23 Jul 2024

AUTOMATION FOR MANUFACTURING

Electric motor propels Boeing 767 – on the ground

Electric motor propels Boeing 767 – on the ground

Boeing has successfully tested a motor technology that could lead to a more efficient way of moving aircraft around airports. An electric motor attached to the nose wheel of an Air Canada Boeing 767 was able to move the aircraft to and from airport gates, and to taxi it to a runway, without the usual tow tugs or jet engines.

As well as cutting emissions, the technology would give pilots complete control of their aircraft from the departure gate at one airport, to the arrival gate at their destination.

The motor was supplied by Chorus Motors, which has set up a subsidiary, called WheelTug, to develop its multiphase, high-torque motor technology for aerospace applications. The diagram above shows how the motor was attached to the plane`s nose wheel for testing purposes. In a commercial version, the drive system would be smaller and lighter and integrated with the wheel structure.

“We believe that onboard electric motors have many advantages,” says Dr Bob Carman, WheelTug`s programme manager. “They could reduce the need for ground tugs and their associated costs, allow faster flight turnarounds, increase fuel efficiency per trip, and reduce aeroplane noise and emissions at airports."

According to WheelTug`s estimates, motorised wheel systems could save airlines around $6m a year for each aircraft that they operate. These savings would result from a combination of factors, including quicker turnaround times, reduced maintenance costs and fuel savings because the plane`s engines would be used less, and the avoidance of tug fees. In addition, pilots would not have to wait for a tug to be available before they could leave a gate.

Boeing and WheelTug are now working to resolve some of technical issues that surfaced during the tests in June, and are looking at commercialising the technology. According to Boeing, it could take several years to develop and the technology to a commercial version and to certify it.