The fight is out there, in the mountains and desert, far away from pavement and policemen. That’s why the 802U is built to live and work out there with forward operators, flying off dirt strips with minimal support. The AT-802/802A is the world's largest single engine aircraft, and its popularity reflects the industry's trend to larger, high-production turbine equipment. Operating from unimproved airstrips and dirt roads, the 802U can carry out forward arming and refueling point missions to provide unparalleled direct support and overwatch for ground troops. It can deliver fuel and supplies to remote forces.
As of 2013 the UAE was the only air force to operate the AT-802U weaponised variant of the aircraft, although Burkina Faso, Croatia, Gambia, and Israel operated the AT-802 in a utility role. By 2002 four Air Tractor Model 802 (AT-802) aircraft were being used by the US government to spray coca, and another four were delivered that year. DynCorp provided pilots, mechanics, and other operations and maintenance personnel. These aircraft are manufactured in the United States for agricultural crop spraying and utilize the identical nozzles (same brand and diameter) in the identical configuration (nozzle angle, droplet size, calibration methods) as the OV-10 and T-65 spray aircraft. AT-802 flight speed during eradication operations is 165 mph. By 2009 that the spray program only used AT-802s for aerial spray operations. Opium poppy is ordinarily cultivated at a higher altitude than coca, and thus opium poppy often is cultivated and sprayed in hilly to mountainous terrain. For these reasons, the T-65 is the only aircraft used to spray opium poppy because it has a smaller wingspan (and spray swath) than the OV-10 or AT-802 and because it is a more agile aircraft capable of staying close to the ground in more steeply graded, rugged terrain.
To enhance the spray airplanes' ability to withstand ground fire, the US State Department Office of Aviation ensured that the aircraft were protected to the extent possible. All the spray aircraft always had protective armor around the cockpit and covering vulnerable fuel and oil lines. The AT-802 spray planes underwent additional modifications in 2004 to further protect the pilot.
The Aerial Eradication Program consists of US-owned spray aircraft and helicopters, as well as contractor support to help fly, maintain, and operate these assets at forward operating locations throughout Colombia. As of August 2008, these aircraft included 13 armored AT-802 spray aircraft; 13 UH-1N helicopters used as gunships or search and rescue aircraft; four C-27 transport aircraft used to ferry supplies and personnel to and from the various spray bases; and two reconnaissance aircraft. US funded counternarcotics efforts, which focused on aerial spraying, did not achieve Plan Colombia’s overarching goal of reducing the cultivation, production, and distribution of cocaine by 50 percent, in part because coca farmers responded with a series of effective countermeasures.
The AT-802U designation requires a bit of unpacking. If this were a military designator, AT would indicate an attack variant of a trainer aircraft, and the 802 would be the latest in a numerical sequence. But in this case, the AT is the company name - Air Tractor - and the 802 reflects the 800 gallon tank that can be filled with water for fire fighting or pesticide for agricultural bug spraying.
Many aircraft can launch Hellfire missiles and drop laser guided bombs. But most jets and UAVs require large paved runways, and attack helicopters require hordes of maintainers. Like a truck, the aircraft is utilitarian in nature: tough, powerful, and configurable to simply get the job done. It can maintain very long endurance over target and can employ a wide range of weapons simultaneously, with a high degree of accuracy to minimize collateral damage. The AT-802 is combat-proven in counter-drug operations in the USSOUTHCOM AOR by the US Department of State. The reliable and field-repairable defensive armor has successfully defeated multiple bullet strikes and has been upgraded to defeat increasing threat levels.
When the very first production model AT-802 was delivered in 1993, the company thought he might sell six or eight the first year and would be satisfied if he could sell 10-15 per year. The aircraft was originally designed as an 800-gallon capacity air tanker for aerial firefighting. The AT-802 was by far the largest capacity ag plane in the industry then, and remains so now, with a 16,000-pound FAA certificated gross weight. It wasn't long before the 802 was equipped with spray booms and working as an ag plane. More and more ag operators saw how the 802 really boosted production and efficiency. Sales steadily grew, and by March 2005, Air Tractor had produced 200 of the AT-802s.
The company's popular single-seat 800-gallon capacity 802 series aircraft reached another milestone 04 April 2013. On this cool, windy and cloud-covered Thursday, S/N 802A-0500 was delivered to its new owner. The proud owner of the 500th AT-802A is Drew Spidahl, owner of Ag-Tech Air, LLC in Lena, Illinois. Air Tractor dealer Harley Curless of Farm Air, Inc. placed the order and completed the sale in mid February 2013.
