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Airplane Museums Offer Great Info for Scale Models

Airplane museum photos detail design and construction insights


Through the magic of the internet, it is easy to discover fascinating collections of information on a wide range of full scale historical aircraft you may wish to model. Aircraft three views, various plans and old photographs provide invaluable data towards designing and building a scale radio control model airplane of your choice.

For antique aircraft and other early pioneers of flight, such as the Fokker Spin, clear and detailed photos often do not exist to document these important aircraft. The good news is that there are a number of airplane museums that can fill the gap for the RC pilot wishing to design, build and fly a scale model of one of these aircraft. It is very common for airplane museums to have a collection of aircraft photos on their website if you cannot visit in person.

Bring a camera!

Should you have the opportunity to visit one of these airplane museums, be certain to bring your camera. This is an ideal time to employ one of the digital single lens reflex cameras with a telephoto lens, so that you can zoom in under less than optimum lighting conditions to catch specific airplane details on a given subject.


Farman antique biplane

Valuable details of early aircraft construction, such as the flying wires, are on view with the Farman full scale aircraft

You will be surprised as you review these airplane museum photos on the various insights you can gain regarding airplane construction methods and materials as you drawn up model construction plans. This is especially true for aircraft built in the early years of flight. The construction methods used for airplanes during the first decades of flight closely mirror the methods we use to build our model aircraft today. In many cases, even the materials - wood, wire and some sort of covering - are the same.

Taube airplane front view

German Taube used warping for pitch and bank control

A collection of airplane museum photos can provide an extremely useful reference library for understanding full scale aircraft construction techniques and materials that can be readily adapted to your model building process. Airplane museum lighting conditions can vary, thus the advantage of a digital camera where you can adjust the lighting speed settings to take quality pictures in various conditions.

When you visit an airplane museum, document the aircraft from a variety of angles. As you review your photo collection you will rediscover design details that you might have missed upon a first viewing. Be sure to photograph an airplane with side, front and rear views. For a sport scale radio control model airplane, you can sketch out a convincing model design from photos alone.


Rotary airplane engine

Rotary engine on World War I fighter

Photos offer modeling ideas

As you build a scale model the airplane museum photos provide great ideas for details that can add a nice touch to the finished aircraft as well as help with understanding design challenges. Items as simple as a radiator screen, the landing gear attachment or the open frame woodwork can be incorporated in a model to provide a credible look.

As a radio control model airplane designer, you may wish to draw up a model design that is not a scale replica, but rather a representative aircraft of an era. By reviewing your collection of airplane museum photos, you can pick out ideas from various existing period aircraft that can be applied to your own design. You may find an interesting landing gear arrangement on one museum aircraft, with a detailed rotary engine on another. Combine these “scale like” features onto your design for a radio control sport flyer.

I used this approach for the design of my Chickadee indoor flyer. I wanted the Chickadee’s tail surface outlines and overall wing shape to emulate full scale aircraft built prior to 1914. I then applied internet photo research of the flying full scale Blackburn monoplane replica in the United Kingdom’s Shuttleworth collection for the information I needed to complete my semi-scale version of the aircraft. From the photos I designed the Blackburn’s sheet metal covered fuselage nose section. This feature was replicated on the model with aluminum iron on Monokote.

Blackburn full scale airplane at Shuttleworth collection

Full scale Blackburn at Shuttleworth collection airplane museum

A visit to airplane museums is always a pleasant outing. By taking the time to record this visit via digital photos, you can build a reference library of aircraft design details, color schemes and construction insights. This information can be readily applied to the design and final detailing of any model airplane that you create from your own designs, as well as aircraft constructed from kits or construction plans.

Author: Gordon McKay

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