My “Summer of Free-Flight” has been a lot of fun! It’s been a learning experience, not always smooth going, but always fun! I’ve built and flown a few really fun balsa wood stick and tissue paper airplanes this summer. The latest plane added to my fleet of planes is Rob Peck’s classic design, the Prairie Bird.
Peck Polymers Prairie Bird Airplane
A friend recommended I build the Prairie Bird because of its reputation as a great flyer. He was correct; more on that later. I searched around on the internet and downloaded the plan. The plan was formatted to print nicely on 11″x17″ paper – so I uploaded the file to Staples and had them print me a few on some quite nice card stock. I believe five copies cost me under $3 total. I pinned the plan to my building board, covered it with Saran Wrap and got to work.
I really took my time on this project making certain everything was as perfect as could be. The straightforward design of the plane made it easy to construct a straight and square fuselage. I practically glued the cross-braces one at a time and waited for the glue to set before I adding the next one.
Adding tissue paper was a snap because there isn’t too many compound angles and curves to the parts. The tissue on everything except the rudder and stabilizer was shrunk with 50/50 water/alcohol mixture. Following the shrinking I added a three coats of 50/50 SIG Lite-Coat/Thinner. The windshield is made with clear plastic from a salad container. I used plastic Peck wheels, a Peck Nylon Bearing and Peck propeller. The propeller was balanced by gently sanding away material until an even balance was achieved (a lot more sanding than I expected).
My test flights were a great success. At first I was flying with approximately 300 turns on the motor, eventually increasing to about 600. Many more turns are possible, but I didn’t have a helper or a stooge to help me stretch wind the motor. I didn’t want to press my luck.
The Prairie Bird performed wonderfully and was a champion at catching thermals. One of the flights concluded in a tree. Lucky for me it was low enough to the ground that I whacked it loose with a six foot long stick.
The thrill that is achieved from flying these little beauties is beyond words. The careful work and attention is forgotten – and happiness consumes me when they take to the air, and when they land where they can be easily retrieved.
I’ve been busy making good old fashioned balsa stick and tissue rubber powered free flight planes. As I likely mentioned in an earlier post I’ve decided to take some time from woodworking and carving to relax and explore the hobby of flying model planes. My focus is primarily on Peanut Scale fliers, but instead of jumping right in I wanted to do it right and take some time to learn the nuts and bolts of making planes that fly. I’ve worked my way (mostly) through Don Ross’s book on rubber powered planes, with some success with building and flying these airborne works of art.
I assembled and flew a few of the SIG Models beginner planes: AMA Cub, AMA Racer, etc and had fun flying these sticks with wings. These projects helped me gain an understanding of how to trim (adjust) model planes for flight. Because these planes are so light their flight times are long and magical! I moved onto building and flying my own (no longer produced) SIG Uncle Sam plane which flew well until I accidentally locked it in the hot car too long and warped the stabilizer and rudder.
After completing the prior projects I decided I was ready to assemble my first Peanut Scale plane, which is the whole reason why I started on this journey. I was a busy boy online snatching up vintage Peanut Scale kits. For whatever reason Sterling kits (manufactured in Philadelphia, PA) captured my interest. My plan is to complete all six kits, twelve planes in all. I started the process with Kit #2: Monocoupe – Citabria. I laid out the plans for both on my building board and got to work.
I completed the Monocoupe first. At first I wasn’t interested in decorating the planes, I was simply going to apply white tissue and call it done. As the Monocoupe was taking shape, something clicked in my psyche and suddenly I was interested in applying all the details. Because of this they project took about twice as long as expected (a few weekends).
I’ve had an opportunity to take the complete Monocoupe out for a few test flights. To my surprise, it flew straight as an arrow. There are a few adjustments I’d like to make to balance the model better and improve the performance of the propeller. However, I think I’m going to hold off on any ambitious changes until I get more experience building and flying these wonderful Peanut Scale marvels.
The video above is of the Canarsie Canary I built using the plans from the Don Ross book Rubber Powered Model Airplanes. My previous post shared some of the construction of this model. I mentioned the first few flights were encouraging, but subsequent flights continued to get worse. This was because the propeller bracket was slowly tipping downward with each winding of the rubber band. I shimmed the bracket and the plane flies great!
Moving on to the next plane in the book. The Canarsie Courier. My model of this plane still isn’t flying as it should. I’m pretty sure I need to add weight to the nose, even though the weight of the plane is balanced as it should be. In the meantime I will share a little of my experience working through the book Rubber Powered Model Airplanes.
My Introduction to Building Balsa Airplanes
When I recently made the decision to start the hobby of building model airplanes I started with research. Despite how long this pastime has been around I quickly learned there isn’t a thorough Beginner’s Guide available for the novice. There is a wealth of information online but it assumes the reader has building experience and an understanding of the terminology. Because I am most interested in free flight rubber powered airplanes I’ve started with the aptly titled book Rubber Powered Model Airplanes by the late Don Ross.
