Metal model aircraft

Metal model aircraft DEFAULT

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twitter announced today that it will be removing its implementation of stories dubbed “fleets.” the feature was either loved or hated by twitter users since its initial release last year.

this short-lived feature, which was released in november of last year, will be removed on august 3. twitter acknowledged the controversial nature of the snapchat/instagram clone with the farewell tweet. notably, there was no fleet from the main twitter account announcing the departure of the feature, only a standard tweet.

in the goodbye, the company said it is working on “new stuff.” one can hope that they add the ability to edit tweets, in addition to the new edit audience and monetization features.

in a more detailed blog post, twitter shared that it hoped fleets would make people more comfortable posting onto twitter. as fleets disappear, some of the fleet creation features, like gifs and stickers, will be implemented into the standard tweets composer.

ftc: we use income earning auto affiliate links.more.

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I can hear it now, “Oh great, not another Mustang,” from readers everywhere!  Truth be known, I found myself saying the exact same thing at almost every Warbird event I attended, despite the fact that I actually like the Mustang as an aircraft. When this sleek American airframe was outfitted with the British Rolls-Royce Merlin, it became one of the most popular aircraft of all time.  As a result, it’s only natural that it would join the ranks of the Piper Cub as one of the most commonly modeled aircraft in our hobby.  The goal of this article is not to add another Mustang build article to your library, heaven knows that subject has been covered extensively already.  What follows rather, is a step-by-step account of how I added a simulated metal finish to this icon of aviation history.  This aims to demonstrate that a scale finish is possible on your next warbird, and should it be a Mustang, will help set it apart from the crowd at your favorite event.

Getting Started

A Metal Finish Made Easy

The subject of my Mustang was an aging Century Jet Models kit.  At roughly 1/5 scale, the Mustang has a fiberglass fuselage with foam core, balsa-sheeted, tail and 82” span wing.  The model comes void of any surface detail, which turns out to be ideal in the case of our chosen finishing method.  Having completed the major construction, the airframe was finished up to a smooth, filled and primed state.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

As modelers we are fortunate that there are a number of different ways to replicate a metal finish with varying degrees of effort and results.  Paint is the obvious choice, and today the advancements in paint and application technology is really impressive.  In fact, in the hands of an experienced painter, even a mirror finish can be achieved.  For the Mustang I chose to simulate the metal finish by using just that, metal.  Flite-Metal is a 0.0018” thick self-adhesive aluminum tape that can be applied in individual panels to achieve a convincing finish.  While not a poly or plastic material, Flite-Metal still has the ability to stretch up to 25% of its original size to allow it to conform to some gradual concave and convex surfaces.  However, it will not compress or shrink so careful application is important.

Flite Metal has been used and tested thoroughly with 2.4 GHz radio systems and when the radio is installed correctly the results are the same as a painted finished.  More information is available on their website via the link at the end of this article. Due to the thin nature of the material, the surface it’s applied to needs to be perfectly smooth and clean as any scratches or debris will show through.  Flite-Metal is applied one panel at a time thus creating its own panel lines.

Covering the Mustang

A Metal Finish Made Easy

Using a scale 3-view drawing for reference the major panel lines are drawn on fuselage with a soft pencil.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

Once the lines are drawn, Scotch 3M Fineline tape is used around the perimeter of the panel, overlapping at each corner. (See above) Standing a ruler on its thin edge and rotating it around the panel quickly identifies the longest contact area for the panel.  As a side note, plan to order about 40-50% more material than surface area you expect to cover to compensate for the waste required around the perimeter of each panel.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

Back to the model, cut a piece of Flite-Metal larger than the panel itself and peel back half of the backing paper.  Using your finger, rub the Flite-Metal down first along the established contact path, then slowly burnish the sheet down moving away and parallel to the initial contact area.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

Continue to burnish the Flite-Metal with the fibrous burnishing tool out over top of the 3M fineline tape.  Using a blunt mixing stick, I continue to burnish down the Flite-Metal to a sharp seam against the tape’s edge.

Using a sharp knife, cut along the tape edge to remove the excess Flite-Metal.  I like to use Xacto #11 blades because it’s relatively inexpensive for a box of 100, and discard the blade after 1 or 2 panels.  Curved blades like #10, 22, 23, etc work equally as well or better.  Mineral spirits can also be used on the blade to keep it sharp and prolong its use.  Remove the waste Flite Metal and Fineline tape to reveal the new panel.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

The next panel is applied the same way.  When putting down the Fineline tape along the edge that already has Flite-Metal applied, I move the tape to expose about 1/32” of the existing panel.  This panel edge is then visible once the new panel is burnished down, allowing a cut right along the seem of the existing panel, resulting in a snug butt joint appearance between the panels.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

As mentioned earlier, Flite-Metal will not compress or shrink, it will only stretch.  So to cover concave or convex surfaces you must first identify the highest or lowest point of the panel to be covered.  Then carefully moving out 90 degrees from that point the Flite-Metal can be rubbed down on the surface.  I understand some users have had success by first spraying a fine mist of Windex on the surface, then during the burnishing process the liquid is squeezed out from under the metal.  I haven’t tried that but intend to experiment with the process as it may help eliminate some small wrinkles that can occur.  If small wrinkles do appear as the metal is applied, for the most part they can be sanded out later.

