Air Tractor founder Leland Snow passes

Leland Snow
Leland Snow, 2004. Photo from Air Tractor

Leland Snow, the founder of Air Tractor, Inc., which manufactures one of the more popular brands of single engine air tankers, passed away Sunday morning, February 20, 2011 while jogging near his home. He was 80 years old.

Here are some excerpts from the announcement at Air Tractor.


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 the world’s most popular aerial spray aircraft and single engine air tankers for aerial firefighting. The company’s product line includes 400, 500, 600 800 and 1,000-gallon capacity aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney piston or turbine engines. They are used for agricultural purposes, forest and wildfire fighting, narcotic crop eradication, fuel-hauling, fighting locust plagues, and cleaning up oil spills in coastal waters.

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 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.

A memorial service will be held 2 P.M. Saturday, February 26th at Air Tractor in Olney, Texas.

Thanks Laverne

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.