Air Tractor gives to Texas A&M aerospace engineering

Air Tractor of Olney, Texas, has donated a “gift in kind” to Texas A&M University’s Department of Aerospace Engineering

In the spring of 2012, Jim Hirsch, Class of 1991, the newly appointed president of Air Tractor Inc., visited his old stomping grounds to participate in the department’s Critical Design Review and to donate a gift on behalf of the company, which manufactures a line of turboprop aircraft that are used around the world for agricultural spraying and aerial firefighting. Air Tractor donated a laser cutting machine for students to use to construct the aircraft that they have designed.

Hirsch is a new member of the department’s advisory board. Hirsch has been an engineer at Air Tractor for 20 years and most recently served as vice president of engineering. He was appointed Air Tractor president resident in February 2011 following the death of Air Tractor founder Leland Snow, Class of 1952. Last year the Snow family graciously endowed and established the Leland Snow Memorial Scholarship in Aerospace Engineering, funded through the Texas A&M Foundation. To date, the scholarship has been presented to two worthy recipients. As another way to continue the Leland Snow legacy at Texas A&M, Air Tractor donated the laser cutting machine, which will go in the design lab and has the following words engraved on an attached plaque:

“Donated  by Air Tractor in memory of aviation pioneer and Air Tractor founder Leland Snow ’52. Leland Snow built a 53-year legacy of aircraft design and innovations that ushered in the era of the modern agricultural spray planes. Olney, Texas-based Air Tractor, the company he founded in 1972, produces the world’s most popular aerial spray aircraft and single engine air tankers for aerial firefighting. This laser cutting machine is dedicated to Texas A&M’s aerospace engineering students who strive for exceptional leadership and problem-solving skills, creativity in design, and a focused determination to ‘putting dreams to flight.’”

Kristin Edwards, Snow’s oldest daughter, said, "Air Tractor decided to donate the laser cutter after learning about the SAE design team, a student-led team, started a few years ago. We learned that these students started building their competition aircraft in someone’s garage and were eventually given workspace in one of the design labs. Their efforts were not part of a class or ‘official’ school function. We liked the story because it reminded us of Leland.

"As an aircraft manufacturer, we know how valuable modern technology is in the production process, and we’ve continued to upgrade and modernize our manufacturing equipment and processes. While there is some romance in doing things the old–fashioned way, it can be difficult to get things done properly without modern equipment,” Edwards said, “so Air Tractor wanted all the aero students to have a new laser cutting machine at their disposal.” 

Dr. Dimitris Lagoudas, former head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, said, “This new laser cutter has provided the ability to our students to have access to a state of the art equipment to cut material for their planes, as part of their senior capstone required project. The laser cutter improved the quality and accuracy of cut geometrical shapes and also shortened the time to build their airplanes, which is essential for the students to complete the design-build-fly sequence in one semester. Our students and the university are grateful for this gift.”

Leland Snow graduated Texas A&M with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering in 1952. He established Snow Aeronautical Co. in 1957 and sold the company to Rockwell-Standard Aero Commander eight years later. In 1972 he founded Air Tractor, now considered the world’s leading manufacturer of agricultural and firefighting aircraft. The firm delivered its 2,500th aircraft in 2010 and today international sales account for more than 50 percent of its business. Snow was a prolific designer, with 29 Snow and Air Tractor models certificated by the Federal Aviation Agency. 

In Fall 2011, Texas A&M aerospace engineering educated 798 students. According to U.S. News & World Report, the department ranked sixth in undergraduate education and eighth in graduate programs among public institutions. 

The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises major gifts and manages endowments for the sole benefit of Texas A&M University. 

Memorial contribution for Leland Snow can be mailed to the Texas A&M Foundation, Attn: Andrew Acker, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, TX 77840, with a reference on the memo line “to the Leland Snow Scholarship.”