Friday, January 26, 2007

Getting Started

Sorry for the delay since the last blog – I’ve been travelling. Here are some specific recommendations for beginners on what to read, good first models, where to obtain plans, and other things that you need to get started.

Reading Material

- Gliders especially HLG:

Flying Hand Launch Gliders by John Kaufmann, 2006 edition

This is a classic read, for any modeller, but is really useful for hand or catapult launch glider flyers. It can be bought from the National Free Flight Society at the reasonable price of US$13.

An introduction to HLG, superb how to build and fly tips and a nice selection of plans are available from Mike Chapman's wonderful site called F4Bscale.

- Free flight generally:

SmallFlyingArts has great tips, articles, and the best free flight discussion forum on the web with a truly massive wealth of knowledge to look over.

- For seriously addicted free flighters:

British Model Flying Association Free Flight Forum reports, published annually.

Freeflight Quarterly, a magazine on free flight matters, technical and historical, published - you guessed it - quarterly.

Good First Models

I believe that building from plans provides the best experience for a budding free flighter. Following the guidelines on my last blog, here are some recommendations for satisfying, easy to build and not too big first models:


Dogchew, 6” span – plan and building notes available here.

Simple 10 or WAM 10, both 10" span, by Heman Lee and Emile Carles respectively - plan available from the Free Plans page of the Aeromaniacs site.

Baby Jazz, 13” span by Andrew Hewitt - plan available from Mike Chapman's F4Bscale site.

As you will see, each of these has only one or two wing joints, which makes them simpler to construct. I wouldn’t recommend a bigger glider for a first model. For why, please see my last blog.

Rubber Power:

Recommending plans for beginners is easy:

Cloud Tramp: I would suggest that this is now a free flight design classic, with many fliers worldwide. The original article and plan are available from The Plan Page (click on "Special Things"). The Cloud Tramp model also has a dedicated website for its afficianados.

The Squirrel is a very well-thought out design. Involves tissue as well as balsa, yet is easy to make and ideal for beginners. A very light design that flies well indoors and outdoors.

Also worth mentioning are the Dart and Gyminie Cricket available cheaply via the Educational Kits page of the BMFA. In addition, the AMA Cub (also known as the Delta Dart). Kits can be purchased very cheaply form the webstore of the AMA.

Sources of Plans

In addition to the websites mentioned under Good First Models above, the best recommendation I have is to take your time to go through this excellent collection of links to free of charge free flight plans compiled by DB Design Bureau.

There are lots of other sources of plans where payment is required, and prices are usually low. Please respect copyright, read notices where provided and in particular, do not deal commercially in plans without the copyright owner's consent.

Tools and Stuff

I regard the following as essential tools, bits and pieces for the first model:

  • A source for balsa wood – not difficult to find over the internet. As you get more experienced, you will need to be more selective about the quality of the wood you use. In the UK, I recommend Flitehook, Blackburn Models and FreeFlightSupplies.
  • Flat smooth cutting surface. E.g. fibre board, and old large kitchen chopping board or a plate of glass.
  • Squared paper or one of those rubbery cutting boards that has squares ruled on it. This is useful when you assemble your model, because it makes aligning the parts so much easier by truing things up by eye to the squares.
  • Card, pencil and scissors – all needed to mark out and cut templates (e.g. of the wing profile from the plan).
  • Craft knife or scalpel.
  • Sand paper of various grades (best to wrap and pin it to a block of wood).
  • Glues – Epoxy, PVA white wood glue and Superglue. Each has its uses. Try them all and learn about their relative advantages and disadvantages.
  • Ruler and square. For marking out and aligning parts. Plastic school/office types are fine, but you will need a metal one for cutting lines.
  • Sanding sealer, non-shrinking dope or a spray varnish for a lightweight finish to the wood.

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