The book is a fantastic introduction to the hobby and shares a wealth of tips and information for every newcomer. It isn’t, however, without shortcomings. The book instructs the reader to read the text multiple times and to have a complete understand of the plans before building the projects. There are many disparities throughout the text and illustrations which directly contradict each other. According to the author the plans are drawn in various scales to improve the reader’s competency with model plans. However, the plans don’t match.
The plans for this pylon are taken directly from the Canarsie Courier plans. Here the pylon illustration on the right is reduced to match the illustration on the left. It’s not hard to notice the illustrated height is different between the two, also no height measurement is provided in the plans or the text. Another inconsistent example is the length of the motor stick. The plan stipulates a length of eighteen inches; if the plans are properly enlarged they motor stick is actually drawn to a length of seventeen inches.
I assume the plane will fly, to some degree, regardless of the length chosen by the modeler. However, this is a book for beginners. I’ve already learned enough to know these planes are tricky to build and fly with meticulous effort. It’s easy to become frustrated when inconsistencies such as these are discovered.
Therefore I’m taking a break from working through this book and exploring a few other options on building free flight planes.
I mentioned in an earlier post at the summer of 2017 is time for me to learn the ins and outs of rubber powered free flight model planes. To do so I’m starting from square one – the fabulous book by Don Ross titled Rubber Powered Model Airplanes. The first project in the book is the Canarsie Canary, a basic balsa wood design. All that is needed is some balsa wood, a propeller with mount and a loop of airplane rubber.
I purchased the balsa wood from my local hobby shop, the propeller and rubber was ordered from SIG, a popular model plane manufacturer. While I waited for the parts to arrive (and they came within a few days) I started building the balsa wood parts. As you can see it’s not a very complicated design, basically a stick with wings, rudder and stabilizer. The most complicated aspect of the build is setting the wing dihedral, bending the wing tips upward – this adds flight stability.
I followed the instructions somewhat diligently. Scotch tape is applied on the top of the wing where the bend will occur. The wing is flipped over and lightly scored to allow the wood to bend, but not break. The wing tips must be folded upward 1 1/4″ and the gap is filled with glue. For precision sake the wings were supported on two stacks of plywood scraps (each stack is a piece of 1/2″ and 3/4″ plywood) 1 1/4″ tall. I used tape to hold everything in place while everything set.
When the remaining parts arrived I assembled the entire plane and gave it a test flight. To my surprise it flew straight and smooth. A few hours later I headed to the local park with plenty of room to give the plane a true test. Before the Canarie Canary can take flight two small rectangles of paper are taped on the wing and rudder. This forces the plane into a gentle left turn.
I’ll be honest, the plane had about ten flights, three of them were somewhat graceful and responded as it should. At times there was a breeze, and some of the adjustments of the plane were not ideal. Suddenly some of the advise that is shared in the book became quite clear. So I’ll be trying out a few modifications and returning to the park soon. I’ll report with more information when it comes to fruition.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted to the blog, not because I’ve been a slacker – but because I haven’t completed any noteworthy projects recently. Preparing for the Maker Faire required a lot energy and time. With the event behind me I’m ready to take on my summer. You may be thinking, “So you’re going to complete some of your carvings or other ambitious projects?” The answer is, “No.” I’ve decided it’s time to take a break and relax.
How do I relax? Well, by starting another project! Way back in the day I enjoyed assembling scale models and balsa wood planes. I’ll admit my planes looked nice, but never flew as they should. This summer is a chance to redeem myself and earn my wings. I picked up a few balsa and tissue kits at an estate sale on the cheap. These kits are currently being assembled as practice projects. Maybe they’ll fly – it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t.
Concurrently, I’m working through the great book by the late Don Ross titled Rubber Powered Model Airplanes. You can expect a few posts regarding the projects from the book in the near future. I’m waiting for a few necessary parts to be shipped and I can complete assembly and start to learn the ins and outs of trimming (tuning) model airplanes for free flight.
What’s that? I’ll let my friend Wiki answer that for you:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Free Flight is the segment of model aviation involving aircraft with no active external control after launch. Free Flight is the original form of hobby aeromodeling, with the competitive objective being to build and launch a self controlling aircraft that will achieve the longest flight duration, within various class parameters.
That’s right! Airplanes are built and flown with no control once it’s in the air. If built correctly, and the flight conditions cooperate, the plane doesn’t fly away to a distant back yard. It’s recommended to write your contact info on the plane, just in case.
I’ve rambled enough for this post (which is only the tip of the iceberg of ramblings my wife’s been kind enough to endure lately) so for now I’ll leave it at that. Stay tuned for what will surely be entertaining (and possibly educational) updates on my progress.