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.

enter image description here

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    There are many types of tug for many types of aircraft. Are you able to be specific, otherwise the question is a "list". – Simon May 5 '16 at 17:02
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    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. – TomMcW May 5 '16 at 18:16
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    Depends on the surface, and whether the tires are inflated properly. – jamesqf May 5 '16 at 18:32
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    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? – Engineer Toast May 5 '16 at 21:00
  • Moving planes is pretty easy. They are lighter than they look. A single person can drag a twin engine. – Tyler Durden May 6 '16 at 15:16
up vote 21 down vote accepted

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. – FreeMan May 6 '16 at 11:56
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    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. – David Richerby May 6 '16 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 '16 at 13:13
  • Seemed like a reasonable edit, @GdD, especially the "Drawbar Pull" bit. But, it's your answer. – FreeMan May 7 '16 at 14:54

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. – SMS von der Tann May 5 '16 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... – Jay Carr May 6 '16 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!! – FreeMan May 6 '16 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). – David Richerby May 6 '16 at 17:55
  • Directly from the linked article, @DavidRicherby. – FreeMan May 6 '16 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:

enter image description here

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

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    If by "jumbo jet" you mean 747, it's much, much (448 tonnes MTOW) bigger than a C-17 (265 tonnes). – Agent_L May 6 '16 at 8:09
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    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. – Michael Kjörling May 6 '16 at 13:52

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