WheelTug testing at Prague Airport using a Germania 737-700 in June, 2012. Yes, it’s moving! Courtesy: WheelTug
You may have read my recent report on the Honeywell/Safran Electric Ground Taxi System, or EGTS. But as we’ve seen countless times with many technologies, there’s rarely just one solution to a challenge. We’ve had the 707 & DC-8 duo, L-1011 & DC-10s, 737 & A320s, PCs & Macs, iThingys & Everything Else… you get the idea. Interesting, though, that the market usually settles down to 2 options. So it should be no surprise that there’s another E-Taxi system, one that takes a different approach to meeting the same objectives of saving fuel, time, and other operational costs.
Gibraltar-based WheelTug decided to figure out a way to power the nose gear in their E-Taxi solution, and not the main gear. Their reasons? Easier and quicker installation; no interference with braking and anti-skid systems; shorter cable runs to the equipment bay under the cockpit; and it’s lighter, on the single nose gear rather than two main gear. But there isn’t much space available on the nose gear and in the wheel well. To make it all work, WheelTug looked to an old idea updated with new technology – the “wheel-hub” electric motor.
This is a guest story by Drew Vane on the classic MD-11.
In July of this year, KLM started retiring their fleet of MD-11s with plans to replace them with more fuel efficient aircraft. “Phasing out the MD11 forms part of KLM’s ongoing fleet renewal programme,” a KLM spokesperson explained to AirlineReporter.com. “The last of KLM’s ten MD11s is expected to leave the fleet by the end of 2014.” For the long term, KLM plans to replace the MD-11s with 787-9s, but until then, they will Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.
In my last article, I highlighted the DC-9 and its impending departure from the commercial skies. I’d thought its time was coming to a close, but Delta surprised me by extending the DC-9’s usage an additional year, but it looks like KLM won’t be delaying their MD-11 retirements.
The flight deck of a KLM MD-11 (PH-KCB). Photo by Dave H.
Once KLM phases out the MD-11, there will be no other commercial airline flying this widebody tri-jet for scheduled passenger service. It’s anticipated that only few cargo and charter airlines will use the MD-11 in their fleet before disappearing from the sky forever.
The MD-11 came about when the aviation engineers at McDonnell Douglas decided an upgrade to the DC-10 was warranted. Instead of inventing a new aircraft, McDonnell Douglas took an already existing popular wide-body aircraft, whose biggest user and launch customer was American Airlines, and made it better.
The DC-10 was plagued with poor media attention due to some catastrophic failures in the 70’s and 80’s, including the worst commercial air disaster in US history, the loss of American Airlines Flight 191. With that flight, a DC-10 rolled over following takeoff and crashed in Chicago on May 25, 1979 which resulted in 270 deaths.
KLM MD-11 at AMS with Northwest DC-10s in the background. Image taken in 2001 by Ken Fielding.
New technological advances had a major impact on what led to the DC-10 Super 60 project, what would eventually become the MD-11. Boeing’s website best describes what exactly made the MD-11 better than its predecessor. Specifically it states that the MD-11 has ’œadvances in aerodynamics, propulsion, aircraft systems, cockpit avionics and interior design.’ What does all the mean? Well, a leaner and meaner version of the DC-10. Here is a summary of the modifications:
Advanced Cockpit: Fly-by-wire technology, CRT displays, dual flight management system computer (eliminates need for a flight engineer), hydraulic fuses to prevent loss of control in catastrophic conditions, central fault display system, GPS, and Cat III automatic landing capability for extremely bad weather.
Composite Materials: Usage of light weight composites reduced overall weight and allowed for a fuselage 40 feet longer than the DC-10.
Aerodynamic design: Added winglets produce 2.5% more efficiency in drag as well as wing and tail improvements.
More efficient engines: More efficient aircraft engines were developed by Pratt & Whitney, GE and Rolls Royce. New engine types resulted in greater thrust as less fuel usage and longer range.
The table below highlights how these improvements directly related to a longer range and more efficient aircraft. To make things apples to apples, I’ve chosen versions that were the best of each aircraft type.
Maximum Range (full load)
Maximum Cruise Speed
Maximum Takeoff Weight
38, 615 gallons
Engines – Thrust
PW4462 – 62,000 lbf
PW JT9D-59A – 53,000 lbf
So, what we have is a longer range aircraft that is capable of carrying more passengers with less crew and a state-of-the-art cockpit.
If you want to catch a ride on one of these ’œMighty Dogs’ after KLM retires their 9 remaining aircraft, short of buying your own, you’ll have to fly on a charter flight or ship yourself via Fedex, UPS, Eva Cargo or Lufthansa Cargo.
There are many airline take off videos out there, but not too many that are able to catch a take off head on. Blog reader SpeedbirdHD got this video of a KLM Boeing 747-400 (PH-BFO) taking off from Amsterdam (AMS).
“We will stop the route AMS-MIA per summer 2012 (as of March 25 2012),” KLM spokesperson explained to AirlineReporter.com. “With the start of a fourth daily frequency Atlanta-Amsterdam, we have a good indirect alternative within the Joint Venture with Delta.”
It is always sad to see a classic tri-holer pull out of a market. Sure, for an average passenger, I would imagine they would rather fly on one of KLM’s newer A330s, but for us aviation enthusiasts, the MD-11 is the classic bird of choice.
KLM is still operating 10 of the MD-11s in commercial service and seven in their cargo fleet (as of March 2011). They are the only airline in the world still running the MD-11 on scheduled passenger service.
When asked if there were any solid plans on replacing the MD-11, the airline stated, “KLM is continuously monitoring her fleet development, and at this moment KLM has no exact dates as yet to retire the MD-11.”
KLM still regularly flies the MD-11 to San Fransisco and Vancouver, so enjoy spotting them in North America while they are still around. With fuel prices continuing to rise, it is unclear how much longer we will be seeing the blue MD-11s.
’œFor its first joint order, the Air France KLM group made its selection after a detailed assessment showing all the performance characteristics of each aircraft, including their energy and environmental performance’ declared Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, CEO of Air France KLM.
Computer rendering of the 787 Dreamliner in Air France and KLM liveries. Images from Boeing.
The airline will purchase 25 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with options for 25 more. They will also purchase 25 A350-900s with options for another 35.
’œWe’re proud to be a major part of the fleet renewal plan being undertaken by Air France-KLM,’ said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. ’œThe 787 Dreamliner will bring outstanding value to the two airlines and will be a great complement to their large fleets of Boeing widebody airplanes.’
Currently Boeing has over 800 orders from 56 customers for the 787 Dreamliner and Airbus has 567 orders for the A350 XWB from 35 customers.