An article from John Peric ()

Two years ago my unwaveringly indulgent wife bought me a one third scale ARF Decathlon.  This is an expensive item but like all others of its ilk, it’s all the same.  Bolt on wings, fit the servos, run the wires etc. etc.  I simply can’t bring myself to do it yet again.

I’ve built and destroyed many an ARF over a fifty year plus modelling career.  This credit card approach to modelling bores me to tears and if I had to bolt on another pair of wings, I’d slash my wrists….no, worse, I’d take to my cherished four cylinder OS IL 300 with a hammer.

How do you grow and develop as an aeromodeller, ARF’s are a dead end, the ultimate end point is to seriously bend the credit card, spend enough money to buy a fully built model and have the butler fly it for you….what else is there?

I love building, totally agree with David Boddington, “Aeromodelling is a way of life that endlessly entertains, puzzles, tantalises, informs and delights”.  It’s kept me enthralled for over half a century and the addiction is pleasurably getting worse.

Like a chipmunk, I’m storing reserves (kits) for retirement and have some sixty kits on the shelves from 1/3 scale monsters down to your average Sunday flyer but I find myself more building the classics.  Simple, enjoyable and a delight to fly, some taking no longer to build than an ARF.  Below is a recent example of mine, …. The David Boddington designed Mills Bomb.  Why Mills Bomb, nothing to do with hand grenades, it was originally intended for the Mills 0.75 engine.

Enlarged to 1270mm span, it is embarrassingly simple and cheap to build, I’d be surprised if I spent 15 hours on the build and a sheer delight to fly.

The most enjoyable aspect of building for me is the covering, wing covering to be precise.  For me, this is where the model really takes shape and I’m a pure traditionalist, I use fabric and dope, none of that plastic stuff for me. 

The Mills Bomb is covered in dyed silk, I like the effect but many fabrics can be used.  There is the silk… that’s what the Wright brothers used, tissue (too fragile), cotton, Nylon, polyester like Bemsilk and then there’s the made for aeroplanes variety of heat shrink fabrics like Sig Koverall, Stitts and Ceconite among others no doubt.

A shrinking agent called dope is applied and the structure then painted.  Much can be said of dope but we’ll leave that for another day.  The blue and red in the above photo is by the way, coloured dope.

Built up models come in all shapes and sizes from 200mm span electric powered gems to one third and half scale museum masterpieces that take years to build like the Peter McDermott beauty below that you would have to sell your house to buy.

While I do build scale models and vainly aspire to the likes of the model above, for the last few years I’ve been building relatively easy classics of my youth, like the 1600mm span Santa Maria below, built from a plan.

The beauty of building from plans is that you can adjust almost anything to suit your preferences.  Among other things, the Santa Maria was made bigger and fitted with ailerons.  A great sport model.

Bigger and more complex still, is the KAOS (below), an aerobatic design from the early 70’s that took about 30 hours to build, a fast 60 sized aerobatic plane, great to fly.  I’m currently building one of these for a 30cc engine.

There are of course other options.  Kits no longer available came with plans that can be used to produce your own model.  In the late 1970’s, a Bud Nosen kit came out and forty years later I decided to build one.  I had the more fiddly bits laser cut while the rest is balsa, ply and wood from the hardware shop.  The end result is still good as the photo below shows.

The Nosen Trainer is 2692mm span with a lovely radial engine up front.

Building a model from scratch is endlessly variable, challenging and interesting.  There are many choices to make, not least, which gorgeous engine to use.  Kits can be sourced from shops, on-line or you can build from a plan, made easier by one of the many laser cutting services.

Whetting your appetite to give it a go?  Great!  How do you get started?  Buy a kit or go to Outerzone, an on-line source of free plans but before you start cutting balsa, talk to an experienced modeller or better still, come along to an MAAQ masterclass.

The most challenging thing to do for a novice or simply a person who has never done it before is dope and fabric covering.  Here the MAAQ can help.  The MAAQ is likely going to run a few masterclasses on traditional building, starting with dope and fabric covering where there will be demonstrations and the whole process explained.

I’ll end with another quote from my hero Alex Whitaker,  aeromodelling is “a hobby that eschews the modern demands of excellence and accepts overweight hand-crafted models for what they are – cherished products of an honest shed.  It’s good to struggle with balsa, piano wire and plywood and not quite get it right.  It’s good to have slightly wonky wings, dodgy doping and mildly cockled fuel proofing.  It’s character building to have the odd spectacular crash….but give up, NEVER!”

For more information on the first masterclass contact me at or MAAQ Secretary, Rodney Clarke, .