Universal Electric Airplane Tug

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Client/Sponsors Inceptus
Team Name: Quality Tugs
Duration: Fall 2018 - Spring 2019
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Matthew Swenson
Mentor: Brandon Hilliard
Team Members:
  • Josh Frie
  • Nick Locke
  • Max Johnson
  • Chase Anderson

Inceptus wants an easy to use electric airplane tug that works with a wide variety of tire sizes as well as aircraft with wheel pants.

Problem Definition[edit]

Currently, there are no airplane tugs on the market that can tow multiple aircraft with little input from the user or without significant modification with changes in wheel type. As the average age of the general aviation pilot increases, the need for an easy to use powered airplane tug increases. Also, most flight schools have multiple airplane tugs to pull specific airplanes. The goal is to create a solution for this problem by designing an airplane tug that can be used with a wide variety of tire sizes and types including those with wheel pants. Our solution will be easy to use and require very little input from the user.


Tire Sizes

  • The tug must be able to move aircraft with the following tire sizes:
    • 4.00x4
    • 5.00x6
    • 6.00x6
    • 7.00x6
    • 8.00x6

Strength Requirements

  • The design shall be able to carry a rolling load of 4000 lbs, up a 2% grade and must be able to handle a static load of 500 lbs.

Mounting/ Interface Requirements

  • The tug shall be able to mount and interact with all different types of wheels, including wheels with pants.

Project Learning[edit]

Pallet Jack[edit]

The client wants a system that can be used as a prosthetic on the pallet jack shown below. The pallet jack is electric and can supply power to any electrical systems that might be used on the final design.

QualityTugs PalletJack2 2018.png

Design Ideas[edit]

Design Idea 1[edit]

Design Idea 1
Image Description
QualityTugs Design1 1 2018.png
  • System without pallet jack
  • Gate is closed by operator
  • Linear actuator (not shown) pushes wheel against gate
  • Sliding mechanism uses UHMW plastic to reduce friction and part count
QualityTugs Design1 2 2018.png
  • System on Pallet Jack
QualityTugs Design1 3 2018.png
  • The gate uses roller bearings to “lift” wheel when clamped
  • V shape helps stabilize tires of different width

Design Idea 2[edit]

Design Idea 2
Image Description
QualityTugs Design2 1 2018.png
  • Pictured is the system without using the pallet jack
  • This design is similar to the first except it uses roller bearings on the part that

the linear actuator pushes on

  • It uses square tubing in which the mechanism slides.
QualityTugs Design2 3 2018.png
  • System with a captured wheel
QualityTugs Design2 2 2018.png
  • This is the system on the pallet jack
QualityTugs Design2 4 2018.png
  • This is the part that the linear actuator will be pushing on

Design Idea 3[edit]

Design Idea 3
Image Description
QualityTugs Design3 1 2018.png
QualityTugs Design3 2 2018.png
QualityTugs Design3 3 2018.png
QualityTugs Design3 4 2018.png
  • The series of pictures shows how the gate closes.
  • This design uses a two arm gate to capture the wheel, unlike the other two which

use a single arm gate.

  • It uses a linkage system to close both arms at the same time.
QualityTugs Design3 5 2018.png
  • Stand alone system
QualityTugs Design3 6 2018.png
  • System on the pallet jack

Linear Actuator[edit]

All of the ideas above use a linear actuator to capture an aircraft wheel. The linear actuator must have a stroke length of at least 10 inches. This could run off the power supply of the pallet jack. The pros of using a linear actuator are it is light weight, small in size, and has a long stroke length. The cons of using a linear actuator are they are expensive, needs power, and requires a control system.

QualityTugs LinearActuators 2018.png
QualityTugs LinearActuators2 2018.png

Using 8020[edit]

The client suggested the use of 8020 to build the final design. Also, 8020 is modular and would allow rapid prototyping at a low cost, and there is large amount of scrap 8020 in the University of Idaho machine shop that can be used for free.

QualityTugs 8020Idea 2018.png

Final Design[edit]

We combined the best parts of all three design ideas to make our final design. The design is meant to be a prosthetic attachment for an electric pallet jack that our client has given to us. The biggest problem we encountered was how to close and open the gate with little to no user input. The images below shows how the mechanism captures wheels, how the gate works, and how the clamp works.

