Tractor Beam

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TractorBeam.jpg


Classic Applied Phlebotinum found on many, many space ships in fiction. At the press of a button, a beam of light comes out of the ship and sucks in anything in its reach. Occasionally used to move things already on the ship, too. The Tractor Beam thus allows space travellers to capture enemy ships, travel to the surface of planets, and steal the farmer's cows.

Many stories with Alien Abductions use this as the means of abduction—a small tractor beam just big enough to pull one human. Of course, that kind tends to run in reverse as well.

Not to be confused with Weapons That Suck.

Examples of Tractor Beam include:


Live Action TV[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Used as a large scale, multipurpose tool in the Star Trek series. Except on Enterprise, where grappling-cables are used instead.[1]
  • Doctor Who: the TARDIS has one, first (certainly in the new series, anyway) used in "The Satan Pit", probably because a phone box pulling a massive spaceship looks very weird. Later used on a planet, which was weirder. In the original series it had one in The Creature from the Pit, but that story was the only time it was ever mentioned.
  • Farscape: The Flax, a tractor net designed to capture ships for destruction and salvage by pirates.
    • Also, Moya has a "docking web," which is usually used to help damaged ships aboard. Much to Pilot's confusion, Crichton ends up calling it a tractor beam in an early episode.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Star Wars universe.
    • It's what pulls the Millennium Falcon into the Death Star in A New Hope. Tractor beams and ways to get out of them appear regularly in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
    • In The Thrawn Trilogy, Luke got out of one by dropping a hastily reprogrammed proton torpedo, letting it get drawn up by the tractor beam to destroy its projector, and doing something unorthodox with his engines at the same time. Later in the trilogy he's caught again and escapes by making an empty freighter explode into a cloud of highly reflective particles, breaking the lock despite the operator's best efforts. Thrawn did not kill that operator, since he made a novel effort, and instead tasked him to find out how to counter that kind of trick. And evidentally he did; it doesn't work in the Hand of Thrawn duology.
    • The X Wing Series makes it clear that if a ship tractors something with a larger mass, the ship is pulled towards that mass instead of the other way around. In Wraith Squadron, Wedge uses this to move a ship without giving off drive emissions.
  • The 1977 Star Wars Parody short Hardware Wars has one, of course -- and like the page image, it involves an actual tractor.
  • Spaceballs has one of these, too (called a "magnetic beam" in the film).
  • In Austin Powers: Goldmember, both Goldmember and Dr. Evil came up with designs for a tractor beam to allow them to pull in an asteroid down to Earth. Dr. Evil calls his "Preparation H", as Preparations A-G were unsuccessful.
    • The project itself is called the Alan Parsons Project after the head researcher. Scott mentions that it's the name of a band, but Dr. Evil doesn't get the reference.
  • The ZARYa in the Soviet film Moscow Cassiopeia has a "force field" that appears to act this way. It's only mentioned, though, as the target is beyond its range at that point.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • One of the functions of effectors in Iain M. Banks' Culture novels.
  • Rudyard Kipling, in the 1912 short story As Easy as ABC, featured an effect referred to as a "flying loop." When a woman tried to commit suicide to make a political point, the "loop" yanked the knife out of her hand:

She threw out her right arm with a knife in it. Before the blade could be returned to her throat or her bosom it was twitched from her grip, sparked as it flew out of the shadow of the ship above, and fell flashing in the sunshine at the foot of the Statue fifty yards away. The outflung arm was arrested, rigid as a bar for an instant, till the releasing circuit permitted her to bring it slowly to her side.

    • John Brunner stated he believed this to be the first-ever use of the tractor beam concept.
  • Mentioned and used several times in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth Space Opera series.
  • Used as a weapon in the McCade series by William C Deitz, where the main character is struck by one while in space. Then some sneaky git kicks it into reverse and turns him into 'one big bruise'.
  • Featured regularly, along with their opposite, Pressor Beams, in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark and Lensman novel series, which may well have originated the term.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga features tractor beams at military scale, including on starships, but also in civilian use at smaller scale - 'hand tractors' are used for cargo manipulation, and 'medical hand tractors' are used for delicate surgical work - ideal for battlefield medicine as they're fundamentally sterile, never physically touching the patient.
  • David Weber's Honorverse uses gravity-based tractor beams for tugboats, search and rescue operations, and towing missile pods. Apparently, with the limiters turned off, they can shred a ship at short range. Powered up even further, they form the basis for a stealth drive that pulls itself by poking hole into hyperspace and grabbing it.
  • Vital in cargo handling and rescue operations in James White's Sector General series. One weapon system consists of using a tractor beam and a pressor beam on the same target.

Music[edit | hide]

All are irresistibly directed by the suction
Of the hypnotizing tractor beam presenting a production...

