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12th FTW demos remotely controlled aircraft towing systems

The RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather.

Mr. Jaime Villarreal, 12th Maintenance Squadron crew chief, sits inside a T-38 aircraft during a practice transport Aug. 27, 2020, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The T-38 is being pulled by a remotely controlled aircraft towing system designed to make transporting aircraft more cost efficient. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Tyler McQuiston)

The RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather.

Members from the 12th Maintenance Group, demo a remotely controlled aircraft towing system August 27, 2020 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Faske)

The RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather.

Jon Cutshall, Southwest Research Institute engineer, downloads stress test data from a T-38 after using a remotely controlled aircraft towing system August 27, 2020 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. The RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Faske)

The RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather.

A T-38 is towed into a hangar using a remotely controlled aircraft towing system August 27, 2020 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. RCATS will reduce manpower requirements, allow close quarter towing and quicker aircraft stowing ahead of inclement weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Faske)

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph --

For as long as the Air Force has been flying, Airmen have been towing aircraft in and out of hangars. At the most rudimentary level and in early years, aircraft were pushed by hand, that later led to the use of a tug and tow-bar system. The tug and tow-bar combination are the go-to for moving aircraft onto flightlines and into hangars.

With the advancement of robotic technology, private industry has created a new generation of tug and tow bar system, remotely controlled aircraft towing systems. In the future RCATS could be used in hangars throughout the Air Force. 

“At 19th Air Force, our role is to be an advocate between the maintainers on the ground and the engineers,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Applegate, 19th Air Force Logistics Maintenance Systems functional manager. “We fully support any system that is more efficient and safe for our maintainers. The intent is to find a common towing solution for the T-38, T-6 and T-1 aircraft.”

“The idea behind the RCATS is flexibility, maintenance squadrons tasked with moving aircraft can do the job with less personnel,” Robert West, 12th Maintenance Group director, said. “Traditionally, a crew of six maintainers is needed to tow one aircraft and with the new RCATS, this task can be accomplished with five, saving both manpower and additional fuel costs.  Another added benefit is the ability to pack a hangar quickly when inclement weather is forecasted.”

 “The RCATS allow the 12th MXG the ability to maneuver aircraft into hangars more efficiently and into tighter spaces,” said Michael Mildenberg 12th MXG superintendent quality assurance. “Having several RCATS located in hangars will free up time, currently we have to wait for the legacy gas-powered tow vehicle and tow bar, these items are in high demand during flying hours when they are needed on the flightline and taxiways for in-flight emergencies”

Remotely Controlled Aircraft Towing System - Video

Another factor being evaluated is stress to each aircraft’s front landing gear. The new RCATS will give maintainers the ability to maneuver aircraft into hangars more efficiently. John Cutshall, Southwest Research Institute staff engineer, conducted the stress test on the RCATS.

“We’ve conducted two RCATS evaluations. We use instrumentation on the nose landing gear and evaluate the data generated from that instrumentation to compare it with normal tow operations for T-38 aircraft.”

The 12th MXG is currently demoing several different RCATS to determine towing requirements for the flying mission at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. 

“RCATS is a way to look at an innovative way to accomplish the mission by utilizing cutting edge technologies without compromising safety,” said Michael Mildenberg, 12th MXG superintendent of quality assurance.  “Empowering innovative champions to experiment with new methods to improve mission effectiveness and operational efficiency is key to the Air Force’s competitive edge.”