It’s Metal, Naturally

The raw finish on the Flite-Metal gives the model a shiny ‘chrome’ look when first applied.  As you can see in the accompanying photos, this makes our model take on the appearance of a ‘toy’ rather than a convincing scale model.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

To change this Flite-Metal is weathered by sanding until the desired finish is achieved.  Wearing disposable gloves I like to sand the surface is ONE direction first starting with 320 grit wet/dry paper in the dry mode.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

As sanding starts the Flite-Metal takes on an ‘orange peel’ appearance.  At first this looks like something has gone horribly wrong, but don’t fear, it’s due to the uneven nature of the adhesive on the back of the metal.  As you continue to sand (in one direction) the orange peel effect gives way to a uniform brushed appearance.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

To highlight a few unique panels those panels were masked off and sanded in a direction perpendicular to the adjacent panels.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

This variation effects how the light is reflected when it hits the surface and really highlights the different panels.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

After using the 320 grit paper, finer grits can be used to further smooth out the surface.  This is particularly important if you intend to paint or add markings to the metal.  The smoother, and cleaner, the surface the better any paint or transfers will stick.

I find the sanding process to be the most time consuming step in the application of Flite-Metal.  Before embarking on covering your new project completely, I’d recommend applying it to a test subject and follow through the above steps completely.  That way you’ll know what’s involved and get a sense for just how long it will take to complete your new jet.  In some cases, selecting a scheme for your model that has combination of paint and natural metal, where the more complicated areas are painted, makes a lot of sense.

Once the application of Flite-Metal is complete, the surface is cleaned with mineral spirits to remove the sanded metal and finger prints.  The material remains quite soft so any surface details such as rivets can be pressed into the surface quite easily before adding markings.

Small rivets are quickly applied by using a dress-maker’s wheel run along the edge of a ruler.  This puts a ‘dot’ at every point makes contact with the surface.  If you wish for a slightly larger rivet, in the form of a circle, then these can be accomplished by pressing a small piece of sharpened brass tube into the surface.  It takes very little pressure to create an indent in the surface.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A combination of a brass tube followed by a tiny screwdriver pressed into the surface makes for convincing fasteners.

Painted Surfaces and Markings

My RCAF scheme is almost entirely natural metal, leaving only the anti-glare panel and major markings in need of paint.  Computer cut vinyl paint masks to my specified sizes were cut.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

After masking, the larger areas that would require multi-layered masks were dusted by a self-etching primer to prep for paint.  Once this dried the markings were painted with Testors Model Master enamels sprayed through my trusty airbrush.  A little paint goes a long way and covers very well.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

A Metal Finish Made Easy

While my scheme is pretty straightforward with regards to the national markings, there are a lot of small stencils on the Mustang that would be critical to creating a convincing finish.  For this I used dry transfer rub-ons.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

Dry transfers are a wiser choice vs. the more common water slide decal over the metal surface as there is no clear film around the letters that need to be hidden.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

After the markings are applied it’s again cleaned, this time with a neutral chemical such as Prepsol, doing your best to avoid any dry transfers.  The model is then covered with a clean sheet to avoid dust settling on it and left to allow the Prepsol to evaporate overnight.

At this stage I added a light ‘wash’ with highly diluted Polly S acrylic steam power black paint.  I used a small disposable foam brush to apply the paint, although a piece of paper towel works equally as well.  I wiped it on 8-10” wide sections at a time and immediately wiped it off going LE to TE (on wing and stab), and vertically on the fuse.  The paint gets caught in the rivets and panel lines highlighting them.  If you dilute the paint heavily it takes more passes to build up the weathering, but this is also an advantage as it lets you control the exact amount of ‘dirt’ you wish to simulate.  I also used this color to lightly airbrush the exhaust and gun residue/staining and a little around the fuel fill caps.

A Metal Finish Made Easy

My model was originally destined to have a Moki glow motor in it so it was necessary to apply a clear coat to seal the finish against the exhaust and fuel.  I used a water-based satin clear from Warbirdcolors and it proved effective, although some of the metal luster is lost.  I’ve since converted the model to electric power, and had that been my original plan I would have been able to avoid the clear coat step.

If you don’t require a painted clear coat, then the final step involves using a metal cleaning/polishing cloth to apply small amount of polish to the surface and buffing it out.  A product called Cape Cod Metal polish works well and a little goes a long way.  This step actually seals the entire surface and prevents oxidation of the aluminum.  Again, a little practice on your test piece is advised before applying to your finished model.

A Metal Finish Made Easy


A Metal Finish Made Easy

On the Flight Line

As mentioned earlier, the glow motor was pulled from the Mustang in favor of an AXI 5345/16 running on 12S lipos and a 22×10 prop.  The finished model weighs 24 lbs RTF, and despite being a few pounds more than the manufacturer’s published weight, it flies well and feels very solid in the air.

AXI 5345/16 running on 12S lipos and a 22x10 prop

Admittedly this sort of finished isn’t one that happens overnight, and some dedication and patience is required to complete it with satisfactory results.  However, I’m sure you’ll agree that the effort is rewarded with a truly unique version of a very common model.  Whether you’re building a classic Warbird or an early era jet, I hope that this article provides some motivation to seek an alternative to paint to achieve that natural metal finish you’ve dreamed of.

AXI 5345/16 running on 12S lipos and a 22x10 prop

Text and photos by Sean McHale


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1:200 Scale White Metal Saunders Roe SR.A/1 Model Aircraft Kit

1:200 scale White Metal Cold War British Military Aircraft Model Kit

The Kit contains parts and decals to finish the model successfully

Colour schemes are supplied for the actual aircraft and some Ôwhat if?Õ schemes.

Decals are provided for all the prototypes and for the B type marks used when the machine was parked on the Thames during the Festival of Britain.

What if? Schemes are provided for three possible uses.

The first is SEAC markings used in the Pacific in WWII. The aircraft would have been white with grey upper surfaces.

