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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Essential Equipment: Tugs and Dollies 

This month’s entry for the Essential Equipment series focuses on products that are not a part of the airframe, but are nevertheless critical to operations – tugs and dollies.

By Clifton Stroud

There is an impressive variety of tugs and dollies available for every conceivable type of rotary wing operation: wheels, manually controlled dollies, electric and gas-powered tugs, and powered platforms – some with wireless remote control. When maneuvering on a ramp or in and out of a hangar there is equipment that will pull, push, lift and perform the task at hand safely and efficiently. Some units lift from the crossbars, while others lift from the skids. Some pull from the front; others from the rear. The GSE options available today have advanced considerably since the days of ground-handling wheels typically supplied by the helicopter OEM – a cumbersome operation requiring at least two people.

For a one-ship operation, choosing the proper ground support equipment is not going to be as challenging as it would be for an operation that flies multiple types of helicopters – different manufacturers and sizes. But for a one-person operation, being able to move the helicopter without having to manhandle it is key. If a pilot lands at midnight and ground support is not available, he should be able to move it into the hangar by himself.

For smaller helicopters, such as the Robinson R44, using ground-handling wheels attached to the skids is a viable option. But for larger turbine-powered helicopters, wheels are cumbersome and are not going to work as well, leaving the dolly or some kind of powered platform as the best choice.

When deciding what type of tug or dolly to purchase, the objective is to look for the one piece of equipment that will handle the greatest number of helicopters, so that an operator can maximize its financial resources while at the same time choosing equipment that will, ideally, work for all helicopters in the fleet. Multi-functionality of the unit is important. 

With platforms and dollies, there has been a long-standing debate among pilots about the safety of landing a ship directly on a platform. It comes down to a matter of personal preference and experience. Some pilots are quite comfortable with it, others are not. If the landing is not perfect – with both skids centered directly on the platform – the helicopter could conceivably roll over, with disastrous consequences. It’s happened. But a platform offers a turnkey solution, with wireless remote control from the ramp or from the cockpit offered by many manufacturers, so that the platform can be properly positioned into the wind. This is a good, practical solution for a pilot who is landing at an FBO or any facility where there are no ground support personnel available.

Towing from the front of the helicopter or the rear is also a matter of preference. Towing from the rear minimizes potential damage to equipment mounted on the front of the helicopter – FLIR units, lights, cable-strike protection systems and antennas. Towing from the front can give the operator a better perspective on where he is positioning the ship – especially when going in and out of a hangar.

Wireless remote control of a platform, a relatively new feature offered by some manufacturers, offers convenience, flexibility and one-person operation. However, not everyone is comfortable maneuvering a multi-million helicopter around a ramp without some kind of hard-wired connection between the operator and the dolly. Electrical interference, which could cause an interruption in the frequency of the remote control unit and subsequent loss of control of the platform, is the issue. There have been isolated reports of this occurring, but engineers have built in safety mechanisms that are designed to stop the unit from moving in the event of loss of communication.

Rotor & Wing has compiled this list of tug and dolly manufacturers specifically targeted to the helicopter market. It includes a brief description of each company together with technical specs of their flagship or primary model.

 

Chopper Spotter
J.B. Knowles
Blue River, Wis.
608-537-2049
www.chopperspotter.com

The Chopper Spotter is designed for one-person operation. Originally designed for the Bell 47G2, the Model 4 lifts the helicopter from four pick-points on the skids – from the same attachment points as the ground-handling wheels. There is no contact with the cross tubes or belly of the helicopter, and the operator can see the rotor blades. A hand-held control unit regulates speed, direction, and raises and lowers the ship. The electronic controls offer dynamic braking, with “soft start” and “soft stop.” Industrial urethane wheels offer good rolling resistance. Hitches are provided on both ends of the Chopper Spotter for towing.

 

Dragger Manufacturing
Avon, Ohio 
800-972-5563
www.dragger.com

Dragger builds tugs for light helicopters, up to 5,000 lbs. They are designed for simplicity and ease of operation without the need for hydraulics. The NDE-24 is designed for nose-wheel operation and has a 24-volt electric motor. Ball-bearing rollers are employed to help push and pull the nose wheel. The NDG-6 is gas-powered (6 hp) and has clutch speed control with reverse, neutral and forward gears, and is also for nose-wheel operation. Both units enable maneuvering of the helicopter in any direction.

