Aircraft Tie Downs: Pilots and Aircraft Owners’ Guide to the Different Types

Aircraft tie downs are an essential piece of equipment for any pilot or aircraft owner. They are required to keep light single engine aircraft safe whilst parked outside, especially tailwheel aircraft. They provide a way to secure your aircraft when you’re away from the home base, and can also be used as a deterrent against theft. There are many different types of aircraft tie-downs on the market, and it can be difficult to decide which is the best option for you. In this article, we will discuss the different types of aircraft tie-downs available, and help you decide which is the best solution for your needs.

aircraft tie down
Fitting aircraft tie downs is essential for protecting light aircraft with large lifting surfaces from wind gusts and storms

Introduction to aircraft tie-downs

An aircraft tie-down is simply a device used to secure an aircraft to the ground to prevent it from getting blown around during high winds or during a storm. They are important for aircraft left out in the elements without a hangar. High wind speeds can buffet parked aircraft, and the lift generated from the wing or tail surfaces can cause them to move or even flip with resulting structural damage.

When the gusts are strong, and the wind direction is just right, airplanes by nature will try to lift off. Each year numerous airplanes are damaged by windstorms due to negligence and improper tiedowns, according to the FAA. Due to the large number of airplanes in attendance, tiedowns are required at EAA AirVenture.

EAA AirVenture

They are essential for pilots who need to leave their aircraft at an airport or other location where hangarage space is not guaranteed, and they can also be useful for security purposes. There are many different types of aircraft tie-downs available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

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The three most common types of aircraft tie-downs are:

  • Chain tie-downs. They consist of a metal chain with clips on either end, which can be attached to the aircraft tie down loops and the ground either a tie down cable, concrete block (or in a pinch, to a driven in stake). Chain tie-downs are very strong, long lasting, secure and are very quick to clip on, but they are heavy, bulky, and do not stretch making it annoying when using them away base, but ideal for company ramps.
  • Rope tie-downs are similar to chain tie downs, except that they use rope instead of metal chains. Rope tie-downs are much easier to set up and take down than chain tie-downs, but they are not as strong or secure. Because of their light weight and being easily adjustable, nylon rope tie downs are the most common aircraft tie down.
  • Bungee cord tie-downs are the least common type of aircraft tie-down. They consist of a piece of elastic
airplane tie down chain
Tie down chains are highly effective for company ramps

How to secure your tie downs to an aircraft

Aircraft tie downs are most commonly secured by using clips, which can be attached directly to an anchor point on your aircraft, or threading the rope through anchor points. If you don’t have any anchor points, you’ll need some way of attaching the clip securely to your aircraft. You might use a small piece of rope or twine tied around one of the struts at each end of your airplane’s wingspan and then looped through both ends before clipping them in place with another set of smaller clips.

Aircraft may have a retractable tie down loop recessed into the structure, so it pays to be familiar with the aircraft or brush up on the pilots operating handbook. If you are stuck, chat with a flight instructor about the correct technique.

Most commonly, the plane will have the tiedown loop positioned under each wing midway, and on the tail of the airplane.

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How to secure your tie downs to the ground

Now that you know how to secure your tie-down to the aircraft, it’s time to consider where on the ground you will attach them. There are three main options for this:

If there are no tie down rails in your parking apron, often concrete blocks can be used as a base – these are simply large concrete blocks with a steel ring set into the top. They works quite well as they won’t blow away in strong winds, however can be a significant hazard when parking aircraft.

If rails or blocks are not available, then aircraft stakes driven into solid ground might be necessary instead.

How long should airplane tie downs be?

The length depends on the size of your aircraft and what you are tying it down to. As a guide, you want the tie-downs to have a little bit of tension but not be fully taught. This holds the tie down in place, and will allow the aircraft to slightly move more naturally during wind gusts without placing undue strain through the aircraft tiedowns.

Aircraft tie down ropes
Tie downs being used to secure Piper Warrior and Cessna 172 aircraft on a grass parking apron

Picking the right aircraft tie-downs for your needs

Now that we’ve gone over the different types of aircraft tie-downs and how to secure them, it’s time to decide which type is best for your needs.

If you’re looking for a user-friendly, quick, and easy solution that is very strong and secure, using chain tie-downs on a tie-down rail or recessed tie-down point is the gold plated solution. With these, pilots don’t need to tie a knot, hammer in a stake or set the length of the tie down each time, and the tensile strength can withstand serious winds. However, they can be expensive, bulky and heavy to take flying, and installing recessed tie down points in the apron can be difficult or expensive.

Chain tie-downs may therefore not be the best option if you’re travelling away from home base often, and it might be best to simply leave them at the home apron.

If you are traveling away from home base often, rope or Bungee cord airplane tie downs and pegs are the most user friendly option of all – they are lightweight and can be packed up into a small space in the cargo area inside a small duffel bag, and you can usually even pick them up from a local hardware store.

However, they can loosen over time, aren’t as strong as chains and ropes and Ropes and Bungees also do not have any locking capabilities like chains do.

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How to correctly install an aircraft tie down peg

There are a few things you need to take into account when installing an aircraft tie down peg. It is definitely not as simple as handing your spouse or kids a stake and hammer and letting them go for it!

The first is the type of surface you’re attaching it to – if it’s soft land, (such as long wet grass), then you wont have any issues penetrating but there may be issues with it holding so may need a screw or multi pin anchor design; if it’s hard ground (such as clay), then you will usually have the reverse issue and its best to use straight stakes.

Having a small, good-quality hammer to set your pegs is a good idea (just make sure doesn’t get loose in the aircraft). There are also a few newer designs for tie down pegs which can screw into the ground or use multiple pegs which lock together to become portable anchors for increased security.

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You should also try and orientate your peg so that it’s facing into the wind direction for added stability.

Last but not least, you should also ensure your pegs are set appropriately distanced from your tie down points – underneath and slightly at an angle typically provides the best support for a tiedown rope.

Remember too, we should be stewards of the environment and not unecessarily dig up or loosen the ground in the apron, as this promotes erosion, divets and makes it poorer for future use.

What know should I use for rope aircraft tie downs?

Of course, a rope aircraft tie down is only as good as the knot used to tie it. There are a few great anti slip knots that are appropriate for tying down aircraft. Check out this YouTube video below for a guide on how to tie some of the most common knots.

Should I always tie my aircraft down or not?

Of course, it depends. Personally if I am leaving my aircraft overnight, or if I expect gusty conditions, I always tie the aircraft down. If you are learning, or working, you should always follow your company or school standard operating procedures or ask your chief pilot for direction. I believe it is good airmanship to err on the side of caution and tie them up, since it only takes a few minutes.

aircraft without tie down
The pilot of this Piper Lance didn’t tie it down for the night, but its hard to see if tie down points are even available on the apron.

Summary of aircraft tie downs

An aircraft Tie down is an essential tool for keeping an aircraft safe when out of a hangar during strong winds. For pilots who fly away from their home base regularly or visit airfields without hangarage space available, it is a great idea to keep a portable rope or bungee tie down kit with stakes and a hammer in the aircraft, alongside your usual tool kit, airplane covers, windscreen cleaning kit and spare engine oil.

As always, if there is any doubt about the correct use of tie downs, chat to a qualified flight instructor about the best techniques

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Ken

Ken is a passionate aviator, a professional pilot and flight instructor. He has over 17 years of flight experience across hundreds of aircraft ranging from recreational, aerobatic, historic, commercial and military aircraft, training hundreds of students along the way. Find out more.

Ken has 42 posts and counting. See all posts by Ken

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