Q: How did you get involved in the industry?
A: I came into the industry in 1962 as a corporate pilot for a small manufacturer of construction materials handling machines. I was also an apprentice engineer, working my way through Lawrence Technological Institute and then University of Michigan. In 1963 I was tasked to structure a startup division for the small manufacturer, which became EWS Truck Equipment Inc., and I became vice president of engineering and sales. In 1966, F1 racing came to Detroit and brought large, high-volume air freight movement with it. From that single event, air freight expanded quickly and by 1968, had moved from the baggage conveyor into a post office airport building made available by the mail moving to a new airport facility at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW). Quickly and safely transporting up to 60,000 pounds of air freight, over a three-mile distance to the converted post office air freight distribution center, became a problem. Baggage tractors were not designed for high-speed (25 mph) or long-distance cargo movement. After many attempts at improvements by the airlines and baggage tractor manufacturers, they were found to be unreliable.
I formed Eagle Industries in 1968, when the air freight tractor design opportunity was presented. I became acquainted with Ivan Nyhoff and Dave DeBorde from United Airlines (DTW), who outlined their cargo towing requirements. That discussion led me to designing the Eagle Bob Tail High-speed Cargo Tractor. Once designed and tested at DTW, the benefits of the Eagle Bob Tail were realized, and production units were purchased by North Central, Allegheny, Eastern, Pan Am, TWA, Western, Delta, Northwest, Piedmont, British Airways, Alaska, Flying Tigers, National Airlines, Hughes Airwest, PSA, Southwest, Air Canada and American Airlines, as well as cargo contractors Hudson General, Swissport, Menzies, Triangle and Worldwide in the years to come.
Q: What are some of the major trends you have seen developing over the past decade?
A: The Eagle Bob Tail cargo tractor, designed in 1969, was dominant in airline cargo transport until it was replaced in 1995 by larger industrial tractors, which had been modified for high-speed operation. These modified tractors survived longer than the 1960s cargo modified baggage tractors, however, could not match the 20-year durability of the Eagle Bob Tail powertrain. In 2005, airlines and cargo contractors began to return to the Eagle Bob Tail as well as the military, which applied them as flight line tow tractors for all support GSE. The demand for the Eagle Bob Tail high-speed cargo tractor has definitely been renewed.
Another trend has been the reduction of aircraft capacity, with more frequent flights supported by regional contract airlines. Use of the CRJ, initially by Comair in 1995, required an allweather aircraft tractor for push back and maintenance transport. Modified baggage tractors were also tried in this application, however, all weather traction requirements indicated that an “all wheel drive” regional jet aircraft tractor needed to be developed. After discussions with aircraft manufacturers and regional airlines, our team developed the Eagle TT-series All Wheel Drive aircraft tractors. The Eagle TT has become a staple in global regional airline operations.
Currently, there is a trend developing for an all-weather, hybrid electric, zero-emissions bag tractor capable of underground baggage room operation. I have been working with the Eagle team in the design of the RTT-18B fuel cell charged hybrid electric, which will be offered to several airlines to evaluate prior to production.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced over the years?
A: The largest challenge was in the deregulation of the airline industry, and in the 1979 – 1981 government micromanaging of the economy, causing huge interest rates which took GSE sales into a nosedive. This same phenomenon has occurred since 9/11 as the airlines have gone through bankruptcy and downsizing. Designing the Eagle all wheel drive aircraft tractors in the 4000# - 12,000# DBP range, and demonstrating the operational benefits when compared to baggage and cargo tractors in the same capacities, have appealed to the emerging strong, well managed, regional airlines, which has offset the effects since 9/11. The challenge has been to educate administrative management and purchasing of the benefits in value of the aircraft tractor versus baggage/cargo tractors for handling aircraft.
Q: What do you favor most about working in this industry?
A: The infrastructure in fixed and mobile assets required to operate an airline is mind boggling, and to have made many positive contributions to the productivity of the air cargo and regional airline industries, has been very exciting.
Q: What changes would you like to see made in the industry?
A: A recruitment, training and a compensation package which would establish GSE ramp and GSE equipment maintenance employees as professionals. This, along with continuous improvement through education and company training to achieve safe productivity, would help manage the growth of the 21st century airline industry.
Q: What advice would you give those new to the industry?
A: Develop and maintain a curiosity with an eye toward improvement, through team building and review of operations using GSE in the most productive and efficient manner.
Q: Who you admire?
A: The airline and cargo contract people I mentioned earlier who were not only customers, but pioneers in the development of air cargo and regional jet operations, whom I worked with to get it right.
Q: What in the industry keeps you up at night?
A: Not much, as long as I stay connected with the airline operations administrators, GSE engineering staff and GSE maintenance staff to maintain awareness of what’s needed and when.
Q: Is their one accomplishment you are especially proud of?
A: Having been allowed to be included as a technical resource and trusted adviser by hundreds of airlines and service company personnel, who have honored me with their business
Q: If not in GSE, where would you be?
A: If I were younger, I probably would have applied for a military aviation or NASA position.