In addition to taking off and landing on the runway, aircraft must be able to maneuver on land for a number of reasons. Whether moving out of the way of oncoming traffic or pulling up to a certain position, aircraft must be able to safely move from one place to another. While using the engines as a power source is an obvious choice, this option is not always feasible. As such, aircraft may choose from a few options when traveling on the ground, those of which we will cover in detail in the following blog.
What is taxiing?
When an aircraft uses its engines to move on the runway, it is known in the field as taxiing. This process often occurs after external forces have been used to position the aircraft in a desired place along the runway. Given the extreme power generated by aircraft engines, it would be dangerous and wasteful for aircraft to use their engine power to steer around the runway the way a car or another vehicle might. Therefore, external forces are used to push and pull aircraft in certain situations.
How do aircraft move on the ground without their engines?
Without the engines running, a plane may be towed forward or pushed backward, and both of these motions are carried out with manually operated vehicles designed to move aircraft. Pushback is the process by which aircraft are pushed backward into an ideal position on the runway prior to takeoff, while towing is the process by which the aircraft is led forward, as if on a leash. Towing is typically used when turning the engines on would be disruptive to the surrounding area. The noise and power of the engines can harm workers or nearby structures, so utility vehicle tugs are frequently employed on the runway.
What are utility vehicle tugs?
Tugs are low-profile utility vehicles specifically designed to perform push-back or towing operations. There are two types of tug vehicles: conventional and towbarless. As indicated by their names, the defining factor between the two is the absence or presence of a tow-bar. Conventional tugs employ the use of a tow-bar, that of which acts as a giant lever and attaches to the nose wheel of the aircraft; however, towbarless configurations are often preferred for their simplicity and greater control. Towbarless tugs scoop the aircraft up from underneath the nose by means of a hydraulic lifting system, allowing for greater precision.
When are tugs used to move aircraft on the ground?
During pushback, the ground crew disconnects the aircraft’s nose wheel steering mechanism, allowing the tug to take control mechanically. The pilot may then release the break and the utility vehicle will have full control over the aircraft’s movement. Following pushback, taxiing may occur when the aircraft is positioned at a safe distance on the runway. Pilots may slowly power on their engines and begin takeoff operations. For lighter aircraft, towbars may be operated by a single person without the assistance of a vehicle, but commercial aircraft typically rely on tugs.
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