What is a Tug? 9 Common Aircraft Towing Questions, Answered
Here at Powertow, we take pride in our blog. As we note whenever we can, every airport, no matter its size, needs at least a few aircraft tugs. We strive to help airport managers make informed decisions with our detailed deep dives into various facets of these machines. 

With that said, having all that information on specific topics may not help without knowledge of the bigger picture. This special blog post will not be a deep dive, but more of an FAQ. We will answer questions like what is a tug, how do you use it, and so much more. 

What is a Tug? 

This crash course could only begin by answering that central question: what is a tug, anyway? Generally, “tug” is just another word for “pull.” You may tug at your collar as a nervous tic. A child may tug at their mother’s skirt for attention. Most pertinently, machines may be called tugs if that is their purpose. 

This latter definition applies to the aircraft tug, a piece of wheeled, powered equipment built to tow airplanes. Their most common use is moving a craft from the runway to the hangar and vice versa. Planes are difficult to move by human force alone, making these devices indispensable. 

How Much Weight Can They Pull? 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) classifies aircraft tugs into four weight classes. You can learn all about them in Chapter 9 of the Airport Handling Manual (AHM). If you ask us, there are really two types you should know about: those which are heavy-duty and those which are not. 

Heavy-duty aircraft tugs can pull truly titanic weights, with some maxing out at over 300,000 lbs. International airports that see serious daily traffic from enormous crafts must use them. Smaller airports may benefit more from using lighter tugs. Even if they only pull 6000 lbs, that may be enough for most of the crafts they will service. 

How Do They Attach to the Aircraft? 

What is a tug without something to connect it with the aircraft? The most common method is to use a large metal tool called a towbar. One end latches onto the plane’s nose landing gear. Meanwhile, the other attaches to the back of the tug. 

Towbarless tugs make their connection in different ways. Some come with a pair of low-level arms built to clasp the landing gear. Others still, like the Supertow line, provide a distinct alternative. Someone in the cockpit rolls the airplane onto the tug’s carriage, which then raises and locks the wheel in place. -How Many Crew Members Are Needed? 

The majority of aircraft tugs only require one person to operate it. With that said, do not start calculating how much you will save on training and personnel just yet. The task of towing an airplane goes most smoothly with a team of people providing support for the tug’s driver. 

We recommend placing someone in the cockpit of the craft, where they can assist with turning and braking as needed. A couple of people should walk alongside each wing while another keeps an eye on the rear. All can inform the driver of any potential damage threats, especially during sharp turns. 

What Other Towing Preparation is Needed? 

Speaking of potential damage threats, the path between Points A and B should definitely be cleared of obstacles ahead of time. Any crew on the ground should be informed about the planned route so they can stay out of the way or even redirect the path. 

Before the trek can even start, you and your crew must check the brakes on the aircraft. Even when someone hits the brakes on the tug, the plane may still move forward. If they do not work, throw some chocks on the wheel, haul it aside, and repair them before proceeding. 

What Can Affect My Tug’s Performance? 

Various circumstances and obstacles can affect the performance of even the most sophisticated and efficient aircraft tugs. For example, not every example of this equipment is optimized for every kind of weather. Some can withstand chilly conditions, while others freeze up. This factor is definitely worth considering when shopping. 

Another potential hindrance is the terrain of your airport. Even fields in flat areas may be littered with tiny dips and hills. Identifying them is important because taking a tug down a slope can increase its speed. Moreover, trying to ascend an incline adds to the weight it must pull. 

What Maintenance Should I Do? 

Wear and tear may also affect airplane tugs. Even the most basic machines require a multitude of parts that must all work in harmony to achieve peak performance. The part that connects the tug to the plane, be it a towbar or something else, must be inspected before each use. 

That all-important component is not the only important component. The engine, the tires, the brakes, the horn, and more should be checked on a regular basis. The same goes for the various fluids that make it run. If anything needs replacing, ground the tug and take care of it right away. 

Is There Anything Else I Need to Know? 

We have plenty of experience with aircraft tugs, and we would be happy to share some professional advice. Off the tops of our heads, here are a few important tips: 

• Avoid aircraft tug Craigslist postings, or other offers for used equipment. Among other reasons, they come without warranties and you cannot truly know their condition before purchase. 
• When filling a hangar, start with the bigger planes that need towing. Once they are in place, you can find room for the smaller ones. This approach allows you to maximize hangar space. 
• Keep replacement parts handy. You never know when a regular inspection will turn up a faulty component. If you already have a fresh one, you can get back to tugging in no time. 

Of course, there is still more to learn. Our blog is chock-full of in-depth information that may be of interest. If your questions go beyond “What is a tug,” then feel free to explore our archive. 

Where Can I Get a High-Quality Aircraft Tug? 

We can provide so much more than answers to common aircraft towing questions here at Powertow. Our site is also an online store full of excellent tugs built for light aircraft. Now that you know more about them, feel free to shop for them and place an order with us.