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How to Build Lightweight Model Airplanes

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( and Build Model Aircraft for Light Weight and Strength

I have finally heard one conversation too many discussing the weight of glues in the context of having any significant effect on overall weight of a flying model airplane.

I could build an entire model using nothing but epoxy, which is probably the heaviest glue there is, and still have a lightweight airframe.  The weight of glue in an R/C model is inconsequential when properly used even if the wrong glue is used.

So why not use epoxy throughout?  Because it simply isn't the best glue to use in most cases.

  • Epoxy is often harder than the materials it is bonding which makes sanding a smooth seam difficult.
  • Epoxy is expensive.
  • Epoxy is less convenient than single part adhesives.
  • Epoxy takes longer to grab than water or solvent based glues.
  • Etc.

But this is not an article about what kind of glue to use in your models.  It's about how I've learned to consistently design and build models that are significantly lighter than comparable models from other sources and how you can do the same.  Generally speaking, if my model isn't lighter, then it has more features for the same finished weight.

By the way, these are the building techniques I use and advocate.  They are not my original ideas and concepts.  Almost every technique I discuss in this article has been around for a very long time.

These building methods have stood the test of time from when they were developed back in the days when radios weighed as much as a car battery and engines had half the power they have now.  Builders had no choice but to use building methods that kept the weight low and the strength high.

New designs, especially those put out by major manufacturers, take advantage of the fact that radios are lighter, engines are more powerful and the customer base is primarily the instant-gratification, it's-not-worth-it-if-there's-actually-work-involved crowd.  Many of the most popular kits today are poorly engineered to the extreme.  More about this to come.

The problem that I am seeing is that most designers base their engineering methods on kits that they've built.  In this case it means they are emulating poor designs not knowing that anything is wrong with them.

Consequently, model aircraft structural design is doing a Darwin in reverse.

Please note that my philosophy doesn't necessarily build a model that will withstand your piloting or your flying field.

If you know your planes will take a lot of abuse you will have to make them beefier to withstand it unless you like doing lots of repairs.

Sumo PaulIn this series



Formulas Used with Flying Model Aircraft
Supplies for the Model-Building Shop

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Copyright 2004 Paul K. Johnson