As a young boy, Jody Bays, Vice President of Thrush Aircraft, fell in love with aviation. It was this love that brought him to the United States Army as a Private in 1982. He became a helicopter mechanic, went to helicopter pilot school and finally, on to Test Pilot school. He got his fixed-wing transition and commercial instrument license in the Army as a civilian as well.
The breadth and viability of the industry has allowed Bays many exciting experiences over the years. In one particular instance, his flight plan was filed as an AY-65 for a delivery flight whose flight path took him over Cuba, The AY-65 is a drug-spraying eradication aircraft. Cuban officials, convinced that it was a State Department aircraft, continually denied him flight over the necessary airspace, even with the permits to do so, and Bays was forced to fly from Florida to the Cayman Islands by way of Cozumel, Mexico - not exactly a direct route! Fortunately, the aircraft was equipped with enough fuel in the hopper for the ad hoc twelve hour flight.
Jody retired from the army in 2002 after 20 years and worked at the Army Aviation Technical Testing Center for a year at Fort Rucker as a civilian contract test pilot.
The same year, his brother, Larry Bays, and Payne Hughes purchased Thrush Aircraft, headquartered in Albany, GA. Jody, wanting to assist in the development of fixed-wing aircraft, left his job in Fort Rucker and began his career at Thrush in 2003, serving as Vice President, Flight Test and Product Support. When Larry tragically passed away in 2010, Payne took over managing the company. It took Jody and Payne time to get their feet planted on the ground before they finally took off, approximately doubling production and sales.
Thrush Aircraft are known for being easy to fly and durable. Bays says they are beginning to see a trend toward 500 gallon aircraft because they are the most efficient. These aircraft have both agricultural and non-agricultural uses. Agriculturally, they are used for spraying for bugs and fungus, killing weeds and mosquito control and eradication. However, they also have a much broader range of uses, from ferrying gold ore and fuel in remote locations, fertilizer application, to stocking lakes that are not easily accessible by ground transportation, surveillance and fire suppression. These aircraft are ideal for these purposes because they have a long loiter time, they are relatively inexpensive to operate and they are simple to maintain.
Now, approximately 70 percent of Thrush Aircraft's sales are exports. Bays feels that there is a tremendous amount of room for growth globally: "It is my belief that the overseas growth is huge. The countries overseas have decided that they want to eat better and different kinds of food and this requires aerial application to do so, or at least it's much more efficient, so I believe that it will continue to grow."
Bays would also like to see growth in the company's business in the U.S.: "I'm hoping that the H80 will be the stepping stone to increase our presence in the U.S. because it's a much more efficient aircraft than what is currently manufactured and I think that will become known. I hope that it will help grow in the U.S."
In 2009, Thrush Aircraft selected GE Aviation's H80 turboprop engine to power its 510G Thrush aerial applicator (crop duster).
The H80 engine received EASA certification in December 2011 and FAA certification in March 2012. This engine combines the robust turboprop design of Walter Aircraft Engines' highly successful M601 series engines with GE Aviation's modern 3D aerodynamic design techniques and advanced materials. These technologies deliver more shaft-horsepower (shp), improved engine fuel efficiency and increased temperature margin, significantly enhancing hot-day takeoff performance and high-altitude cruise speeds. The H80 engine also features an extended service life of 3,600 hours and 6,600 cycles between overhauls. With a hopper capacity of 510 gallons, a gross weight of 10,500 pounds, and the 800-shp H80 engine up front, the improved Thrush 510 is designed for superior performance for agricultural operations.
"We selected the H80 engines based on GE's strong reputation for engine performance and reliability, which are critical for our customers," said Jody. "The additional horsepower and increased temperature margin of the H80 engine will enable Thrush 510 operators to carry larger loads in hot weather and higher density altitudes."
Bays added: "I have the feeling, whether it's real or imagined, that I can make a difference, that the improvements and changes that I'm making to the aircraft are actually being accomplished. Between powder coating the fuselage, the integration of the H80 engine into the airframe, the MVP electronics instrument panel, the glass cockpit – it's nice to see your work come to fruition and actually happen. I get to do that here."