AIRLINE PILOTS from Lufthansa were among the first in the world to test the new ground handling Taxibot technology. After three years of preparation, the demonstrator vehicle was put through intensive trials at Dunsfold airfield, England, in February. From a real Boeing 747 cockpit that was attached to an ‘aircraft-dummy’ at the correct position over real B747 nosegear, the pilots steered a towing tractor that might, in the near future, replace the use of their own aircraft’s engines for the journey to the runway.
If pilots accept the procedure, the environmentally friendly and cost-saving Taxibot product looks set to enter service. Sitting in for their colleagues worldwide, five pilots from different airlines were reported to be satisfied by the unhindered control of the tractor from the cockpit. “We are happy with the vehicle’s steering via the aircraft’s nosegear,” said Peter Haenzel, Chief Pilot Instructor for Lufthansa’s B747 fleet. Eric Bos, Technical Pilot (Cpt) for Lufthansa’s A330/A340-fleet, added his view that “the manoeuvrability via Taxibot even exceeds the aircraft’s own thrust in some situations, particularly in tight curves or at low speed.”
The next tests for the system, using real aircraft, are already underway at Airbus Industries in Toulouse. If these are successful, a first operational prototype of the Taxibot vehicle will be built by French GSE-manufacturer TLD.
The Taxibot system is based on a technology patented by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and refined in cooperation with Lufthansa LEOS and Airbus Industries. The consortium expects to have the first Taxibot in action on an airport by mid-2012.