PeanutScale.com [This article by Bill Hannan was published in the 1974-1975 Aeromodeller Annual]
Back To The Sticks
(the fun is still there)
By Bill Hannan
Peanut Scale History
Before World War Two, models in thee United States were marketed in “lines” arranged according to wing spans, rather than specific scale reductions. Thus, a given span model was usually in a given price range . Common groupings were 36 in., 24 in., 16. in. and 12 in. This smallest grouping was probably the most popular, since it was the least expensive, and the majority of the customers were youngsters of quite limited means.
Believe it or not, these ‘”one-footers” could be obtained in kit form for as little as ten cents (Megow’s were 9d. (3 3/4p) in Britain), and this included the following:
- Full-size printed plan
- Balsa stripwood
- Printed sheet balsa
- Machine cut balsa prop
- Propeller hook
- Brass thrust washers
- Hardwood wheels
- Hardwood thrust button
- Coloured tissue
- Tiny tube of glue
- Nose block
- Celluloid for windshield
Today, ten cents will just about cover the cost of two strips of 1/16 in. square stripwood!
When Dave Stott and Bob Thompson of the Bridgeport, Connecticut, Flying Aces Club were composing the rules for their new Peanut Scale event, back in 1967, they began by examining sets of plans from these pre-war kit models. At first, their rules specified a 12-in. span, with a plus and minus tolerance, to allow for inevitable variations in man-made products. Then, after the event had been tested, it was discovered that a number of the plans were available in old magazine that were almost 13 in. span. Thus, the limit was raised to 13 in., with the firm provision that no additional stretching would be tolerated.
Originally, the rules called out a lower limit also, but this segment was eventually dropped, as few contestants cared to build anything smaller than necessary. Thus the upper limit was frozen, where it remains today, and has gained world-wide acceptance.
Flying scale aircraft have been around for a long time, and, in fact, they predated the man-carrying machines in some cases. Yet, very small examples have seldom been taken seriously, and have long been overshadowed by their larger cousins. Perhaps theorists are partly responsible for this state of affairs, since they have repeatedly pointed out in the modelling press that the bigger the model, the more efficient it can be. By way of explanation, the slide-rule pushers invariably singe out that great aerodynamicists’ escape clause, the Reynolds Number. Like the infamous U.S. Air Force unidentified flying object investigation, which set out to “explain away” every unsolved sighting, the Reynolds Number pitchmen have blithely by-passed any practical research into the flying potential of miniature flying machines.
Thus, tiny flying models, of the scale variety, are in approximately the same predicament as the humble bumble bee. They really shouldn’t perform so well. But they do, anyhow!
Prior to World War Two, many model aircraft manufacturers produced kits in the under 24-in. wing span range, and some of us gained our first introduction to the hobby from them. Typically, we were seldom able to achieve anything more than marginal flights from them, owing primarily to lack of experience. In my neighborhood, for example, such “exotic” items as mechanical winders and rubber lube were simply unknown! And, as we grew older and wiser, our attentions were turned to larger models. Yet, the memories lingered on, and I suspect the nostalgia factor has more than a little to do with the resent re-emergence of interest in the type.
In the United States, small scale flying model flying has developed along two rather distinct line; over 13-in. wing span, and under 13-in. wing span. We will attempt to present some information about both types, and trace the history of the smaller category, which has become known as the “Peanut Scale class”.
For many years, radio-controlled models have held the spotlight. These highly expensive and sophisticated aircraft were considered the ultimate in the expression of the modeller’s art. And there can be no doubt that some fantastic achievements have taken place, particularly in the scale class. The competition became so fierce, that only a handful of super-craftsmen were able to come within striking distance of the winner’s circle. Thus was born a new division, “stand-off scale”, which was envisaged as a class where “Joe average” would have a chance at recognition with his less-than-museum-quality model. And the tremendous response to the new class, both by model builders and kit manufacturers, indicates the scope of interest in this type of model.
Similarly, in the free flight scale arena, over-specialization was reducing competition to a relative handful of experts. Then, too, inroads in housing developments meant decreasing flying site availability, a factor that was taking its toll in all forms of outdoor model flying. And, a parallel hampering situation was the increasing number of public complaints regarding the noise created by engine-powered models.
