AT-802U: US Special Ops Recon Aircraft That Was Developed From a Crop Duster

The AT-802U Sky Warden looks small but does the job in low-hazard areas without needing to deploy larger aircraft.
AT-802U Sky Warden

The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has a long history dating back to the early 1980s. During that time, they have relied on a variety of aircraft to support their operations both domestically and abroad. Recently, they placed an order for the AT-802U Sky Warden. 

Some will probably roll their eyes about the fact that it is based on an Air Tractor crop duster aircraft, but SOCOM has been using the AT-802U Sky Warden since 2007 as their primary light attack and observation aircraft with great success. Here’s why they chose the Sky Warden over other options.

Air tractor arrendado por CONAF modified
Air Tractor crop duster by Daniel VA under CC BY-SA 4.0

AT-802U Sky Warden

The AT-802U is a multi-role military aircraft designed for use in various settings. It can be used for surveillance, search and rescue, and firefighting.


The AT-802U is a highly versatile aircraft that can be used for various missions, including close air support and anti-terrorism operations. It can fly for 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) without refueling, which is enough for most missions in remote areas.

It also has an infrared sensor that can be used to locate people or objects from the air. In addition, the Sky Warden is equipped with GPS and satellite communications, making it ideal for use in remote areas.

The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM)

Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command
Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command by Public Domain.

The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is a component of the United States Armed Forces responsible for conducting operations across the full spectrum of military operations.


SOCOM comprises over 70,000 personnel from all military branches, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

SOCOM conducts operations in more than 90 countries around the world. While SOCOM’s activities are often secretive, the Command plays a vital role in safeguarding America’s interests both at home and abroad.

AT-802U Sky Warden is perfect for low-risk missions

The AT-802U Sky Warden is a light attack and reconnaissance aircraft that is perfect for low-risk missions. It is equipped with various sensors and a camera pod for surveillance missions. The aircraft can take off and land on short runways, making it ideal for operating in remote locations.


The Sky Warden has a simple design that makes it easy to maintain, and its rugged construction means that it can withstand tough conditions. As a result, the Sky Warden is an excellent choice for any mission where safety is a priority.

While it looks like a small and unimpressive aircraft, for a low-threat mission in lightly armed insurgent territory, it is not necessary to deploy modern, high-tech aircraft. Instead, a smaller, less impressive aircraft is less noticeable and much more suitable for this kind of missions.

F-22 in Europe
F-22 in Europe by Alex Echols. Public Domain.

So, for SOCOM, it is too exaggerated to use a stealth aircraft like an F-22 or F-35 for some low-risk mission.


AT-802U Sky Warden specifications

Paris Air show Air tractor
Paris Air Show 2017 Air tractor Longsword by Marc Lacoste. Licensed under CC by 4.0

  • Crew: Two
  • Capacity: 820 gallons (104 liters)
  • Length: 35 feet 11 inches (10.95 meters)
  • Wingspan: 59 feet 3 inches (18.06 meters)
  • Height: 12 feet 9 inches (3.89 meters)
  • Empty weight: 6,505 pounds (2,951 kilograms)
  • Max takeoff weight: 16,000 pounds (7,257 kg)
  • Cruise speed: 221 mph (356 km/h)
  • Range: 800 miles (1,300 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 13,000 feet (4,000 miles)

The Sky Warden has proven to be a reliable aircraft with an unmatched cost-benefit ratio

The AT-802U has proven to be a versatile and reliable aircraft. As a result, SOCOM has chosen this aircraft for some of its operations, where the risk of shooting down an aircraft is relatively low.

So, this plane may not look impressive, but it has a guaranteed place in the armed forces for a long time.

Featured image credit: AirTractor Paris by PvK. Licensed under CC by 3.0.


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