Build your first flying scale model

This is a new section of the site, made possible (or at least a lot simpler) by the unlimited server space I now have. The intention is to take the reader through the building and flying of a simple rubber powered scale model, suitable for the first-time scale builder. I will assume no prior knowledge, and try to describe every step in (possibly tedious) detail, illustrated with many photos.

The core of this feature is a detailed description of how I do things, but I do not want people to think this is the only way to do it – far from it. I am hoping some of my modelling friends from around the world will contribute additional chapters explaining alternative construction and finishing methods. It would be nice to think that eventually the article could become a one stop reference for anyone wanting to take their first steps into the wonderful world of free flight scale modelling.

After much thought, I have chosen as my subject the Veron Tru-flite Comper Swift, which has a handy 18” span, is relatively simple to build, and in the right hands can fly consistently for around a minute. The construction is also robust enough for a novice to handle. The design dates from 1950, and was the work of the late Phil Smith, who designed most of the rest of the Veron range of kits, and was also a successful contest flyer. At the time I was planning this I wrote to Phil and checked he had no objections to me putting the Swift plan on the web site as a free download. He didn't, which was great because that made it as simple as possible for anyone who wanted to build the Swift along with me to join in.

The plan will print off on four A4 sheets which have to be taped together. The pdf files should print off at exactly full size if you set your printer to A4 paper. This should work even if you do not have A4 paper in the printer, as the margins have been left deliberately large. Every plan has a scale drawn on it in the form of a row of inverted T shapes. These are spaced exactly 50 mm apart, and should help with the sizing.

Download Comper Swift pdf file here (123 KB)

Download Comper Swift bmp files here (210 KB)

You will need Acrobat reader to view the pdf files, which is a free download from the Adobe web site

For those of you who prefer to work with standard graphics file formats, I have added zip files containing black and white bitmap files so you can edit them in your favourite graphics package.

I had a bit of a problem when scanning the printwood, as one of the sheets is 12 inches long – just a bit too big to fit on a sheet of A4 paper. I have thus cut away the fin and surrounding bits and put it on a separate sheet. After printing off, you could easily tape the two bits together, then photocopy onto a sheet of A3 paper, together with the other sheet. If you are using dope thinners to transfer the patterns to balsa, you will need to be working with a photocopy anyway.

I will be photographing and writing as I build the model myself, so any mistakes I make, or disasters that may happen will all be fully documented. If I get wrinkles, you will see close-ups, if the paint runs under the masks, you will see it warts and all, and if the model refuses to fly, I will even video the crashes for you. I will probably incorporate a few modifications as I go, such as putting in a proper removable noseblock with enough room to allow comfortable stretch-winding, but essentially I do not want to spoil the character of what is a successful vintage scale design.

I would welcome progress photos from others, and will set up a gallery should it be necessary.

Important update, April 2013

Andrew Darby was kind enough to send me a scan of the instruction sheet from an original Comper Swift kit, which you can download here (580 KB). This contains some information not on the plan itself. One important piece of missing information is the dihedral figure for the wing. I used 1" per wingtip, but Phil Smith actually specified 3/4", so please bear that in mind when you get to the "flying surfaces" chapter.

OK, let’s go – the links below will take you to various stages of the build. How many chapters there are depends on how slowly I am building the model.

Chapter 1: Tools you will need

Chapter 2: Getting started - Let's cut some balsa

Chapter 3: Fuselage assembly

Chapter 4: The undercarriage

Chapter 5: Final fuselage work

Chapter 6: Flying surfaces

Chapter 7: Covering the fuselage

Chapter 8: Covering the flying surfaces

Chapter 9: Prop, wheels and final details

Chapter 10: Assembly and painting

Chapter 11: Markings and finishing touches

Chapter 12: Will it fly?

Appendix 1: Some colour scheme ideas for your Comper Swift

Appendix 2: The Veron Tru-Flite range

Appendix 3: Notes and photos from Chris Strachan

Appendix 4: Gallery of finished models

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