Soon, some modellers began to search for alternate ways of pursuing the enjoyment of scale model aircraft flying, by dipping into the past. Answer? The “old-fashioned” rubber-driven type! Here was the class the most “experts” had written off as an antiquated entertainment for inexperienced people. It remained for a small number of dedicated small-model enthusiasts to demonstrate the real charm and flying potential of miniatures. True, such models had continued to appear, over the years in the modelling press, and yet, the finished article was seldom in evidence at the local flying sites.
In the U.S., on the West Coast, a single club, the (then) North American Aviation Flightmasters (now, Rockwell International Flightmasters) clung steadfastly to the belief in rubber-driven models, by sponsoring events for them at least two or three times per year. While on the East Coast, another club, the Flying Aces, of Brideport, Connecticut, proclaimed their faith in the type, by sponsoring only contests for rubber-driven types. Their rules, which offered incentive for out-of-the-rut types, rather than such “safe” subjects as Piper Cubs, were so warmly received that soon they invented a separate set of rules, designed specifically to cater to even smaller rubber-driven models, the now famous Peanut Scale class (see Introduction).
It is interesting to note that the first formal contest was won by renowned builder, Henry Struck, who entered a 12-in. span Howard “Pete” racer. In the beginning, the event was envisaged as an outdoor affair, but it wasn’t long before some clubs were also conducting such contests in hangars and gymnasiums.
Soon members of the Flightmasters were comparing notes with Dave Stott and Bob Thompson, innovators of Peanut Scale, and next these tiny models were spreading in popularity all the was across the United States, and recently the types have been accepted in such countries as England, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and Poland.
Of course, in England, such enthusiasts as Doug McHard, Ken McDonough and Ray Malmstrom had long held the candle aloft for tiny flying scale models.
Why the appeal? Consider the following”
- They are quite inexpensive to construct. The total cost of a Peanut, complete with rubber motor, will seldom approach the cost of the fuel for a day’s R/C flying!
- They are easy to transport. There is no need for removable or “knock-off” wing panels, or exotic carrying cases. A small pasteboard box makes a perfect “hangar”.
- They are clean. No messy fuel, exhaust, or ht-fuel rotting problems.
- They are quiet. An especially important factor in today’s noise-pollution-oriented society.
- They are durable. When this type of model crashes (and of course they do!), damage is usually less severe than it would be in a larger, heavier model. Simile: An ant falling off a cliff will most likely survive, but not an elephant! Thus, the usual life of a small model is often an entire flying season, or longer. Some, here in Southern California, have been flying in active competition for six years.
- Small models are adaptable. They may be flown indoors or outside. Most fellows build general-purpose models, but more dedicated pilots, build special light-weight examples for indoor use, and rugged ones for outdoors.
Peanuts have proven suprisingly adaptable to events which might seem outside their sphere of effectiveness. For example, some have fared very well against larger rubber-driven scale models in major contests. Other have placed well in rubber-driven speed events, again competing with much larger examples.
Ground Support Equipment
It is interesting to contrast the contents of a typical Peanut Scaler’s field box with that of an R/C flier’s; On the one hand, the “with it” electronically guided model pilot may quite liely have, in addition to the aircraft itself, a transmitter, starting batteries, battery leads, electric engine starter and battery for same, fuel, fuel pump, electronic tachometer, tools, ear-protection devices, spare props, glow plugs, gunk remover, etc., etc., etc.
By contrast the rubber-driven model enthusiast can quite adequtely get by with only a winder, rubber lube, spare motor(s) and perhaps a few straight pins and glue, in case of minor repairs are needed. Thus, the total investment in the entire model and ground support equipment will seldom exceed the cost of the muffler on the R/C model!
All told, a maximum of fun and satisfaction for a minimum investment of time and money.
Examples of rules are given elsewhere in this article. However, individual clubs often modify the rules to suit their particular desires. Typically, the “regular” rubber-driven scale models are flown under rather stringent regulations, with a great deal of attention to static scale judging, whereas the Peanut Scales are regarded more nearly in the “stand-off” scale vein.
“Nit-picking” is discourage, but the spirit of the event encourages improvement of the art. Although the upper span limit is 13 in., many of the present records are held by models of less than the maximum allowable span.
From an appearance standpoint, Peanuts run the gamut from extremely stark ”ghost” ships (thinly disguised microfilm models), to models that would nearly qualify for inclusion in museum collections.
