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Model Building Experience and RC Plane Design

Knowledge gained from kits and plans translate directly to RC plane design

Blackburn RC model plane from plans

Blackburn construction plans available here

As discussed here, here and here a very satisfying aspect of the radio control model airplane hobby is conceiving, building and flying an original plane design. There is something special with taking an airplane concept that you sketch out on a piece of paper, engineer the structure and then fly the prototype for the first time. It truly is a unique aspect of this great hobby.

As I mentioned in other sections discussing RC plane design, everyone has to start with their first design.

The first time is difficult. However, you will find that once you actually build and fly your first RC model airplane design, you will have gained a great deal of experience and insight that makes your next RC model blueprint much easier.

By the time you have several projects completed you will be surprised at how quickly you can analyze a candidate aircraft and come up with a plan. In short, experience plays a large and positive role with RC plane design.

Gain design experience

The question invariably comes up as to the best way to gain this design experience. Preparing new model building plans is an assured path towards this goal. But there are other modeling experiences that you should undertake that will have a direct impact on your model airplane design skills.

The idea is any action done to build or observe another model plane construction scheme adds to your knowledge and background for creating future projects. Attendance a events such as E-Fest can lead to many ideas and insights.

Ply frame of the Blackburn

Fuselage plywood backbone of the Blackburn

Take time to note any distinctive or insightful construction methods in planes made from a kit or plans. The RC plane designer might have come up with an innovative method of building a wing or tail section that can be adapted to a future design of yours, such as the Guillow Lancer RC conversion. When at trade shows such as E-Fest bring a camera and note how other modelers have met their RC plane design targets.

A good example of this approach is the design technique that I figured out for the plywood “backbone” on my Blackburn monoplane.

I quickly realized as I sketched out the Blackburn that the triangular fuselage section would not provide much strength to the finished model. The full scale Blackburn employed wire bracing to achieve a rigid fuselage, but this method would not be practical for my simplified RC plane design.

Battery on Blackburn airplane

Flight battery mounts on ply plate

I came up with a scheme that was lightweight, practical and could be adapted to many other designs of antique model aircraft.

I created a rectangular 1/16 inch plywood plate that was glued on top of the balsa fuselage frame. I cut out mounting holes for the elevator and rudder servos, and extended the ply plate to the nose of the Blackburn.

The Blackburn’s plywood firewall was securely epoxied to the plate and reinforced with triangular plywood gussets. The battery was located on the plate’s top and adjusted fore and aft to set the proper center of gravity. Finally, the landing gear was securely fastened to the ply plate.

View of Blackburn motor mount

Underside view of Blackburn motor mount

Following this procedure, the strength of the entire fuselage was tied in with the plywood plate that secured the motor and landing gear. No real stress was added to the fuselage, permitting a light and non-robust structure inherent with the open frame layout of the original Blackburn.

A great deal of strength and very little weight was added to the Blackburn with this simple design procedure. I will include this technique on future RC plane designs. It is simple, easy and effective.

Building from plans

A key time saver gained with RC plane design experience comes from drafting plans. When you draw an aircraft plan, you essentially need to “build” the aircraft in your mind as you draw the various components.

This will take some time for your initial efforts. However, once you have completed several plans, the design process progresses much faster. This allows you to anticipate potential problems as you create the design, saving time in the prototype build where these challenges are typically encountered.


Servo mount on Blackburn

Servos mount on Blackburn ply plate

After you have finished several RC model airplane designs you will likely have a preferred method for the general construction of your airplane. Experience teaches you what sizes and types of material are appropriate, the optimum motor and battery combination, as well as a good starting point on wing areas and tail moments.

If you are working on new type of aircraft, it is usually easier to scale up early design dimensions validated on successful models. In short, you will intuitively anticipate problems and avoid them at the earliest stage possible in the design process.

When building an original model design every plane flown provides a foundation of knowledge you can build on for future projects.

As you gain experience, you accumulate insights to existing construction methods that aid in solving the normal tests faced by anyone generating an original airplane. The more planes you design, the more experience you gain, and the larger your bag of tricks to foresee and solve the normal challenges faced with creating an original RC model plane.

Author: Gordon McKay

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