Secondly is a Royal Navy scheme for use in Korea. This would have been Sky and Extra Dark Sea Grey with black and white stripes on wings and fuselage.

In fact, the Royal Navy rarely used flying boats but the RAF did so RAF markings for Korea are also included. Colour would have been Slate Grey and Green uppers and white sides and undersides.

The SR.A/1 was designed to be used in the pacific war but was not ready in time. It was cancelled after the war with claims that it was too slow. The master for this model was made by Tommy Atkins who flew Meteors in 1 sqn and flew chase during some of the trials. He said it was much faster than claimed and left his chase plane standing.

Additional product information

Google_Product_Category Arts & Entertainment > Hobbies & Creative Arts > Crafts & Hobbies > Scale Models

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Model aircraft metal


Model Airplanes – This Spitfire Metal Model Aircraft is a replica of the Spitfire fighter plane manufactured by Supermarine Aviation works. The legendary Spitfire was designed by R.J. Mitchell and it was built as a short-range, single-seat, interceptor aircraft. Mr. Mitchell fashioned the aircraft with a unique elliptical wing. With a thinner wing, this allowed the Spitfire, mainly flown by the Royal Air Force, to fly faster with more maneuverability which was critical when battling the Luftwaffe.

Our replica Spitfire model is carefully constructed with a lightweight frame which is then enclosed with flat sheet metal. An interesting facet of the metal sheet is that is looks like individual rivets are used to connect the metal, like a real aircraft. The Spitfire also have functioning ailerons and tail rudder. Depending upon how you wish this model displayed, the landing gear may be extended or retracted.

It is the Spitfire cockpit that really makes this model such a great museum quality collectible piece. The slide-back canopy displays a fully detailed cockpit including pilot seat, instrument panel, and controls. This fully assembled model plane also arrives with a metal base.

If you like Spitfires check out our Spitfire Clock



100% Recommend this product (4 of 4 responses)

Looks great hanging in the mancave next to it's brother in arms..

Nice product, fast shipping

Beautiful plane

October 6, 2017

Well crafted plane. Beautiful replica made with aluminum.

By Gerard

Sunshine Coast, Australia

More than a 1936

July 6, 2017

Whilst based on the original Spitfire, this model incorporates features not seen until the 1941 Mark 9 Spitfire (the ultimate Spitfire). All Spitfire enthusiasts should be well satisfied with this.

Scale Modeling in Metal 1/16 size P51 Mustang \u0026 Corsair

Model aircraft

Small aircraft built for display, advertising, research, or amusement

A model aircraft is a small unmanned aircraft and may be a replica of an existing or imaginary aircraft. Model aircraft are divided into two basic groups: flying and non-flying. Non-flying models are also termed static, display, or shelf models.

Aircraft manufacturers and researchers make wind tunnel models for testing aerodynamic properties, for basic research, or for the development of new designs. Sometimes only part of the aircraft is modelled.

Static models range from mass-produced toys in white metal or plastic to highly accurate and detailed models produced for museum display and requiring thousands of hours of work. Many are available in kits, typically made of injection-mouldedpolystyrene or resin.

Flying models range from simple toy gliders made of sheets of paper, balsa, card stock or foam polystyrene to powered scale models built up from balsa, bamboo sticks, plastic, (including both moulded or sheet polystyrene, and styrofoam), metal, synthetic resin, either alone or with carbon fibre or fibreglass, and skinned with either tissue paper, mylar and other materials. Some can be very large, especially when used to research the flight properties of a proposed full scale aircraft.

Aerodynamic research and mock-ups[edit]

wind tunnel model of a Loire-Nieuport LN-10 floatplane

Models are made for wind tunnel and free-flight research tests and may have components that can be swapped to compare various fittings and configurations, or have features such as controls that can be repositioned to reflect various in flight configurations. They are also often fitted with sensors for spot measurements and are usually mounted on a structure that ensures the correct alignment with the airflow, and which provides additional measurements. For wind tunnel research, it is sometimes only necessary to make part of the proposed aircraft.

Full-scale static engineering models are also constructed for production development, often made of different materials from the proposed design. Again, often only part of the aircraft is modelled.

Static display models[edit]

Lufthansa Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor model on display

Static model aircraft cannot fly, and are used for display, education and are used in wind tunnels to collect data for the design of full scale aircraft. They may be built using any suitable material, which often includes plastic, wood, metal, paper and fiberglass and may be built to a specific scale, so that the size of the original may be compared to that of other aircraft. Models may come finished, or may require painting or assembly, with glue, screws, or by clipping together, or both.

Many of the world's airlines allow their aircraft to be modelled for publicity. Airlines used to order large scale models of their aircraft to supply them to travel agencies as a promotional item. Desktop model airplanes may be given to airport, airline and government officials to promote an airline or celebrate a new route or an achievement..[1]


See also: List of scale model sizes

Static model aircraft are primarily available commercially in a variety of scales from as large as 1:18 scale to as small as 1:1250 scale. Plastic model kits requiring assembly and painting are primarily available in 1:144, 1:72, 1:48, 1:32, and 1:24 scale. Die-cast metal models (pre-assembled and factory painted) are available in scales ranging from 1:48th to 1:600th.

