Pilot: Tractor beam? What's that?
Crichton: Graviton field, attracto ray, superglue. Whatever it is you yanked me aboard with.
Pilot: You mean the docking web?
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.
Surprisingly now just barely defictionalized, albeit a long way from practical useability.
See also Mind over Matter, another unrelated trope that nevertheless this one occasionally resembles.
- Called "Gravity Cranes" in Cannon God Exaxxion. Explained as an application of Artificial Gravity technology, the series gets a lot of mileage out of the different uses they have. For instance, using them in reverse to crush things or shoot holes in buildings with blasts of pure, concentrated gravity.
- Examples from the Calvinverse:
"THAT DUMB HAMSTER BUILT IN A SHIELD, LASERS, AND HIGH TECH LAVA PROOF METAL, BUT HE CAN'T PUT IN A STUPID BEAMER!"
- Sherman's invention in Retro Chill is missing a tractor beam, and Calvin gets really mad about it.
- Dr. Brainstorm uses one to capture Calvin and Hobbes in one episode of Calvin and Hobbes: The Series.
- Rocketship Voyager. The initial reaction of the crew to an alien spacecraft 'switching on' a gravity well and focusing it like a beam on Voyager is This Cannot Be! This later gives B'Elanna Torres a "Eureka!" Moment that the aliens might be able to do other things with such technology, like fold space for Faster-Than-Light Travel.
- In Austin Powers in 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" (a reference to a popular OTC drug for treating hemorrhoids), 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.
- Ghostbusters has the team invent portable tractor beams that only work on ghosts, anything material gets burned and/or irradiated. Also, be careful not to cross the streams.
- Star Wars universe:
- A New Hope:
- The Millennium Falcon is tractored into one of the Death Star's landing bays. The heroes have to deactivate the tractor beam before they can escape.
- A New Hope:
- In the trippy sci-fi musical Toomorrow, a huge, yellow beam is used as a method of bringing someone aboard a spacecraft hovering over London. It's slow enough the human-faking alien antagonist checks his watch as he is drawn up into the ship.
- Used in the first Arrivals from the Dark novel called Invasion, where an alien starship pulls an Earth cruiser in for a closer look. Since the starship's Deflector Shield is masking it from human radar systems, the cruise's captain has no idea why the ship is suddenly moving forward despite the retro-rockets firing.
- ZCE * One of the functions of effectors in Iain M. Banks's Culture novels.
- In Fortunately, the Milk, the protagonist's adventure begins when a Flying Saucer hovers overhead and a beam of light draws him up into it.
- David Weber's Honor Harrington series 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.
- Rudyard Kipling, in the 1912 short story "As Easy as ABC", featured an effect referred to as a "flying loop," which John Brunner called the first-ever use of the tractor-beam concept. 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.
- 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.
- In an early Star Trek novel, Spock Must Die!!, it's stated that tractor beams can only be used to pull, not push. To achieve a "push" effect, Scotty has to use a tuned beam from the main deflector.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- A New Dawn: Calcoraan Depot has tractor beams serving as parking attendants for spaceships arriving and departing.
- Star Wars Legends: Tractor beams and ways to get out of them appear regularly.
- 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, instead recognizing that he made a novel effort and tasking him with figuring out an effective counter. And evidently he did; the trick 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. In a simulation in Isard's Revenge, Corran tractors a space station, using it to make an even tighter turn than the TIE Defender he's flying is normally capable of.
- In Galaxy of Fear there's a book with scenes on an asteroid too small to have much gravity. There's Artificial Gravity on a base, but otherwise characters use special boots with tractor beams in them to move about. They can also be used to climb vertical surfaces in gravity, but with difficulty - they're very heavy.
- 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.
- "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS": The plot kicks off when salvagers manage to grab the TARDIS, whose defences the Doctor took down because he was showing Clara how to fly, with a "magno-grab", a kind of tractor beam the Doctor describes as being illegal in most galaxies because of the damage it can do to computer systems.
- The Flax, a tractor net designed to capture ships for destruction and salvage by pirates.
- 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.
- A joke on Mock the Week by Hugh Dennis, for a Scenes We'd Like To See: Unlikely Things to Hear in a Sci-Fi Show, went: "There's something in the tractor beam! Ed?" This was in reference to Ed Byrne, who in the week that Grand Theft Auto V came out had been playing Farming Simulator instead.
