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Who's That Foreign Customer?

UPDATED: Video Tour of Air Tractor 802U

Farnborough Air Show -- The Air Force may have decided it doesn't want the weaponized Air Tractor as a counter-insurgency weapon but someone out there does.

Buzz readers will remember that the State Department bought some of the Air Tractor for counter-drug operations and that some Air Force and Special Operations elements had expressed keen interest in the planes. For a while it looked as if Gen. Norton Schwartz's vision of a counter-insurgency air wing might be built on the wings of Air Tractors -- or its competitor, the AT-6.

Then the Pentagon put out an RFP for Light Air Support "for use by the Afghanistan National Army Air Corps (ANAAC) and other future customers" for up to 20 aircraft. The RFP went on to say that, "The LAS aircraft will be a single-engine, turbo-prop, tandem- and ejection-seat cockpit, pressurized aircraft with retractable, tricycle gear capable of operations from austere airfields with semi-improved (dirt, grass, gravel) landing surfaces."

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Add up the ejection seat and the retractable landing gear and you have eliminated the Air Tractor which is an aircraft truly built for austere conditions. It possesses very simple, non-retractable landing gear which are designed for unimproved strips. They are removed when they need replacing in a simple operation that requires a few tools and a replacement set.

But Schwartz recently knocked down his own idea of a COIN air wing and it looks now as if the AT-6 is the plane that best meets the LAS requirements, according to close observers of the competition.

But Air Tractor tells us that, in spite of this, they have landed a deal with a foreign customer they are not allowed to identify. We couldn't get numbers, prices or even region out of the Air Tractor folks. Stay tuned for more on all this.

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