While many automobiles have the capability to easily reverse their direction as needed, aircraft are actually devoid of the reverse gear necessary to conduct such operations. In general, the only time in which an aircraft will need to move backward is when they are pulled from the gate of an airport. Despite some aircraft being capable of moving backward on their own through the use of reverse thrust devices, such methods are not optimal and all reverse movement is typically provided by aircraft tugs.
During a typical flight, an aircraft that needs to reverse its direction will simply make a turn as there are little constrictions present in the atmosphere. While on the ground, however, the tight spaces and busyness of runways can make such maneuvers difficult or unsafe. Aircraft are also regularly built without gears, utilizing engine power to push themselves forward for movement and lift production. If an aircraft wanted to reverse by itself, it may be able to use a device known as a thrust reverse, enabling powerful exhaust air to be ducted forward instead of backward.
Thrust reversers are quite useful for various operations, commonly activated during the landing process for the means of slowing down the aircraft and its airspeed. This reduces the amount of runway that an aircraft needs for conducting a safe landing and lowers the reliance of a pilot on their brakes. Unlike brakes that can wear out over time with continuous use and abuse, thrust reversers simply take advantage of the engine exhaust that is produced by a propeller engine, turboprop, turbofan, or other engine type. Despite being capable of creating a pushback force, the thrust reverser will generate a powerful forward blast which can both create hazardous conditions for any surrounding workers on a runway and any nearby buildings, equipment pieces, etc. Thrust reversers also may cause the ingestion of surrounding objects into the engine, posing more risks.
As a result, tugs serve as the primary method for reversing an aircraft out of a space, and such equipment may range from operated vehicles or tractors to robust automated systems. Generally, however, the aircraft will be fitted with a matching towbar that attaches to the landing gear under the nose, then the other side is connected to the tractor. As the towbar can freely move laterally and vertically when attached to the tractor, any rotation of the towbar will result in an adjustment of the nose facing. To properly and safely use such equipment, all personnel must ensure that connections are secure and equipment is undamaged, and that constant communication between tug operators and aircraft operators is maintained. Lastly, the operator of the tug should take the process slow, making sure to avoid moving too fast or making sharp turns which may present danger or a risk of damage.
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