System will enable pilots to back off stands and taxi without aircraft engines or a tug and should be 'fuel neutral'

Delta Air Lines is partnering Gibraltar-based Chorus Motors to develop the first production electric wheel drive for commercial aircraft ground manoeuvring.

Under the agreement, the US carrier will invest in WheelTug, a company founded by Chorus, to develop a wheel-drive system for the Boeing 737 Next Generation models. The deal also gives Delta's TechOps maintenance, repair and overhaul division first refusal on all installation and maintenance services within the USA once the system is certificated and deployed.

Regulatory approval is expected in 2009, says Chorus. As launch customer, Delta is set to install the first units on its fleet of 737s, which according to Flight's ACAS database currently consists of 57 -800s and potentially 50 more -800s and 10 737-700s.

The 737 nosewheel drive unit being developed by WheelTug is similar to one it tested in August 2005 with Boeing Phantom Works on a 767. One difference is that the drive system will be housed in the wheel hub rather than attached to the nose strut as it was in the 767 test.

Electric nosewheel drive allows the pilot to back away from gates and taxi without the use of the aircraft's engines or a tug.

Some development issues such as the torque required for a 737 are still being ascertained. But Chorus says the target weight for the unit is close to that of a passenger with luggage - between 90kg (200lb) and 110kg - and hopes to ensure the drive is "fuel neutral".

"We are delighted Delta is our US development partner," says WheelTug president Isaiah Cox. Other regional partners could be added to the company's portfolio of customers.

Delta director of quality, engineering and training Walt Klein says: "We expect this to be a 'win' for us on the business side by reducing our costs, but we're also excited about the potential for removing some complexity from gate operations for our ground personnel and doing it in an environmentally friendly fashion."

Wheel config Delta

Source: Flight International