How do Aircraft Tugs Work?

 Have you seen those big aircrafts being pulled by a small vehicle upfront? If you have, have you ever wondered how the big birds are maneuvered by these small guide vehicles? Well, that is what we are going to discuss in this article.

First things first, these small vehicles are called tractors or tugs. Don’t get mistaken by their appearance, these tugs are engineered to move these big planes from parking position to taxi position.

What is the need for a tug? Can’t the big planes move on their own?

Of course, the planes can move on their own. But though these big birds have big engines capable of handling their size and weight, they can’t go in reverse on their own. This is where these aircraft tugs or tractors come to play. If you have been to an airport, you’d have noticed that the planes are aligned with their nose facing the terminus. 

This is done to ease up the boarding process. Once the passengers have boarded the plane needs to move towards the runway for take-off and the aircraft tugs take care of it.

Also pushing the plane backwards using a tug saves a lot of fuel considering the amount of fuel the aircraft would have to dispense to generate enough reverse thrust. Also, there are chances for the jet blast from the engines damaging the infrastructure at the terminal. To keep them all safe, these engines are kept off. Thus, pushback is the much-preferred choice.

What is an aircraft tug?

Aircraft tugs are special purpose, low profile vehicles employed to carry out push back operations at the airport. They push the aircraft from its parking position to the taxi position as most of the aircraft's lack reverse gear.

How do aircraft tugs work?

Aircraft tugs are specially engineered to carry the forward weight of the aircraft while it is being pushed back. These tugs have a cradle-like mechanism that is powered by hydraulic oil. While in operation, the driver of the tug moves into position and this cradle is attached to the tires in the nose side of the aircraft. The cradle is then lifted placing all of the forward weight of the aeroplane onto the tug. This is done to minimize inertia while the aircraft is pushed back.

While the aircraft is pushed back, the tug driver is responsible for steering the aircraft as the pilot will have zero visibility of the rear side of the aircraft. A bypass pin is installed at the aircraft’s driving head of the steering mechanism. This is done to give the tug driver access to the steering of the aircraft while the pilots stay in touch with the operator of the tug during the entire push back operation.

So, it is the tug drivers who rule the ground operations. It is not an easy task and needs proper attention and logical skills to interpret situations and take decisions accordingly as a minor distraction can harm the entire aircraft and infrastructure. While these skills have to be gained through experience, there are some tips that you can keep in your books that will help you move forward.

Let’s deal with some serious stuff now. Being a tug driver, you own the responsibility of keeping the efficiency and safety of the airport.

Disclaimer: You should consider our tips to enhance your training and not to substitute a proper course.

  • Check the tow bar

A tow bar is connected to the landing gear of the aircraft, which is kind of like a hinge that is free to. These tow bars are what guides the nose of the aircraft. Make sure the connection is proper & aligned and that the shear pin isn’t broken. This is a mandatory check before any aircraft is towed.

A shear pin takes that excessive stress that is generated between the tug and a plane by snapping. Once the shear pin snaps, a new pin has to be inserted before the operation can be continued. It is recommended that you look for the reason for the break before you proceed.

There are proper alignment gears available in the market to ensure you are doing it right.

  • Be aware of your surroundings

What a tug operator should be keen on developing is spatial awareness. As a tug operator, you are the one who should step up to the situation and you need nothing less than the eye of the pilot. The pilot will be unable to see what’s behind him and you are the one who guides the whole process.

In case of air traffic interference, you should listen to the instructions from the control unit as well. Make sure you have cut and clear instructions from the traffic control before you act.

You are expected to have a clear vision and line of sight aligned in the direction of motion of the nose of the aircraft.

  • Get a consistent speed

Consistency is the key here. You should develop a steady speed at which you should stick to and develop expertise operating at the same. Working at slow speeds enable you to keep track of your surroundings and the movements of your fellow tug drivers. It will help you eliminate any imminent errors.

  • Operate at appropriate gear

Maintaining proper gear ratio during operation will save the engine from engine knock and stress. Stress on the engine means wear and tear on the engine components. It reduces the efficiency and life of the engine.

  • No sharp turns

Taking sharp turns is going to strain the shear pin. So, keep a note of the turning radius of the aircraft you are operating upon. On excessive turning can cause the tow bar to hit on the tractor causing both external and internal damage.

To Sum Up

On the bottom line, aircraft tugs are a lifesaver in the ground operations of aircraft. The tugs manufactured are not universal and they will not fit all aircraft. 

At power tow, all the ground support machines are ensured to have top-notch quality. We ensure all the equipment you receive is fully operational and is completely assembled with some basic tools.

Power tow offers a complete solution for all the accessories and equipment for your tug to perfectly complement your operations. We offer all assistance from making the right purchase within your budget to after-sales service as well. Find your accessories at Powertow at the most competitive price in the market with zero compromises on the quality.

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