Earnin’ While He’s Learnin’
Air Tractor’s AT-504 Trainer & Spray Plane
Grace under fire is standard operating procedure for Bill Dare of Twin Eagles Aviation in Mohave Valley Arizona. The decorated Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient flew and commanded Huey helicopter combat missions during his hitch in the Army. “We took ground fire all the time. You get used to it,” Bill says with a cool smile. He came away from that experience with a few scars, some medals, and an exquisitely honed outlook on aviation risk management.
Now Dare is bringing his grandson Jake Dare into the business as a brand new ag pilot. He believes in stacking the odds in his favor with the AT-504. By Bill’s calculations, it makes more sense to start his grandson Jake in the 504 and skip a piston engine ag plane training phase altogether. “Having trained other ag pilots, when they first take off you gotta cross your fingers and hope they make it,” Bill says. “But with the 504, you can have an instructor on board until you’re ready to release the new guy. When you put a pencil to everything, add in the safety factor, in my book it’s better to get the AT-504 than having Jake train in older piston airplane and worry about the chance of an accident because it’s an old airplane.”
“It’s a productive, profitable ag plane, and a safe trainer all rolled into one.”
Randy Hansen is Bill Dare’s primary ag pilot and a certified flight instructor for Jake. Following an “Are you serious about this?” check-flight in Hansen’s Super Decathalon, grandson Jake and Hansen began basic flight training. And when Jake received his commercial license, he and Randy transitioned straight into the AT-504 for turbine flight training. Hansen instructs from the right seat as Jake flies spray jobs.
“The AT-504 is a wonderful flying airplane,” says Hansen. “It reminds me a lot of the 502; there’s very little difference. It’s light on the controls, and even with two side-by-side seats, everything is within easy reach. As an instructor, I can see everything that’s going on. It’s a productive, profitable ag plane, and a safe trainer all rolled into one.”
The side-by-side cockpit of the 504 makes things easier for both instructor and pilot trainee, notes Jake Dare. “When I’m flying with Randy, if I do something wrong, he’s right there saying ‘Hey do do this, or change this, or add more power; take away power’.” Instruments and controls are all within easy reach. “I’m short, but I can reach everything with my T-rex arms,” Jake says.
“You’re sitting right there and can see what the trainee is doing.”
“The thing that I really love about the side-by-side is that you’re sitting in there with the pilot,” adds Bill Dare. “You can look over and see what his eyes are watching, where his head is moving, and know what’s needed to correct him. On a tandem seat airplane, you can’t see what the guy is looking at because you’re sitting behind him and only see the back of his head. Plus, you’re missing half the instruments. In the 504 communication is excellent; you’re sitting right there and can see what the trainee is doing.”
Dare continues, “As Jake goes through his training, I’ll be in the cockpit watching him. Randy Hansen will be in there looking at him, and when other ag pilots are here helping me, I would think they’ll be in the cockpit watching Jake, too. So with the 504 it’s easy to have several veteran turbine ag pilots evaluate how he’s doing.”
“As far as carrying the load and getting out and doing the work, it does an excellent job.”
Since Bill Dare took delivery of it in late 2012, Jake and Randy have logged 350 hours in the 504.
Dare reports that the 504 holds its own with Dare’s three Air Tractor 802s and 502B. By working the 504 just as he would his other spray aircraft, Bill contends the airplane isn’t just a training expenditure. On the contrary, while Jake gets his training and accumulates experience, the 504 is earning revenue. “As far as carrying the load and getting out and doing the work, it does an excellent job. It’s probably the most productive training aircraft I’ve ever seen. And safety-wise, it’s so much better than a tandem seat airplane.”