Scales are not random, but are generally based on divisions of either the Imperial system, or the Metric system. For example, 1:48 scale is 1/4" to 1-foot (or 1" to 4 feet) and 1:72 is 1" to 6 feet, while in metric scales such as 1:100th, 1 centimetre equals 1 metre. 1:72 scale was introduced with Skybirds wood and metal model aircraft kits in 1932 and were followed closely by Frog which used the same scale from 1936 with their "Frog Penguin" brand. 1:72 was popularized in the US during the Second World War by the US War Department after it requested models of commonly encountered single engine aircraft at that scale, and multi-engine aircraft in 1:144th scale. They hoped to improve aircraft recognition skills and these scales compromised between size and detail. After WWII, manufacturers continued with these scales, however kits are also added in other divisions of the imperial system. 1:50th and 1:100th are common in Japan and France which both use Metric. Promotional models for airlines are produced in scales ranging from 1:200 to 1:1200.

Some manufacturers made 1:18th scale aircraft to go with cars of the same scale. Aircraft models, military vehicles, figures, cars, and trains all have different common scales but there is some crossover. There is a substantial amount of duplication of more famous subjects in different scales, which can be useful for forced perspective box dioramas.

Older models often did not conform to an established scale as they were sized to fit the box, and are referred to as being to "Box Scale".


Parts for a plastic model airplane still on their injection molding tree

The most common form of manufacture for kits is injection mouldedpolystyrene plastic, formed in steel forms. Plastic pellets are heated into a liquid and forced into the mould under high pressure through trees which will hold all the parts, and ensure plastic flows to every part of the mould. This allows a greater degree of automation than other manufacturing processes but moulds require large production runs to cover the cost of making them. Today, this takes place mostly in Asia and Eastern Europe. Smaller runs are possible with copper moulds, and some companies use resin or rubber moulds, but while the cost is lower for the mould, the durability is also lower and labour costs can be much higher.

Resin kits are made in forms similar to those used for limited run plastic kits, but these moulds are usually not as durable, which limits them to smaller production runs, and prices for the finished product are higher.

Vacuum forming is another common alternative but requires more skill, and details must be supplied by the modeller. There is a handful of photo etched metal kits which allow a high level of detail and they are unable to replicate compound curves.

Scale models can also be made from paper or card stock. Commercial models are mainly printed by publishers in Germany or Eastern Europe but can be distributed through the internet, some of which are offered this way for free.

From World War I through the 1950s, static model airplanes were also built from light weight bamboo or balsa wood and covered with tissue paper in the same manner as with flying models. This was a time consuming process that mirrored the actual construction of airplanes through the beginning of World War II. Many model makers would create models from drawings of the actual aircraft.[2]

Ready-made desk-top models include those produced in fiberglass for travel agents and aircraft manufacturers, as well as collectors models made from die-cast metal, mahogany, resin and plastic.

Flying models[edit]

A free-flight hand-launched glider

Generally known collectively as aeromodelling, some flying models resemble scaled down versions of full scale aircraft, while others are built with no intention of looking like real aircraft. There are also models of birds, bats and pterosaurs (usually ornithopters). The reduced size affects the model's Reynolds number which determines how the air reacts when flowing past the model, and compared to a full sized aircraft the size of control surfaces needed, the stability and the effectiveness of specific airfoil sections may differ considerably requiring changes to the design.


Flying model aircraft are generally controlled through one of three methods

  • Free flight (F/F) model aircraft are uncontrolled other than by control surfaces that must be preset before flight, and must have a high degree of natural stability. Most free flying models are either unpowered gliders or rubber powered. These pre-date manned flight.[3]
  • Control line (C/L) model aircraft use strings or wires to tether the model to a central pivot, either held by hand or to a pole. The aircraft then flies in circles around that point, secured by one cable, while a second provides pitch control through a connection to the elevator. Some use a third cable to control a throttle. There are many competition categories. Speed flying is divided into classes based on engine displacement. Class 'D' 60 size speed planes can easily reach speeds well in excess of 150 mph (240 km/h).
  • Radio-controlled aircraft have a controller who operates a transmitter which sends signals to a receiver in the model to actuate servos which adjust the model's flight controls similarly to a full sized aircraft. Traditionally, the radio signal directly controlled servos, however, modern examples often use flight control computers to stabilize the model or even to fly it autonomously. This is particularly the case with quadcopters.


Extremely light model with microfilm covering

Flying models construction may differ from that of static models as both weight and strength are major considerations.

Flying models borrow construction techniques from full-sized aircraft although the use of metal is limited. These might consist of forming a frame using thin planks of a light wood such as balsa to duplicate the formers, longerons, spars, and ribs of a vintage full-size aircraft, or, on larger (usually powered) models where weight is less of a factor, sheets of wood, expanded polystyrene, and wood veneers may be employed. It is then given a smooth sealed surface, usually with aircraft dope. For light models, tissue paper is used. For larger models (usually powered and radio controlled) heat-curing or heat shrink covering plastic films or heat-shrinkable synthetic fabrics are applied to the model. Microfilm covering is used for the very lightest models and is made by spreading few drops of lacquer out over several square feet of water, and lifting a wire loop through it, which creates a thin plastic film. Flying models can be assembled from kits, built from plans, or made completely from scratch. A kit contains the necessary raw material, typically die- or laser-cut wood parts, some moulded parts, plans, assembly instructions and may have been flight tested. Plans are intended for the more experienced modeller, since the builder must make or find the materials themselves. Scratch builders may draw their own plans, and source all the materials themselves. Any method may be labour-intensive, depending on the model in question.

To increase the hobby's accessibility, some vendors offer Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) models which minimize the skills required, and reduce build time to under 4 hours, versus 10–40 or more for a traditional kit. Ready To Fly (RTF) radio control aircraft are also available, however model building remains integral to the hobby for many. For a more mass market approach, foamies, injection-molded from lightweight foam (sometimes reinforced) have made indoor flight more accessible and many require little more than attaching the wing and landing gear.


model glider showing typical internal structure

Gliders do not have an attached powerplant. Larger outdoor model gliders are usually radio-controlled gliders and hand-winched against the wind by a line attached to a hook under the fuselage with a ring, so that the line will drop when the model is overhead. Other methods include catapult-launching, using an elastic bungee cord. The newer "discus" style of wingtip hand-launching has largely supplanted the earlier "javelin" type of launch. Also using ground-based power winches, hand-towing, and towing aloft using a second powered aircraft.

