# How much force is needed to tow an airliner?

Airliners are often (almost always actually) pushed back by a tug or a tractor to leave the gate. The tug can also tow an aircraft that cannot taxi by itself.

How much force is required to pull or push a large airliner on the ground? In other words, what is the horsepower of these tugs?

EDIT: By large airliner, I mean Boeing 747 / 777 / A380 type, the ones which ATC append "Heavy" (or "Super") to their call sign.

• There are many types of tug for many types of aircraft. Are you able to be specific, otherwise the question is a "list". May 5, 2016 at 17:02
• Every year at the airshow my company brings an A300 and they tie a rope to the front gear and 15 of us pull it, tug-of-war style. May 5, 2016 at 18:16
• Depends on the surface, and whether the tires are inflated properly. May 5, 2016 at 18:32
• You asked for force and horsepower, which are different thing. Force should just be $F=\mu N$. HP will be based on how quickly you want to accelerate. Right? May 5, 2016 at 21:00
• Moving planes is pretty easy. They are lighter than they look. A single person can drag a twin engine. May 6, 2016 at 15:16

Tugs do not need that much horsepower, even the biggest tugs only have around 400bhp. What they do need is lots of torque for push/pull power, lots of weight to give it plenty of inertia, and big grippy tires to transfer the power to the surface.

The T80 in this link is pretty typical, 50-70 tons, 408bhp, and 1500 pound feet of torque. That's more than triple the torque of a hefty pickup.

• As Carroll Shelby once said, "Horsepower determines how fast you hit the wall, torque determines how far you move it." Think of the plane as a wall that the tug doesn't need to move quickly. May 6, 2016 at 11:56
• Why does a tug need inertia? Surely the weight is actually to give as much traction as possible to avoid the tug's wheels slipping when the power id applied. May 6, 2016 at 17:53
• It's weight helps to give an even pull, if a tire loses grip it's momentum will help keep the assembly rolling in the same direction.
– GdD
May 7, 2016 at 13:13
• Seemed like a reasonable edit, @GdD, especially the "Drawbar Pull" bit. But, it's your answer. May 7, 2016 at 14:54
• Thought for a minute you meant the T80 tank! The tug is actually heavier, is it full of concrete? Jun 21, 2021 at 0:32

It only takes 7030 Kg, 309 BHP, and 553 lb/ft of torque. Well, it does if your tug is a VW Toureg.

Very pixeley image sourced from link above
This was a stunt done by the TV Show Fifth Gear and Autocar magazine. Realistically it doesn't take much, but I wouldn't count on the Toureg for day-to-day movements at JFK, ORD or ATL.

No, that's not a standard 747-200, it was modified for the James Bond movie Casino Royale.

• My brother still will not believe that they used a modified 747 for that movie. I noticed it immediately when it came out. May 5, 2016 at 19:55
• As a random aside, that craft is featured rather heavily in the new/old Top Gear. They actually did a "drag race" with it once, were Jeremy was tugging it along in a Tractor. He got last place, it's a huge thing to be pulling... May 6, 2016 at 14:56
• @JayCarr, really? Jezza actually lost some sort of Top Gear Challenge? I'm going to have to go re-watch them all to find that one!! May 6, 2016 at 14:59
• I don't know where you got your stats from but, according to Volkswagen a VW Tuareg has a maximum gross weight of 2910kg and puts out at most 406ft-lb of torque (and even that's cheating by taking the maximum weight of one model and the maximum torque of a different one). May 6, 2016 at 17:55
• Directly from the linked article, @DavidRicherby. May 6, 2016 at 18:29

Actually Boeing (publicly) publishes this data for all of its aircraft in the Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning Manuals. Here is the chart for the 747-8:

The "Total Traction Wheel Load" is the required weight of the tug on its drive wheels, while the "Drawbar Pull" is the force on the actual towbar/NLG.

Actually, friction of the wheels, and the slope of the concrete is all you need. "Strongmen" pulling buses only have to pull 300 pounds, once static friction is broken. See explanation HERE

416,299 pound planes (188.83 tons) like the CC-177 Globemaster III cargo plane can be pulled by It is MUCH BIGGER than a jumbo jet. Youtube is full of videos of people pulling planes with teeth or "other" body parts.

110 BHP is the rating that the "AIRCRAFT TOWING TRACTOR – MODEL BA10G40" claims. It hauls 737's at up to 25 kmph. See full stats HERE

• If by "jumbo jet" you mean 747, it's much, much (448 tonnes MTOW) bigger than a C-17 (265 tonnes). May 6, 2016 at 8:09
• Particularly the second paragraph looks like it needs some editing, but I don't know what was meant to go in there. Please review it and edit appropriately.
– user
May 6, 2016 at 13:52