Building From Plans

Excerpt with bonus photos from the October 2013 issue of Model Aviation. Written by Mark Lanterman. Read the entire issue in Model Aviation.

Building from plans is simply starting off with a set of detailed construction drawings that came from a magazine, or from a plans service. These drawings will show at minimum, the side and top of the fuselage, one of the wings, the vertical fin and the horizontal stab. Some plans are more detailed than others and might show both halves of the wings, both sides of the fuselage, cross sections of fuselage and wing, and more detail in specific areas. Rarely will plans include anything remotely close to step-by-step instructions on how everything goes together. However, plans published in a magazine likely have helpful build tips in the accompanying construction article. From this point, you would supply everything else needed to build the model—the wood, the hardware, and the accessories. Now, don’t panic about this. Actually this is a good thing because it affords you the opportunity to use only the brands of hardware and types of accessories that you prefer. Also you now have absolute control over the wood selection that goes into your model. You can select light balsa where appropriate and have a finished model with significant weight savings. Also, you won’t be stuck with sheeting and wood strips that are so warped they resemble hockey sticks! I’m guessing at this point you might have a question or two, but let me tackle the most popular question I come across: “Why should I build from plans when there are so many ARF’s and kits are the market?” Well first off, there’s nothing wrong with either of those options, but what about having something unique? Something that doesn’t look exactly the same as the other airplanes at the field? Building from plans gives you that opportunity to pick a subject that is totally unique, rarely modeled, or even totally wacky! When I start building, I normally start with an easy section to get up to speed. In the case of the Mr. Mulligan, the elevator and stab halves were the first pieces. During their construction I also decided to use a new technique to control the elevator halves which required building the servos into the stab. This change eliminated long pushrods and ugly control horns detracting from the scale look I was going for. As you become more comfortable in reading the plans, move on to bigger, more complicated sections. Again, take your time and study everything carefully. It’s a good idea to dry-fit parts together to make sure everything is in the proper place and fits as it should. One of the things I found that has helped me the most when building from plans is to take my time. Don’t be afraid to step away from the build if you encounter something you can’t wrap your head around. Many times I’ve found that if I come back a day or two later, I can see the situation with fresh eyes and find solutions I couldn’t see when I was frustrated a day or two before. But, there will be times when you are stuck and can’t figure a way out to save your life. That’s where the internet can help. Search the web and see if you can find modelers who have posted build-a-longs of their kit, like I’ve done with the Mr. Mulligan. Chances are there’s someone out there who’s encountered your problem and found a nice, simple fix. The same goes for steps that require building skills you might not have encountered, or mastered yet. For instance, maybe you’ve never sheeted the forward section of a rounded fuselage like the Mr. Mulligan. Or maybe you’ve never used a specific type of covering to finish your model. There’s a lot of help available online, at a local club, or even your local hobby shop. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t let me have all the fun. Get out there and build something. Although most dermatologists probably won’t agree with me, I think a little balsa dust is good for any modeler’s complexion! Read the entire article with step by step instructions in the October 2103 issue of Model Aviation

There might be several things you have to work up for yourself in a plans build. In the case of the Mr. Mulligan, I worked up this unique octagon mount to hold the J&L RotoFlow fuel tank in place.

As your build progresses, all of the formers, stringers and other supporting pieces become a thing of beauty. Here’s a shot from inside the Mr. Mulligan fuselage, looking rearward.

Usually with any plans build you’ll need to determine the proper way to mount your gear and wheel pants. In the case of the Mr. Mulligan, I worked up this solution using a pair of Sig’s wheel pant mounts per wheel pant.

There are many kit-cutting services available. National Balsa has a complete laser-cut kit of Hostetler’s Mr. Mulligan kit and it sure is a time saver and far more accurate than I could do by hand.

When framing any plans build, I utilize angle brackets and improvise weights to hold everything in position as the glue cures.

Experiencing its first bit of sunshine, here’s the Mr. Mulligan with all framing completed. It still needs the final sanding, but everything is in place. It weighs in at 22 pounds at this point with the engine and servos installed for these pictures.


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The plans have lines drawn and they are consitant thickness through out..technically this line has an Outeredges (forward and aft) ..let's say laying out the leading edge and trainling edges on the outter most edge of the line. I've come across where when dry fitting the ribs, the connecting surfaces would put the leading/trailing edges in the middle of the Drawing Line....Is there a rule of thumb on which of the drawing edges to be used? Lets say I am making the part from scratch using the drawing - do I fabricate the part to the inner or outter edge of the Drawing Line....when dimentioning the part to on or the other can cause some irregularities in fitting parts together...Thank you.

Mariano, Thank you for reading my article and for your question. When it comes to the line that you mentioned, as long as all of the parts line up at the same point in the line thickness (outer edge, middle, inner edge) it really shouldn't matter too much. Just make sure you use the same point throughout the design/build of the model. I guess if pressed, I would use the outer of the line. -- Mark Lanterman

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