Scale planes

When seeing this photo of a Cessna in a flaps-extended, low speed fly-by, would you immediately accept that it is a model measuring about one and a half meter wingspan? True, the low resolution may hide some details, but I could show you this photo in much higher resolution and you still would not see any good clue for deciding if it is a model, or the real plane. Rest assured, it's a model. A well built one, that is.

There are a lot of model airplane builders who just don't like to built boxy-looking, ugly kludges. They either build beautiful planes to their own designs, or more often they rely on some nice original plane, and build scale copies of them - copying every detail, sometimes going as far as detailing each individual rivet!

This page is mainly a photo gallery of some nice planes I have come across. None of these are mine, sorry...

Here you have the Cessna at landing approach. This photo clearly gives it away as a model. Not only because of the perspective; it's hard to photograph a real Cessna from above, and it's equally hard to picture a model from below, when at a few centimeter altitude! But the real clue is inside: There is no pilot in this plane! A big mistake, that cost the owner points in the scale competition!

Some of the nicest scale planes follow this rule: If a plane with one wing already is beautiful, then a plane having two wings must be doubly nice! But biplanes do not fly very well, specially model biplanes. The two wings make them hard to control at low speed. The Blue Hawk had an accident a few flights earlier, nosing over after a rough landing, shredding the engine cowling. Here it is flying with the naked engine. It flies just as well (which is not very well, being a biplane!), but the scale like appearance is gone!

Now this is a scale plane that does fly well! It's a 1:6 scale version of the world-famous Extra-300 aerobatic plane! The original is highly controllable and capable of unlimited aerobatic performance, and so is the model! This version was painted in the colors of the Chilean Air Force aerobatic group, known as "Halcones" (Falcons). Once I had the chance to watch the real Halcones pilots observing a performance by a group of Extra-300 models. Some of the best model fliers were piloting them, and the professionals watched in awe! The model Extras have a better power-weight ratio than the big ones, and so they can pull out vertically until they disappear up in the sky!

Here is another Extra-300 after landing. This one is much less perfect. For example, it has a straight landing gear, while the real Extra has a curved one. This model would have no chance in a scale competition! But it flies very well too.

Now this is a well built model of a Piper Cub! Not like mine! This Cub has the black stripe, the wing struts, the shock absorbers, and a real two-cylinder boxer engine!

The Cub has a lot of wing surface, a small tail, and is lightweight (unless fitted with electric start, like mine!). This makes it hard to keep stable on the runway. This one was lifting the right wheel because of propeller torque, before the pilot pulled it up.

And here the Cub is flying. It could be mistaken for the real plane, which does not offer many more details to see. But the Cessna model above was better!

This is another Cub. It's a 1:4 scale aerobatic version with clipped wing. Not nearly as easy to fly as the standard Cub, but a fun plane to watch flying!

Note the faked engine details on this side. The real engine's cylinder is on the other side!

And here is a real sport plane! How much fun must this be, if even the wooden pilot is smiling!

The bones-and-flesh pilot had a lot of confidence in his skills. He liked to stand right at the start of the runway, flying his plane past him at very short distance.

If I remember correctly, this is an AT-6 Texan. Or rather, was. It is no more. It took part in a scale competence, and got very high marks, but was disqualified after crashing!

This photo shows the plane at takeoff run, tail lifted, ready for pulling up. It had a 4-stroke engine with very realistic sound.

The pilot liked to show off the power of his engine, and did a lot of such chevalier takeoffs. This one was done specially for the photo. He pulled the plane up right in front of my lens. In the scale competition, he flew more scale-like, taking off smoothly, in low angle.

And here the AT6 is in normal flight configuration. Both the flaps and the landing gear are retracted.
And now I must tell you the bad news: At the last landing after a great air show, the plane was coming in nicely, the engine at idle, gears down, flaps extended, all fine... and suddenly the engine went to full power, the plane veered off, touched ground wing tip first, cartwheeled, and dissolved in a cloud of toothpicks and flashing colors! It looked very much like interference in the radio link! But no, the pilot took all responsibility: He was using one of those fancy computer-controlled transmitters. These things have memories that can store entire flight patterns. And on this landing, the pilot unwillingly tripped one of those memory buttons. That memory had a 360-degree roll recorded in it, and the plane obediently tried to do the roll, when it was 1 meter above the ground!

Back to live planes: here's another bipe. Like most of them, it doesn't fly too well, but draws everyone's eyes!

Not all model planes use propellers! There are some jet planes too! Some of them, like this one, are in fact just faked jets: They use a fast-running piston engine that drives an impeller. Even so, the sound, look and behavior are those of a jet plane!
Others use real jet engines. Just to give you an idea: Such engines typically weigh 2kg, the rotors turn at about 120000 rpm (!), and they have a thrust of around 100N! Some model jets fly at over 500km/h!
I better don't tell you how much such a jet engine costs...

This one is a real scale plane, not a trainer like the one above. It has fully retractable landing gear, and because of its high flight speed uses an electropneumatic control system: The radio receiver drives its servos, these control air valves, and the air is used in the actuators that retract the landing gear and move some other things. The compressed air comes from a very lightweight aluminum tank.

The jet at takeoff. And this is the last photo in the scale plane series. This bird was much too fast to photograph on low, close flybys! I messed up all 8 pictures I tried... :-(

Scale planes are very attractive, and offer special challenges, as it is not easy to make a plane fly well at the much lower Reynolds numbers at which model planes work. Usually a scale plane is not exactly scale, but uses a different wing profile, and sometimes the control surfaces are slightly enlarged. But anyway they look better than box-shaped trainer planes!

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