The AT-802U brings firepower in close where it is needed and at the best speed for maximum effect. Capable of employing a large arsenal of weaponry, the aircraft has been built to employ dual .50 cal. GAU-19/A three-barrel Gatling guns, dual M260 7-tube rocket launchers, and 500 lb. Mk-82 bombs on nine wing and fuselage hard points (expandable to 15 hard points). The AT-802U is also configurable for more advanced systems depending on customer requirements. Laser guided ordnance, helmet mounted displays, fire control systems, survivability systems, and sensor payloads could all be incorporated into this robust aircraft.
With ground-to-air communication so vital in close air support missions, the AT-802U has been equipped with the Wulfsberg Flexcomm tactical modular multi-band airborne FM/AM/UHF radio communications system. This enables the aircrew to maintain radio communication with practically any radio system utilized by ground units. Flying where others would not dare, the AT-802U protects aircrews with specially designed cockpit and engine armor, ballistic glass, and self-sealing fuel tanks. It also has mounting provisions for an optional AAR-47/ALE-47 survivability system.
The 802U can loiter quietly more than 10 hours while carrying more than a ton of weapons. It commands a level of situational awareness that unmanned aircraft, with “soda straw” sensor views, simply cannot match. Air Tractor builds aircraft that help pilots walk away from high-energy ground impacts. The aircraft’s legendary survivability is backed up by more than 50 years of aerial spraying and forest firefighting and almost a decade of South American counterdrug operations.
Air Tractor has created a surveillance platform that delivers more capability for less money than anything else in the world. The AT-802U combines an 8,000-pound (3,629 kg) payload and 10-hour ISR mission capability with the flexibility and responsiveness of a manned weapon system – for a fraction of the cost of unmanned aerial vehicle systems.
The AT-802U performs exceptionally well in an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance role at low altitudes. Its retractable L3 Wescam MX-15Di sensor turret system and optional Compact Multi-Channel Data Link (CMDL) system allows commanders to see the battle space in real time. CMDL is ROVER compatible and allows transmission of live video feed to other aircraft, air operations centers, or joint terminal attack controllers on the ground.
The 2-man AT-802U crew commands a level of situational awareness that unmanned aircraft, with “soda straw” sensor views, simply cannot match. NVG compatible lighting permits unconstrained AT-802U night ops. Ample fuselage and wing space for integration of sensors, datalinks and weapon systems make the AT-802U an ideal communications gateway platform for instant command and control with ground forces or other air assets.
Massive fuel tanks and the very efficient Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F turbine engine allow for mission durations of 10 hours. The cockpit-forward payload area is configurable for a mission-extending fuselage fuel tank. Additionally, drop tanks can be added to wing/fuselage hard points to further extend loiter time.
The cavernous internal space of the 802U permits adding virtually any missionized E0/IR, SIGINT or SAR payload. An optional retractable L3 Wescam MX-15Di sensor targeting pod and ROVER video downlink lets ground commanders, other aircraft and forward air controllers see the battle space in real time. When equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, real time encrypted video downlink, SatCom, and encrypted software defined voice and data radios, the 802U is a cost-effective communications gateway for instant command and control.
The 802U can deliver an impressive payload to the fight. With 11 hard points on the wings and fuselage, the 802U has the flexibility to employ a large arsenal of weaponry. The aircraft’s speed and maneuverability exceeds that of most helicopters, UAVs and cargo aircraft. There’s no need to fly supersonic to hot zones when the 802U can be overhead providing quiet surveillance and the deterrent of over 2,900 rounds of .50 cal, four Hellfire missiles, sixteen DAGR laser guided rockets, and two 250 lb. laser-guided bombs.
The aircrew safety emphasis is evident from the sturdy steel tube airframe and cockpit structure, AmSafe Inflatable Restraint System airbags, and spring steel landing gear. In combat, the 802U protects aircrews with robust cockpit and engine armor. Fuel tanks and lines are self-sealing. Ballistic glass windshields and side windows have defeated bullets during counterdrug operations. With more than 500 successful deliveries of AT-802 agricultural and firefighting aircraft worldwide, AT-802 production costs and timelines are well established. A simple rugged design, reliable flight systems, robust electrical system, minimal ground support equipment, and the proven Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F turbine engine give the AT-802U impressive performance with a very low operation cost. In fact, in counter-drug operations U.S. Department of State maintenance statistics show the AT-802 has an average of 1.7 maintenance man hours per flight hour.
With its tandem seat cockpit and dual controls, the AT-802U also makes an ideal training aircraft for flight and weapons training to develop weapons tactics, techniques and procedures. Whether providing air support for a remote border outpost, or surveillance for a convoy, the 802U delivers impressive performance – at a very low operation cost. With an average of 450 flight hours per year, the operations cost for the AT-802 is under $400 per flight hour.
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