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Attractor and pressor beams exist as superscience devices in GURPS: Ultra-Tech and Spaceships. They're mainly construction tools but powerful ones can be used in combat.
  • Starfire likewise has tractor and presser beams. These not only pull (or push) enemy starships around, they also make it easier for your weapons to lock on to a tractored target, and can tear small fighters to pieces. They can be countered by installing a Shearing Plane on a starship, which negates all tractor and presser beams attempting to lock on to it.
  • Monsterpocalypse features a Martian faction, who use some relatively small flying saucers equipped with these, as well as one Kaiju-size one.
  • Robo Rally has both tractor beams and pressor beams as enhancements that may be used in lieu of the default laser weapon.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Jetman games (Lunar for the ZX Spectrum, and Solar on the NES) made heavy use of a tractor beam for carrying ship parts and fuel.
  • Gravity guns:
  • Thrust, the truly ancient computer game where you piloted a spacecraft through tunnels to pick up an object with your tractor beam and pulled it out again.
  • Crops up in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, of all places - a golden tractor beam is used by the 'ghosts' to abduct cows (and the unfortunate Romani).
  • Crypto's flying saucer in Destroy All Humans! has the Abducto Beam, which you can use to pick up tanks, smash them against buildings, drain them of their energy, and fling them out to sea; or you can use it to, you know, abduct people.
  • Freelancer has a "tractor beam" that pulls in any nearby items. It actually teleports them into your cargo hold. No explanation is offered why its still called a tractor beam.
  • In Starscape your fighter ships have a tractor beam used to suck in minerals from recently exploded asteroids.
  • The main charater of the platformer Rocket Robot On Wheels has a small, personalized tractor beam he uses to pick things up and throw them.
  • Tractor Beams in Sword of the Stars can be mounted in nearly any large turret socket in the game. They're especially effective when mounted on rotating defense satellites orbiting planets, where they can grab attacking ships and smash them into the planet's surface. The game's AI for some species actually takes advantage of this.
    • It would make more sense to do that with ships, at planets that aren't yours. Unfortunately the ships' Artificial Stupidity is not capable of this maneuver and the player's user interface is too clumsy to manually swing the target into the planet before the beam times out.
    • Also a key part of the random encounter and Morrigi special unit "Colony Trap", first time someone attempts to colonize a trapped planet several drones launch and drag the fleet into the planet's gravity well with tractor beams.
  • Frigates and Battleships in Gratuitous Space Battles can be mounted with (blue) Tractor Beams, slowing the pesky-deadly fighters down to the point where slow tracking beams and missiles can kill them.
  • They appear in the Space Empires series, along with their opposites, Repulsor Beams.
  • One of the gadgets in Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. It only works on objects with a special marking.
  • The final Bowser level of Super Mario Galaxy has tractor beams that pull you from one planet to the next, but a Launch Star is actually used to get from the second-to-last planet to the one you fight Bowser himself on.
    • In Super Mario Galaxy 2 however, tractor beams are now produced by large doors (which can only be opened by smashing meteorites into it) leading to the planet you fight Bowser on at the end of all three Bowser levels.
  • The War Blimp boss in Heavy Weapon has a "Meteor Tractor Beam", it makes meteors rain on you shortly after it is fired.
  • The Fallout 3 add on mothership zeta has the player abducted using a energy beam.
  • Beyond Good and Evil's gravity lift's function as a voluntary tractor beam, allowing you to move up or down.
  • In X3: Reunion and X3: Terran Conflict, tractor beams are a player-usable weapon, used mainly for towing ships and moving stations around. In a symptom of those games' broken economy, the factories that create them sometimes disappear before the player can buy one, forcing one to build a factory for an item the player only ever needs one of.
    • Interestingly, tractor beams are programmed to be incapable of locking onto non-player-owned objects. This is mainly to prevent the obvious exploit where the player drags enemy vessels into stationary objects like asteroids. The "Super Tractorbeam" mod disables the restriction and allows tractor beams to pick up anything. Your pitiful freighter can become a weapon of mass destruction when you tether an asteroid behind it and start mashing ships and stations with it.
  • The player's ship in Spore has one for grabbing items, and plants, and animals.
  • There is a tractor spell in Final Fantasy XI. It's used to pull dead players' corpses only, thought (still usefull to pull them out of monster reach before resurecting them).
  • The Dead Space series has gravity tethers, which can move massive amounts of rock into orbit. The player also has a smaller version in the form of the Kinesis module
  • The Tractor Beam spell in the Tales (series), which raises the victims high into the air, then drops them on the ground to cause damage. It doesn't look much like a tractor beam considering that it emerges from beneath the target, though.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The animated show Galaxy High once showed this with a Visual Pun: a beam with a farm tractor at the end.
  • Tractor Beam abduction is spoofed to heck and back in the Pixar short film Lifted.
  • Spoofed in just about every alien abduction episode of The Simpsons. In one, the tractor beam isn't strong enough to lift Homer and they end up having to use two. In another, Marge is hit with what looks like a tractor beam... and then a lasso drops down instead and yanks her into the flying saucer.
  • In Recess: School's Out, the villain's plan is to aim the tractor beam at the moon to redirect its orbit causing a global ice age, eliminating summer vacations and forcing kids to study indoors making test scores go up.
  1. Tractor beams have been invented, but the Vulcans didn't feel like sharing.