The 'Fletcher' is a Kiwi icon, and as the ubiquitous agricultural aircraft is identifiable to many simply by the distinctive droning sound it makes as it moves across the countryside. The Fu-24 was designed by for Fletcher in the United States, with New Zealand agricultural operators in mind. Its dominance in the agricultural field is the result of a number of factors leading up to its introduction in 1955.
New Zealand's first 'topdressing' experiment is generally credited to the Public Works department pilot who spread lupin seed on the dunes at 90 Mile Beach in 1941. At the end of World War II a number of trials were carried out using RNZAF Avengers with hoppers fitted in the bomb-bay. Bristol B.170's were then used, as they had been built with fittings to accomodate a hopper. The success of the trials was followed by a burgeoning agricultural aviation which initially used surplus DH-82a's fitted with a hopper in place of the front seat with around a 200kg (440lb) superphosphate capacity. The Tiger Moth was generally underpowered and often overloaded for the task, but the industry was established. The use of aerially delivered fertilizer was an importnat factor in revitalizing soil depleted by 100 years of farming development. In the late 1940's a replacement was sought for the DH-82a, and the government issued a requirement specification. Prospects to meet this requirement included the Auster Agricola and Percival EP-9 from Britain, although initially it looked like the DHC-2 Beaver might prove successful - but supply was difficult as the US Army placed a large order. The DC-3 was also used, but this was too large to be economical for many operators. In the 1960's other competitors included the Pawnee, the Agwagon, Cropmaster, and Airtruk; but the Fu-24 had became the best established.
The Fu24 was designed by John Thorpe (later with Piper). The aircraft has similarity to the Fletcher FD-25 which had been developed as a ground attack aircraft. The aircraft very nearly didn't eventuate, requiring intervention by the New Zealand Civil Aviation department for the project to continue. The prototype 225hp Fu-24 flew in June 1954, and production commenced in 1955. Approximately 70 aircraft were constructed by the time production ceased in 1965. Cable Price Corporation were the original Fletcher agents, and 100 aircraft were supplied in kitset form. These were assembled at the TEAL workshop at Mechanics Bay by James Aviation subsidiary Aero machinists Ltd, and later at Air Parts (NZ) Ltd in Hamilton. These aircraft were 225hp, 240hp and 260hp Fu-24 and Fu-24A models. The Fu-24A is a dual control version.
After production ceased in the US in 1965, Air Parts (NZ) took up production. Air Parts was originally formed in 1957 to market Fu-24 parts. AESL (Aero Engine Services Ltd) and Air Parts (NZ) merged in 1972 to form NZ Aerospace Industries which continued production in Hamilton. In 1982 NZ Aerospace went into receivership, and was purchased by Agricultural Holdings. In association with other shareholders (including Lockheed) the company was reformed as Pacific Aerospace Corporation ltd, which is the current Fu-24 producer.
The aircraft has undergone steady development in the intervening years. The early New Zealand production models were 285hp and 300hp models (as opposed to the original 225hp). In 1967 the original 27 cubic foot hopper was replaced by a 37 cubic foot fibreglass hopper. The new hopper was originally intended for delivering carrot baits used for pest destruction, but it became standard. Australian operators sought more power, and several projects by operators were commenced to install the 400hp Continental IO-720 engine. Col Pay flew the first 400hp Fu-24/A4 in September 1969. This subsequently became the standard powerplant. The Fu-24-950 is the production 400hp aircraft. Aircraft modified to take the 400hp engine are known as Fu-24-950M. In the late 1970's further alterations involved streamlining the the cowlings, revising the cockpit, increasing the hopper size, altering the rear fuselage (including adding the large door) and improving the ailerons. The Fu-24-954 has been the main production aircraft since 1979.
In the early 1970's, installation of turboprop powerplants has resulted in the Fu-1060 (P&W PT-6A), Fu-1160 (Garrett Airesearch TPE-331) and the Fu-1284 (an uprated Garrett Airesearch TPE-331). These aircraft had a bigger wing, lengthened fuselage and an altered tail section. The original Fu-1060, built for James Aviation is now the Gate Guardian at Hamilton Airport. In the 1980's, the development of the turbine Fu-24 was taken to the point where the aircraft is considered a new model - the Cresco 08-600. Utilising many of the updates to the Fu-24-954 and built around a Lycoming LTP-101/600A turboprop, it involved airframe changes (resulting in a fuselage stretch allowing a bigger hopper installation), taller fin, and revised horizontal tail. Further developments for the Fu-24 included a 550hp V8 powerplant installation project by Fieldair utilising a 402 cubic inch Chevrolet 'small block', although this did not reach production. Another 'V8' project is being researched by Superair.
Approximately 100 Fu-24/ Fu-24A/ Fu24--950/ Fu-24-954s are currently active in New Zealand. The variety of powerplants and the 1052kg (2320lb) hopper capacity means the aircraft continues to be popular with operators. A number of aircraft have been exported (Australia, Canada, Iraq, Malaysia, Samoa, Turkey, and elsewhere). Some aircraft were also supplied to Bangladesh in the early 1970's as part of a Government aid program. As well as agricultural use, the aircraft has been used for frieght and passenger work (5 seats in place of the hopper), and even proposed as a COIN aircraft.
Last Text Update:- 24 October, 2000
Last Picture Update:- 2 December, 2002
Figures are for the Fu-24A
© 1997-2000 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved