Company Displays Vehicle Lift, Seeks Aircraft
There I was in the Ground Support Expo part of the show and I
came on something you don't see every day -- a bright yellow Penske
rental truck, six feet in the air. Since that's not where I usually
expect to see trucks, I ambled over to take a look. I expected to
see some kind of a lift, and a company promoting the sort of
space-saver lifts that are used to double-up hangars. Instead, each
wheel of the truck was supported by a lift that was clearly
portable -- and not attached to anything at all. Look ma, no cords.
Aha, I think. They put this truck up there and then disconnected
I was wrong.
Standing underneath the truck (kids, don't try this at home!)
were the reps for the product's maker, Todd M. Joe and Christy
Meers. Their company, Gray Professional Service Equipment, is
basically all about lifting things and holding them up. They've
been making professional lifting equipment since about 1910. They
make everything from jack stands and floor jacks and ramps, like
the ones that you can buy in the automotive section at WalMart, but
much stronger and of palpably higher quality, through specialty
devices to raise and lower such specific parts as truck clutches,
to vehicle lifts. So far their company has been a big power in the
automotive market, and they were primarily here to show off their
equipment to those responsible for maintaining ground service
fleets. But they were also looking for opportunities to adapt their
technology to lift aircraft. After all, aircraft tires need
changing too, and there are a lot of other reasons for
jacking aircraft up.
Todd Joe was kind enough to spend a lot of time with me. He
explained that this was, indeed, a cableless lift system. Each of
the four units, called "columns," includes a hydraulic jack, an
electric power source (designed around a deep-cycle truck-type
battery), a stand that has clever spring-loaded roller wheels that
automatically retract when the system is put under load, and
embedded wireless secure networking hardware and software. They can
be moved anywhere... indeed, if you have a broken-down vehicle
miles away, you can put the lift units on a truck and take them
there, where you can lift the vehicle as long as you have a firm
You could use it as a lift in an automotive shop, and then roll
it out of the way. In fact, you could make a hangar do double duty
as a place to work on automotive equipment, which you could never
do with a normal permanently-mounted lift; with the cableless lift,
you can just roll it out of the way when you're done with it.
You can use two, four or six columns together (although you can
lift many three-axle vehicles on a four-column lift just fine).
Each column has its own control console: if an operator issues a
command on one control console, that column becomes master and the
other (three, assuming a four-wheel lift) columns become slaves and
do whatever the operator commands from that single station. The
columns communicate by radio frequency signals -- Gray solved the
problem of interference by licensing dedicated frequencies from the
FCC. The units can't get out of synch; there's constant
error-checking going on.
When the battery runs down, each column has a built-in charger.
Uncoil the included power cable, and plug it into any 110VAC
outlet. That's the only time there's a cable at all. When the
system is in use, there's nothing to prevent the mechanic from
rolling in a transmission jack, or his toolbox. And the battery
doesn't drain except from heavy usage, because the control panel
has a sleep mode it enters in periods of inactivity.
This model of the lift system, Model WPLS-160 (WPLS is for
Wireless Portable Lift System) sells for $36,500 for a set of four,
and had already caught the interest of some of the show attendees,
for servicing ground vehicles. But the engineers at Gray are
interested in seeing if this can be expanded into the aviation
market. I think it can.
Imagine one tech positioning jacks that will lift a plane off
its wheels in a matter of minutes, and single-handedly raising the
plane to cycle the gear for a periodic inspection. Then lowering
the plane back on to its gear, and wheeling the units away... it's
possible. This technology could do it with a couple of changes.
"Is there a limit to the size of plane that you could lift?" I
"This four-column unit is good for 32 tons -- 64,000 lbs," Todd
said. I did some mental math. That would lift most any bizjet, and
even an early C-130, empty, but not a C-130J. "Airplanes are
no problem. We've lifted a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. We can add
columns and lift a tank." Each column is good for 16,000 pounds.
That's eight tons of effortless lift, coordinated with as many
other 8-ton units as you have on hand.
It may not be Archimedes's world-moving lever and fulcrum, but
if moving airplanes is in your plans, maybe you should give the
folks at Gray Professional Service Equipment a call.