An Introduction to the Hobby of Building and Flying Model Airplanes

    Chances are you have had an interest in 'real' airplanes (we call those "full scale") since you saw one for the very first time. Perhaps it was at the local airfield, or maybe it was in a news film, or starring in a movie. Whatever the time and place, you were totally hooked.
    Well, so were the members of our club. Some members have been in the hobby for a lifetime, and some for less than a year,but everyone is as enthusiastic as the day they built their very first flying model.
    In the Thunder Bay area there are two clubs for model airplane enthusiasts. Although we share many similar interests such as in Radio Controlled aircraft, there are enough differences in types of models preferred by members to make several specialized clubs if we were so inclined.
    Our club, North of Superior Flyers, was formed in 1996 with the intent of flying Radio Controlled Models (known as R/C for short), but we also have many other interests. Here are some examples of our models:

R/C Engine powered
R/C Gliders
R/C Electric models
R/C Antique models
R/C Old-Timer models
R/C Helicopters

Outdoors or Indoors
Free Flight models
C02 powered
Indoor R/C
Rubber powered

On wheels, floats, or skis.
From a wingspan of six inches to more than 8 feet.

So where do you start?

    That is a question we take very seriously. Certainly some aspects of the hobby are relatively simple and inexpensive, like our indoor models. While they are small, they range from easy to very sophisticated. They can be a starting place, but for some modellers of international reputation, they have remained a life-long enjoyment without ever getting into fuel engines or Radio Control.
    The R/C models obviously cost more. It is the core belief of our club members that the most expensive models are unnecessary to having all the fun you can stand. That is why we also hold a charter from the international Society of Antique Modellers (SAM). Our members absolutely will not demonstrate an eliti$t attitude.
    Consequently our club will provide sen$ible, practical advice on these choices to anyone.

Read on the dollars and sense facts about starting in this great hobby.

What and How Much?

    While there is no easy answer to these questions, we'll give you a brief idea of model types, along with starting costs. Keep in mind that the longer you stay in the hobby, the less you'll have to spend. Why? Because the simple tools are only bought once. And many items like wheels, engines, electric motors, radios, etc. can be recycled into future building projects. In many instances, the actual plane is the cheapest item.
    A starting indoor rubber powered model is about $15 for a kit, and much cheaper if built from a borrowed plan using hobby shop wood. These planes require only a simple hobby knife and some pins and white carpenter's glue to complete.
    They also tend to have a fairly long life (years) with the occasional change of rubber motor. Some common categories are Pistachio and Peanut (scale models of real aircraft with maximum wingspans of 8 and 13 inches respectively).
    Bostonians may deviate from scale but have a wingspan of 16 inches and must be big enough to hold an imaginary 1.5" x 2.5" x 3" box inside.
    Surprisingly enough, far more sophisticated indoor models cost very little more in $, but just take more time and experience. They are Pennyplanes and Easy Bs and a dozen variations of planes built to the rules of different competitions.
    Rubber powered models flown outdoors are naturally bigger and heavier to withstand some wind and rougher landings. Cost is at most doubled.
    Small outdoor Freeflight aircraft can be pure gliders, or powered by rubber, miniature C02 engines, electric motors or fuel engines.
    Flown for fun, they have short motor runs to take them up to where they hopefully catch a rising warm air thermal and then
glide. In competitions, the motor run time is strictly limited and the planes are scored on their flight duration up to a predetermined time period, or "max".
    Sometimes they fly too well, and so they have a gadget on board to bring them down after they reach the time maximum.
    Freeflight models tend to be simple, with small kits in the say $20 to $40 range apart from the power plant. They too can cost much less if built from plans. A typical small fuel engine will be in the $40 to $55 range and last for years on several models.
    "Whoa", you say "that's kid stuff." No, some modellers spend a lifetime in the above categories, and to be nationally or internationally competitive requires far more building skills than it takes for large Radio Control models. (It similarly takes more skill to make a fine jewellery box than to hammer together a big garden shed.)
    Okay, on to Radio Control. Before you put together that R/C WW II fighter or Desert Storm jet you had better start the same as those real pilots, with a Trainer.
    We suggest a model that takes a relatively inexpensive and tough 2-cycle engine in the .20 to .40 or .45 cubic inch size, cost in the $80 to $150 range. (The more costly engines have ball bearings that give a longer life to the engine, but all last several years at least.)
    These engines will easily fly a lightweight stable high wing Trainer aircraft of 55 to 75 inch wingspan. (Bigger is easier to see, and easier to fly.) Such a kit will cost about $100 and needs another $75 in covering material and parts like fuel tank, wheels, etc. Some more expensive kits include more accessory stuff and can be a bargain package.
    While everyone has personal favourites, the Dynaflite Butterfly (.20 & 99") or Sig Seniorita or Kadet Senior will get you to solo flight status in half the time of other so-called "trainers."
    The Radio (transmitter and receiver with rechargeable batteries and charger and 4 servo controls) will be about $250, and up. With this you will have at least 4 channels to control the functions for engine speed, ailerons, rudder and elevator.
    R/C sounds expensive? Perhaps, but consider the following. The radio and engine and some accessories will fly on several aircraft over the years.
    The trainer usually survives the occasional accident (wooden kits are easily repairable). Chances are you will have it for many years and still enjoy flying it between stressful flights of  that scale fighter you finally built. Want another airplane ready to go at the same time? Use the same transmitter and lust buy a much less expensive flight pack for the second plane.
    Club fees. If you join a club there will be fees. The actual cost will depend on type of membership and whether you want to fly outdoors at the field, which costs the club to maintain, or stick to indoor activities. Full fees run about $50.
    MAAC fees (Model Aeronautics Association of Canada). The club will hold a separate MAAC Charter, but the member has an individual annual cost of $75 CDN, in addition to club fees. Individual membership is made mandatory by every club for all outdoor activities, as it includes liability insurance.
    While clubs make MAAC membership mandatory for good reasons, persons flying without belonging to a club should get this relatively inexpensive insurance (there are other benefits).
    There may be optional organizations you wish to join such as the international SAM (Society of Antique Modellers). Although our club includes some SAM members and holds a SAM Chapter Charter, individual membership is optional. An annual fee of about $25 USD gets a comprehensive newsletter and the opportunity to participate in SAM events, including many inexpensive classes of aircraft.
    Keep in mind that any sport or hobby has some costs, and this one has a lot less than say golf. There is also the possibility of picking up some used items.

How Long Can It Fly?

    The indoor models fly from a few minutes to records over half an hour. Outdoor powered R/C models have typical engine runs of about 10-20 minutes. The R/C gliders can stay up as long is the air currents are favourable and flights are sometimes only limited by the battery charge left on the radio when that particular flight begins; say 10-45 minutes.

Radio Range?

    There is solid radio range for well over a kilometre, but the planes are flown much closer in order to see them, and enjoy them. Wasn't that the point?


    They are flown locally but the subject is too complex to deal with in a short bulletin. If you are interested in these mechanical marvels, please contact an existing heli flyer before buying.


    Most members fly R/C strictly on wheels off of a relatively forgiving grass runway. Some hardy members fly ski equipped aircraft on an occasional winter's day. Some also fly off water with amphibious or float equipped models. It takes very little modification to most models to have interchangeable set ups for wheels, skis, and floats.

Want to Know More?

    While you can get a lot of good information from the hobby shops locally, we strongly suggest that you also talk to some flyers already participating in the hobby. Members of this club or another club will be only too happy to provide straight info. No pressure. No strings.

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This hobby is for fun. For more information, call Tom 807.344.6781, Jim 807.939.1502, Email us at,
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