Leland Snow, Air Tractor Founder, Dies at 80

Inventor of the aerial spray airplane gave birth to ag aviation.

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The man who invented the aerial spray airplane — and in doing so gave birth to the agricultural aviation industry — has passed. Leland Snow, founder and president of Air Tractor, died on Sunday while jogging near his home in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was 80.

Snow designed his first aerial spray airplane, the S-1, in 1951 when he was 21 years old. That airplane remained in production until 1957, after which Snow introduced the S-2A and S-2B models and built a factory in Olney, Texas, which opened in 1958. Snow sold his company, Snow Aeronautical, to Rockwell-Standard in 1965 and was appointed vice president of Rockwell's Aero Commander division.

He left Rockwell in 1970 and devoted the next two years to creating the AT-300/301 Air Tractor, derived from the S-2B. Snow introduced his first turbine-powered model, the AT-302, in 1977. In 1991 he expanded with the AT-802, the world's largest ag plane and a model that helped the company grow internationally. Snow transferred ownership of Air Tractor to its employees in 2008 through a stock ownership plan. That same year he finished his autobiography, "Putting Dreams to Flight." An avid runner and fitness enthusiast, Snow twice competed in the New York City marathon. After the death of a highly regarded plant manager to a heart attack in 1989, he instituted free health screenings for all Air Tractor employees. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26th, at the Air Tractor headquarters in Olney.