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Stevens AeroModel - Top Quality Balsa Kits

Precisely engineered model planes build quickly, fly superbly

Hummingbird balsa RC plane kit

Rear view of Hummingbird


RC pilots have discovered the fun world of indoor model airplane flight. Indoor modeling offers year round flying. Micro ready to fly RC planes are readily available and are ideal for these venues. However, quality kits for indoor radio controlled flight have been more challenging to discover.

Farman Carte Postal model airplane

1926 Farman Carte Postale RC plane

Stevens AeroModel provides a one stop solution regarding top notch kits for indoor RC airplane flight. Stevens AeroModel offers a wide range of aircraft subjects from scale to sport flyers.

I have built three of these kits to include the LiddleRod, Pietenpol Air Camper and Hummingbird. All three kits offered the same positive building experience. The kits are complete and employ state of the art Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing processes to prepare the balsa and plywood parts.

 

The Stevens aircraft kits use an interlocking assembly procedure that greatly speeds the building process. The absolute precision with which each aircraft part is designed and fabricated ensures a straight and true airframe. The laser cut parts save countless hours of measuring, cutting, sanding and fitting that are required with traditional airplane kits.

Hummingbird RC plane nose construction

Hummingbird nose blocks and engine mount

Unique construction process

A set of CAD plans is included, but these plans are more of a reference that a dedicated guide to model construction. The Stevens kits go together exceptionally well. It is mandatory that you carefully read and follow the detailed construction steps and photo documentation to achieve success.

I have build dozens of model airplane kits, but I do not think I could have figured out on my own the novel assembly methods employed by Stevens Aeromodel. Thus the reminder to, once again, carefully follow the detailed instructions.

Flybaby biplane

Fly Baby biplane balsa model plane

A good example is the Hummingbird. The Hummingbird’s building instructions total 106 separate steps. Each step is carefully described and accompanied by a photo of the finished procedure.

The steps are logical and make perfect sense, but are not self evident due to the insightful design of the kit. The key to successfully building any of the remarkable Stevens kits is to read and re-read the instructions and study the photos before gluing anything in place. You simply must follow this approach. The reward is a kit that goes together quickly and self jigs to a satisfying finished product.

Smaller radio control model planes suitable for indoor flight must be built to the lowest weight possible to achieve good flight performance. The Stevens kits meet this goal with their balsa and plywood construction process, as the density of the wood can be closely controlled to meet design goals.

Hummingbird RC plane balsa frame

Typical balsa frame for a Stevens AeroModel kit

Standard power and electronics package

The challenge with using the proper type of radio control electronics and electric motors for these micro models is achieved by an essentially fool proof approach. All of these indoor models use the same ParkZone battery, geared motor and ultra micro electronic speed control (ESC)/receiver/servo brick. The Stevens AeroModel website lists each component, which is very convenient when ordering the kit.

Hummingbird RC plane in flight

Hummingbird RC plane in flight

The benefit of a common electronics and power package for each model translates into predictable flight performance. The Stevens line of micro model is essentially designed around these components. Each item fits precisely and meets aircraft parameters for side and down thrust, as well as achieving the proper center of gravity without the need for extra balance weight.

The kits contain a lot of parts. There are typically several sheets of balsa with each part laser cut. Part numbers are laser scribed with an ID. The CAD plans have a wealth of information to fill in any missing details from the building instructions. A hardware bag contains various bit and pieces required to complete the kit. These include lightweight music wire for the landing gear and flight controls, heat shrink tubing for linkage adjustment and disc magnets to hold the wings and struts in place.

The main building tip I would offer has been mentioned before, and that is to carefully follow the directions. If you are not sure about a step, take a moment to pause and study the plans and photo of the procedure.

 

Pietenpol Air Camper

Pietenpol Air Camper is an excellent flyer

Parts fit in place

Every piece does fit into place. Some parts, to emphasize the correct placement, have arrows etched in place. If you are truly stuck, put down your work and take a short break. The assembly procedure will become clear the second time around. The good news is that once one kit is complete, the next one will go together that much quicker as the kits follow the same general construction architecture.

Hummingbird plane in flight

Hummingbird in flight

Likely the most challenging aspect of building one of these micro kits is with the installation of the thin music wire controls rods from the servo arms to the elevator and rudder control arms. As discussed earlier, I have built and flown three of these kits. I can assure you that the instructions and plans are correct, but they must be completely understood and followed to achieve a successful installation.

The kits have pre-drilled guide holes in the fuselage formers that the elevator and rudder control rods are inserted through. The control rods are put in place with the fuselage upside down. The rods usually cross (servo on right connects to the rudder or elevator control arm on left) to have as straight a run as possible.

In can be tricky making the Z-bends and inserting one end into the servo arm. But it can be done. Be patient, ensure you have a good set of small needle nose pliers and think ahead before making any wire cuts.

 

The method of using two sets of control rods and binding them with overlapped heat shrink tubing works well. This is a sound way to ensure the control rods are the correct length with the rudder and elevator centered.

Balsa RC plane kit parts

Balsa frames for Pietenpol

Personal modifications

The final tip I would offer when building these planes is to decide whether or not you want the wing to be glued into place. For the Pietenpol, I elected to glue the wing in place. The supplied cabane strut grommets did not seem like a long term solution.

Tim iwth Hummingbird

Tim holding Hummingbird RC plane

On the Hummingbird I had no choice but to use the supplied magnets to fix the lower wing in place. I had a notion of gluing the Hummingbird wing to the fuselage saddle. Luckily, I took a second look at the plans and realized the ESC brick was in the wing saddle portion of the fuselage, not located in the nose area as with the Pietenpol. The wing had to be removable to allow any access to the control electronics.

The final lesson learned with these kits is to ensure you have zero wind if making an initial test flight outdoors. The small control surfaces do not have much throw. At first, this was a concern. But after the Pietenpol test flight I understood this is all part of the design process to minimize the chance of over controlling. The learning point is you do not have a lot of extra control authority if your flight is disrupted by the bumps normally encountered on a breezy day.

In summary, the Stevens AeroModel line of balsa kits provides an exceptional building and flight experience. The kits are just plain fun to construct. You are rewarded with a lightweight and attractive model airplane that flies well, and one that sets itself apart from the usual mix of foam ready to fly airplanes.

Author: Gordon McKay