First The Towbar, Now The Whole Tug

 - October 2, 2006, 1:51 PM

Aircraft towing technology has advanced markedly in the past decade, with towbarless tugs improving efficiency and lessening wear and tear on nosewheels. Now Boeing and Chorus Motors have partnered to demonstrate an exploratory technology that could lead to an even more efficient way of moving airplanes when they are on the ground. Successful tests in June of an onboard electric motor attached to the nosewheel of a Boeing 767 have shown that it may be a viable way of powering airplanes to move in and around gates (and ramps at general aviation airports), largely eliminating the use of tugs.

Jim Renton, a director of technology integration at Boeing Phantom Works, the company’s advanced research and development unit, said, “Our testing has shown that onboard electric motors can be useful in achieving that goal if packaging, weight and flight-related technical issues identified during these tests can be resolved.”

The Phantom Works/Chorus Motors team installed an electric motor drive on an Air Canada 767 and conducted a series of successful tests. Air Canada pilots performed ground maneuvers on slopes and terrain typical of those at airports around the world, including driving in reverse from a gate and taxiing forward to a runway. Tests were also performed at ramp temperatures exceeding 120 degrees F and at loads of up to 94 percent of the mtow for the airplane.