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Setting Up, Operating and Maintaining Model Aircraft Engines

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( Up, Operating and Maintaining Model Aircraft Engines

Having a reliable power system in your model airplane is critical to your fun if not the aircraft's health.  The power system should be dependable, consistent and provide years of service with little maintenance or tinkering.

The average sport airplane is designed to have the engine and tank installed as ideally as possible while providing good access to the engine for maintenance.

These pages should help you avoid confusion as to what you need, what you do not need and to dispel some myths.  Hopefully this information will get you on the right track by helping you avoid problems or wasting money.

I e-mailed Clarence Lee, the Engine Clinic columnist for Radio Control Modeler magazine, and asked if he would use some of his valuable time to read over these pages to ensure the information I am providing is correct.  He replied with excellent feedback that I have included in sidebars on the appropriate pages.

The following pages give specific information about engine mounting, propellers, spinners, throttle linkages, fuel tanks, lines, fuel and air filters, hand starting or using an electric starter and general maintenance suggestions.

In this series

Also see


What you do not need to buy

If you are new to this hobby then I can save you some money right off the bat.  You will get a lot of recommendations of things to buy.  If anyone suggests you buy any of the following items then hold off on these purchases for now.

You may decide you want some of these items later, but for now they are not needed.  In fact, I have been running model airplane engines for over 30 years and have not had a need for any of these things in that entire time.

  • Hobby Industry "After run oil"

    It costs much more per ounce than Marvel Mystery Oil (which is what I think it really is anyway).  Marvel Mystery Oil is a 2-cycle engine oil that can be purchased from a variety of places such as Wal-Mart.  Buy a quart and put some in a small plastic squeeze bottle.  More on after run oil later.

    Some art stores carry small plastic squeeze bottles with stainless steel tubes that are great for dispensing oil.  I bought several of these bottles to use in my shop with oils and other fluids.

    To avoid confusion, you should use an after-run oil in your engine to prevent rust.  But you can purchase it much more economically than in tiny bottles.

  • Center Marking Gadgets

    The problem is not finding the center of the mounting holes for an engine.  The problem is getting around the muffler area where there is not a straight shot at the holes.  The center marking things do not solve this problem.

    Advertisements always show the gadget being used on the non-muffler side of the engine.  Generally the gadget is something like a pointy stick.  Any modeler can make a pointy stick if they want one badly enough.  Like I said, they do not solve the problem though.

    Also see

  • Commercial Chemical Engine Cleaning Solutions

    Read the Engine Maintenance page for an excellent method of cleaning your engines.

  • Compression Gauges

    Unless you are reworking your engines, what's the point?

  • Engine Temperature Gauges

    Learn to set you engine properly and listen to it.  You can see and hear if it is running properly or if it is over-heating.  Engines also give off a distinctive smell of cooked oil when they are running too hot.

  • Tachometers

    I have never owned one because I do not try to squeeze every last RPM out of my engines.  The best way to choose a propeller is by observing how the plane flies and choosing the one that suits the plane the best.  Knowing the numbers does not change this.

A couple small screws in the muffler will help prevent losing exhaust deflectors. I've never known exhaust deflectors to deflect much exhaust.  More than anything else they fall off and get lost.  I was talking to my friend Mike Phillips about it one day and he gave me this great idea to prevent losing deflectors.

Find some very small sheet metal screws.  I used #0.  Drill the muffler toward the end and thread in the screws.  I cut the screws to about 1/8" long so they didn't extend into the muffler by an appreciable amount.

Use at least two screws.  One screw may or may not work.

Put a zip tie around the deflector in front of the screws. Put the deflector in place and cinch a zip tie around it.  Be sure the zip tie is in front of the screws.

Try to pull the deflector off.

I still don't think it's going to help keep the plane any cleaner but at least it won't fall off and get lost.

Update 11/17/2007:  My deflector lasted for about two flying sessions before it tore at the screw.  My verdict is that deflectors don't work anyway so don't waste your money.



Hardware used in Flying Model Airplanes
Types of Model Aircraft Engines

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