A scale model aircraft is a reduced scale replica of a real flying machine – a plane, glider, helicopter, etc. Model aircraft is a broader term, referring to any small size unmanned aircraft. Basically, there are two major aircraft model groups: flying and non-flying.
Non-flying, or static models vary from mass-produced aircraft replicas cast in white plastic or metal intended for hobbyists, to exceptionally detailed and accurate scale models made for museums display. However, shops sell most of the scale models as kits, usually built from injection-molded polystyrene.
Static scale model aircraft are commercially available in many sizes that range from as big as 1:18 to the small 1:1250 scale, depending on the model type:
Plastic model kits that require assembly, as well as painting, can be found in 1:144, 1:72, 1:50, 1:48, 1:32, and 1:24 scales, often based on the actual size of the full-scale aircraft.
The factory pre-assembled and painted scale models (the Die-cast aircraft metal models) are commercialised usually in 1:400, 1:200, 1:72, 1:600, 1:500, 1:300, 1:250, and 1:48 scale.
Some odd scales (like 1:239) are available also, but they are not so common.
Researchers and manufacturers also make static aircraft models, that are not intended for free flight, used for testing in wind tunnels, to develop new aircraft designs. Sometimes only a part of the model is modeled.
Flying scale models range from some simple foam polystyrene, or cardstock toy gliders designs to the powered models made of materials such as bamboo, balsa wood, styrofoam, plastic, fiberglass or carbon fiber; they are usually skinned with mylar covering or tissue paper. Some of them can be extremely large, mainly when they are used to study a full-scale design flight properties.
Flying scale aircraft models can generally be controlled using one of the following three ways:
Free flight aircraft models – the aircraft flies with no external ground control. The model has to be set up in advance, before the flight, so the aircraft weight and control surfaces allow a stable, even flying. Most the free-flying aircraft models are either rubber powered or unpowered gliders; the last model type, particularly, pre-dates the manned flight.
Control line aircraft models – the aircraft is attached to and flies around a center point (a pilot, or simply a pole) in circles, using control cables. The pilots are usually using two cables to control the aircraft one controlling the aircraft elevator, and one tethering the model.
Radio-controlled (RC) models – by the pilot operates the aircraft with a transmitter that sends signals to a receiver placed inside the model; the receiver activates servos which adjust the aircraft model flight controls just like a real aircraft. Traditionally, the radio has direct control over the model aircraft servos, but many modern scale RC aircraft frequently use flight computers to control and stabilize a model or even to autonomously fly the aircraft.
The Essential Guide to Buying Your First Scale Aircraft Model Kit
When it comes to buying plastic kits you never have too much information; even experienced modellers find, from time to time, new things to learn. So, whether you are a first-time buyer or have experience in buying, you should find the following tips useful.
One of the general principles to use in buying a scale aircraft model kit is that there is a strong connection between the amount of technical information the manufacturer provides and the detail level of the scale model.
That rule is: the more detail there is, the more accurate the details of the scale model.
Choosing a Vendor
As a first time buyer, you want to be sure to go to a store that is both knowledgeable and provides high-quality materials so you can get the maximum benefit from your experience.
The best way to do this is to employ another general principle: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
It is a good practice to consider vendors you have done business with before. Did you buy a model car through a website and it turned out that the plastic was so flimsy that it cracked when you were building it? Or, did you go to a website, order a model boat, and find that the product was of high quality and the directions were very clear? If you haven’t ordered models before, that’s fine. Just ask around to see if anyone has already ordered one, and could recommend you a good source (we have great Facebook and G+ communities here and even an active G+ group).
Finally, it’s important to check the online reviews, even if someone recommends a specific hobby website. You can help yourself tremendously by taking the time to do your homework about the type of aircraft you are interested in buying, any local dealers, and what experienced online buyers are saying in blogs and on discussion boards.
If you know someone who has personal experience in dealing with a vendor, talk to them about the pros and cons in dealing with the vendor. No vendor is perfect, no matter what your friends say. A vendor can know a lot but still sell low-quality material models. Go beyond just the physical aspects of the model and also consider the instructions that come with the model.