Gliders sustain flight through exploitation of the wind in the environment. A hill or slope will often produce updrafts of air which will sustain the flight of a glider. This is called slope soaring, and radio controlled gliders can remain airborne for as long as the updraft remains. Another means of attaining height in a glider is exploitation of thermals, which are columns of warm rising air created by differences of temperature on the ground such as between an asphalt parking lot and a lake. Heated air rises, carrying the glider with it. As with a powered aircraft, lift is obtained by the action of the wings as the aircraft moves through the air, but in a glider, height is gained by flying through air that is rising faster than the aircraft is sinking.

Walkalong gliders are lightweight model airplanes flown in the ridge lift produced by the pilot following in close proximity. In other words, the glider is slope soaring in the updraft of the moving pilot (see also Controllable slope soaring).

Power sources[edit]

Typical rubber powered model having the rubber band (hidden in the fuselage) tightened by turning the propeller backwards, here being done with a handcrank

Powered models contain an onboard powerplant, a mechanism powering propulsion of the aircraft through the air. Electric motors and internal combustion engines are the most common propulsion systems, but other types include rocket, small turbine, pulsejet, compressed gas, and tension-loaded (twisted) rubber band devices.


The oldest method of powering free flight models is Alphonse Pénaud's elastic motor (or extensible motor) of 1871, essentially a long rubber band that is twisted to add tension, prior to flight. It is the most widely used powerplant, found on everything from children's toys to competition models. The elastic offers simplicity and durability, but has a short running time, and the initial high torque of a fully wound motor drops sharply before plateauing to a steady output, until the final turns unwind and power drops off completely. Using it efficiently is one of the challenges of competitive free-flight rubber flying, and variable-pitch propellers, differential wing and tailplane incidence and rudder settings, controlled by timers, have been help manage the torque. There are also usually motor weight restrictions in contest classes. Even so, models have achieved flights of nearly 1 hour.[4][5]

Compressed Gases[edit]

Stored compressed gas, typically carbon dioxide (CO2), can power simple models in a manner similar to filling a balloon and then releasing it. Compressed CO2 may also be used to power an expansion engine to turn a propeller. These engines can incorporate speed controls and multiple cylinders, and are capable of powering lightweight scale radio-controlled aircraft. Gasparin and Modela are two recent makers of CO2 engines. CO2, like rubber, is known as "cold" power because it generates no heat.

Steam is even older than rubber power, and like rubber, contributed much to aviation history, is now rarely used. In 1848, John Stringfellow flew a steam-powered model, in Chard, Somerset, England. Samuel Pierpont Langley built steam powered and internal combustion powered models that made long flights.

Baronet Sir George Cayley built, and flew, internal and external combustion gunpowder-fueled model aircraft engines in 1807, 1819, and 1850. These had no crank, working ornithopter-like flappers instead of a propeller. He speculated that the fuel might be too dangerous for manned aircraft.

Internal combustion[edit]

"Giant scale" 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) wingspan Lockheed C-130 Herculesradio control flying model powered with four internal combustions engines. A crew of five fly and maintain it.

Main article: Model engine

For larger and heavier models, the most popular powerplant is the glow plug engine. Glow engines are fueled by a mixture of slow burning methanol, nitromethane, and lubricant (castor oil or synthetic oil), which is sold pre-mixed as glow-fuel. Glow-engines require an external starting mechanism; the glow plug must be heated until it is hot enough to ignite fuel to start. Reciprocating cylinders apply torque to a rotating crankshaft, which is the engine's primary power-output. Some power is lost from converting linear motion to rotary and in lost heat and unburned fuel, so efficiency is low.

These are rated by engine displacement and range from 0.01 cu in (0.16 cc) to over 1.0 cu in (16 cc). The smallest engines can spin a 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) propeller to over 30,000 rpm, while the larger engines turn at 10–14,000 rpm.

The simplest glow-engines use the two-stroke cycle. These engines are inexpensive, and offer the highest power-to-weight ratio of all glow-engines, but are noisy and require substantial expansion chamber mufflers, which may be tuned. four-stroke cycle glow engines, whether using poppet valves or more rarely rotary valves are more fuel-efficient, but deliver less power than similar two-stroke engines. The power they deliver is more suited to turning larger diameter propellers for lighter weight, higher drag airframes such as with in biplanes. Four-stroke engines are now popular as they are quieter than two-stroke engines, and are available in horizontally opposed twins and radial engine configurations. Variations include engines with multiple-cylinders, spark-ignition gasoline operation, carbureted diesel operation and variable compression-ratio engines. Diesels are preferred for endurance and have higher torque, and for a given capacity, can "swing" a larger propeller than a glow engine. Home manufacture of model aircraft engines is a hobby in its own right.

