20 years ago – First AT-602 exceeds expectations of Texas ag operator
SEMINOLE, TX—To say Don Kubecka was ready to take delivery of his new aircraft – the first AT-602 built by Air Tractor – is probably the understatement of the century. After learning in September of 1994 that Air Tractor was planning to introduce a new 630-gallon turbine ag plane, Kubecka placed his order. Nearly two years later, on June 28 of this year, he picked up his dream machine at the Olney, Texas manufacturing facility.
“The 602 is everything I expected and more,” said Kubecka, owner of Ag Aero in Seminole, Texas. “I was hoping for a 25 to 30-percent increase in the amount of work per hour, and after only 144 hours of spraying in the 602, I’ve already seen an increase of 40-percent in my 5-gallon per acre spray work.”
Kubecka, a 31-year ag spraying veteran, operates in Gaines County, located just southeast of Lubbock, Texas. The area is known for extensive cotton and peanut fields planted in irrigation circles. Ag Aero serves approximately 50 farmers in the area, with sixty-percent of their time spent on liquid spraying and the remaining forty-percent on dry fertilizer spreading. Prior to his 602, Kubecka flew an AT-502B.
“With the 630-gallon hopper, I can spray 120-acre circles with one load rather than two,” explained Kubecka. “I had been averaging anywhere from 700-800 hours a year in the 502B, and I figure that number will go down with the increased capacity of the AT-602”.
“We’re seeing more and more 5-gallon work in our area and in my opinion, the Air Tractor AT-602 is the ideal ag plane for this type of work,” Kubecka continued. “It has the capacity, power and solid controls that help us accomplish more work in less time.”
Kubecka, along with the other two operations in Gaines County, have access to existing concrete loading pads throughout the county for their dry fertilization work. But there aren’t many paved runways in the area, so the ag sprayers must often takeoff and land from narrow dirt strips.
“Taking off and landing from narrow strips can be real tricky with all the high lines and power poles in our area,” said Kubecka. “The AT-602 has perfect controls that aren’t too light, along with amazing stability…it’s a much easier plane to handle on the ground and in the air.”
Don Kubecka serves as the sole pilot for Ag Aero. His wife, Shirley, handles all the office duties while son, Robert takes care of loading and mixing. The operation has a 1 mile long graded runway, providing more than ample room for the AT-602 to takeoff, even in hot weather with a full load.
“I’ve carried 4,500 pound loads on days when the temperature was over 100 degrees,” said Kubecka. “Sure, it takes a little more runway to get off the ground, but I’ve never had to back off a load in the AT-602.”
Kubecka explained that on a recent 900-acre fertilization job, where he was applying 300 pounds per acre, he spread nearly 270,000 pounds of fertilizer in just under 8 hours…and with an average 4-mile ferry to reload.
“I’m not knocking my old Air Tractor, but this same job would have taken me probably one or two more hours in the 502B,” said Kubecka. “The 130 extra gallons in the 602 hopper really make a huge difference to my operation.”
In addition to his spraying and fertilization work, Kubecka also farms 250 acres of milo and another 250 acres of peanuts. Ag Aero’s spraying and fertilization season runs from late February or early March through the first frost, usually around the first of November. Kubecka then performs brush work further south in Texas during the remainder of November and December.
In 1974, Don Kubecka – who was in business with his brother at the time – purchased the third Air Tractor to roll off the firm’s assembly line. He bought this first turbine Air Tractor in 1978, and has flown numerous turbine AT models since then. But his new AT-602 was definitely the most anticipated of the lot.
“I waited two years for the AT-602, and I had big expectations for the plane,” said Kubecka. “And so far, everything about this plane is better than I expected…that just doesn’t happen very often these days!”
Another Texas ag operator is also anxiously awaiting delivery of a new AT-602, although he hasn’t waited quite as long as Don Kubecka did. Harold Hardcastle, owner of Hardcastle Ag, Inc. in Vernon, Texas, has flown everything for a Super Cub to the AT-502. And like Kubecka, he also has high hopes for the AT-602 in his spraying operation.
“One reason I looked at the 602 is because we do a lot of high-volume, one gallon work with average ferry distances of 12-15 miles,” explained Hardcastle. “With the additional hopper capacity, speed and swath width of the AT-602, I figure we’ll get at least a 25 to 30-percent increase in production.”
A 630-gallon turbine-powered ag aircraft, the AT-602 is designed for operators who need more capacity than a 500-gallon plane, but who are currently not needing to move up to a larger, 800-gallon AT-802A.
“Basically, we’ve taken the AT-502A and made it better,” said Leland Snow, president of Air Tractor. “With its 630-gallon hopper, 56-foot extended wingspan, 12,500 pound FAA certificated gross weight and powerful PT6A-45R or -60AG engine, the AT-602 sets the standard for the next generation of 600-plus gallon ag planes.”
Improvements found on the new AT-602 include thicker main landing gear springs and brake discs, the identical tail gear installed on Air Tractor’s AT-802, extended horizontal tail, and a greatly-strengthened fuselage and wing structure. The aircraft also includes provisions for Air Tractor’s new optional crew seat, which gives pilots the flexibility to haul a flagger or loader to the work site.
Other standard equipment includes a 3-inch stainless spray system, large, streamlined 1-3/4 inch aluminum booms with 46 nozzles, 3-inch bottom loading valve, 5-blade ground adjustable spray pump fan, Transland 38-inch wide gate, pump shut-off valve, 29×11 tires and wheels, electrically-operated high-lift flaps with aileron droop, new 5-blade constant speed reversing Hartzell propeller, 250-amp starter generator, 3 batteries, 216 gallon fuel tanks, strobe lights, night work lights, nose-mounted taxi lights, turn windows, windshield washer and wiper, 34-gallon hopper rinse system, air conditioned cockpit, cabin heater, fuel flowmeter and Hoerner wingtips.
Don Kubecka, owner of Ag Aero in Seminole, Texas, poses with his new Air Tractor AT-602, the first of the new 630-gallon ag planes to roll off the firm’s Olney, Texas production line.