Aircraft tires such as these sold by Gensco Aircraft Tires can be repurposed for agricultural equipment such as skid steers, spreaders and implements.
Reconditioned aircraft tires find a home on the farm
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an aircraft tire! As a farmer, you might think high-flying rubber is more suited for a runway than a corn field. However, these durable tires are readily available for agriculture at relatively low cost. They can take a big hit, whether from tough cornstalks or repeated hard labor.
"Under aircraft specifications, one of the highest load ratings comes off the B-52 bomber," says Chris Jessee with Landrum’s Flotation Tires in Homestead, Fla. "At 200 mph, that tire is rated at 74,000 lb."
Bring speeds down to 20 mph and the load rating goes "through the roof," he says, to more than 200,000 lb. Landrum’s sells high- and low-tread used tires as well as new retread tires.
Reconditioned aircraft tires cost less than ply tires for lower horsepower tractors, wagons, implements and other ag equipment, says Trey Kross, manager of Gensco Aircraft Tires. The Wharton, Texas-based family business converts aircraft tires that can no longer be flown into tires for agriculture.
For example, a new 29x9.0-15, 16-ply flyable aircraft tire costs $1,080, while a comparable Gensco no-flat agricultural tire packaged with a five- or six-hole wheel and GenSeal tire sealant costs $128.
Agricultural tires typically contain six to eight plies, compared with the 10 to 36 plies found in aircraft tires. The Gensco tires cut their teeth on terrain where mesquite and huisache thorns are a major threat. Some customers have reported using the tires for more than 20 years without a flat.
"It does not break down like a conventional tire," Kross explains. The tires can also hold heavier loads because of their increased bulk. For example, a 95L15 aircraft tire weighs 75 lb. compared with a conventional tire that weighs 30 lb. All Gensco tires are inflated to 45 psi.
Design options. The nylon casing of aircraft tires is nearly 2" thick, and depending on the tread pattern, total thickness can reach 3", Jessee notes. Customers can choose from nearly 40 tread patterns at Landrum’s.
A variety of tire styles are available from both companies, ranging from 12" or 13" up to 56" in diameter. Most reconditioned aircraft tires have either triple or quadruple ribs.
Through contracts with the military, the private sector and Goodyear, Gensco acquires ground-use aircraft tires. Landrum’s acquires its tires through a contract with Bridgestone Aircraft Tire of North America.
Repurposed aircraft tires are intended for off-road applications only, so they should not be driven more than 30 to 40 mph, Kross says. That’s because aircraft tires can’t dissipate heat like conventional tires.
It’s also important to remember that companies that convert aircraft tires work with manufacturers to build rims that can support the weight of heavier aircraft tires, Jessee notes. That can translate to added upfront costs because existing rims might need to be split in half, widened and have center plates welded in to fit equipment.
Those same limitations also mean that aircraft tires are not a good fit for high-horsepower tractors requiring tires between 70" and 80" in diameter. Even the sturdiest rims can’t support those kinds of configurations.
As planes change to feature larger braking systems, companies such as Gensco and Landrum’s must work with manufacturers to build rims with unusual sizes such as 23" and 24".
While the rim-size presents a challenge, it means more opportunities for on-farm applications and cost savings.
"As the aircraft industry moves forward, we have to be able to move forward with them," Jessee says.
You can e-mail Nate Birt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- January 2014