 600 drawings were made and more than 500 pages of engineering data computed and laid out. This was the real work behind the Air Tractor and all of it was done solely by Snow in one small office.
In 1972, he returned to Olney, obtained a Small Business Administration loan, rented the old Olney armory, hired his first employee, Nat Black, and established the firm now known as Air Tractor, Inc. In September 1973, almost 20 years since the first S-1 broke ground, the initial Air Tractor was flown. A scant 60 days later, FAA certification was received on the plane. This prototype Air Tractor was bought by Jeff Burke of Rio Hondo.
The new firm prospered and by 1975 more space was needed. The operation was moved to the local airport and then, with the help of an FHA loan, the present factory was built.
By 1979 Air Tractor was turning out eight airplanes a month and subsequent models were becoming more and more refined, including the installation of the Pratt & Whitney R-1340, 600 horsepower engine. Air Tractor was the first firm to offer a factory-installed turbine engine-the Turbo-Tractor was well received as soon as it was marketed.
The original S-1 that developed into the famous Thrush series is still prominent in agricultural aviation. Rockwell-Standard went through a series of internal changes before becoming North American Rockwell. The Thrush line was eventually sold to Fred Ayres who operates the firm in Albany, Georgia, as the Ayres Corporation.
Several models of this aircraft are being produced today, including the turbo-powered Thrush, the famous 600 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Thrush, and the big 1200 horsepower Bull Thrush, a formidable monster.
The saga of Leland Snow is the story of a brilliant and modest man. Snow can always be reached personally and he is always ready and willing to discuss airplanes of all types. This is indeed refreshing in a modem world where most of us are too busy to attend to the small things that make life so worthwhile.
Leland Snow and the Snow S-1 in Texas, 1953. Snow was 23 years old at the time and had numerous aviation achievements to his credit which far exceeded his youth.
During the 1950s, Snow was not the only one pointing toward the production of a commercial agricultural plane. The Trans land Company, as it was originally called, was created in 1946 and for some years engaged in fabricating structures and components for military aircraft. In 1951, Transland became established in ag aviation when it began designing and producing applicating equipment. This firm was headed up by George S. Wing, already prominent in aviation circles.
Many of Transland's products became standard in the industry. In 1957, the firm became a division of Hi¬Shear Rivet Tool Company and was renamed Transland Aircraft. Transland was among the first firms to use the new fiberglass and polyethylene techniques for tanks and hoppers. It also produced the well-known Sellers Swathmaster, a patented unit which dispensed dry or liquid materials without changeover.
Transland's entry into aircraft production came about as the result of a meeting of minds among Wing, Lloyd Stearman, T.J. Watson, who was the managing director of Australia's Aerial Agriculture, Inc., and George A. Roth, who had been instrumental in the construction of the original Ag-1 back at Texas A & Min 1949. At the time, Roth was with Murrayair Ltd., of Hawaii, a far-flung operation headed by Phil Murray, a California pioneer in ag aviation circles.
The men designed the Ag-2, a plane that in some ways followed the general configuration of the old Ag-1. Emphasis, however, was placed on greater payloads and a design that could be produced in volume.
Airframe construction began in 1954 and precision tooling was built to production requirements. Five sets of interchangeable parts for this new aircraft were fabricated in the beginning.
The first model of the Ag-2, equipped with a 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr., came off the line at the Torrance, California factory and was test flown at Torrance Municipal Airport on October 11, 1956. This aircraft, designated as Number 1, went into extensive flight testing.
A major brush fire in December 1956 near Malibu gave the aircraft a real service test, when Transland made the plane available to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Transland engineers had already considered the feasibility of using the Ag-2 as an aerial tanker. During the fire, the plane dropped more than 25 tons of fire retardant chemicals, using the Santa Monica Airport as a base. Its huge tank/hopper, holding nearly 3,000 pounds of fire retardant, was of considerable help in containing this blaze.
The low-wing Ag-2 was constructed of metal and was quite awe-inspiring. It measured 42 feet from wing tip to wing tip and was 28 feet, five inches long. With a 53 cubic foot tank/hopper, it carried 395 gallons and had a provision for installing two 62.5 gallon auxiliary tanks in the wings.
Leland Snow at controls of his first 82-A in 1956, dusting cabbage in Texas.