Aviation Ground Support Equipment: A Brief History

Here at GSE Solutions, we are fascinated by the Aviation industries’ rich and intriguing past which stretches back to the early 18th century. A series of technological breakthroughs has since helped shape the way people manoeuvre aircraft and ground support equipment today. Here is a detailed guide of prominent dates throughout the last 300-years which highlights important historical events.

The earliest development of ground support equipment dates back to 1705. This was the year in which the Goldhofer family started a forge in Armendigan, Germany. The forge evolved over time and created the very first innovation centre for designing and creating brand new mechanical concepts.

In 1923, Forklift manufacturer Clark Material Handling built the Duat Tow Tractor. This design was tasked with pulling freight, lumber and industrial material. The model is widely considered to be the inspiration for many of the designs we see operating in the present day.

World War II had an incredibly significant impact on the Aviation industry. At the beginning of the conflict in 1939, the US Army had just under 4,000 aircrafts within their fleet, whereas the latter stages saw them reach almost 400,000. The biggest impact on production came in 1944, when 100,000 aircrafts were manufactured.

This created the very first marketing opportunity for ground support equipment and provided a chance for well-known manufacturers to get their ideas and concepts into circulation.

Some of the big names to establish themselves during this period were Stewart & Stevenson, who constructed hundreds of tractors and ordnance loaders for the US army, and the Northwestern Motor Company, who introduced their very first tow tractor design.

The Hobart Brothers were another company who oversaw a heavy production line throughout these years, culminating in a vast number of generators and welders being built to support the war efforts by Allied forces.

This particular organization would then play a huge part in the first few years after the conclusion of the war. This was when commercial Aviation started to take a stronghold around the world, which meant specialized equipment needed to be manufactured to keep up with demands.

The Hobart Brothers decided the set up Hobart Ground Power, to help American Airlines design generators that were powerful enough to start up large scale aircraft.

Garsite LLC also designed and distributed a wide range of specialist Aviation equipment. They manufactured: hydrant dispensers, fuel delivery trucks, above-ground fuel storage tanks, Aviation storage systems and vacuum pumper trucks.

Other notable events that took place within the early stages of peace time were Stewart & Stevenson entering the GSE business alongside GM Detroit Petrol, British company Textron GSE being founded and Tracma starting their line of tractors which were specifically designed for towing aircraft.

In 1960, engineers working at FMC Corporation started to design and construct some of the very first deicer vehicles. Some of the earliest models were able to fully deice aeroplanes in just 10-minutes.

The company also helped to develop a brand new cargo handling system for the new generation of aircraft. Their concept, known as the Flite-Line Loader, allowed people to unload the entirety of a plane’s cargo with ease.

This was also the year in which Unitron started to supply the defense-aerospace, aviation and industrial markets with GPU’s, PCA’s and other power systems.

In 1969, Eagle tugs introduced the world to the Cargo Bobtail Tow Tractor. This design is still the premier towing tractor used today, being sold across the world at multiple Aviation marketplaces. These robust and low-profile models have encapsulated the long-term aims set out by visionaries in the very early stages of the aviation industry.

This article was written by Aviation enthusiast David Newman. David is the Director of Aviation marketing agency Ad Lab and works on behalf of Aviation specialists, GSE Solutions. 

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