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A red and white tractor drawn aerial fire truck with its emergency lights turned on is parked at sunset in front of a river and bridge landscape.

As fire departments are asked to do more with less, the resurgence of tractor drawn aerials is no surprise.

This blog is designed to answer many of the questions fire departments ask about tractor drawn aerials and show several examples of fire apparatus currently in service.

What is a Tractor Drawn Aerial?

A white and red tractor drawn aerial is parked in a stadium with yellow and red stands in the background.

A tractor drawn aerial is the most maneuverable type of fire apparatus because of its unique design consisting of three distinct parts: a tractor, a trailer and a tillerman's cab. A typical height of a tractor drawn aerial is approximately 11’ 2” whereas rear mount aerial ladders typically range anywhere between 11’ 6” to 12’ 2” in height. The length of a tractor drawn aerial typically ranges between 57' to 63'.

Depending on your geographic location, you may have heard of this apparatus referred to as a tractor drawn aerial, a tiller fire truck or a hook and ladder fire truck.

Tractor drawn aerials can be traced back to the late 1800s when the trailers, pulled by horses, were given rear steering. Today, tractor-drawn aerials are known for their maneuverability and ability to carry many ground ladders and equipment.

How Does a Tractor Drawn Aerial Work?

A close up of a tiller cab on a red tractor drawn aerial fire truck is isolated in on outdoor environment.A tractor drawn aerial is designed to have two operators. The main driver sits in the front cab and steers the front axle and the other sits in the rear tiller cab and steers the rear axle. When required for maintenance, the rear axle can be locked and the front operator can drive the truck like a tractor trailer.

Why Are More Fire Departments Choosing Tractor Drawn Aerials?

A red tiller truck is parked at sunset with its ladder raised in the air.

When most fire department representatives and city council members see a tiller truck for the first time, they often express disbelief that a truck of such size can be so maneuverable.

It’s all about the design features unique to this type of apparatus and several are outlined in more detail below.

Increased Compartment Space

The rear end of a tiller fire truck is seen turning around a narrow driveway surrounded by green vegetation with a large southern live oak tree overhead.The sheer size of a tractor drawn aerial means that it offers ample storage. In fact, the compartment volume for the apparatus can be as much as 650 cubic feet. That’s a significant increase when comparing it to a straight-frame aerial with typically less than 200 cubic feet. Moreover, a tiller can typically manage 4000 lbs or more of equipment.

With the increased storage capabilities, tractor drawn aerials can accommodate more ground ladders than straight-frame aerials. This is due to a significantly larger rear storage area from the added length of a trailer, and the absence of a torque box and pedestal typically found on straight frame aerials. In addition, even more ground ladders can be stored on the outside of the trailer. 

Tractor drawn aerials provide fire departments with superior capacity and flexibility in storing tools and equipment. 

Industry-Leading Maneuverability

A red and white tractor drawn aerial is shown from an overhead view to see the jackknife position that shows the great maneuverability of the truck design.  So how does a fire truck that spans between 57' to 63' in length offer the greatest maneuverability? It’s all in the mechanics.

Tractor drawn aerials are highly maneuverable because of the fifth wheel articulation and the unique ability to steer the rear of the trailer independently. This design feature means fewer 3-point and wide-swinging turns and greatly reduces the need to go around the block to get a better position.

This maneuverability is especially critical in firefighting operations, allowing the turntable on a tiller truck to be positioned closer to buildings and structures on scene.

Tiller trucks can turn easily in suburban cul-de-sacs, traffic circles and around narrow urban street corners. That’s why you’ll often see tractor drawn aerials on college campuses with lots of alleys and walkways, in modern suburbs where many streets end in a cul du sac, and in communities with a higher percentage of apartment and condominium complexes.

Faster Set-Up Time

One of the features of a tiller truck is the fact that it only has two stabilizers. This is a great advantage when response time is the highest priority. Moreover, the stabilizers on a tiller can be set up by one person at one centralized location.

A tiller truck is an all-in-one performer that can be designed in several configurations, such as a quint, a traditional ladder, or a rescue truck with aerial ladder. Its versatility also aids in fast response times, allowing firefighters to get on scene quickly with a lot of equipment and firefighting gear on board.