 

HeliDolli
Burbank, Calif.
818-557-0903
www.helidolli.com

HeliDolli produces a simple tow system for the Robinson R22, R44 and R66. The manually operated RobiDolli2 towbar attaches and locks easily to the tow ball on the belly of the Robinson helicopter. A T-handle is used for maneuvering the ship in and out of the hangar. The unit is shipped in three sections for easy assembly. RobiDolli2 is available with a 1-1/4-inch ball hitch or simple military-type loop hook, by special order.

 

Helitowcart
Levis, Canada 
418-561-4512 
www.helitowcart.com/company

Helitowcart started out making small tow carts for Robinson helicopters and now manufactures GSE equipment for a wide variety of helicopters equipped with skids or wheels, all the way up to an S-92. The company offers two categories of equipment: electrically powered towcarts and hydraulically powered carriers for both skid- and wheel-equipped ships.  For the HeliCarrier, attachments hook at the helicopter wheel pins located on the skids. The lifting point is located slightly forward of the helicopter's CG. The helicopter is then lifted from that point in a tail-heavy mode. The front skids rest against counterweight arms. If an operator flies multiple types of helicopters, changing the attachment hook to accommodate a different helicopter is simple and does not require any tools. Moving a HeliCarrier is done by a control panel or a hand grip on an extendable cord. When releasing a control button, the machine automatically slows to a stop to prevent the helicopter from rocking. The units are battery powered and employ pneumatic-traction wheels, which work well on gravel, uneven tarmac and hangar door lips – ideal for operators who may be based at less than ideal locations.

 

Heliwagon
Hayden, Idaho 
877-435-4946 
www.heliwagon.com

Heliwagon was launched in 2009 and builds a lighted, electrically powered platform, available in three different sizes, all operated completely by wireless remote control. They are designed for skid-equipped helicopters up to 8,000 pounds and for one-person operation controlled either on the ground or in the air – meaning that a pilot approaching to land can position the platform on the ramp based on the direction of the wind.  Wheels automatically lock in place when the Heliwagon comes to a stop.  The wireless remote control operates on a 2.4-gigahertz frequency, which minimizes electronic interference. If for some reason there is a break in communication, the Heliwagon is designed to stop immediately. Heliwagon is sold direct and through distributors.

 

Lindbergh Aircraft Tug
Little Falls, Minn.
888-631-5011
www.lindbergh.com/aircraft-tug/lindys-aircraft-tugs.html

Lindbergh’s HelicopterCaddy electric tugs are designed for one-person operation to push, pull and tow helicopters up to 15,000 lbs. The dolly is positioned under the helicopter tow pin for positioning the lift kit. It raises the nose of the helicopter and can make turns up to 180 degrees. Lindbergh’s tugs have forward and reverse speeds up to three mph. The dolly employs a frame with non-marking, foam-filled drive tires, which helps maneuvering on soft, snow-covered surfaces and other challenging terrain.

 

Main Line Helicopter
Fairhope, Ala.
800-456-9450
www.helicopterhandler.com

Main Line Helicopter manufactures four skid-type dollies under the trade name Helicopter Handlers, which are capable of moving any helicopter up to 15,000 pounds. The models are Standard, Heavy Duty, Heavy Duty XL, and Super Handlers and are designed for law enforcement, commercial and military operations. Dollies sit atop a combination of wheel swivel casters in the front and rigid casters in the rear. Assembly takes about an hour using nine bolts.

 

Mototok International
Krefeld, Germany 
49-2151-6508382
www.mototok.com

Mototok makes six models of helicopter lifts, including the Helimo tug, which is designed to move any skidded helicopter. The helicopter may be lifted from the outside or inside of its crosstubing or from under the belly. Helimo can be operated by wireless remote control. 

 

Paravion Technology
Fort Collins, Colo.
970-224-3898
www.paravion.com

Paravion builds Heliporters, designed for one person to move a small to medium-size helicopter. Four models are available ranging in capacity from 1,500 to 12,000 lbs:  the H110, H150, H200 and H250 series. The Heliporter is specifically designed to have the CG of the aircraft over the multiple drive wheels, providing better traction in adverse conditions. Heliporters use either a 12-volt or 24-volt system to drive a hydraulic pump, which in-turn drives either a hydraulic actuator to lift and lower the helicopter, or a hydraulic motor for forward and reverse motion. Heliporter also offers new polymer-coated cross tube saddles – larger and easy to align with the cross tubes. The polymer surface is durable and has an elastic characteristic providing a cushioned surface for the cross tube. The new saddle assemblies are standard equipment on most Heliporters with the saddle configuration. They are also available as replacement saddles for Heliporters already in service. Paravion will build custom units for specific applications. 