- Used as a large scale, multipurpose tool in the Star Trek series. Except on Enterprise, where grappling-cables are used instead. Tractor beams have been invented, but the Vulcans didn't feel like sharing.
- On the somewhat notorious early Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Naked Now", the Enterprise's engines end up disabled while a derelict ship is under tow via tractor beam. To buy them some time to escape the catastrophe of the week, Wesley Crusher figures out how to Reverse the Polarity and turn it into a repulsor beam, allowing them to shove off from the other ship and gain some distance and time.
- The Borg, recurring villains for TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, use tractor beams as a weapon in combat, using their beam weapons to hammer a ship's shields into submission before locking them in place with the tractor beam so they can be easily boarded or blown apart at leisure.
- They Might Be Giants: "The Bee of the Bird of the Moth":
All are irresistibly directed by the suction
Of the hypnotizing tractor beam presenting a production...
- 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.
- Task Force Games
- Starfire 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.
- Star Fleet Battles is based on the Star Trek universe and most starships have tractor beams as standard equipment. In addition to grabbing enemy ships for the usual purposes (e.g. towing), they can be used in combat as well. Above the simulator room doors at Star Fleet Academy is written "Use your tractors, Dammit!"
- Games Workshop games:
- Warhammer 40,000:
- The Orks have a number of weapons based on tractor beam technology such as the Lifta-Droppa (giant nuclear-powered tractor beams often mounted on their Humongous Mecha for anti-tank duty as well as anti-infantry, by dropping the tank onto the infantry) and the anti-aircraft Traktor Kannon used to grab hold of enemy aircraft and smash them into the ground, much to the amusement of the crew.
- The tension cannons mounted on some Kataphron Breacher battle servitors capture an enemy with a trio of tractor beams known as gaol-fields that then rotate in different directions to tear the target apart.
- In Battlefleet Gothic the Ork Fleet has the Grunt Assault Ship. A more sophisticated version of the Brute Ram Ship, the Grunt incorporates a massive traktor field reactor that not only increase the damage done when it rams into an enemy but also allows it to stick to the enemy vessel so that the mobs of Ork Boyz it carries can perform a more effective boarding action. On the downside, the poorly distributed mass of the ship considerably reduces its manoeuvrability.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- 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.
- Thrust is an old computer game where you pilot a spacecraft through tunnels to pick up an object with your tractor beam and pull it out again.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, 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.
- In Starscape your fighter ships have a tractor beam used to suck in minerals from recently exploded asteroids.
- The main charater of 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.
- Frigates and Cruisers 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.
- 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, tractor beams are 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 & 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.
- 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
- Present in the first two games in the Escape Velocity series, and possible but unused in the third. If one ship tractors another, the least massive ship is the one that gets pulled along. A larger ship can even use the tractor beam to prevent a smaller one from entering hyperspace. Mechanically, they're created by putting a negative number into the "impact" fieldnote of a Frickin' Laser Beam. There are also (equally unused but possible in the third) repulsion beams, who mechanically are simply beams with a positive number in the impact field but (like tractor beams) doing zero damage.
- A staple of Tales Series is Tractor Beam, a non-elemental spell which lifts enemies and then drops them for damage.
- Wing Commander:
- In Wing Commander II, one mission has the player flying a Broadsword, using its tractor beam to retrieve a data pod.
- Wing Commander: Privateer some times drops loot from destroyed ships, which can be picked up with a tractor beam if mounted, then sold at the next station.
- Blair's crippled fighter, at the end of Wing Commander III, is retrieved by a Kilrathi Dreadnought that uses a tractor beam to draw it in.
- Star Ruler features two versions of the tractor beam; one which will pull objects towards the ship (or station), and another which will push objects away from the ship. The devices are largely pointless, though it's always entertaining to use them to catapult an enemy's defense station out of orbit. Micromanaging a station with a repulsion tractor beam allows players to assist their ships when leaving the system, effectively giving them a big push; very useful with very large ships that are very heavy or have weak engines.
- The player's ship in Zigfrak has an electromagnetic tractor beam for the purpose of collecting loot and materials in space.
- Star Trek Online, given its source material, allows science bridge officers to learn a skill to use the ship's tractor beam in combat. It's a heavy speed debuff, though unless the target ship is already very slow it doesn't stop the target entirely. The Borg and the Tholians use this to deadly effect. There are also two other player-based Tractor Beams - Tractor Beam Repulsors, which push away enemies, and a DOFF skill that inverts the Repulsors, pulling them toward you.
