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Shop Talk

April 2019 Issue

Plane and Simple

Trailering an aircraft.

Thousands of miles have been logged across the country with this snowmobile trailer. All three aircraft wheels are secured to the deck, and there’s plenty of room for all kinds of extras.

A number of aircraft kit builders work on their projects in the comfort of their homes, the garage being a popular room of choice. While a major portion of the build can be completed there, one cannot avoid the day when the wings need to be attached and our limited space at home becomes a problem.

There is going to be a transportation challenge getting the completed fuselage to the local airport for final assembly. Whether that airport is near or far, moving an airplane via roadways requires some planning so that it can arrive safely—especially after all of the work we have accomplished this far.

There are trailers designed for all kinds of items: automobiles, boats, horses, lawn and farm equipment, etc. There are enclosed trailers to choose from as well as the open-air variety. Finding a trailer designed for an airplane fuselage is not so easy. While the fuselage could be transported directly on its main gear—towing without a trailer—this could prove a risky procedure. When selecting a trailer, the trailer deck must accommodate the width of the main gear tires. This dimension of our aircraft can limit using many popular utility trailer models.

There is one type of trailer that I have found wonderfully suited for transporting small homebuilt aircraft of the tricycle gear variety (sorry, taildraggers). Here are the requirements that help lead us to this choice:

  • Light weight so it can be easily towed by even a small automobile.
  • Low to the ground to assist in easy loading and unloading.
  • Trailer suspension should be designed to match the weight of the fuselage (not an automobile or tractor) so it rides as smoothly as possible.
  • Widest trailer deck allowed by law to accommodate most any aircraft main gear width.
  • Low cost and readily available so builders can borrow or buy and resell. Trailers can be very expensive, and this is going to be a one-time use.

The trailer that fits this bill is the snowmobile trailer. Designed to typically carry two snowmobiles, its small-diameter wheels keep the deck close to the ground and also eliminate any wheel well obstructions on that deck. Loading your aircraft, like loading a snowmobile, is a matter of using small ramps—or using a deck tilting mechanism that is built into some models. This feature allows loading without the use of ramps.

The lightweight design of this snowmobile trailer makes maneuvering easy, even for one person.

Snowmobiles are common in areas of the country where snow is plentiful. They are frequently bought and sold on the likes of Craigslist and similar buy-sell forums. In areas where there is no snowfall, they are less plentiful but still available due to their all-around capabilities. Borrowing one is the best way to go, if possible.

No trailer will be perfectly suited for aircraft transportation, and the snowmobile trailer is no exception. Since the length of the trailer may only be 12 feet, expect your fuselage tail to hang way back beyond the trailer end. However, this is not a deal killer as I have traveled thousands of miles across the country with a red flag hanging off the fuselage end (red light at night). You do want to keep in mind that there is a substantial arcing motion that is made at the fuselage aft end when turning corners. Another positive feature is that there is plenty of room under and alongside the fuselage for carrying other components of your build. Sometimes it is easier just to make a second trip for the wings. My experience is that for the typical tricycle-gear homebuilt project, the snowmobile trailer is the simplest, lightest, and best suited trailer to get your project across town or across the country.

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