Checking Out Prices
There are some very serious people about modelling who are willing to pay some quite high prices to pursue their hobby. As a first time buyer, you do not need to max out your credit card or bank account to get started. So, if you are a first-time buyer, it is strongly suggested that you aim low on the price end.
Another important principle: Start low and aim high.
Why? Because despite your best intentions, building a scale aircraft model is a skill that improves over time. Several years from now you will look back on your first attempt with sentimental tears. But it is equally likely you will have taken your work of art and hid it in a place where no man has gone before – or will ever. You can learn from your mistakes, but you don’t have to pay a high price for them.
Another consideration is whether you will finish the project at all. Prices for kits can be amazingly high, and spending money on a model that potentially goes unfinished or takes years to complete has to be given very careful consideration. Rushing through it is a mistake, but taking years to complete it is also a mistake. You will fit somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum, but until you are sure you know where you want to go with model planes building in the future, it is best to keep your sights low and your price lower. The general rule is to take it slow and create a history of completed projects before spending big money.
Size of Scale
Or maybe it is the Scale of Size. Anyway, as a first-time buyer, you need to keep the scale small. The more popular 1/72nd scale is a good starting point, though a 1/144th scale is best for beginners.
There is a general principle to be applied with regards to scale – the devil is in the details.
You have probably heard of it before, and when it comes to building scale models, the details can stress you out to the point of giving up before you actually get started. It takes time to develop modelling skills, and even if it comes naturally to you, there will still be a learning curve.
So, the first time buyer needs to start out with the smallest scale, as the larger ones have more details; learning how to craft the smaller scales will greatly improve your skills and take advantage of the amount of detail on larger scale models.
While we recommend starting with a smaller scale if you find yourself catching on quickly and want greater challenges, do one beginner level and then move up to an intermediate level. Just because you’re a beginner, that doesn’t mean you need to stick to beginner level all the time, although it is definitely a good place to start. Feel free to try an intermediate level scale aircraft model if you have enough time on your hands. However, save the advanced models for after you’ve gained some more experience.
The guiding principle here is – do not tie your own hands trying to meet someone else’s expectations.
This also applies in reverse. If you feel staying at a beginner level for a while is best for you, then do it. If you are on a tight budget, it may be the best way to go. Building scale aircraft models is both an art and science, and you can practice your skills on all scales of aircraft.
It is very important to figure out which difficulty level a scale model is before you buy it. Sometimes, vendors help you with descriptions of each difficulty. As an example, a beginner level model may only require fitting pieces together and applying stickers. An advanced aircraft may require more difficult assembly, detailed painting, etc.
Model kits usually come in one of the five skill levels that describe how difficult the kit will be to be finished:
Level 1: very easy model kits. Pieces join together and don’t require glue and paint to complete.
Level 2: easy kits; they need glue and painting to fully complete. This type of model kits usually contains less than 100 pieces.
Level 3: moderate kits, with over 100 pieces.
Level 4: advanced model kits with extra-fine details. They definitely include over 100 pieces.
Level 5: for expert modellers only. These kits include super-detailed elements, with hundreds of pieces, and usually have moving parts, such as rotating propellers.
Occasionally, you’ll discover model kits with no skill level displayed. In these situations, you can safely consider that it is at least a 4 difficulty level kit.
Experienced modellers love a complex paint scheme for both the end result, but mainly because of the challenge of painting. Most of these schemes, like a WWII German aircraft camouflage pattern, for instance, are hard to achieve and often call for complex masking and a top quality airbrush. So, pick an aircraft that has a rather dull colour paint scheme, for your first scale model kits, with just a couple of colours; a WWI fighter could be a good idea. It is quite depressing to finish a model and then ruin it just because the paint scheme was too complicated.
Like static models?
Make sure you have read our short introduction to static aircraft models, before buying your first kit.
You may want to start building scale aircraft models as a hobby, but you probably don’t have an unlimited amount of time. Some vendors actually list how much time it takes to complete a model. If the time isn’t clearly listed, you can do one of two things:
first, you can take into account the difficulty level, materials required, etc. and figure out how much time the project will take from that information. Usually, painting and dealing with advanced assembly can be big time sinks.
if that doesn’t work, you can simply ask customer service and their knowledgeable staff should be able to assist you.
