For decades, Powertow has been a leader in general aviation, specializing in the production of aircraft tugs, including tow tractors and aircraft movers. Their products, known for their compactness, portability, and easy manoeuvrability, are designed to safely reposition aircraft for parking or maintenance, reducing physical strain on pilots and ground personnel.
While developing their electric aircraft tug, Powertow faced multiple challenges, primarily stemming from the wiring harness’s complexity due to the motor controller’s numerous inputs. Recognizing the motor controller’s compatibility with the CAN bus drive, Powertow considered a computer-based system. However, many industrial CAN displays lacked control input functionality, prompting a search for a more sophisticated solution. A CAN system promised to reduce wire count while providing valuable information, such as error reports and drive status updates.
Chipsee’s industrial panel PC, the PPC-CM4-070, proved to be the ideal solution. Powered by Raspberry Pi CM4, it offered both input and output compatibility at a significantly lower cost than typical industrial panel PCs. Collaborating with Codespeed, a local company, we ensured successful coding and bug resolution. Additionally, we incorporated Powertow’s company logo into the startup sequence, enhancing brand visibility and customer engagement.
The PPC-CM4-070-equipped electric aircraft tug now services a wide variety of aircraft, from small two-seaters to medium-sized business jets. The AC drive unit, quieter than gas-powered tugs, delivers precise torque for moving heavy loads. Introducing a screen and drive-by-wire setup reduced the conductor count from 18 to 9. Moreover, the screen improves the tug’s aesthetic appeal and provides users with crucial data and system alerts. Software adjustments introduced additional functionality to compensate for the inability to modify the motor controller firmware.
Powertow’s successful integration of Chipsee’s industrial panel PC into their electric tug showcases the potential for innovation and efficiency in the aviation ground handling sector. This case study illustrates how technical challenges can serve as stepping stones to enhanced functionality and improved user experiences.