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Monday, June 27, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Israel defense firm testing airliner-towing robot that could save jet fuel

TEL AVIV — Israel's largest defense company has tested a robot designed to tow airplanes in an effort to save fuel.


Israel Aerospace Industries has reported a successful test of its TaxiBot, a semi-robotic towing system. The demonstration employed TaxiBot to tow a Boeing 747-400 passenger jet by Germany's Lufthansa without the operation of the aircraft's jet engines.

"The overall impression is very good, and better than I expected," Bernd Pfeffer, a Lufthansa Boeing 747 pilot, said. "Steering the aircraft using the TaxiBot with all kinds of turns was absolutely to my liking in addition to the accelerating and braking capabilities that were good."

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Pfeffer said Taxibot provided the 747 with better traction on icy and slippery surfaces. He said this was evident during turns during the demonstration at Frankfurt International Airport.

"I wouldn't change anything at all," Pfeffer said.

TaxiBot was developed by IAI's Lahav Division and Airbus to allow airplanes to move from the airport gate to the runway without operating their jet engines. The taxi process, in which TaxiBot controlled the load from the aircraft's nose-landing gear, was operated by the pilot through the normal tiller and breaking pedals.

"Despite the severe weather conditions which prevailed during the Frankfurt test, the demonstrator system showed excellent capabilities and successfully maintained the defined envelope," IAI said.

Executives said this marked the second test of Taxibot, the first taking place in Toulouse, France, with an Airbus A340-600 in 2010. They said additional tests would take place later in 2011 on Airbus jets. Other contractors in TaxiBot, launched in 2008, including France's TLD and Britain's Ricardo.

"The TaxiBot development is naturally integrated in IAI's policy regarding new business areas such as ground robotics, and renewable energy," IAI president Itzhak Nissan said.

Executives said IAI and Airbus were developing a TaxiBot prototype for narrow-body airplanes, such as the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737. They said Taxibot was scheduled to receive certification for the first airplane during 2012. At that point, the first deliveries would begin.

"Further demonstrator tests on Airbus aircraft are scheduled for the second quarter of 2011, to allow various operational and technical conclusions to be reached regarding prototype development and bring the system design to maturity prior to serial production," IAI said.

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