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?
Eagle Aircraft Tugs AERO Specialties is the exclusive corporate and FBO distributor of Eagle TT-Series Aircraft Tugs. The only all-wheel-drive tugs in their class, the Eagle TT-Series tugs are...