As in all other types of scale model competitions, the builder is expected to provide the judges with proof-of-scale material. Thus research is an important facet of small rubber-driven model work. Curiously, some consider this a bother and will generally run around frantically looking for a 3-view drawing to “match” his model, after he has constructed it! A more logical approach is to select one’s scale information in advance of building the model. Very seldom are plans dead accurate, and 3-view drawings should be regarded with suspicion until proven valid. Photos are the safest form of information, assuming one allows for camera angle distortions. Although Peanut rules do not require photos of the real aircraft to be shown, inclusion of a few along with a 3-view drawing can certainly provide a more convincing presentation for the judges.
Since Peanut Scale is not intended to be as “serious” as regular scale, the author feels that it makes a fine outlet for those designs one frequently encounters, about which only a limited amount of information can be found. Some of these obscure types make delightful model subjects, even if a few details must be “guessed in”.
Sources of Plans and Kits
Check the advertising in the various model magazine for suppliers. Some of the “Old-Timer” plans offered by sale by mail are also small enough to qualify for Peanuts. The MAP range of scale drawings is exceptionally broad, and many of the subjects would make delightful Peanuts.
Peanuts require very little material, and can be constructed in small work spaces. A local airline pilot, C. G. Scott, carries his Peanut workshop in an attaché case, to be worked on during airport layovers. Roald Tweet, an English professor, keeps a Peanut in his desk drawer, to be “operated upon” during free class periods.
Others build two or more Peanuts simultaneously. Hal Swanson, of Modernistic Models, has been seen constructing as many as five at once, switching as required, to allow time for glue to dry. Great therapy for those with a short attention span!
Some Peanuts are almost entirely sheet balsa, while the majority are of traditional “stick and tissue” form. A few use combinations of techniques, such as sheet wood or planked fuselage, used in conjunction with built-up tissue-covered wings and tailplanes.
Balsa, logically enough, form the basis for the vast majority of Peanuts, although some builders are delving into the use of expanded foam plastic. Basswood has its adherents, and is easier to laminate than balsa, for such items as curved wing tips. And, in some instances, a 1/32 square strip of basswood can take the place of a 1/16-in. square piece of balsa, with equal or less weight.
Builders have different preferences when it comes to glues. Some prefer the traditional cellulose type of cement; other use white glue (P.V.C.) or aliphatic resin, while still others employ five-minute epoxy.
Japanese tissue is the universal favourite, since it combines light weight, good strength and pleasing colours. Since it is now in short supply, alternatives have been pressed into service. For strictly indoor models, condenser paper is sometimes used. Although fragile, it is no-porous and very light in weight. A few of the extremely tin mylar films have also been used. Not, however, that some rules handicap these types of covering, which in general do not present a particularly realistic appearance.
Most of the all-sheet models are covered with coloured tissue, while others are painted or dyed.
Propeller theory controversy is an unresolved here as in any other form of aircraft. However, in the interests of simplicity, many Peanuts use readily available plastic props. These are surprisingly efficient, and usually crash resistant. Characteristics of different brands vary, and experiments are well worth the while. Plastic props have the added advantage of concentrating their weight to the extreme front of the model, a useful attribute on short nose-moment designs.
On the other hand, there is a lot to be said in favour of the “old-fashioned” wood propeller. Some prefer the machine-cut blank type, which requires only a small amount of finishing, while others prefer to carve their own from blocks. Then, too, the sheet-balsa blade and built-up hub approach has its merits.
As with any type of scale modelling, it is the little things that set a winner apart from a mediocre example. One must constantly be aware of the performance penalties of weight increases, however, when adding details to Peanuts. Happily, much can be achieved with very light materials, such as coloured tissue and thin paint. Panel lines and control surface outlines can be simulated with thin tissue strips or simply inked on. Those who think the amount or quality of details must be limited by the model’s small size, are encouraged to visit an I.P.M.S. display, to see what can be achieved in the way of finesse and intricacies in really small models!
Modifications From Scale
Although the intent of the rules is to encourage realism, the typical Peanut will be found to have certain modifications performed, in the interests of improving performance. Landing gears are often lengthened for greater prop clearance. In areas where models are flown hand-launched only, the props are sometimes simply extended, and the landing gear left in scale position. In the case of a modelled real aircraft with retractable landing gear, the wheels are simply represented as being in the “up” position.
