The Differences (And Commonalities) Between GSE Military Models and Civilian Aircraft GSE

Airplace on the Tarmac Surrounded by GSE

Military aircraft ground support equipment (GSE) is used in completely different environments and conditions than civilian aircraft GSE. We're taking a look at the core differences between military aircraft GSE and civilian GSE. While you'll notice there are quite a few things that set these two apart, there are just as many features and standards that they share.

So, what is the real difference between civilian and military aircraft ground support equipment? Unfortunately, this is a broad question that we can't really get into the specifics on. There are simply too many different types of military aircraft, each with its own specialized requirements. While some military aircraft can use direct derivatives of civilian aircraft ground support equipment, others need a completely customized military tow truck. It all depends on the type of aircraft. The following is a high-level look at civilian GSE vs. military GSE to help you find the right airplane tug for your facility.

Civilian Aircraft GSE

Civilian aircraft ground support equipment is a huge investment for airports, airlines and repair facilities. Having efficient, reliable and cost-effective GSE in place is key to seamlessly supporting ground operations. So, facilities have to consider a few things to ensure they're getting the most value out of their aviation GSE.

Safety Features

Civilian aviation GSE has to utilize adequate safety features to keep passengers and employees protected at all times. While this starts with simple-to-use equipment, there are quite a few specific safety features required, as well. Prior to purchasing any civilian aircraft GSE, ensure that it's approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies. Being proactive is more cost-effective in the long run than being reactive when an accident occurs.

Reliable Durability

Civilian aviation GSE should be built to last. This means technicians can rely on each piece of ground support equipment to work the way it's supposed to in a variety of conditions for a long period of time (with the proper preventive maintenance plans in place.)


Each piece of specialized civilian aircraft ground support equipment is made for a specific purpose. The right GSE for any operation will depend on the type of aircraft being towed and the conditions it'll need to operate in. Never attempt to repurpose a piece of GSE for a task that it wasn't designed for.

Cosmetic Customization

Branding and aesthetics are important for everything from commercial airliners to repair facilities. Commercial aircraft GSE can be customized with different colors to better match an airplane's color scheme or a company's branding.

Parts Availability

Civilian or commercial aircraft GSE manufacturers should have replacement parts available and at-the-ready when needed. This will help facilities get the most out of their ground support equipment and keep it safe and operating properly.

Technical Support

Commercial aircraft GSE should have quality technical support if and when it's needed. This will be crucial when operational questions arise or complex maintenance issues spring up. In addition to the ground support equipment itself, consider using fleet telematics software to monitor and manage ground support operations. This software can offer unparalleled insights into a GSE fleet, including supply chain management, equipment health and cost containment.

Military Aircraft GSE

As we've previously mentioned, some military aircraft don't require special equipment, so GSE can be acquired through civilian channels. But more tactical aircraft, like bombers, fighter jets and attacker crafts have many different requirements — meaning they need military aircraft ground support equipment that can keep up. While GSE military models include all of the features that civilian versions do, there are a few additional characteristics that are required.

Increased Durability

While most GSE is durable, military aircraft ground support equipment has to be sturdier, heavier and more rugged than its civilian counterparts. The military operates in more extreme and dangerous situations than average commercial or regional aircraft. This can include blazing heat, freezing cold, driving rain, powerful wind, treacherous ice, dangerous snow and damaging saltwater. Thus, the military requires more durability and reliability out of its ground support equipment. It should be fully operational at all times and can't be the least bit temperamental. From the Navy to the Marine Corps, all military GSE should be made with standardized parts to allow for quick and accurate repairs.

Simple Operations

GSE military models need to have simple operating instructions. Aircraft technicians shouldn't have to waste time with a difficult, overly complicated system. They need GSE that just works the way it's supposed to in all climates and conditions. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Enhanced Maneuverability

Towing tactical aircraft is nothing like towing comparably sized civilian aircraft. Civilian aviation GSE simply won't fit or work properly when used to transport tactical aircraft. The weight and dimensions are completely different, as military aircraft have to carry numerous items civilian airplanes don't.

Because of these size differences, and the fact that GSE military models have to operate in extreme conditions and park in tight spaces, maneuverability needs to be top-of-the-line. GSE should have increased agility to be able to make tight turns without losing any traction. And all military tugs need to include drivetrains with limited-slip differentials.

Lightweight, Versatile Construction

Military ground support equipment often needs to be transported by air at a moment's notice. So, it's important for GSE to be as light as possible. And because operations often occur abroad, it's critical to minimize the amount of equipment that needs to be transported. Some military tugs can tow multiple types of aircraft, from a helicopter to a fighter jet. This provides maximum value and efficiency.

Military ground support equipment operations are simply a different beast than those of civilian aircraft. The tempo is faster, the environment is harsher and the stakes are higher. But at the end of the day, all GSE should be safe, reliable, dependable, simple to use and quick to learn.

The Best Facility Starts with the Best GSE. Shop Eagle Tugs Today!

At Eagle Tugs, we are proud to provide corporate, regional and military customers with robust, reliable products and exceptional customer service. Our goal is to create high-quality aircraft GSE and asset management solutions to safely, reliably and efficiently maintain and manage aircraft fleets — every day. Contact one of our Eagle Tugs representatives today about your aircraft tug needs and let us help you find the perfect customized solution.

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