Great Stairs Truck Drivers in History

[Note from the Blogger: I recently had the tremendous honor of being a guest on the Plane Talking UK Podcast.  It was so much fun!  A huge thank you to Carlos and Matt! And if you haven’t watched/listened to this podcast, check it out! I promise you’ll love it!]

fullsizerender-56It occurred to me recently that it has been a while since I’ve written about my favorite ground support vehicle.  I am, of course, talking about the mighty stairs truck!  I would like to start with a bit of clarification.  There seems to be some confusion about the differences between the various types of stairs typically found at the airport: air stairs, mobile stairs, motorized stairs, etc.  I attempted to consult the world’s foremost airport stairs experts on the best way to explain the differences… but alas, I couldn’t find any.  So I am afraid you’re stuck with me.  Here’s how I see it.

These are air stairs:


They are stairs that are built into an airplane.  Because they are actually part of the plane itself, they are not part of the ground support vehicle family.

These are mobile stairs:



They are essentially metal stairs on wheels that can be pushed by ground crew or towed by a tug.  They are NOT motorized.  They are at the bottom of the airport stairs food chain.

These are motorized stairs:


These stairs do have a motor and can be driven around as needed.  The driving compartment, however, is open to the elements, similar to the way some airport tugs are.  These stairs are far cooler than simple mobile stairs, but they are definitely NOT the coolest of the airport stairs.

This is a stairs truck:


As the name suggests, it’s a truck with stairs on the back.  The truck looks like any other utility truck that you might see on the road.  Technically stairs trucks are not street legal… at some point I’ll have to work on changing that.  It’s fairly easy to see why the stairs truck is king of the airport stairs.  Because it’s a truck.  With stairs on the back.  Enough said.

I wanted to clarify that point because it bears heavily on the subject at hand: the greatest stairs truck drivers in all of history! OK fine, so most of these people didn’t actually drive stairs trucks. But they would have if they could have! (Yes savvy reader, you read that correctly. I did say “most!”)


By Billy Hathorn (National Portrait Gallery, Public domain) [CC0]

Benjamin Franklin

If ever there was an historical figure who would appreciate a good stairs truck, it’s Benjamin Franklin. I mean hello – he signed the Declaration of Independence! Nothing says revolutionary quite like a stairs truck. Oh – you wanna fly kites in storms? I know the perfect place!


I know what you’re thinking – what the who? Hatshepsut. She was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt. No, not like Cleopatra. Cleopatra was queen. Hatshepsut was actually pharaoh. And to drive home that point she wore a fake beard and everything.  A woman with that kind of determination is sure to immediately grasp the advantages (and awesomeness) of a stairs truck. Why ride in a noisy chariot around the city when you could perch your throne on top of a stairs truck where the whole world would be sure to see you?


By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Captain Jack Sparrow

But Jenn! He’a a fictional character – he’s not real! Ah but if he WAS real you know he’d have been all over the stairs truck. He understands that stairs trucks aren’t about tires and fuel and wiper blades – that’s what a stairs truck needs. What a stairs truck is, what it REALLY is, is freedom. And it’s a way to get into places you probably shouldn’t be.


No, not the Ninja Turtle – the renaissance painter! He’s the guy who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure when he got the call from the Pope he looked up and thought, “The ceiling? You gotta be kidding me!” Then when he saw the system of ropes he was supposed to hang from while painting he said “Oh heck NO!” and built his own platform to use. Now if he’d had access to a stairs truck you can bet he’d have immediately grasped the potential. Remove a section of wall, drive in and paint with ease! Just think of all the amazing ceiling paintings there might have been if only stairs trucks had been invented a little sooner.

Tom Chilton

For those of you who are fans of motorsports (or if you’ve been following this blog for a while) the name might ring a bell.  Tom Chilton is an auto racing driver who has spent a good portion of his career racing in the British Touring Car Championship series, the World Touring Car Championship, Formula One… blah blah blah.  Whatever.  What REALLY matter is, he has driven a stairs truck!  And not just driven it, RACED it! That automatically makes him one of the coolest people of all time.




Nope, this picture has nothing to do with stairs trucks.

10 thoughts on “Great Stairs Truck Drivers in History

  1. Well written and informative. The last pic does in a way fit into the post. It has or can use all forms of stairs you mentioned. If I followed you correctly you suggest Ben Franklin could have flown his kite while on a set of airplane stairs. Since they are metal would that be the best place to be standing in an electrical storm, just curious! 🙂


  2. Jennifer; GREAT article on the Air Stairs. We NEED to meet or at least talk 1st then meet later. I’m the retired afternoon “Stairmaster” at DCA. Drove the Air Stairs for 5 years there till I retired a year ago. It was the BEST job I had in my 43 years in the Airline Industry. I know what airport you work at, it’s MY airport too & has been for 63 years! There seems to be a LOT we have in common aviation wise. I’m still out there in a volunteer form plus a traveling passenger. Contact me when possible, I’m also an Airline & Aviation Historian. Is there some other way to contact you? JETSTREAM


  3. Hello Jennifer, I’m a City airport manager at Chicago-Midway, and I, too, am a big fan of boarding stairs. While you are most nuts for stair trucks (we have three here… old, older, and oldest), my greatest attention goes to mobile and motorized stairs. The reason is, they’ve been around and they last almost forever. There are FBOs scattered around the country that have ex-airline stairs that are 50+ years old and still functional. In 2008, before I got this job, I was a manager for Atlantic Aviation. At our South Bend IN location, which I twice visited, we had an old Int’l Harvester motorized stairs that dated from the 1950s — a high point of my entire aviation career was when the local maanger let me drive the stairs, operate the telescoping mechanism and hook it up (I’m hyperventilating) to a US Airways 757 that was awaiting the USC football team. Haha, so I get it. I’m thinking of starting a Flickr photo sit with various mobile- and airstairs. Regards, Dave Kaufman.


    • Hello David, and thanks so much for reading! It is exciting to meet another stairs truck fan! Or, to be more specific, a motorized stairs fan. I’m quite jealous of your stairs driving experience. If you start the Flickr account, please post a link!


  4. No mention of Michael Bluth?

    Question about motorized stairs; where are all the Chevys (/GMCs) and Dodge Rams? When I search for pictures, ALL that comes up are ones built on Ford chassis.


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