Quality of Material
Novices who are just beginning to enter into scale aircraft modelling have already been cautioned not to spend too much at the beginning. But with lower price comes a lower quality of material.
The reality is: working with a lower quality material means you should expect lower quality results.
It only makes sense. Building a desk from thick cardboard will end up with a different result than by using wood. Keep your perspective and expectations within reason. Avoid comparing your work with others until you have some experience under your belt and have a better idea of what you can expect.
As you develop your modelling skills, maintain a proper perspective of your results. Your initial efforts will almost certainly pale in comparison to your results years later. One of the biggest reasons for this is because you are paying more for models and are working with higher quality material.
Total Number of Parts in the Model
The “devil is in the details” also applies when deciding on how many parts of the aircraft there will be to build. Beginners may look at their first model, usually made of plastic, as a relatively simple job. If you know what photo-etched brass and resin parts of the model are and have built them, then you have advanced beyond the beginner level. The greater the number of parts, the more detail will be required, and the more advanced skills will be needed to create a work of art.
One rule you can apply to almost everything you do is: it is always easy to do until you have to do it.
Your first scale model airplane will seem like an easy task – just like mowing the lawn. It looks easy, and in some ways it is. But to do it right and continue to get better at it requires patience and experience. It is more than just going through the motions. It is about finding better ways to do things and developing your own personal signature to your work.
A related topic to the detail is the amount of available time you have to commit to model building. The more parts there are, the more detail there will be, and the longer it will take to complete the building project. When buying, consider how much time you have and how much time you want to spend building. Both of these measurements will change over time. Many kits will display the average amount of time it will take to complete building the model.
Building Scale Aircraft Models – General Considerations
Building a scale aircraft model has some particular challenges that are unique from other types of models. One of those areas is the canopy of your model plane, a delicate element which is usually made of clear plastic. Fitting it correctly is one challenge but applying the cement can be a greater one because even small mistakes stand out. So choose a model that has as little clear plastic as possible to minimize your frustration level. Helicopters, in particular, should be avoided until you get some experience under your belt.
One of the biggest challenges for aircraft model builders is being able to create the metallic finish so often seen on planes. Plastic is a very difficult material to get the right paint colour and finish to come through as realistic, so like clear plastic, keep your expectations low until you get some experience with painting. Be warned that the metallic finish would cost you more money for the special paints and colours needed to achieve the desired result.
A Final Word
Creating scale aircraft models can be a great way to spend time, especially for beginners just getting into the hobby. Just be sure to follow the advice above, and you’ll be on your way to successfully building a model.
Approach buying and building your first model as an experiment of sorts. Maybe you have decided to build a model of one of those legendary aircraft, but you really won’t know how much you will like it in the end, or how much time you will have to spend on it. Spending a lot of money and then seeing it in a heap on a desk or workbench three weeks later will unsettle you. Keep things simple, go into it with the attitude that you will enjoy it, and be patient with yourself. As most first time builders discover, you will be proud to have completed your first project and will show it to your friends.
We hope this brief guide has been useful to you and wish you the best on starting and completing your first modelling project. Visit our website often to read more about scale aircraft modelling and experience the entire universe of this amazing hobby.
A model aircraft is “[…] only as good as the effort that went into the research of it.“Dan Santich
The Essential Guide to Buying Your First Remote Control Aircraft
If you’ve discovered that you have a penchant for radio control flying, you need to know how to get started.
When choosing your first plane, glider or helicopter, you need to take a look at four different factors, which include:
Whether you are at the store, the field or even at the workshop, you will have hundreds of options, and it’s difficult to zero in on the best RC scale aircraft model for you.
Before you start your search, you can talk to the experts that you can meet in the clubs, and listen to what they’ve to say. This guide here can also help you out in selecting the best aircraft, engine, radio and field equipment.
Now, when it comes to selecting the best aircraft, there are several factors that you must remember:
Most of these aircraft come in the sizes of 40 and 60 with the former being more popular since it is not as expensive as the latter. 40 and 60 refer to the engine capacity. The engine capacity of 40 is 0.40 cubic inch, and that of 60 is 0.60 cubic inch.