Enlarging the horizontal tailplane often makes flight trimming easier, although purists have proven that minimal scale areas can be persuaded to work, with forward C. G. locations, proper airfoils, and careful adjustments.
While the construction and finishing of a Peanut may be considered an art, flying it combines art, science and at least a modicum of luck! The usual admonishments regarding freedom from unintentional warps and correct surface alignment apply here, just as in any other form of model flying.
Indoor fliers agree that the ideal is the longest possible rubber motor run, coupled with the slowest possible flight. The optimum prop/power combination results in the model landing with a few turns remaining in the motor. That is to say, no glide is involved in the flight.
Outdoors, there are two distinct schools of thought. One group favours an approach similar to the indoor system, wherein the model cruises around on fairly limited power, with a long duration motor run.
The opposite tack involves blasting the model to altitude with high power, with the glide constituting a significant portion of the total flight. Some of these “interceptor” type models will climb almost vertically, and can quickly reach amazing heights. The typical Peanut does not glide very well, however, even with a free-wheeling pro-probably because the prop represents such a major proportion of the model’s total drag.
Either type of model performance can be considerably affected by the prevailing weather. Thermals can benefit either type, but high winds can literally put the ultralight models out of action.
This is the area of the biggest “breakthrough” of modern Peanuts, as compared to the old “10-cent kit” models. With many very experienced builders flying Peanut Scale models, improvements have been evolved and techniques refined to the point of a fine art, both in construction and flying.
Peanuts have demonstrated conclusively that a model need not be large to perform spectacularly. Indoor versions approach the 60 sec. mark commonly, and a few of the “ghost ships” have achieved durations in the order of five minutes.
Outdoors, the sky is literally the limit, and a few Peanuts have disappeared out of sight under officially sanctioned conditions. The author personally witnessed a nine-minute plus flight by one of Clarence Mather’s Peanut Scale models. Yet, this same model had also performed within the confines of a small gymnasium, demonstrating the adaptability of these tiny machines.
Peanuts range from a low of about 1/8 oz. for a strictly indoor “ghost” ship, to about 1 oz. for some outdoor “flying bricks”. Most run somewhere between these two extremes, and my guess is that an average might be about 1/2 oz.
Pirelli rubber, scarce as it is, is still the preferred motive power. Sizes as small as 1 mm are used in the ultralight indoor types, while sizes as large as 4 mm are used in a few outdoor high-climbing “hot-rods”. Again, the average might be somewhere in the 2 mm area.
One of the most popular features of the Peanut Scale class, is the variety of designs it attracts. Seemingly impractical types involve very little risk in Peanut form, and the low cost involved encourages builders to experiment with “oddballs” that they might hesitate to undertake in larger form. Thus, antiques, canards, multiplanes, pushers and such abound in Peanut contests.
Selecting a Subject
Peanuts are unique in that the upper wingspan limit has such a strong effect on the choice of scale subject. Thus, for example, some racing aircraft translated to Peanut form emerge with enormously long fuselages, whereas high-aspect ratio designs may yield only tiny fuselages and very minimal wing areas.
Ideally, one should look for a fairly low-aspect ratio design, with long nose-moment, large horizontal tailplane, adequate dihedral and (hopefully) a charming appearance to woo the judges and spectators. Admittedly a tall order but the looking is half the fun!
Great vistas remain unexplored. Areas deserving exploration include: Variable pitch propellers; multi-engine designs (hint: take a look at some of the American twin prop “coin” fighters); contra-rotating prop designs; pusher-puller types.
Along the gamesmanship lines, we could all take a leaf from the I.P.M.S. members, and think in terms of presenting the judges with a complete Peanut Scale diorama!
Peanuts open up new horizons for truly international postal meets. Usual postal meets involve the flying of models made to specified rules in several locations, and mailing the duration times in to a central point for evaluation and scoring. But with Peanuts, it would be quite practicable to mail the models themselves to a central point, anywhere on earth, for direct competition! For the first time in the entire history of aeromodelling, an event would be available to enable even the most financially limited enthusiast to participate! Since the models are so small and light, they can be quite inexpensively mailed for proxy-flying.
Who will start the ball game rolling? After all, we can all play for “peanuts”, and we won’t have to “shell out” much!