Electric motors embedded in aircraft nosewheels could cut airport noise and emissions by reducing the need for planes to run their engines on the ground.
Tests by Boeing and Gibraltar-based engineering company Chorus have shown that a motor attached to the nosewheel can provide a viable way to move aircraft to and from gates, the two companies said. The technology would also remove the need for tow tugs, cutting airlines’ operating costs.
As planes would no longer have to wait to be towed and could be under complete control by the pilot from gate to gate, the system could also reduce flight turnaround times.
According to calculations by Chorus, the motor would require 20 times less energy than a normal aircraft engine to carry out ground operations.
Researchers at Boeing’s Phantom Works facility worked with motor development engineers from Chorus to design and build a prototype on-board electric drive system that could provide high torque at start-up speeds. The prototype was installed on an Air Canada 767 and tested under a variety of conditions.
Manoeuvres were carried out on slopes and terrains commonly encountered at airports around the world, and the pilot successfully completed actions such as reversing from a gate and taxiing to a runway without any assistance.
The motor operated in temperatures of more than 50°C and with loads of up to 94 per cent of the maximum take-off weight for the plane.
Chorus is now working to design a lightweight version of the system that can fit within the rim of the nosewheel’s tyre.
‘The testing model was a demonstration unit and was built using fairly standard components. However, in terms of packaging and weight, the ultimate system will be very different,’ said Bob Carman, programme manager for aerospace applications at Chorus Motors.
‘The cost savings to airlines could be huge, especially given the current high price of fuel,’ he claimed.