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Fletcher FU-24

Fletcher FU24

The Fletcher FU-24 is an agricultural aircraft made in New Zealand. One of the first aircraft designed for aerial topdressing, the Fletcher has also been used for other aerial applications as a utility aircraft, and for sky diving.

Country of origin: USA/New Zealand
• Cockpit: 1 seat
• Wingspan: 1280cm
• Empty weight: 1188kg
• Max Take Off Weight: 2463kg
• Take-off distance: 325 metres
• Landing distance: 426 metres
• Max speed: 126kts
• Range: 383nm

Key Features
Purpose built
huge payload transporting capability
Suited to short field operations
Benign handling characteristics

Whilst commonly associated with agricultural operations in New Zealand, the Fletcher FU-24 first began life in the USA. It’s maiden flight took place in 1954, and whilst there have been various modifications made to the aircraft, in principle it is remarkably similar to it’s early iterations.

Although the inaugural flight took place in the United States, it was soon exported in kit form to be assembled across the Pacific in what would become its new home, New Zealand. Eventually the exports ceased and were replaced by wholesale manufacture in New Zealand. Fletcher ceased producing the aircraft in 1964 and through a series of subsequent commercial acquisitions and mergers, a newly formed company called the Pacific Aerospace Corporation (or PAC) began production.

The Fletcher FU-24 was the brainchild of an American Engineer called John Thorp, who developed the aircraft to replace the ageing De Havilland Tiger Moth. It is used most extensively in New Zealand as a ‘Crop Duster’ or ‘Ag Plane’. In recent years it has been superseded by the larger PAC Cresco, to which it bears an uncanny resemblance. The Fletcher FU-24 is purpose built to be rugged and functional.

Whilst the single seat version of the aircraft is used day to day operationally, there are several variations. In particular The FU-24A is the dual seat version used in part for training. Depending on the variant of the aircraft, the seed hopper can be replaced by a passenger cabin which can accommodate up to six passengers. The Fletcher FU-24 has also been utilised in diverse roles such as cloud seeding and parachute dropping

The aircraft relies on several features to perform its role. With a low aspect wing it doesn’t fly at particularly high speeds, but the huge wing is needed to generate the lift required to be able to carry potentially huge agricultural payloads of seeds or fertiliser.  Further to this the average stall speed is very low, so as to permit relatively slow flight when the aircraft is engaged in its primary task. As you’d expect from an aircraft that has been designed to fly near to the ground at low speed, it has particularly benign handling characteristics.

Unlike earlier versions of agricultural aircraft, forward visibility in the Fletcher FU-24 is excellent due to its wide forward canopy and a hopper which is located behind the cockpit, as opposed to at the front. This is particularly useful in locating the target area for crop spraying and other functions in which the aircraft is employed.

Due to the nature of it’s work both the PAC Cresco and Fletcher have a short take off and landing capability. The undercarriage and landing gear assembly are manufactured in such a way as to permit landing on a variety of surfaces, some of which can be understandably ‘agricultural’ and rough. The tricycle style gear further aids landing and take off by allowing a relatively flat attitude, which is ideal when negotiating airfields which are not entirely level.

The Fletcher FU-24 is a prime example of an aircraft which is designed from the ground up and is still perfectly suited for it’s original purpose. Perhaps this is the reason why it has been employed in the same service, in one of its many variations, for so long.

Sources and further reading