Jets and rockets[edit]

Early "jet" style model aircraft used a multi-blade propeller ducted fan, inside ductwork, usually in the fuselage. The fans were generally powered by 2 stroke engines at high RPM. They generally had 0.40 to 0.90 cu in (6.6 to 14.7 cc) displacements, but some were as small as 0.049 cu in (0.80 cc). This fan-in-tube design has been adopted successfully for electric-powered jets while glow engine powered ducted-fan aircraft are now rare. Small jet turbine engines are now used in hobbyist models that resemble simplified versions of the turbojet engines found on commercial aircraft, but are not scaled-down as Renold's numbers come into play. The first hobbyist-developed turbine was developed and flown in the 1980s but only recently have commercial examples become readily available. Turbines require specialized design and precision-manufacturing, and some have been built from car engine turbocharger units. Owning or operating a turbine-powered aircraft is prohibitively expensive and many national aeromodelling clubs (as with the USA's Academy of Model Aeronautics) require members to be certified to safely use them.[6]V-1 flying bomb type Pulsejet engines have also been used as they offer more thrust in a smaller package than a traditional glow-engine, but are not widely used due to the extremely high noise levels they produce, and are illegal in some countries.

Rocket engines are sometimes used to boost gliders and sailplanes and the earliest purpose-built rocket motor dates back to the 1950s. This uses solid fuel pellets, ignited by a wick fuse with a reusable casing. Flyers can now also use single-use model rocket engines to provide a short, under 10 second burst of power. Government restrictions in some countries made rocket-propulsion rare but these were being eased in many places and their use was expanding, however a reclassification from "smoke producing devices" to "fireworks" has made them difficult to obtain again.

Electric power[edit]

Small electric powered model of a pre-WW1 era Bleriot XI

Electric-powered models use an electric motor powered by a source of electricity - usually a battery. Electrical power began being used on models in the 1970s, but the cost delayed widespread use until the early 1990s, when more efficient battery technologies, and brushless motors became available, while the costs of motors, batteries and control systems dropped dramatically. Electric power now predominated with park-flyer and 3D-flyer models, both of which are small and light, where electric-power offers greater efficiency and reliability, less maintenance and mess, quieter flight and near-instantaneous throttle response compared to gas engines.

The first electric models used brushed DC motors and nickel cadmium (NiCad) rechargeable cells which gave flight times of 5 to 10 minutes, while a comparable glow-engine provided double the flight-time. Later electric systems used more-efficient brushless DC motors and higher-capacity nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries, yielding considerably improved flight times. Cobalt and lithium polymer batteries (LiPoly or LiPo) permit electric flight-times to surpass those of glow-engines, while the more rugged and durable, cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate batteries are also becoming popular. Solar power has also become practical for R/C hobbyists, and in June 2005 a record flight of 48 hours and 16 minutes was set in California. It is now possible to power most models under 20 lb (9.1 kg) with electric power for a cost equivalent to or lower than traditional power sources.

Propulsion types[edit]

Most powered model-aircraft, including electric, internal-combustion, and rubber-band powered models, generate thrust by spinning an airscrew. The propeller is the most commonly used device. Propellers generate thrust due to lift generated by the wing-like sections of the blades, which forces air backwards.


A large diameter and low-pitch propeller offers greater thrust and acceleration at low airspeed, while a small diameter and higher-pitch propeller sacrifices acceleration for higher maximum speeds. The builder can choose from a selection of propellers to match the model but a mismatched propeller can compromise performance, and if too heavy, cause undue wear on the powerplant. Model aircraft propellers are usually specified as diameter × pitch, in inches. For example, a 5 x 3 propeller has a diameter of 5 inches (130 mm), and a pitch of 3 inches (76 mm). The pitch is the distance that the propeller would advance if turned through one revolution in a solid medium. Two and three bladed propellers are the most common.

Three methods are used to transfer energy to the propeller:

  • Direct-drive systems have the propeller attached directly to the engine's crankshaft or driveshaft. This arrangement is preferred when the propeller and powerplant both operate near peak efficiency at similar rpms. Direct-drive is most common with fuel-powered engines. Very rarely, some electric motors are designed with a sufficiently high torque and low enough speed and can utilize direct-drive as well. These motors are typically called outrunners.
  • Reduction drive uses gears to reduce shaft rpm, so the motor can spin much faster. The higher the gear ratio, the slower the prop will rotate, which also increases torque by roughly the same ratio. This is common on larger models and on those with unusually large propellers. The reduction drive matches the powerplant and propeller to their respective optimum operating speeds. Geared propellers are rare on internal combustion engines, but are common on electric motors because most electric motors spin extremely fast, but lack torque.
  • A built-in 2:1 gear reduction ratio can be obtained by attaching the propeller to the camshaft rather than the crankshaft of a four stroke engine, which runs at half the speed of the crankshaft.[7]

Ducted fans[edit]

Ducted fans are multi-blade propellers encased in a cylindrical duct or tube that may look like and fit in the same space as jet engine. They are available for both electric and liquid-fuelled engines, although they have only become common with recent improvements in electric-flight technology. A model aircraft can now be fitted with four electric ducted fans for less than the cost of a single jet turbine, enabling affordable modelling of multi-engine aeroplanes. Compared to an unducted propeller, a ducted fan generates more thrust for the same area and speeds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) have been recorded with electric-powered ducted fan airplanes, largely due to the higher RPMs possible with ducted fan propellers. Ducted fans are popular with scale models of jet aircraft, where they mimic the appearance of jet engines but they are also found on non-scale and sport models, and even lightweight 3D-flyers.

Small ornithopter, made to resemble a hummingbird


With ornithopters the motion of the wing structure imitates the flapping-wings of living birds, producing both thrust and lift.


