Nearly as long as there have been aircraft there have been model aircraft. Now-a-days the majority if aero modellers build either static plastic kits such as the Airfix DH88 Grosvenor House kit (build thread here: https://motorsportformentalhealth.com/2016/11/08/air-racing-dh88-comet/ ) and RC modellers tend to fly bodied aircraft.
Before the ‘foamie’ really developed into a viable scale model most RC model makers used to build their planes to scale air frames made of balsa wood covered with a tissue, replicating the way in which real bi-planes and early aircraft were built.
Balsa building is becoming a bit of a dying art, which is somewhat understandable as people like to fly their models and foam is a lot more resilient to the occasional hard landing than balsa. However the balsa models are just works of art. The engineering that goes into the frame work of a balsa aircraft, or a full size early aircraft, is just truly spectacular. Here we have a full size Sopwith replica from the Stow Maries aerodrome which I visited a while back…
…And here are the underpinnings of a glider that my Dad is currently renovating. This is somewhat an inspiration for this build haha!
Now, I’m sure that there are people out there who can look some sheets and strips of balsa wood and build an aircraft without the aid of a net but sadly I am not one of those people. So like the mere mortal I am I had to buy a kit. A ‘beginners’ kit of a Piper Super Cub with a small 20 inch wingspan.
As you may be able to see, despite the fact this picture was clearly taken with a potato, this kit is rubber band powered. So it will fly! I shall hopefully get to share this experience with you if it doesn’t nose dive into the ground and break into a thousand pieces first flight.
I digress. The kit comes with everything you need for the build apart from the tools, obviously. A lot of the kit is laser cut including the ribs for the wings, bulkheads, sides of the fuselage and other formers. Strips of balsa wood cut to size connect the laser cut bits together.
The instructions are the most important part though! Unlike just about anything else in the world the instructions sort of come as true to scale blueprint which you build onto. You pin the instructions onto a board such as this cork board available from Argos…
…Then pin a piece of stretched cling film over the instructions to stop the bits you are assembling from sticking to the instruction sheet (thankfully for once in my life I had the foresight to think about that)
With that done you can use the instructions as a template to accurately cut and assemble your model. Once everything is cut and glued together you can pin the parts to the sheet so they dry as accurate to the instructions as possible.
Then after some time a rudder and stabiliser appeared!
That’s the first stage of the instructions complete! I know I used air racing as an excuse to include flight in the blog before hand bt scale flight doesn’t really cover that. I’m just going to write about this before it interests me haha! No excuses needed!
This build will be over a couple of parts. I’ll build the rest of the airframe and then write another and then will do an article about covering with tissue, something I have to learn about!
I’m going to work my way up to flying a balsa RC. I’ve somewhat learnt the basics on a big foam trainer and there is a low wing RC foamie I want to build next then I will do a basic balsa bi-plane in RC before I work my way towards my end goal 🙂
From a modelling perspective, these balsa planes are great as they are the closest we can get to really getting an understanding of how early aircraft were manufactured. They might not be the most sensible choice for model flight but they really really please my inner nerd!
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