QualityTugs FinalDesign 2018.png
QualityTugs FinalDesignJack 2018.png

Overall Design[edit]

Overall Design
Image Description
QualityTugs FinalDesign 1 2018.png
  • The user will push the device up to the wheel they want to capture.
QualityTugs FinalDesign 5 2018.png
  • They will push the device all the way up to the wheel.
QualityTugs FinalDesign 2 2018.png
  • After the user pushes the device all the way up to the wheel, they will activate the

linear actuator which will start to close the gate behind the wheel.

QualityTugs FinalDesign 3 2018.png
  • As the gate closes a latch will come down and lock the gate into position.
QualityTugs FinalDesign 4 2018.png
  • When the gate is latched the wheel will be pushed up onto the gate and be lifted

slightly so the user can move the aircraft around.

Gate Design[edit]

Gate Design
Image Description
QualityTugs FinalDesign Gate 1 2018.png
  • On the right side a torsional spring keeps the gate open.
  • On the left side a torsional spring keeps the latch in the open positon.
QualityTugs FinalDesign Gate 2 2018.png
  • The first paddle, on the right side, shuts the gate and keeps it closed.
QualityTugs FinalDesign Gate 3 2018.png
  • The second paddle, on the left side, pushes the latch to the closing position and

keeps the gate closed.

Clamp Design[edit]

Clamp Design
Image Description
QualityTugs FinalDesign Clamp 1 2018.png
  • The clamp uses 1/2 inch steel rods with a UHMW tube over. It is similar to how

a toilet paper roll works.

  • This allows the wheel to roll on to the clamp which also pushes the wheel onto the gate.
QualityTugs FinalDesign Clamp 2 2018.png
  • The clamp will be attached to the linear actuator.
  • It will be mounted onto the 8020 frame by custom made sliders.


The majority of the parts were laser cut, and we used a slot and key design to simplify the manufacturing process. This design eliminates guess work and allows everything to be aligned properly. Also, we designed it so we only had to machine one part.

QualityTugs SlotKey 1.png

To save money, we made custom linear sliders out of steel square tube. We purchased UHMW sliders and mounted them to the square tubing. We also made mounts for the latch and hinge out of steel square tube.

QualityTugs Slider 1.png
QualityTugs HingeMount.png


In testing we found that it picks up aircraft with tail wheels with ease.

QualityTugs TailWheel.jpg

We tested it with an aircraft with wheel pants and found that it works with no problems. Also, we found that the UHMW rollers work as predicted. When the wheel starts to get pinched the wheel starts to roll onto the rollers. One other thing we found out in testing was, if the aircraft as flat tire our product will not work very well, because it pinches the tire instead of lifting it.

QualityTugs WheelPants 1.png
QualityTugs WheelPants 2.jpg

Team Members[edit]

Josh QualityTugs 2019.jpg
Name Josh Frei

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Grangeville, ID
Graduation Date: Spring 2019
Future Plans: Josh will be going to work for a company in Grnageville.
Email: frei4286@vandals.uidaho.edu

Nick QualityTugs 2019.jpg
Name Nick Locke

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Vancouver, WA
Graduation Date: Spring 2019
Future Plans: Nick will be traveling around in a van.
Email: lock3401@vandals.uidaho.edu

Max QualityTugs 2019.jpg
Name Max Johnson

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Coeur d'Alene, ID
Graduation Date: Spring 2019
Future Plans: Max will be attending grad school in Fall 2019

Chase QualityTugs 2019.jpg
Name Chase Anderson

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Lewisville, TX
Graduation Date: Spring 2019
Future Goals: Chase will be going to work for a company in the Seattle area.
Email: ande9000@vandals.uidaho.edu

Additional Documentation[edit]

Meeting Minutes

File:QualityTugs MeetingMinutes 2018.pdf


File:QualityTugs DesignReview 2018.pdf
File:Quality Tugs Engineering Release Review V2.pdf
File:Quality Tugs EXPO Poster.pdf


File:Quality Tugs Budget 1.pdf


File:Quality Tugs Schedule 2019.pdf