Maker Anthony DiPilato recently challenged himself to build a remote-controlled aircraft tug that could pull a Cessna 310 for under a thousand bucks. After a few iterations, and a handful of failures along the way, the iPhone-controlled Aircraft Tug was born.

The Cessna 310 that DiPilato wanted to move weighs in at over 5,000 lb (2,268 kg), too heavy to move by brute force using a towbar. And those tugs you see at airports are much too costly. Building his own tiny tow machine seemed the way to go.

The project began with two 13-inch motor-driven wheels to the rear of a square tubed frame and a pair of trolley wheels out front. Also up front are two 12 V power chair batteries with the control system and electronics inbetween, which includes Arduino Mega brains, a Bluetooth module, cooling fans, a circuit breaker and an amber strobe light for the top of the cage enclosing them.

After coding his own remote control for an iPhone paired to the Tug over Bluetooth, he found that the wheeled creation didn't have enough pulling power to move the Cessna, and so decided to try a tank track design. Frustratingly, the chains came off the sprockets and test number two failed.

DiPilato replaced the single line of rollers on each side of the frame with double rows, to keep the tracks in line, and cemented neoprene grips to the tracks for extra traction. A wheel hitch between the tracks was also fashioned and installed, where the front wheel of the Cessna pushes down a bar to lift the ramp. This is then locked in position using electromagnets.

After further testing and tweaking, the Tug successfully pulled the Cessna from its hanger – as you can see in the video below. More detailed build notes and more test footage is available via the source link.

A similar commercially-available device, the Trailer Valet RVR, can be used to park trailers by remote control.

View gallery - 6 images