Lektro Inc.'s rise to the role as the official tug of the National Business Aviation Association's Annual Static Display has provided important feedback for design engineering and customer service writes Michelle Garetson
By Michelle Garetson
Maneuvering multi-million dollar aircraft within a few feet of each other to create an efficient and effective static display is not for the timid. It takes patience, eyes in the back of your head, and a trained staff that knows their positions and places. Eric Paulson, President of Lektro Inc. in Warrenton, Oregon and his crew make orchestrating an array of aircraft at the National Business Aviation Association's (NBAA) annual Static Display look easy.
But, it wasn't always this way
For years, the details of the NBAA Static Display fell squarely on the shoulders of the host city's airport authority or FBO. Paulson recalls a view of the static display when flying in to his first NBAA in 1985.
"From my window, I watched all these airplanes being handled with tugs and towbars and saw how difficult it was — these planes were all over the place — people standing all around trying to direct these airplanes and I thought that we could do a much better job."
The next year, the show was in Long Beach, and Paulson directed one of his staff to offer a tug to tow airplanes during the static display.
"We brought two units down, one for inside the show and one for out at the static display," explains Paulson. "Their first reaction was 'No, we've got it handled. We don't even know your tug.'
Precise maneuvering of aircraft to within a few feet of each other is not for the timid. Lektro's team has been "tugging" away at the static display for over a decade.
So we said 'Fine' and left it at that."
However, when the FBO crew got in a bind with moving an airplane, they asked Paulson for help. Later, they asked him to move another, then another.
"Before you knew it," says Paulson, "they were asking if we could bring another tug down because we were positioning in spots that a towbar couldn't."
In 1991, NBAA was in Houston.
"That year, it was at Ellington Field," Paulson remembers, "and they had no provisions for this many aircraft coming in. So, the airport director contacted me and said, 'We understand that you're the tow people. Can you do the towing for us?'"
Paulson adds, "We brought something like 10 units down there and I was towing from 6 a.m. 'til 1a.m. and that is when Lektro really became more involved with the towing."
"Typically there's anywhere between 140 and 170 airplanes at the show," says Paulson. "So you're parking these aircraft in positions that normally you don't see in a typical FBO or corporate environment. We're putting aircraft tail to tail, wingtip to wingtip, nose to nose. But, what we learn at the show and what we've had to learn is all of the aircraft configurations — what nose gears get disconnected, the scissors, torque links, and what to do. So that's been a learning experience for us over the years. But even now, the FBO people and aircraft-trained people teach us how to hook up and unhook airplanes and we'll teach them how to drive our tug."
TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED
Paulson shares some of the unusual things that have happened when working with the static display over the years.
"Scooping" up the aircraft's wheels to reposition the display.
"One thing that comes to mind was when it was in Houston, in 1991. We called it the 'Static Display from Hell.' We're out there, it starts pouring down with rain, and in comes President Bush (George Sr.) as well as Vice President Dole, flying in on separate airplanes. They literally stop the static display — we can't move. Freeze, you're not moving — wherever you were when they arrived, that's where you stayed. This went on for about two hours during the middle of the teardown of the static display — on top of a torrential downpour. So, there we were, everyone wants to leave, we've got planes backed up all over the place, we have the airport shut down and we can't move."
He continues, "In Las Vegas, the static display had such a huge impact on the aircraft flying community in and out of Las Vegas, we were joking that planes were delayed all over the country, all over the world because one Falcon or Gulfstream was taking off with five people in it and a 747 couldn't land because we had the airport tied up."
"We had one airplane, a Gulfstream, in Atlanta that was parked on the asphalt and it sunk, the asphalt just gave way. We took two of the Lektros and hooked up to the gear and we actually extricated it out there and there were cameras and we were the 'tug of the day' to be able to get the aircraft out without having to get tow trucks and cranes in there."
"All in all, the static displays have been 'uneventful.' It's a lot of work," says Paulson, "we have a huge inventory built up prior to the show, but once the static display gets over with, after three days of show, a day to set up and a day to teardown, we go away exhausted — certainly a lot work, a lot of mental strain, but it's been interesting to be involved with the static display."
Certainly, this experience has offered Lektro the opportunity to research and develop new and /or improved features for their products.
"The NBAA static display certainly gives us the opportunity to see all the aircraft that's out there and if we need to fine tune something, it gives us hands-on experience of what the customer faces, explains Paulson. "Being able to have that many aircraft at one place at one time has certainly helped expedite our engineering processes and any kind of modifications we want to make. So it's definitely been a 'win-win' situation for us to be involved with the static display."
Lektro's first NBAA show was in 1985 and they brought a small unit that had a 15,000-lb. capacity.
"It was apparent that the NBAA category of aircraft were far bigger than this 15,000 lbs.," says Paulson. "These were okay for Learjets, King Airs, and Citations; but this was a market that had a lot larger aircraft."
So, Lektro decided to stretch the tug. Their first effort was to handle aircraft from a Hawker on down and the Hawker version became a best seller.
"As we sold more of those," Paulson continues, "customers said, 'That's great, but we need one for a Challenger.' In 1989, we built one to handle those."
Later, with Gulfstream's assistance, Lektro developed a 100,000-lb. sit-down version in 1992 to handle that range. Four years ago, Lektro came out with a model that handles 180,000 lbs. knowing the BBJ was coming out.
"The customer," says Paulson, "has been the driving factor for us."
From Mink Feeder Cart to Aircraft Tug: An Abridged History of Lektro Inc.