The History Of Ground Support Equipment

Ground Support Worldwide turns 20 years old with this issue. With one birthday in mind, we decided to take a look at many more GSE birthdays and celebrate some of the names behind the brand-names.


  • Hobart Brothers sets up Hobart Ground Power after American Airlines asks the company to design a generator to start larger aircraft engines.
  • Air-A-Plane begins manufacturing PCA units.
  • Douglas Equipment opens.
  • Davis Taylor builds an electric cart for his own use in his poultry supply business. After numerous requests for the vehicle, he starts the Taylor Shop. Fred Dunn joins Davis Taylor’s business in 1951, and several years later the company changes its name to Taylor-Dunn Manufacturing Co.
  • Garsite, LLC starts manufacturing aircraft refuelers, hydrant dispensers, fuel delivery trucks, above-ground fuel storage tanks, aviation fueling systems and vacuum pumper trucks.
  • Tracma begins making tractors designed for aircraft towing to replace commonly used farm tractors. The name of the company becomes synonymous with “tractor” in French-speaking countries in the same way “tug” will be used in the United States.
  • ACE starts business making test equipment for the aviation industry, but also expands into GSE.
  • An airport manager and a friend of Axel Ackerman, who started out fixing automotive electrical systems in 1924, asks Axel to make a small 28V DC rectifier for starting small aircraft. The AXA Power unit works trouble-free for another three decades.
  • Joe Cochrane creates Cochrane Airport Systems to build the first belt loaders specifically for the aviation industry - a natural since he was already making similar lettuce-packing loaders. The company eventually expands into cargo loaders and, after an ownership change, becomes known as Lantis Corp.
  • L.W. (Lu) Taylor and Harold Higbee start Enfab Inc. Innovative engineering leads to the creation of a proprietary fiberglass filter coalescer. The company is eventually renamed Velcon Filters.
  • Albret gets its start making maintenance platforms and aircraft docking systems. Later, the company adds passenger stairs.
  • Jim Kaplan starts Harlan Corp. to rent and rebuild lift trucks. Kaplan realizes that the parts most common to fail are not readily available so he redesigns the parts and develops sources for new designs. Ten years later, one of his customers in Venezuela asks Kaplan to make him a tow tractor. Harlan buys a Model E Clark lift and re-engineers it. Eventually, the company grows from building 10 tractors a month to 90.
  • Stewart & Stevenson enters the GSE business with GM Detroit Diesel.
  • Glen Cummins Sr. goes to work as the general manager of Berglund Motor Co.’s new division, Engine Distributors Inc., to distribute Ford Motor Co.’s industrial gasoline engines. Glen rises through the ranks and eventually becomes vice president as EDI reps more engine lines. In 1983, he buys the company. Today, his son and two grandsons own and operate EDI.

Undoubtedly, the 1950s close on a high note for GSE. The first passenger boarding bridges in the United States are installed at San Francisco International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in 1959.

1960 – SCHOPF introduces its first aircraft tow tractor.

Engineers at FMC Corporation start building some of the first deicer vehicles that used aerial devices to spray aircraft. John Bean’s spray pump serves as the foundation. Its early deicers could deice a plane in 15 minutes. FMC also develops a cargo handling system for the new containerized generation of jet aircraft. The self-propelled Flite-Line Loader allows one person to unload a plane’s full cargo of containerized baggage in just 15 minutes.

S.L. Parker opens a metal fabricating business called Parker Industries making garbage containers under the trade name “Par-Kan.”

Clyde W. Olson starts Clyde Machines Inc. and begins making hydraulic motors for tampers used by utility companies.

Unitron starts supplying the defense-aerospace, aviation and industrial markets with GPUs, PCAs and other power systems.

1962 – Richard Stern and Yves Helleboid form Devtec to distribute and service GSE outside of the United States. Much later, Devtec becomes TLD Asia and TLD America.

1963 – U.S. Airmotive GSE begins providing a full line of GSE parts and supplies for the industry.

1966 – Bud Bushnell buys the manufacturing rights to a material lift operated with compressed air. Customers are impressed with the “magic in the bottle” and Genie Industries gets its name.

SAS asks the Vestergaard Co. to modify some existing aircraft deicers. As a result, Vestergaard wins an order for new aircraft deicers. The “Beanstalk,” as it’s informally called, consists of a vertical, telescopic tower with a platform on top from which the operator applied fluid with a spray gun.

Harold G. Hall opens Hall Industries as a contract screw machine shop.

1967 – Lektro, which pioneered the electric golf cart, produces a small electric aircraft tug for a Oregon FBO using a chassis originally built for an eclectic cart for area mink ranchers.

1968 – Robert Watkins starts General Transervice Inc., an airport refueler maintenance company at PHL. GTI later develops the Rampmaster, a modular design that simplifies maintenance by separating the truck from the fuel tank.

1969 – Eagle Tugs introduces its bobtail cargo tractor, a model still in production.

John L. Grove forms a partnership with two friends and buys a small metal fabrication business in McConnellsburg, PA. The company sells its first JLG lift.

1970 – Remember Earl Estes and Dixie Manufacturing, which started back in the 1900s catering to the horse and buggy market? Robert Smith buys the company, now known as Estex, from the founder’s widow. Smith grew up near ATL and figures the company’s textile products could expand into the aviation industry. Products include baggage cart side curtains and covers. Delta Air Lines becomes its first customer and remains a major account.

The Dana Corp.’s flight department starts Danair. It first products were towbars for corporate jets. Danair is sold in 1980 and becomes Tronair.

1972 – ITW Military GSE begins specializing in military GSE.

Paul MacCready, an avid aviator who set soaring records in his glider in the 1940s, starts AeroVironment Inc. The company becomes a leader in unmanned aircraft and eventually well-known for electric GSE charging stations.

MacCready also makes the history books again in 1977 when the Gossamer Condor, becomes the first aircraft powered solely by the pilot’s muscles. Later, the Gossamer Albatross flies across the English Channel.

SAGE Parts opens to distribute parts and service throughout the world for the GSE industry.

Trilectron begins manufacturing GSE.

Beta Fluid Systems starts producing military refueling equipment and then expands in the commercial market. Liquip International, which has 40 years of international refueling expertise, acquires Beta in 2006.

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