Airline tow vehicle hooked to a Boeing 747.

Traffic was backed up a little as we were leaving Tokyo the other day which meant we had to to wait in line on the parallel for our turn to take off. We happened to stop just abeam a parking apron where a maintenance crew was readying a 747 for tow. They were using one of the big tugs that can lift the nosewheel off the ground and capture it in a cradle. This makes it very easy to maneuver the aircraft from one position to another and gives a very smooth ride if the plane is full of passengers. The tug also has auxilliary electrical power capability. You can see the yellow power cord coming from the tug, looping around the steering cylinders at the rear of the nosewheel strut and connecting to the plane. It’s not obvious what the other line is that is coming out of the nosewheel well, but it is probably the cloth streamer attached to the end of the nosewheel pin. The pin is inserted into a hole in the nosewheel retraction mechanism to prevent the gear from retracting. I have seen these tugs moving 747s around at what seemed like 30 knots. It was probably not that fast, but it was definitely faster than a brisk walk. For those of you who may be curious, the ANA on the side of the tug stands for All Nippon Airways. If you have really good eyes, you can see the letters NCA on the underside of the aircraft nose. That’s a Nippon Cargo Airlines 747-400 freighter, not the private plane of the National Cheerleaders Association. (Amazing the things you find with a Google search.)

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