China — A colorful ceremony and an exchange of symbolic gifts marked the delivery of six Air Tractor AT-802F aircraft to Beidahuang General Aviation Company (BGA) on a brisk spring day in Jiamusi China. Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch and Managing Director Peter Mackay of Field Air Sales & Maintenance Pty. Ltd. were on hand to conclude the delivery agreement with representatives of BGA. The company is a subsidiary of the Beidahuang Group, a provincial-level state farm agribusiness corporation based in the northeastern China province of Heilongjiang.
Field Air and Air Tractor have been working since 2007 to establish and develop good business relationships in China,” reports Peter Mackay. “From their beginnings in 1985, BGA has progressed to operating more than 70 aircraft. BGA has shown courage and determination by embracing the latest ag aviation technologies necessary to expand agriculture in their Heilongjiang province.”
Air Tractor completed the delivery of six dual-use firefighting and agricultural spray aircraft for the spring season in northeast China. The first group of three single-engine AT-802Fs arrived in March after a 7,000-mile ferry flight across the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Guam, Osaka Japan and a final leg to Jiamusi China. The second group of three arrived at the end of April.
“This occasion is a significant milestone in Field Air’s relationship with one of the worlds largest aerial agricultural operators,” said Mackay, who heads the Asia-Pacific Air Tractor dealership in Australia.
Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch added “We are pleased to provide BGA with the most advanced agricultural and firefighting aircraft available in the world today. Once they see for themselves the performance, productivity and reliability of Air Tractor, we’re confident they will order even more. We are looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.”
The 2-seat tandem cockpit AT-802F is the world’s most popular single engine air tanker. It carries a useful load of 8,790 lb (3 987 kg) with an FAA certificated gross weight of 16,000 lb (7 257 kg). A Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67AG turbine engine powers the airplane. The first of BGA’s new AT-802F aircraft, serial number 802-0483, is specially outfitted for training, with flight controls and instruments in both the front and rear cockpits.
All six of the bright yellow and blue aircraft are equipped with the Air Tractor Gen II Fire Retardant Dispersal System (FRDS). This computerized fire gate is well regarded among aerial firefighters for its precision, reliability and ease of operation. Cockpit instrumentation includes “glass panel” digital engine instruments, VHF and HF radios, attitude indicator, directional gyro, vertical speed indicator and emergency locator transmitter.
In addition to aerial firefighting missions, BGA plans to use the AT-802F aircraft for agricultural spraying operations. On the belly of each aircraft is a custom-built stainless spray system that re-routes contents of the airplane’s 800-gallon hopper to spray booms suspended beneath the wings. A Satloc® G4 GPS system and IntelliFlow® flow controller automatically provides an accurate constant flow or a variable rate based on prescription maps. Crop protection products are dispersed from AU5000 Micronair® atomizers positioned along the spray booms.
Because the aircraft are to be used for very different applications and working environments, Peter Mackay notes that it’s important that flight operations begin with a foundation of manufacturer and dealer support. “We look forward to working with BGA to support and maximize the benefits and capabilities of their Air Tractor investment during this exciting time of Chinas agricultural and aerial firefighting development,” he said.
To that end, Field Air Sales & Maintenance provided BGA an initial inventory of aircraft spare parts, tools and aircraft maintenance equipment. It’s part of a larger, long-term commitment by Field Air, Air Tractor and Pratt & Whitney Canada to provide BGA with a best practices knowledge base, along with maintenance and pilot training for successful operations with their new Air Tractor fleet.
Before the arrival of the aircraft, support activities began with engineers from Pratt and Whitney Canada arriving in China to provide dedicated PT6 Large series turbine engine training to BGA engineers. After the aircraft arrived at Jiamusi, BGA engineers joined Field Air engineers in assembling and installing the custom spray system, testing the fire gate system, and performing initial annual aircraft inspections. More training was provided for a group of eleven BGA engineers, which included theory and practical instruction for all aspects of the airframe, as well as operational and maintenance training modules for the fire gate system and spray system.
Field Air will provide nine BGA pilots with flight training in the new aircraft. Several pilots already have previous tail wheel experience in the M18B Domader, consequently the thrust of the Field Air training regime is to help them adjust to turbine engine management and the superior speed and handling characteristics of the AT-802F. The pilots will receive 30 hours of ground instruction, ten hours of dual flight training and three hours of solo time. After soloing, they will receive an additional 20 hours of supervised solo flying to fulfill CAAC requirements prior to beginning flight operations.
A team of Australian pilots managed by Field Air is flying the aircraft in Inner Mongolia during the first operational season. Immediately following the handover ceremony, three pilots in AT-802F aircraft departed to fulfill an aerial firefighting contract. No sooner had they arrived at their base of operations than the Aussie-piloted aircraft were dispatched to a wildfire. With the assistance of BGA spotters and translators working from the AT-802F’s rear seat, the fire was contained and controlled in short order.