 

RobbyTow
Mt. Vernon, Texas 
877-622-9869
www.robbytow.com

The RobbyTow was designed and manufactured specifically for Robinson helicopters by Dan Johnson, an experienced R22 and R44 pilot who was looking for an easier way to constantly move his R44 in and out of the hangar. A recently patented large “beehive” head on the RobbyTow makes attaching the tug to the small tow ball under the front of Robinson helicopters relatively simple. There is no need to bend down to try and position the ball on the tug. A five-position operating handle offers flexibility in positioning the ship in and out of the hangar. The drive motor is one hp with a two-battery system designed to operate on both 12 and 24 volts. If power is lost, a manual backup allows for complete control.  Lights on both the front and back enable nighttime operation.

 

Tiger Tugs
Bend, Ore.
541-585-4041
www.tigertugs.com

Tiger Tugs manufactures four models of electric-powered tugs with polyurethane-coated Heli-Saddles to lift at the cross tubes: the 5.0, 8.0, 8.0B and 12.0. The saddles may be placed lengthwise anywhere along the tug, and positioned inboard or outboard of the tug frame for the best location on the cross tube. They may also be raised and lowered to adjust for height.  Lift is provided by a scissor lift. The model 8.0B is designed specifically for the Bell 427 and can lift up to 8,000 lbs. The model 12.0 can lift up to 12,000 lbs. Wireless remote control is standard on all four models.

 

Towcart
Plymouth, Mich.
734-320-3531
www.towcart.com

Towcart produces two models of lightweight gas-powered towcarts primarily for the R22, R44 and R66: the Robin and the Sparrow. The Robin is designed for use with Robinson ships, and, with an attachment, a Bell Jet Ranger and Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) helicopters. The lift is a manual three-ton hydraulic. The Sparrow has an automatic hydraulic lift. Both models use a single twist-grip control coupled to a hydrostatic drive, so that the operator can position the helicopter at speeds up to four mph.   

 

Related: Mission Equipment

 

Side-by-Side Comparison Chart

Manufacturer
Capacity
   Motor
Lifting System
Wireless Remote Control
Batteries
Battery Charger
 Weight
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chopper Spotter
Model 4
11,000 lbs.
1 hp DC PM
Hydraulic/
Electric
No
4 lead
acid
deep-
cycle
24 v
10 amp standard
1,100 lbs.
Dragger Manufacturing
NDE-24
5,000 lbs.
¼ hp electric gear
n/a
No
2 12v AGM sealed
Optional integral unit
183 lbs.
HeliDolli
RobiDolli2
3,000 lbs.
n/a
n/a
No
n/a
n/a
125 lbs.
Helitowcart
V1040
10,500 lbs.
Uses 4 hp out of 20 total hp
 
48 volts
Hydraulic
No
4 12v
deep-cycle
115/230v / 7.5 amps
2,550 lbs.
Heliwagon
8,000 -15,000 lbs.
Electric
n/a
Yes
Commercial
grade
Integral
4,000 lbs.
Lindbergh Aircraft Tug
10,000 lbs.
Electric
Hydraulic
No
3 36v
85 amp
Integral
650 lbs.
Main Line Helicopter
Super
Handler
15,000 lbs.
n/a
n/a
No
n/a
n/a
4,400 lbs.
Mototok Int’l
Helimow IV
13,228 lbs.
Electric
Hydraulic
Yes
48v
Integral 24/28v
5,952 lbs.
Paravion
Heliporter
H250
12,000 lbs.
Hydraulic
Hydraulic
No
Deep-cycle
24v DC
Dual Integral
1,500 lbs. average depending on configuration
RobbyTow
R22, R44, R66
Direct drive electric, 24v, 1 hp
Electric
No
2 12v
n/a
260 lbs.
Tiger Tugs
Model 12.0
12,000 lbs.
All electric drive
Hydraulic
Yes
24v
Integral
24v
2,000 lbs.
Towcart
Robin
R22, R44, R66
Bell Jet Ranger, Eurocopter (with attachment)
Gas- powered hydrostatic
Briggs & Stratton
205 cc
Manual
3-ton hydraulic
No
n/a
n/a
270 lbs.

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