While a bigger aircraft means more stability and easier detection in the air, that’s not the only thing you should look for. You also need to ensure that the aircraft will fit into your car easily to make it to the field.
2. Design Configuration
You are a beginner, and that means that you need an aircraft that is easier to handle and is stable. Don’t make the mistake that many beginners do by opting for an aircraft just because it looks cool and flies faster. You need to take it one step at a time.
The best aircraft for beginners is the high-wing trainer in which the wings are placed on top of the fuselage or the main body of the craft, making it highly stable.
This happens because of the ‘pendulum’ effect that comes into effect since the body of the aircraft is on the wing, and this lowers the center of gravity, making it a stable aircraft.
Also, take a look at the dihedral which is the upward ‘V’ angle of the wings when you look at it from the front. Greater dihedral translates into more stability.
Since planes rely on the rudder, solely, for turning, and as it tilts in the direction of its turn, it is the dihedral that ensures the aircraft maintains a balanced turn.
In other words, the best aircraft for newbies would be the one with a high wing configuration and a greater dihedral.
3. Landing Gear
Traditionally, the landing gear consists of three wheels – one at the nose of the aircraft and two-way back, below the fuselage. Known as the tricycle landing gear, the control that takes care of the rudder also turns the wheel at the nose to the left or the right, allowing the pilot to maneuver the plane on the ground.
In the tail dragger, there are two wheels below the fuselage, and the third one is below the rear end of the plane and this wheel moves to the left or right to move the plane in the needed direction.
Generally, pilots find the tricycle landing gear more helpful as it makes it easier to handle the aircraft.
4. Kit, ARF, RTC or RTF?
This refers to how you want your aircraft to be made.
Are you really sure you want to buy a Ready-to-Fly Radio-Cntrolled model airplane?
Read our honest review before getting your first RTF RC aircraft model.
Buying a kit means using the different parts that come in a box to build your own plane. Not only does it need model building experience but is extremely time-consuming. It also means you shall be separately buying the motor, ESC, battery pack and the radio gear.
So learn how to fly the aircraft first before you buy a kit which is probably a better idea for an intermediary or an expert pilot.
ARF stand for ‘Almost Ready to Fly’ and is almost 90% complete when you buy it, even though, just like in the kit, you will have to buy the motor, ESC, battery pack and the radio gear separately.
However, it isn’t really time-consuming and is a good option for beginners who want to be introduced to the RC airplanes construction simultaneously.
RTC, or Ready to Cover, is a crossbreed between the Kit and the ARF, in which most of the parts are assembled, however, the covering is left to be completed by the pilot, so that a customized version of the aircraft can be made.
We suggest that, as a beginner, you opt for the Ready to Fly or the RTF plane as it allows you to jump straight into flying without wasting time in assembling the aircraft.
Some basic assembling has to be done, such as attaching the wings to the fuselage, charge and install the battery and just start flying!
You must have a look at the Electric Powered (EP) RTF planes that have become immensely popular since they are affordable, convenient, tough and easy to repair, in case of any unfortunate accidents.
5. Aircraft Construction
Most of the trainer aircraft use Balsa wood or light plywood in combination with a box frame or a stick building technique and are then wrapped up in a heat-shrink plastic film that is generally made up of MonoKote, UltraKote, or a similar product.
As a beginner, it is advisable that you opt for an aircraft made of Balsa wood or plywood as they are easier to fix and repair. If you are adamant on going for an ARF version, then ensure it has the MonoKote or UltraKote covering – getting supplies and repairs will become simpler.
1. Engine types
There are two types of engines that you can choose from – the electric motor engine or the internal combustion engine. The following are the pros and cons of each of them.
Electric Motor Engine
Cheaper and more convenient to fly.
Fewer accessories are needed
The don’t make much noise due to which you can fly them in public places.
A more suitable option for beginners.
Internal Combustion Engine:
Require several accessories as the engine needs them to survive for the long run.
Additional fuel costs.
Not a good idea to fly them in public places as it creates a lot of noise.
It is suggested that beginners should opt for the Electric Motor engine due to its advantages, but if you get attracted to the smell of burned fuel and the noise, then the Internal Combustion Engine might do the trick.
