Thomas Designs 24" span Piper Vagabond

To kick things off, I want to start with a manufacturer who is probably little known outside the USA, and whose kits in my opinion offer excellent value for money, especially when viewed from this side of the Atlantic, taking into account the current exchange rate. I picked up a couple of Thomas Designs kits at the 2008 FAC Nats and was very impressed with their quality. One of these was the new 24" span Piper Vagabond, so let's have a look inside:

The model is packed in a very sturdy box, which I happen to know is actually big enough for two kits, because I managed to pack this and the Ercoupe into one box to fit them in my luggage and get them back to the UK! Here you see the contents laid out. First impressions are of the completeness of the kit, and how well thought out everything is.

The plan is rolled with the tissue, and has been drawn using CAD. The picture above should give you a flavour. Structure is predominantly 1/16" square, and some decent hard balsa strips are included in the bundle, ideal for longerons. There are lots of notes on the plan, so it would be well worth spending a bit of time digesting them all. There are no plastic mouldings in the kit, which is a plus point as far as I am concerned, and you may be able to see that no block is provided either. The nose block is laminated from 1/16" sheet, as are the wheels. You can probably see from the contents photo that the inner wheel laminations have lightening apertures cut out of them which will save weight compared to a conventional laminated balsa wheel. I think the Vagabond has rather attractive tubby lines, and makes a nice change from the more commonly modelled J-3 Cub.

Here are a couple of the laser cut sheets in detail. The quality is excellent, and wood selection good.

Here is some detail of the wing construction on the plan. Scale rib spacing will add to the realism. Note the laminated tips, for which the 1/32 x 1/16" balsa strips are provided. The patterns for the forms are supplied, but you will have to stick them to some card or balsa before you do the laminating. The fin and tailplane also require laminated outlines. These are not difficult to do, and I think they look better than sheet tips and outlines, also adding useful strength and rigidity.

Here are the laser cut 1/32" wing ribs, which are from really nice light wood. Note there are two 1/8 x 1/16" lower spars, and two 1/16" square upper spars, which should make a nice strong wing. In view of the light wood used for the ribs, I would avoid a full-on water shrink after covering, otherwise buckling of the ribs could be an issue. The plan actually recommends pre-shrinking the tissue before covering.

Nose and undercarriage details shown on the plan.

On the left is the bag containing the hardware, so a 7 inch prop, prop shaft, rear peg, washers, silk thread, rubber and components to make a cartridge bearing. This last is an unusual feature of the kit, comprising two Peck bearings, fitted into either end of a length of aluminium tube. The greater length thus gained will certainly make it less prone to wobble than a single nylon bush.

On the right is the check sheet for the laser cut parts, and underneath the pattern for the wing registration. The kit supplies yellow Esaki tissue, plus enough black to do the wing registration and fuselage flashes

Here is the laser cut glazing material, plus the ply undercarriage reinforcements and nose ring. A nicely printed waterslide decal sheet supplies the tail markings and Piper logos for the nose.

The pattern sheet on the left contains the forms for the laminations, and various paper fairings and trim pieces. On the right is a 3-view and photos for use as documentation for Flying Aces competitions. The drawing may look fairly simple, but that is exactly what you need for FAC events, where the model is judged only against the documentation you provide. With a simple drawing you can incorporate all the detail in your model, so you will not be marked down for missing details off.

Finally a colour sheet is provided showing details of Greg's Vagabond model to help with some of the details - a very thoughtful addition.

You will probably gather that I really liked this kit. I would not recommend tackling it unless you have got a couple of scale models under your belt though, because there is quite a lot of (very enjoyable) building involved, and the kit does not include a set of building instructions along the lines of "glue part A to part B". The plan is outstanding, and will repay detailed study before you begin. The finished model should be a good flyer, and would be a good candidate for the BMFA kit scale class. I am rather looking forwards to building it myself, there is just the minor problem of fitting it into my busy building schedule!

Rob Smith has kindly sent me some pictures of the two Thomas Designs Vagabonds that he has built. Above you can see the rubber powered version using the Gizmo Geezer front end.

Here are the bones of the rubber model. I see that Rob has put some lightening holes in the wing ribs, something I often do. Rob says both the R/C and the rubber versions fly very well, the R/C version being heavier does fly a little faster than scale speed but not by much. He recently replaced the rubber motor in the free flight version with a KP01 electric motor and it flies very nicely in this configuration.

Here is the R/C version, some inspiration if you are that way inclined!

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