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Beginning Scratchbuilding and Flying

"I'm new to this - where do I start?"

Where to start depends on your experience level, but we'll cover the basics, and then if you have questions from there, be sure to check out some of these places where you can ask specific questions that you may still have:

RC Groups Beginner Training Area or Scratchbuilt Foamies

Wattflyer Beginners, Foamies or Scratch and Kit Built

RC Universe Beginners Forum


Forums are a great places to learn. But learning about the basics will help you understand you plane and how and why it flies the way it does AND help you ask more intelligent questions when you get to the forums. Incidentally, this page is only about foam electric planes, but it will cover some basics of scratchbuilding that may be relevant to glow fuel planes too. For some good beginner info on glow planes, the Beginners Guide at adamone.com.

First, and this can't be stressed enough, find someone locally to help you! If you know of someone - or better yet, a club - in your area, please seek out this person or club and see if they are willing to help you get started flying. It will vastly reduce your frustration level, and you'll likely crash less as a result.

And if you don't have anyone to help you, hopefully this tutorial will!

What plane should I build first?

If you don't have any prior experience building or flying, there are a number of options you can consider. Some good planes to consider are the Trainer One, the Blu-Cub, the STC or the Blu-Baby foam trainer planes (find all of them here.) All are slow flyers, forgiving in flight, and designed to withstand some mild crashing (not the "nose-first" kind!). There are several things to consider while figuring out what plane you might want to build:

- Foam you plan to use
- Intended power system (including motor/battery/propellor)
- The size and weight of the radio system you plan to use

Which Foam?

There are a variety of foams out there that can be utilized for scratchbuilding a trainer plane. At the lowest cost end of the scale, there are the Fan-Fold Foams (sometimes referred to as FFF) that can be found at many home improvement stores. Look for blue Dow Protection Board or pink Owens Corning foam. These are typically sold in a bundle of approximately 24 sheets of 24" x 48", folded back and forth into a neat stack. It is approximately 1/4" thick. Generally, they run about $30 to $40 (American dollars) for a full stack, which can net you anywhere from 15 to 25 planes!

Think about that for a second - if you crash a plane and destroy it, you can build another one for about $1 in material. Not a bad deal at all! Additionally, thicker foams of 1" or 2" can also be purchased in home improvement stores (the Blu-Baby trainer plane uses a "mono-block" construction technique requiring some thicker foam). These thicker foams are quite useful in plane building, but this article will not discuss those largely advanced techniques.

Alternatively, Depron foam can be used to make foam planes. Both RCFoam and RCPowers sell Depron online, as well as some hobby stores. Depron is generally lighter than the fan fold foam, and a bit stronger, though it is more expensive because it is essentially a European insulation foam that must be imported anywhere besides Europe to use for RC planes. Fortunately, it comes in various thicknesses: 1mm, 2mm, 3mm, 5mm and 6mm (6mm is about a 1/4"), which makes for some great building options. It comes in white or grey, which does make for nicer looking planes, too. (Blue foam can be hard to see against a blue sky, and some guys get weird about their planes being pink.)

Cellfoam 88 is another foam building option, and is made specifically for hobby uses. It has a nice, smooth surface which makes it easy to paint or use markers on. It is quite strong, but it is a bit more brittle than even Depron, and great care must be taken to keep from breaking it when bending to make airfoils. It also comes in several thicknesses, 3mm, 5mm and 10mm. It is available through Tower Hobbies, Horizon Hobbies, RCFoam as well as many hobby stores.

A very inexpensive but rather time-consuming way to get some thin foam sheeting is to purchase the paper-covered foam boards that are used for projects, such as Elmer's foam board. Some dollar stores carry a lower cost version too. With the paper left on, the foam is very heavy, and not particularly suitable for foam planes. Removing the paper makes the weight acceptable, but getting the paper off requires some significant time or effort or both! But if cost is a factor, it's an option to consider. Do a search in some of the scratchbuilt foam forums for various ways to remove the paper from these foam boards, as each is slightly different.

Lastly, for foams, there is EPP foam, or Expanded PolyPropylene. This is an excellent foam from a crash-worthiness standpoint, however, it does have some drawbacks. It is not very stiff, and requires a fair amout of additional material to strengthen a plane for solid, stable flying. Because this particular tutorial is about the most commonly available foams, it won't be going into depth to include strengthening information and such for EPP. However, there is an excellent thread about EPP at RCGroups.com in the Scratchbuilt Foamies section that can provide great guidance for EPP building techniques and plans.

A quick word about adhesives: There are a couple of good options for beginners looking to glue any of these foams together. As a beginner, use either foam-safe 5 minutes epoxy (available in home improvement stores or most any good hobby store) or purchase a $2 hot glue gun and glue sticks. Although several other good options exist, for beginners I wouldn't recommend them as they require special building techniques. Search the RC forums or check out or Tech Tips section for more information.

The white styrofoam that you can find in many packaging applications or sometimes in craft stores is generally NOT a good option for foam planes: it is too weak, too brittle, and generally has very poor structural integrity for the stresses that will be induced on a foam plane. Look for some of the options above to achieve the greatest level of success with your first scratchbuilt plane.

NEXT: Power Systems

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