World competitions are organised by the FAI in the following classes:

  • Class F – model aircraft
    • F1(x) – Free Flight (A,B,C,D,E,G,H,P,Q)
    • F2(x) – Control Line (A,B,C,D,E)
    • F3A – Radio Control Aerobatics
    • F3B – Radio Control Soaring (Multi-task)
    • F3C – Radio Control Helicopters
    • F3D – Pylon Racing
    • F3F – Radio Control Soaring (Slope)
    • F3J – Radio Control Soaring (Duration)
    • F3K – Hand Launch Gliders
    • F3M – Large Radio Control Aerobatics
    • F3P – Radio Control Indoor Aerobatics
    • F5B – Electric Motor Glider – Multi Task (held in alternate years only)
    • F5D – Electric Pylon Racing
    • F5J – Electric Motor Glider – Thermal Duration
    • FAI – Drone Racing (F3U)
  • Class S – space model
  • Class U – unmanned aerial vehicle

Free flight (F1)[edit]

The Wakefield Gold Challenge Cup is an international modelling competition named for the donor, Lord Wakefield which was first held on 5 July 1911 at The Crystal Palace in England. There were contests in 1912, 1913 and 1914. No contests were held again until 1927, when the Society of Model Aeronautical Engineers (SMAE) approached Lord Wakefield for a new larger silver trophy for international competition. This trophy is the present Wakefield International Cup and was first awarded in 1928. The SMAE organized the international competitions until 1951 when the FAI took over, and has since been made the award for the rubber-power category at the FAI World Free Flight Championships. The FAI free flight (F1) classes include:

  • F1A – Gliders
  • F1B – Model Aircraft with extensible (rubber band) motors – Wakefield Trophy
  • F1C – Power model aircraft (combustion powered 2.5 cc (0.15 cu in))
  • F1D – Indoor model aircraft
  • F1E – Gliders with automatic steering
  • F1N – Indoor hand-launch gliders
  • F1P – Power model aircraft (combustion powered 1.0cc)
  • F1Q – Electric power model aircraft
  • F1G – Model aircraft with extensible (rubber band) motors « Coupe d’hiver » (provisional)
  • F1H – Gliders (provisional)
  • F1J – Power model aircraft (provisional) (combustion powered 1.0 cc (0.061 cu in))
  • F1K – Model aircraft with CO2 motors (provisional)
  • F1L – Indoor zone EZB model aircraft (provisional)
  • F1M – Indoor model aircraft (provisional)
  • F1R – Indoor model aircraft “Micro 35” (provisional)
  • F1S – Small electric power model aircraft “E36”

Control Line (F2)[edit]

Main article: Control line

F2C class control line models

Also referred to as U-Control in the US, it was pioneered by the late Jim Walker who often, for show, flew three models at a time. Normally the model is flown in a circle and controlled by a pilot in the center holding a handle connected to two thin steel wires. The wires connect through the inboard wing tip of the plane to a mechanism that translates the handle movement to the aircraft elevator, allowing maneuvers to be performed along the aircraft pitch axis. The pilot will turn to follow the model going round, the convention being anti-clockwise for upright level flight.

For the conventional control-line system, tension in the lines is required to provide control. Line tension is maintained largely by centrifugal force. To increase line tension, models may be built or adjusted in various ways. Rudder offset and thrust vectoring (tilting the engine toward the outside) yaw the model outward. The position where the lines exit the wing can compensate for the tendency of the aerodynamic drag of the lines to yaw the model inboard. Weight on the outside wing, an inside wing that is longer or has more lift than the outside wing (or even no outside wing at all) and the torque of a left rotating propeller (or flying clockwise) tend to roll the model toward the outside. Wing tip weights, propeller torque, and thrust vectoring are more effective when the model is going slowly, while rudder offset and other aerodynamic effects have more influence on a fast moving model.

Since its introduction, control line flying has developed into a competition sport. There are contest categories for control line models, including Speed, Aerobatics (AKA Stunt), Racing, Navy Carrier, Balloon Bust, Scale, and Combat. There are variations on the basic events, including divisions by engine size and type, skill categories, and age of model design.

The events originated largely in the United States, and were later adapted for use internationally. The rules for US Competition are available from the Academy of Model Aeronautics. The international rules are defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). World Championships are held semiannually throughout the world, most recently in 2008 in France, with a limited slate of events – special varieties of Racing (F2C or "Team Race"), combat (F2D), and speed (F2A), all limited to engines displacing 0.15 cu. in (2.5cc), and Stunt (F2b) which is essentially unlimited with regard to design and size.

CIAM (FAI Aeromodelling Commission) designed this classes for F2 Control Line category:

CL Speed
CL Aerobatics
CL Team racing

The international class of racing is referred to as F2C (F2 = Control-line, C=racing) or Team Race. A pilot and a mechanic compete as a team to fly small 370 g (13 oz) 65 cm (26 in) wingspan semi-scale racing models over a tarmac or concrete surface. Lines are 15.92 m (52.2 ft) long.

Three pilots, plus mechanic teams, compete simultaneously in the same circle, and the object is to finish the determined course as fast as possible. Tank size is limited to 7 cc (0.43 cu in), requiring 2 or 3 refueling pitstops during the race.

The mechanic stands at a pit area outside the marked flight circle. The engine is started and the model released on the start signal. For refuelling, the pilot will operate a fuel shutoff by a quick down elevator movement after the planned number of laps so that the model can approach the mechanic at optimum speed, of around 31 mph (50 km/h). The mechanic will catch the model by the wing, fill the tank from a pressurized can by a hose and finger valve, then restart the engine by flicking the propeller with his finger. A pitstop generally takes less than three seconds.

The course is 6.2 mi (10 km), with 100 laps. Flying speeds are around 200 km/h (120 mph), which means that the pilots will turn one lap in roughly 1.8 seconds. Line pull due to centrifugal force is 19 lbf (85 N). An overtaking model will be steered over the heads of the competing pilots of slower models.