Some of the best manufacturers of two-stroke engines, used in trainers that are commonly used by beginners are Tower Hobbies, O.S. and Thunder Tiger.
Horizon Hobbies, another popular maker, recently launched the Evolution Engine and the maker claims that these engines have been tested in the factories and well tuned to ensure quick and smooth running straight out of the box.
You cannot go wrong with these makers as they provide you with excellent craftsmanship and products at reasonable prices. You can expect to find both the 0.40 and 0.46 sizes.
3. Two strokes or the four stroke?
When you start looking at the engines for your remote controlled aircraft, you will commonly come across two kinds of the engine – the two stroke or the four stroke engine.
The two-stroke engine creates power on the second stroke of the piston inside the cylinder head. They create a high pitch ‘whine’ sound and are generally more simple and reliable. Beginners are advised to go with this engine when they begin as they are affordable and more user-friendly.
The four-stroke engine is more expensive. The power is created on the fourth stroke of the piston and is more complicated and heavier than their two-stroke counterparts since they give you a more real aircraft engine experience.
Another thing to look out for when considering which engine to buy would be to find out if the engine uses ball bearings or not.
Bearings provide longer support to the crankshaft and will be more powerful when compared to a similar engine that doesn’t use ball bearings. It is suggested that beginners should go for the engines that use bearings since they ensure your engine performs better and lasts longer.
Even though they tend to be more expensive than the non-ball bearings one, considering the long life your engine gets, you definitely get back your money’s worth.
C. The best radio
1. Old or new?
While the newspapers and magazines are filled with second-hand radio choices that are available for a steal, the best choice would be to buy a new radio. This is because in 1991, the law regarding the frequencies was revamped, and thus, radios now have to be narrow band.
The modern day radios work at 72 MHz on almost 50 different frequencies, and the channels are separated from each other by just 20 kHz and lock into its receiver properly. However, prior to 1991, the rules were different. So stick to the modern radios that are built using the correct system.
2. A number of channels (or controllable functions)?
This is an important factor that can affect your experience in the flying world.
While single and two channel planes are available, they are more of toys than anything.
Serious beginners need to take a look at the simple ‘Park Flyer’ electric remote control airplanes which are 3 channel planes and suitable for self-teaching purposes and allow you to control the motor, elevator and the rudder or the ailerons which are more common on faster planes used by intermediary and experienced flyers.
You can also opt for the four channel aircraft; they are not very simple, to begin with. However, they obviously promise you a more rewarding experience.
It allows you to control the motor power, ailerons, rudder and the elevator and while the presence of ailerons does make your learning curve steep because of the extra coordination needed, it is because of this that we advise beginners to not go for these.
3. What should you stay away from?
Finally, you must select a radio that is meant for being used in the aircraft. The pistol-grip style transmitters operate on a different frequency compared to aircraft radios and are more suitable for cars and boats.
If you are thinking of buying two-stick transmitters as they are easy on the pocket, let us tell you that they have limited range and can mainly be used for model sailboats and ground vehicles.
The best option for you would be and FM or a PCM system that is specially used for RC models. Now that small electric indoor or park flyer RC aircraft model have become so popular, several systems are being designed for these models, and their receivers and servos are not very powerful and will not be able to handle the flight load of a 40 or 60 sized trainer.
So, stay away from these radios that are made for these smaller aircraft, even if the transmitter is similar to the ones found in the larger systems.
D. Availability of spare parts:
Since you are a beginner, it is but obvious, that you will crash and you will crash frequently. In fact, crashing is part and parcel of this hobby so try and not get embarrassed about it.
In such cases, having easy availability of spare parts will be advantageous for you and when you are buying your first remote controlled aircraft, ensure that its parts are readily available. Brands such as HobbyZone and ParkZone can provide you with perhaps any possible part that you are looking out for.
Obviously, spare parts for foam air crafts are cheaper and more easily available, compared to the balsa or the plywood plane.
The bottom line is that if you buy a plane whose spare parts are not easily available, then you should be prepared for all kinds of problems to crop up if you take the airplane out flying again post a crash and shady repairs.
That’s it. Remember these tips, and you are all set for the first amazing flying experience of your life!