Employees of Thrush Aircraft watch a celebratory flyover by the newly FAA-certified Thrush 510G ag plane with the first General Electric H80 turboprop engine to be sold in a certified aircraft. The 510 version of the aircraft has been available as a 510P, equipped with a Pratt & Whitney engine.
ALBANY, Ga. -- There was good reason to celebrate Wednesday at the Thrush Aircraft plant, and that's just what they did.
Last week, after three years in development, the Federal Aeronautics Administration issued type certification to the Thrush 510G ag plane. To sweeten the festivities, four of the new planes left for agricultural service before the end of the day.
"It's been a long day coming," Thrush President Payne Hughes said before the employee luncheon. "More than three years of headaches, setbacks and things to get angry with."
According to Hughes, development of the 510G plane was the first time the Albany plant had produced a working aircraft by the modern method of 3-D computer design. The old way of building planes -- through the 1990s -- amounted to putting old scraps of metal together "like you do in your back yard," then rebuilding until it's right, Hughes said.
"We took a lot of the old technologies from the production environment and blended new 21st-century components and circuits," he said. "The result is the most up-to-date ag airplane built today."
The 510G is powered by the 800 shaft horsepower H80 turboprop engine, manufactured by General Electric Corp. While GE has long made aircraft engines, the H80 is one of the first of its turboprop designs. According to Brad Mottier, vice president of Business & General Aviation for General Electric, turboprops employ a jet engine to turn a standard propeller at the front of the plane.
For some time, Thrush has produced the model 510P, a similar ag plane equipped with a 750 shaft horsepower Pratt & Whitney Engine. The 510P will remain in production as an option to Thrush clients.
According to Mottier, the GE H80 engine is simpler, lighter and more robust than previous engines in its power class.
"(The engine) is a step ahead of the competition," Mottier said. "Thrush is a great company with a great airplane and a great engine."
According to an article in the October "Flying" magazine, today's Thrush models have roots going back to 1956, when aircraft designer Leland Snow built the prototype of what would become the Snow S-2 crop-duster. The Aero Commander division of Rockwell International bought the design in 1965 and built a factory at the Albany airport. Fred Ayers bought the company in 1977. In 2003, as the company struggled to survive, Hughes, a Georgia businessman, bought the operation and named it Thrush Aircraft.
It's taken a while to get it moving, Hughes said, but he expects his plant to build 50 aircraft this year at a price of around $869,000 each -- more than twice the output two years ago. Sixty or more planes will be made in 2013, Hughes said, with some 65 percent of them headed overseas. Thrush is one of only two ag plane manufacturers in the United States.