Balsa Wood Mustang, part 1

Following on from the roaring success that was the Guillow’s Hawker Hurricane, I decided to build another of their kits, the P-51D Mustang.

This kit is from a different series (the 900 series rather than the 500 series) which gives it a slightly different style and method of construction. Whereas the Hurricane had all of the major components cut to shape and I only had to cut the formers to the right size, the Mustang required me to cut many of the straight pieces myself, which led to a couple of clangers being dropped in the early stages.

I’ll publish this build in stages, rather than one long blog post, which hopefully will allow me to go into more detail about certain aspects of the building process. Here are a couple of photos of the main pieces after the construction is 90% done:

Fuselage viewed from above…

… and from the side

At the moment, the wings are lacking a strengthening rib and the wire undercarriage legs. That will be the next stage before we go on to covering the aeroplane.

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Balsa Wood Aeroplane

Back in February, Emma bought me one of these as a present for our anniversary:

As you can see, it’s a balsa wood aeroplane.

I must admit that I had completely forgotten about balsa wood planes until I opened the box. I then remembered that back when I was about seven or eight, I built a couple of these with limited success. (Well, I built some very simple balsa wood kits. The problem was that balsa is quite soft and fragile, and so doesn’t last long when you’re a clumsy sod like me.) The kits I remember building were more like this:

Wind forward nearly twenty years, and I’m back glueing together bits of balsa, only this time with a little more success than as a nipper. The kit is significantly more complicated than the model above.

This is the first stage completed:

Here, the fuselage and wing ‘ribs’ have been glued to the main structural ‘longerons’ and then the whole structure reinforced with ‘stringers’ (the thin strips of balsa wood running horizontally along both the fuselage and wings).

Once the frames are made, they have to be sanded to remove any balsa fuzz and then sealed with a coat of either cellulose dope or a mix of PVA glue and water. I bought the dope and was intending to use it but it really needed to be done outside (to prevent the fumes turning me loopy) and so progress stalled as the weather has been rubbish lately. I then found on the internet a site which assured me I could use a PVA glue and water mix which was much more friendly so I could do it indoors.

After that comes the covering of all the pieces with tissue paper. This is done piece by piece rather than in large sheets, and again I used a 50-50 mix of PVA glue and water to adhere the paper to the frames. This left me with the pieces looking like this:

The pieces are then sprayed with a fine coat of water to shrink the tissue paper over the frames and tighten it. The tissue is then strengthened with a couple of coats of the PVA-water mix (much like papier mache) and left to dry.  After that, they are all glued together using the balsa glue from the first stage, and a card wing fillet is attached to smooth the join between wing and fuselage. After joining the major components, this is what you get:

As you can see from the second photo, I attached the undercarriage structure too. The wooden parts come with the kit; the metal parts are half a roughly straightened paperclip superglued to each ‘leg’. The wing fillets haven’t been attached at this stage, and there is still a little work to be done around the join between the tail and the fuselage. Also, before painting can begin the nose and canopy need to be glued on and masked where appropriate.

At this stage, I was very pleased with progress as there was barely a wrinkle in the tissue. The kit came with a catalogue of Guillow’s kits tucked inside, and they use customers’ own photos to illustrate the potential end result. Several that I saw had wrinkles and slack areas, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself that I had managed to avoid this so far.

Next came the attachment of the various cosmetic bits and pieces, such as the radiator and air intake on the underside of the fuselage/wing join, and I also installed the rubber band for the propeller, and therefore the engine cowling and the propeller itself. I also painted the cockpit canopy, but the instructions insist that this must be the very last thing to be attached.

Ignore Zippy and pay close attention to the white plastic pieces on the underside of the plane.

The blue stripe down the middle of the plane is the rubber band. The wheels have been attached temporarily to see how it looked.

Here’s the canopy masked and painted silver. The real canopies were painted in the colours of the camouflage scheme, but I saw a photo of this kit with a silver canopy and thought it looked pretty nice so decided to copy it.

The painting isn’t too difficult – one of the advantages of this sort of model over an injection-moulded plastic kit is the  significantly lower level of detail. After the underside was painted ‘sky’ (a strange, green-tinted beige colour), the top was given a couple of coats of brown, and the model looked like this before the green went on:

The only drawback  of this sort of model that I have discovered so far is the translucency of the tissue paper covering makes it difficult to get a solid coat of colour on without going crazy with the number of coats. As you can see, there are a couple of patches on the wing and the side of the fuselage where the paint is thinner and streakier.

