The U.S. Special operations command has chosen an armed-to-the-teeth version of the venerable Air Tractor agricultural application aircraft as its new counter-terrorism platform in its Armed Overwatch mission. The AT-802U Sky Warden was chosen over two other finalists, the Textron AT-6 Wolverine, based on the Texan trainer, and Sierra Nevada Corp’s MC-145B Coyote, a high-wing twin based on the Polish PZL M28 Skytruck. In the end, it was the brawny Air Tractor’s payload capacity that likely tipped the balance, according to Forbes.

It can carry the Common Launch Tube, which can fire missiles, launch drones and small munitions and features a sensor suite integrated by L-3 Harris. The mission of these aircraft is to drop into trouble spots with little fanfare and even less support on the ground. Something else that distinguishes the Air Tractor is that it’s a taildragger, likely the only one in the inventory. Forbes did the math and figures the Sky Warden costs about $20 million apiece. It’s not the first non-agriculture application of the Air Tractor. Its Fire Boss variants have become the industry standard for Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) aerial firefighting aircraft.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Other than go slower, I’m not sure what it can do that the A-10 can’t. Both of them very susceptible to ground missiles these days I would guess However, it would be fun to fly.

  2. AWESOME! Nothing less than that! Great idea! Why not use an aircraft that was designed for taking off short on rough tracks (called RWY in aviation, LOL) good to carry tons of loads, price point, and much more… I wish I was the pilot to fly these missions! 🙂

  3. Air Tractor company has been aggressive in getting payload, though IMO is overloaded when carrying water in floats not just fuselage.

    Check accident interior of BC when pilot rotated too much at tend of scooping run, no stall margin there.


      It is a turboprop, there is a tandem-seat version which I gather from limited information the Sky Warden design has.

      I presume the 11 hour endurance comes from making the fuselage insecticide/fertilizer tank into a fuel tank.

      Note antenna on top of right wing in Forbes photo of flight deck.

      Could the US’ military version have a QC kit for spraying when locusts multiply, as they did recently? (Locusts/grasshoppers/whatever-name multiply in huge quantities when land is moister than usual thus more vegetation for food, they have to be attacked at a particular time in their growth. A serious food problem in Africa as they eat crops.) Spraying is a common use of ag aircraft, dusting crops another., perhaps fertilizing as well.

  4. Chosen by guys who still prefer the M1911. In retrospect, the tail dragger was a shoe-in.

    I doubt they will have a hard time finding pilots.

    • During the testing of the similar mission Piper PA-46 Enforcer (P-51 lookalike w a turbine) by the USAF Test Pilot school at Edwards AFB 40 years ago, they couldn’t keep the pilots out of the things.

      Using some of these for special mission SOCOM ops in austere environments is one thing but anyone within USAF that things these things will make the A-10 and its GAU-8 obsolete needs to be tested for drugs or Covid.

  5. Previous comment: “Other than go slower, I’m not sure what it can do that the A-10 can’t.”
    Answer: It can be in about 10 places at once. (It’s my wild guess that 10 of these could be operated for about the same cost as operating an A-10. *) Both this and A-10’s would be vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles (including shoulder-launched) and most jet fighters.

    I have great respect for the A-10, partly because of the great respect and affection my son-in-law has for it. In his 13 years in the US Army, he had about 48 months of serious combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to him, “A-10’s saved my ass many times.” In addition to having the awesome 30mm Gatling gun it can get up close and personal to the bad guys.

    For counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, the extra power of the A-10’s 30mm Gatling gun vs the AT-802U’s 7.62mm Gatling guns wouldn’t make a difference against “soft” targets. Apparently, 8 gun pods can be carried, with 3000 rounds in each, and a rate of fire of 3000 round per minute. For “hard” targets, it appears that the AT-802U can carry a variety of powerful weapons, including Hellfire missiles. Comparing the firepower of just one gun pod to that of a Battle of Britain Spitfire:
    The Spitfire had 8 .303 machine guns, with 300 rounds each, a total of 2400 rounds. So, just one of the AT-802U’s gun pods has more firepower than a WW2 Spitfire. Each 7.62 mm round is significantly more effective than a .303 round, and there are 25% more rounds in one pod).
    Note its other qualities. Among other things, I assume that the “quick change magazine” could be changed by hand, whereas the A-10’s magazine is the size of a VW “bug” car.
    From the gun pod manufacturer:
    •• Self-contained system
    •• Dillon M134D-H Minigun
    •• 3,000-round magazine capacity
    •• Rapidly removable nose and tail cone for easy gun or magazine access
    •• Conformal Remote Gun Control Unit (RGCU)
    •• Quick Change Ammunition Magazine
    •• Last Round Switch (approx. 100 rounds remaining) with pilot override interrupt
    •• Integral bore sight adjustment +/- 2.5°
    * According to an online source, it appears that a 30 mm round costs roughly 20-40 times as much as a 7.62 mm round.
    7.62: 0.73-$2.48 depending on the round.
    30mm: $14.27–$78.90 depending on the round.