Crunched by the Tug

Sad stories like this one don’t turn up very often; fortunately for the rest of us, they leave lessons behind.

The day started out sunny and bright, and our pilot flew his Beech A-36 Bonanza around for a few hours. The plane had needed some exercise, and he was more than happy to oblige. It felt good to get into the air, and the plane handled like a dream as he frolicked around the area.

With the fuel running low and his destination in sight, our pilot set up for a picture perfect landing. The gear and flaps were set properly, and he touched down the plane with a mere chirp of the tires on the runway. After a smooth rollout, he taxied with a smile to the ramp where he intended to fuel the plane, and to get it ready to put away.

With the plane fueled, the local FBO brought over the tug, and the plane was carefully towed to its hangar. The door was opened and ready, and the tug carefully maneuvered the plane so that its tail was facing into the hangar. The operator had a smooth touch, and he deftly edged the plane into its parking space inside the hangar, where it stopped against the chocks. Everything sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The plane is put away, and all that is left to do is disconnect the tug and close the door.

The tug operator left the tug in gear as he hopped off to disconnect the tow bar from the nose gear. Unfortunately, he left the tug in the LOW or GRANNY GEAR. With the engine at idle, the tug started to push the plane back as the operator hopped off. Before he could react and stop it, in a matter of seconds the tug pushed the plane over the chocks, and drove it straight into the back wall of the hangar.

The rudder and elevators on the A-36 made intimate acquaintance with the back wall of the hangar. The metal bent further until the ailerons were smashed into the back “T” walls of the “T” type hangar. But we’re not finished yet. At that point, the nose gear pin sheared, but because the tug was pushing the plane into the hangar, the yoke of the tow bar slipped around the base of the nose gear, AND KEPT PUSHING!

The nose gear collapsed from the force of the tug as it pushed the plane back against the hangar walls.

The prop and nose of the plane came down on the nose gear and tow bar, causing severe damage to the nose of the plane and the nose gear assembly.

Off in the distance the cash register at the local FBO, could be heard … as they began to figure out the damages to the aircraft. All told, the damages came to over $30,000 to repair. The greatest indignity of the matter was that it was a PARKING ACCIDENT!

BE WARY OF TUGS, ESPECIALLY THE BIG ONES. The bigger tugs can move planes that weigh ten thousand pounds. In the hands of a skilled operator, they can move planes big and small safely, but they are extremely intolerant of any lapses in attention or judgment on the part of the operator.

HOW BIG IS YOUR TUG? Do you have a small unit that can move your plane, or do you use your truck? Do you know how to make sure your tug is in neutral, or are you hoping that it won’t move in the wrong direction when you don’t want it to?


  • If you get off the tug, make sure the brake is on. Having the motor at idle is not a guarantee that the tug won’t move.
  • Use the right tug for the job. While a ten thousand pound capacity tug can move your plane with ease, it can also do extreme damage to the plane if something goes wrong.
  • Keep your eyes on your work. Moving an airplane with a tug is touchy and difficult. You have to keep your head in the game, and avoid any distractions.
  • Never, ever, ever step off a tug while it is in gear and near your airplane. Set the brake, and pull the plane to the tug — don’t let the tug creep to the airplane.

BOTTOM LINE: In the end, you’ll likely pay for it whether it’s your fault or not. However, whether or not your plane gets damaged when you put it away is up to you. By using the right tool for the job — plus a good measure of common sense — you can avoid doing a nose job on your airplane. In doing so, you can help to assure that the plane will be there for you to fly when you want it… instead of being in the shop for major repairs when you can least afford it.