In Memoriam: Air Tractor Founder Leland Snow Passes

No one “contributed more to advance the agricultural aviation industry over
its history than Leland Snow.” —NAAA Executive Director Andrew D. Moore

Air Tractor Inc. Founder Leland SnowAir Tractor Inc. Founder Leland SnowLeland Snow, founder and President of Air Tractor Inc., died Feb. 20, 2011, while jogging near his home. He was 80 years old.

Snow leaves behind a 53-year legacy of aircraft design and innovations that ushered in the era of the modern aerial spray plane. Olney, Texas-based Air Tractor, the company he founded in 1972, produces 400, 500, 600, 800 and 1,000-gallon capacity aircraft used for agricultural purposes, forest and wildfire fighting, narcotic crop eradication, fuel-hauling, fighting locust plagues and cleaning up oil spills in coastal waters. Air Tractor aircraft are found working not only across the United States, but around the globe, in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, North and South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Snow and Air Tractor have been important benefactors to NAAA and the National Agricultural Aviation Research and Education Foundation (NAAREF). This generous support helped NAAA purchase its own headquarters building and has helped develop substantive educational programs for the aerial application industry that have resulted in saving numerous ag pilots’ lives and strengthened ag aviation environmental stewardship. NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore said, “It is hard to think of a single individual who has contributed more to advance the agricultural aviation industry over its nearly 90-year history than Leland Snow. He will be missed, but he will also serve as an inspiration to this industry to build upon his many successes. The NAAA staff and board send our most sincere thoughts and prayers to the Snow and Air Tractor family.”

Snow Ag Aircraft History

Leland Snow designed his first aerial spray airplane, the S-1, in 1951. The 23-year-old Snow completed test flights with the S-1 in 1953. Snow’s S-1 flew dusting and spraying jobs in the Texas Rio Grande Valley and in Nicaragua until 1957. He followed up the S-1 with the models S-2A and S-2B, which were built when Snow moved to production facilities in Olney, Texas, in 1958.

In 1965, Leland Snow sold his company to Rockwell-Standard and was appointed a Vice President of the Aero Commander division. During this time, the Model S-2R was developed and named the Thrush. The first 100 Thrush aircraft were built at the Olney division before the plant was closed and Thrush production moved to Georgia in 1970. More than 500 aircraft were produced under Snow Aeronautical Corporation and Rockwell-Standard in Olney.

Snow resigned from Rockwell and devoted the next two years designing the Air Tractor. Construction began in 1972 on the Air Tractor AT-300, which later became the AT-301. Air Tractor’s first turbine engine powered aircraft, the AT-302, was introduced in 1977. In 1990, Air Tractor introduced the AT-802, the world’s largest ag plane. By 2011, more than 400 AT-802s had been produced.

In 2010, Air Tractor delivered its 2,500th aircraft to an aerial spraying operator in Brazil. In all, Air Tractor produced 123 aircraft last year, and its international sales accounted for more than 50 percent of its business.

Snow: More About the Man

Actively involved in Air Tractor aircraft design and manufacturing until his death, Snow was also a great supporter and contributor to the agricultural aircraft industry, helping to promote agricultural aviation, educate the public about the benefits of aerial agricultural spraying and supporting efforts to introduce and train young pilots in agricultural spraying careers. To that end, Air Tractor introduced in 2008 a two-seat, 500-gallon ag aircraft, the AT-504, which was specifically designed for on-the-job training.

In July 2008 Leland Snow transferred ownership of Air Tractor Inc. to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. That same year Snow published an autobiography of his career in aviation, Putting Dreams to Flight. Snow was an avid runner and competed in three marathons, including twice running in the New York marathon. It was a common sight to see him running the streets of his Wichita Falls neighborhood.

Memorial Donations

Memorial donations may be made to the Professional Aerial Applicators’ Support System (PAASS), which is a safety program for pilots sponsored by NAAA and NAAREF. Make checks payable to NAAREF (National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation) and mail to: NAAA, 1005 E Street SE, Washington, DC 2003. Please put “Leland Snow Memorial” in the memo line.