Improved Visibility

tiller-cab-imageThe way a tiller truck is designed allows the tiller operator to sit higher than the driver, which provides a second set of eyes in several critical situations, including:

  • Crossing through intersections
  • Traffic and road blockages en route
  • Setting up at an emergency
  • Managing wires and other obstacles

Condensed Fleet Size

Fire departments are challenged with resources and by choosing a tiller truck, fire departments can condense fleets without compromising on performance.

Tiller fire trucks can function as a quint, combining a ladder and pumper truck. With the large amount of storage space, they can function as rescue vehicles or just all-around workhorses responding to every call.

Lighter Weight Means Less Wear and Tear

A red and black tractor drawn aerial is turning a sharp corner in a neighborhood with a two-story house and trees in the background.Even though the tractor drawn aerial is a large apparatus, the overall weight of the apparatus is approximately significantly lighter than an aerial platform.

With a lighter overall weight, fire departments benefit from less wear and tear on the brakes, tires and suspension system with an increase in driveline performance.

Learn more about tractor drawn aerials now.

The Benefits of Choosing a Pierce Tractor Drawn Aerial


A Pierce® Manufacturing tractor drawn aerial is unique in its own right. With an Ascendant® aerial device, a Pierce TDA fire truck has many attractive features, including:

  • High water flow ratings, up to 1500 GPM
  • Enhanced aerial capabilities of 107’ vertical reach, 100’ horizontal reach
  • -10° below grade operation
  • 750 lbs tip load dry, 500 lbs tip load flowing water
  • 30° vertical nozzle angle
  • 17’ full extension, 12’5” short jacked stabilizer stance
  • Up to 60° Jackknife angle set up
  • Aerial ladder collision avoidance system with cab and body
  • Full 360° turntable rotation

There are many benefits of choosing a tractor drawn aerial. It really comes down to the mission of the truck and the unique needs of your fire department.

Learn more about Pierce tractor drawn aerials by downloading this helpful brochure.

Do you love your tractor drawn aerial? Tell us why in the comments below!

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About Pierce Manufacturing
Pierce Manufacturing Inc., an Oshkosh Corporation [NYSE: OSK] business, is the leading North American manufacturer of custom fire apparatus. Products include custom and commercial pumpers, aerials, rescue trucks, wildland trucks, mini pumpers, and homeland security apparatus. In addition, Pierce designs its own foam systems and was the first company to introduce frontal airbags and the Side Roll Protection system to fire apparatus. To learn more about Pierce, visit

About Oshkosh Corporation

At Oshkosh (NYSE: OSK), we make innovative, mission-critical equipment to help everyday heroes advance communities around the world. Headquartered in Wisconsin, Oshkosh Corporation employs approximately 17,000 team members worldwide, all united behind a common purpose: to make a difference in people’s lives. Oshkosh products can be found in more than 150 countries under the brands of JLG®, Hinowa, Power Towers, Pierce®, MAXIMETAL, Oshkosh® Defense, McNeilus®, IMT®, Jerr-Dan®, Frontline™ Communications, Oshkosh® Airport Products, Oshkosh AeroTech™ and Pratt Miller. For more information, visit

®, ™ All brand names referred to in this news release are trademarks of Oshkosh Corporation or its subsidiary companies.

Forward Looking Statements

This news release contains statements that the Company believes to be “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements other than statements of historical fact, including, without limitation, statements regarding the Company’s future financial position, business strategy, targets, projected sales, costs, earnings, capital expenditures, debt levels and cash flows, and plans and objectives of management for future operations, are forward-looking statements. When used in this news release, words such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “intend,” “estimate,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “should,” “project” or “plan” or the negative thereof or variations thereon or similar terminology are generally intended to identify forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to risks, uncertainties, assumptions and other factors, some of which are beyond the Company’s control, which could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. These factors include the Company's ability to successfully integrate the AeroTech acquisition and to realize the anticipated benefits associated with the same; the risks associated with international operations and sales, including compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act;  the Company’s ability to comply with complex laws and regulations applicable to U.S. government contractors; cybersecurity risks and costs of defending against, mitigating and responding to data security threats and breaches impacting the Company; the Company’s ability to successfully identify, complete and integrate other acquisitions and to realize the anticipated benefits associated with the same; and risks related to the Company’s ability to successfully execute on its strategic road map and meet its long-term financial goals. Additional information concerning these and other factors is contained in the Company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. All forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this news release. The Company assumes no obligation, and disclaims any obligation, to update information contained in this news release. Investors should be aware that the Company may not update such information until the Company’s next quarterly earnings conference call, if at all.

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