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Try Building Your Model from Plans

Airplane plans open a new world of RC flight

All RC aircraft flying today are built from some sort of model airplane plan. The type and detail of a particular mode plan will vary from an almost ready to fly (ARF) model fabricated at an assembly plant to the micro ready to fly aircraft for sale at your local hobby shop, to an original design RC model airplane that you build on your own.

Plan Characteristics

Model airplane plans share some common characteristics. The typical model aircraft plan is printed out full size, so that the airplane’s various parts can be traced and cut out directly on the balsa, plywood or foam building materials. As the usual model plan is printed full size, there is no need to dimension the model as would be required on a construction plan of a large structure such as a house. By the same token, a model airplane plan will have far more detail and comments included, such that the builder can understand special or unique construction points needed for the aircraft build process. A good example of a simple and clear free model airplane plan can be found here.

Spin three view

CAD outline traced over Fokker Spin three view

There is a large amount of artistic license required in drawing a model airplane plan, but certain basics must be in place. The plan is required to contain enough information for the builder to visualize and construct the model aircraft as shown with the Spin. As a minimum, the plan will require a side view of the fuselage and vertical tail surfaces. The plan will also need to include a top view of the wing and horizontal tail surfaces.

Add views as required

After these traditional views, it will be up to the model aircraft designer what other information the prospective builder will want included on the plan to complete the project. Usually, there will need to be a full size view of the landing gear. Depending on the complexity of the design, a top view of the fuselage is always helpful, as well as a front view. I also like to include an information box containing the model’s wingspan and length, so prospective users of the plan have an initial idea of the size of the finished plane.

The front and top view is especially useful for non traditional model airplanes, such as antique aircraft plans from between the period 1903 to 1914. For my original design of the 1912 Blackburn Monoplane, I included all the above described views on my TurboCAD drawn plans. You can see the unique features of the Blackburn layout such as the distinctive triangular fuselage, which can only be understood from the front view.

A model airplane plan is required to include all the information an experienced builder needs to complete the model. When the plan is first offered to the public via publication, it is common to include a detailed build log, construction tips and bill of materials needed to finish the project. While this information is certainly handy, it will not be available for future modelers who will use your plan to construct a model many years after the initial offering. You need to put yourself in the position of the upcoming hobbyist who will build their flying model solely from the drawings, comments and other information you provide on the original plan.

Yankee Mike RC model airplane plan

Yankee Mike RC plan

Yankee Mike

A good example of this requirement for complete information is my initial model airplane plan accepted for publication, the Yankee Mike, in the July 1998 RC Modeler magazine. While RCM sadly went out of business a few years later, someone purchased the RCM plans library and the Yankee Mike model airplane plan is still offered for sale to the public here.

There is some technical information on a model airplane design that would not be evident from careful study of the construction plan. For example, it would be very helpful to include the desired final weight of the aircraft, such that the builder avoids an unsafe first flight with an overweight airplane. Also, you can list recommended motors and electronic control components for prospective builders.

As a consideration to anyone who will use your published plan, I recommend including complete drawings needed to finish the aircraft. For example, some plans show just one wing panel, and ask you to prepare the other wing half (usually by tracing the back of the plan). Other plans may not include separate drawings of all the wing ribs and fuselage formers. Small courtesies, such as including complete diagrams of all the parts, will go a long ways towards making your model airplane plan truly whole, and provide an enjoyable build process for future flyers.


Curtis pusher airplane plan

Detailed hand drawn plan of a 1909 Curtiss pusher

In summary, a well drafted model airplane plan should tell a comprehensive story of the model being built, and any information required to successfully complete the project. Various model aircraft plans will have differing amounts of detail needed to complete the project. This is all part of the fun and challenge of building a model airplane solely using a set of construction plans.

Author: Gordon McKay

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