Selecting the Right Size of Aircraft Tug
Aircraft come in many different sizes, from humble Cessna two-seaters to jumbo jets that weight hundreds of tons. Similarly, aircraft tugs come in several sizes. The one you get should be at least powerful enough to pull your plane up and down the runway. However, you should avoid simply going for the most heavy-duty equipment because it’s often the most expensive. 

Selecting the right size of aircraft tug should not be a spur-of-the-moment decision. It should be based on more than just the weight of the craft itself. In this blog post, we’ll go over the most important factors to consider before making a choice. 

Maximum Take-Off Weight 

You likely already know the weight of your airplane, along with all the other specs. You might think that all you need to do is get an aircraft tug that can tow exactly that much weight around. As sensible as this may sound, the truth is a bit more complicated. 

We’d like for you to join us in imagining a hypothetical scenario. It’s a great day for flying and conditions are ideal. Your aircraft is loaded with any luggage or passengers you may want to take. All that’s left is to tow the plane onto the runway. You connect your fancy new tug and turn it on — but the plane refuses to budge. 

Can you spot the point where the situation went sideways? You may have to tow more than the weight of the aircraft on its own. The additional weight of anything that might be inside the plane should also be considered when looking at an aircraft tug’s pull strength. 

The maximum take-off weight, which determines exactly how heavy the plane can be before it’s no longer able to lift off, is the key factor. As you shop for aircraft tugs, keep this important detail in mind. Otherwise, your equipment and your craft will go nowhere fast. 

Required Minimum Tractor Weight 

Knowing the greatest potential weight of your aircraft is a good start towards choosing the right size of aircraft tug. It must be at least strong enough to pull that weight. On top of that, it must also be at least heavy enough in its own right that the plane won’t tug on it instead. 

As it happens, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) offers its own guidance within the Airport Handling Manual (AHM). This regularly updated document provides people with all the industry standards and regulations related to ground support operations. If you don’t have your own copy, you should get one as soon as possible. 

Chapter 9 is all about “airport handling ground support equipment specifications,” and AHM 955 is titled “Functional Specification for an Aircraft Tractor.” This section divides aircraft into four categories based on their maximum weight. The range goes from Category 1 — “less than 50,000 kg (110,000 lb.)” — to Category 4 — “more than 260,000 kg (573,195 lb.).” 

Likewise, aircraft tugs are themselves divided into four weight classes. Category 1 is “less than 4,000 kg (8,800 lb.),” while Category 4 is “more than 40,000 kg (88,184 lb.).” Each of these categories corresponds to the ones for maximum aircraft weight, so you can mix and match as needed. 

Airport Inclines 

In ancient Greek mythology, Sisyphus was notorious not just for his enjoyment of murdering guests, but also for his great cunning. He was so crafty that he cheated death — twice. The gods so loathed his disrespect and treachery that they gave him the most infamous afterlife punishment in all the world’s folklore. He is doomed to forever roll a boulder up a mountain, only for it to roll back just before the peak. 

The main lesson you should take from this tale, at least for the purposes of this article, is that moving things on slopes is difficult. The force of gravity has a stronger effect on an object when it rests or moves on an inclined surface. However slight that slope may be, the force makes the object heavier. This fact of science applies just as much to aircraft as it does to big rocks. 

Before you make any decisions, you should measure the grades on any areas through which a craft might be tugged. These areas include the landing strips, the hangars, and any paths between those destinations. You must then account for the steepest of these surfaces as part of the minimum weight that your ideal aircraft tug can haul. 

Local Environmental Conditions 

The monitoring of weather phenomena has always been essential to humanity’s efforts to soar with the birds. Pilots and flight support always check for wind speed and direction, nearby precipitation, and other conditions before leaving the ground. These conditions can affect aircraft tugs just as much as aircraft. 

Any piece of equipment you choose for your ground support operations should be designed to withstand any elements they may face. If you work in a region that experiences heavy humidity, your tug should be able to operate just fine despite the moisture in the air. If you live in a latitude that sees snow days, your tug must be capable of functioning in low temperatures. 

The same goes for your local environmental conditions. Airports located in desert areas should seek out tugs that can move in sandy terrain. Likewise, you should avoid aircraft tugs that aren’t waterproof if your area gets a notable amount of rainfall. Your equipment doesn’t need to perform perfectly in all conditions, but it should function well in the conditions that it’ll commonly experience. 

Aircraft tugs represent a significant investment. Whichever one you ultimately select, you’ll want it to last as long as possible before replacement becomes necessary. Keep in mind that the fanciest machine may be a glass cannon depending on your circumstances. Remember, also, that the less impressive but more resistant tool may sometimes be just right for you. 

Aircraft Tugs of Different Sizes at Powertow 

We don’t know any of the factors in your specific situation, so we can’t definitively claim that any one tug is perfect for you. All we can do is provide guidance on selecting the right size to suit your needs. In an effort to help, the Powertow store stocks a wide variety of high-quality aircraft tugs for small and medium-sized aircraft. You can shop for the SuperTow I and other remarkable machines at our site.

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