After a little more painting, it looks like this:

Then, with the decals added, along with the canopy, it looks like this:

(Apologies for the slightly faded colours, there was bright sunlight streaming through the window, which has been such a rare occurrence lately that I didn’t even consider the effect on the photos.)

Essentially, that is it finished. All that remains is a test flight! I’ve had a great time building this plane, and will definitely build more. I am getting wildly ahead of myself, but I’ve seen that some people convert these to remote control…

Flying Legends 2012

As a reward for their hard work during the winter maintenance season, Cat Pack members get the opportunity to take part in the airshows over the summer. With various weddings, stag dos, birthdays and the like, I was only available for a few. The places at the airshows are limited (there’s a typical crew size of six, including the two pilots and crew chief, so only three places are available to the ordinary volunteers like me) and so I was very pleased to be picked to help out at Flying Legends this summer.

Flying Legends claims to be the largest airshow in Britain. It certainly attracts a large number of visitors (estimates put the figures at about 80,000, possibly each day over the weekend). I will happily admit that I was a little daunted by starting at the very biggest show I could possibly attend, but at the same time, I knew that if I could survive this, I could survive anything!

It promised to be a long weekend – the show itself ran from 8am to 6pm both Saturday and Sunday, and  I was warned that I would need to be there earlier to help set things up! As it turned out, there wasn’t as much urgency as has been suggested and the days weren’t too long.

Essentially, the work at an airshow is split into three main areas. The first thing we had to do was set up the sales stall. This sells a range of Catalina merchandise and is also a point of contact for anyone interested in getting involved in the future.

The second main area is the walk-throughs. With these, the plane is opened up to the paying public for them to wander through and take photos. There’s always one crew member taking money at the steps near the tail, and another up by the cockpit to make sure nobody touches anything important.  Sometimes, there will be a third in the rear fuselage talking to punters as the enter and leave about the plane.

Finally, as the plane is there to display too, the third main task is to prepare it for flight. The walk-throughs are stopped about an hour before the display time and the pilots are given time to prepare themselves. The ground crew help by removing the gust locks (metal blocks which hold the control surfaces still so that aren’t damaged by gusts of wind, hence the name), the pitot tube cover, and, at the last moment, the chocks from the wheels. As a complete newcomer, I only helped remove the chocks and held the ladder while a braver man than I removed and afterwards reinstalled the gust locks. (In a daft, contradictory way, I am perfectly happy flying, or walking around on the wing twenty feet up in the air, but not too comfortable standing eight feet up on a ladder sliding a metal block into place. I do intend to give the gust locks a go in th future, but it was quite a blustery weekend and I gladly let one of the others take charge of that task!)

The two days ran to the same pattern, and overall everything went really well. I feel like I learned a great deal from the crew about pretty much everything concerning the Catalina.

The main perk of being involved with the display is the ‘flightside’ access. As a result, at the end of Sunday we had the chance to have a peek at a couple of the other aeroplanes which were displaying – ones which weren’t open to the general public.

First up was a Norwegian Douglas Dakota, in beautiful condition and fitted out as a rather retro passenger plane.

The Norwegian Dakota

The Norwegian Dakota shining in the afternoon sun.

The Dakota's interior

The Dakota’s interior, fitted out as a passenger plane

Finally, we had the chance to admire a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, one of the few still airworthy in the world, which had been brought over from Salzburg by its owners Red Bull. The Lightning, as you may have read in my post from 2010, is probably my favourite aeroplane of all. It combines an unusual design with great elegance and beauty, and, as I saw over the weekend, is pretty quick and manoeuvrable.

The chance came about early on Sunday morning as the Red Bull team’s chief popped over to the Plane Sailing portacabin to borrow a key to get some stuff out of storage. We got chatting and he invited us over to have a look if we got the chance. As it turned out, he knew our chief engineer Garry from a few years ago, and used to help out on the Catalina with the more techinical tasks. So, at the end of the day, the crew chief Shaun and I popped over, and were allowed to crawl all over it, much to my delight. So I took some more photos!

Shiny shiny shiny.

Propellers dressed and looking beautiful.

A nice side view. Apparently two people are employed to polish this aeroplane.

The distinctive double-boom construction and tail section.

The pristine cockpit. Note the Red Bull logo on the control column.

Watching a De Havilland Dragon Rapide taxi from the top of the Lightning