After two rounds of elimination heats, the 6, 9 or 12 fastest teams enter two semifinal rounds, and the three fastest teams in the semifinals go to the final, which is run over the double course. Single cylinder two-stroke Diesel compression ignition engines designed for this purpose of up to 2.5 cc (0.15 cu in) are used. At the world championship level it is common for competitors design and build their own engines. Output power approaches 0.8 hp (0.60 kW) at 25,000 rpm.

F2D – CL Combat[edit]

CLASS F2D - Control Line Combat Model Aircraft - Two pilots compete, with four mechanics in the pit. The aircraft are light and very stubby so as to manoeuvre quickly in the air. Each has a 8 ft 2 in (2.5 m) crepe paper streamer attached to the rear of the aircraft by a 3 m (9.8 ft) string. Each pilot only attacks the other aircraft's streamer, to attempt to cut it with their propeller or wing. Each cut scores 100 points. Each second the model is in the air scores a point and the match runs for 4 minutes from the starter’s signal. At the almost 120 mph (200 km/h) speeds of the aircraft, mistakes often lead to crash damage so two aircraft are permitted for each match. The mechanics are prepared for crashes and will quickly start the second aircraft and transfer the streamer to the reserve model before launching. The action is so fast that an observer may miss the cuts of the streamers. A second loss eliminates a competitor, and the last pilot still flying wins. FAI AEROMODELLING COMMISSION (CIAM)

Radio Controlled Flight (F3)[edit]

RC Aerobatic Aircraft
RC Multi-Task Gliders
RC Aerobatic Helicopters
RC Pylon Racing Aeroplanes

Pylon racing refers to a class of air racing for radio controlled model aircraft that fly through a course of pylons.[8] The sport is similar to the full-scale Red Bull Air Race World Series.

RC Slope Soaring Gliders
RC Thermal Duration Gliders
RC Hand Launch Gliders
RC Large Aerobatic Aircraft
RC Freestyle Aerobatic Helicopters
RC Indoor Aerobatic Aircraft
RC Soaring Cross Country Gliders
RC Aero-Tow Gliders
RC Pylon Racing Limited Technology Aeroplanes
RC Jet Aerobatic Aircraft
RC Semi-Scale Pylon Racing with Controlled Technology Aeroplanes
RC Multi-rotor FPV Racing

The FAI Drone Racing World Cup is in the F3U class (Radio Control Multi-rotor FPV Racing). This is a highly competitive activity, involving mental exertion and big cash prizes.

Main article: Drone racing

Model aerodynamics[edit]

A contest-winning paper glider

See also: Flight dynamics

The flight behaviour of an aircraft depends on the scale to which it is built, the density of the air and the speed of flight.

At subsonic speeds the relationship between these is expressed by the Reynolds number. Where two models at different scales are flown with the same Reynolds number, the airflow will be similar. Where the Reynolds numbers differ, as for example a small-scale model flying at lower speed than the full-size craft, the airflow characteristics can differ significantly. This can make an exact scale model unflyable, and the model has to be modified in some way. For example, at low Reynolds numbers, a flying scale model usually requires a larger-than-scale propeller.

Maneuverability depends on scale, with stability also becoming more important. Control torque is proportional to lever arm length while angular inertia is proportional to the square of the lever arm, so the smaller the scale the more quickly an aircraft or other vehicle will turn in response to control inputs or outside forces.

One consequence of this is that models in general require additional longitudinal and directional stability, resisting sudden changes in pitch and yaw. While it may be possible for a pilot to respond quickly enough to control an unstable aircraft, a radio control scale model of the same aircraft would only be flyable with design adjustments such as increased tail surfaces and wing dihedral for stability, or with avionics providing artificial stability. Free flight models need to have both static and dynamic stability. Static stability is the resistance to sudden changes in pitch and yaw already described, and is typically provided by the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces respectively, and by a forward center of gravity. Dynamic stability is the ability to return to straight and level flight without any control input. The three dynamic instability modes are pitch (phugoid) oscillation, spiral and Dutch roll. An aircraft with too large a horizontal tail on a fuselage that is too short may have a phugoid instability with increasing climbs and dives. With free flight models, this usually results in a stall or loop at the end of the initial climb. Insufficient dihedral or sweep back will generally lead to increasing spiral turn. Too much dihedral or sweepback generally causes Dutch roll. These all depend on the scale, as well as details of the shape and weight distribution. For example, the paper glider shown here is a contest winner when made of a small sheet of paper but will go from side to side in Dutch roll when scaled up even slightly.

See also[edit]



  • RCadvisor′s Model Airplane Design Made Easy, by Carlos Reyes,, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2009. ISBN 9780982261323OCLC 361461928
  • The Great International Paper Airplane Book, by Jerry Mander, George Dippel and Howard Gossage, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1967. ISBN 0671289918OCLC 437094
  • Model Aircraft Aerodynamics, by Martin Simons, Swanley: Nexus Special Interests, 1999. 4th ed. ISBN 1854861905OCLC 43634314
  • How to Design and Build Flying Model Airplanes, by Keith Laumer, Harper, New York, 1960. 2nd ed., 1970. OCLC 95315
  • The Middle Ages of the Internal-Combustion Engine, by Horst O. Hardenberg, SAE, 1999. ISBN 0768003911OCLC 40632327
  • Model Airplane Design and Theory of Flight, by Charles Hampson Grant, Jay Publishing Corporation, New York, 1941. OCLC 1336984
  • Pulling Back the Clouds, by Mike Kelly, Limerick Writers' Centre Publishing, Ireland, 2020. ISBN 9781916065383

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