- The first two Star Trek: Starfleet Command games use tractor beams as a passive defense against incoming missiles. If a tractor beam is set to missile intercept mode, it captures the nearest enemy missile and holds it in place relative to the ship until one of three things happen: the beam's power runs out and the missile continues on its course, the missile's fuel runs out and it disappears, the missile is destroyed by one of your point-defense phasers. They can also be used to keep enemy or friendly ships in place for a time. However, in the first game, a tractor beam cannot be rotated, which means the positioning can be a bit of a crapshoot. To counter a tractor beam, the enemy can change their tractor beams to "push".
- The Galaga flagship (a.k.a. Boss Galaga) from Galaga occasionally stops in mid-flight to emit a tractor beam in order to capture your ship.
- In Gaplus, your ship can emit a tractor beam that can capture aliens and use them to increase your firepower.
- Time Crisis 4: Wild Dog, in previous games, has outfitted his gun-arm with flamethrower and rocket launcher attachments, but in 4 he employs a tractor beam for the final phase of his fight, throwing all manners of cargo containers at you. Elizabeth is surprised that an actual tractor beam exists. When defeated, the tractor beam malfunctions and pulls in the cargo towards him, crushing him under it...although he survives.
- X-COM: Interceptor has a ship mountable tractor beam. Using it disables the energy weapons, but not the missiles. Of course the effort of the ship trying to fight loose would damage both ships: the intended use of the device is to disable the enemy ship (using the specially-built EMP lasers), then use the tractor beam to grab it and high-tail it out of the area before the other ships could retaliate. In practice, disabling a ship makes it unable to do anything for the rest of the combat sequence, and it's automatically retrieved if you complete the mission anyway, so you never need to mount a tractor beam at all. They could also be mounted to stations, which would slow attacking alien ships for weapon turrets and defending fighters.
- Iva's Energy ability in Battlerite. In addition to pulling in enemies, it also nullifies any attacks from the front.
- Iron Helix: The Indiana is able to latch onto the Obrian using its tractor beam, which keeps it in tow as the Obrian heads towards Calliope.
- Grappler-archetype ships in Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages can mount tractor beams, which were originally used by Asteroid Miners to grab rocks, but are now being used by you to grab opponents and pull them close enough for your ship's melee abilities.
- AI War: Fleet Command and AI War 2 pack their share in various vessels. Some simply to keep the enemy in place, Deathgrip vessels which do bonus damage to tractored enemies, big vessels like the Black Widow Golem that can pick up an entire armada and drag them around, and in one case Tackle Drones fired by frigates, which will zoom across the system, pick a few vessels up and bumrush them to the edge of the system where the gravity well ends; the latter can be bad news for the caught if there's a Tritium Sniper or other infinite range vessel slowly killing them. Notably, they work through wormholes; it's perfectly possible to tractor a whole bunch of ships and kidnap them into your home territory where you can wreck them easier, and the AI will sometimes do the same to you.
- In Crying Suns, Nano Drones emit a tractor beam which prevents their current target from moving away. Since Nano Drones also have an ability that prevents adjacent squadrons from attacking them, this allows them to lock down an enemy squadron where it cant do any harm.
- The Ultharians from Cthulhu Saves the World use a tractor beam to pull cattle up to their spaceship. A defector aboard this ship can use this beam get your party inside as well.
- Warframe features Tenno and Corpus dropships, which can pull in cargo using what looks like a powerful electromagnets. The Tenno landing craft demonstrate its use at the end of Hijack missions, while Corpus Condors are seen using them to carry Ambulas units to Frohd Bek's spaceship.
- 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.
- 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.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "Brain Invaders" has tractor-beam tugboats, used to slow down the out-of-control medical frigate Ahsoka is on when it drops out of hyperspace before it crashes into the Ord Cestus medical station.
- Star Wars Rebels: In "The Siege of Lothal", the Ghost is nearly caught in an Imperial tractor beam after Darth Vader realizes that Ahsoka Tano is aboard the ship, but Hera manages to outmaneuver Vader and gets him caught in the beam instead, to Admiral Konstantine's horror.
- Scientists at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom were able to create a tractor beam, although at a microscopic level. This can have many applications, like for medical usage.