Flying Floorboard Follies.

Begin by taking a slab of inch thick MDF, cut out a crude outline of your least favourite aircraft, and bolt on engine and radio gear. Mention to most the word 'profile' and this is the idea that they have, totally regardless of the rather laughable title of 'profile scale' a class of aircraft that many hardened scale modellers refuse to admit even exists. Add to this that your particular subject is that best loved British classic fighter, the Spitfire, and your plank may start to experience unwanted and unexplained radio interference resulting in the (unfortunate?) demise of a model (toy).

As I mentioned earlier my model is of the notorious Spitfire, and as I was reminded as I handed over the necessary 19 kit cost, could have a range of handling characteristics that could prove even more disastrous than the aforementioned radio interference. I recall the various tales of "I was coming in to land with my scratch built one quarter scale Spit, the wings were level and she was gunning along at half throttle when before I could do anything my pride and joy tipstalled and threw itself into the unforgiving ground".

So here I had a chance to pass a verdict on one of aeromodellings great myths, but was it to prove true or false? in either case it would only cost 19 for the kit wether I broke it or not. Construction was not like a funfly Extra Slim as there was no built up construction in sight, the neatly labelled box revealed a slab foam fuselage, two rather well made wing panels that did have the authentic elliptical shape, and sheet balsa tailplane and fin. Wood was slightly disappointing as several pieces were undersized, and I couldn't help wonder why the designers (aerotech) hadn't sat down and built the thing first to get rid of these little glitches. Construction of the fuselage was simply to face the foam with balsa, cut away two ramin engine bearers to align the engine with the centreline, taper the rear fuselage section, and to glue in a piece of one eighth ply to the rear of the fuselage that the tailplane would eventually sit on. Wings were the usual foam affair, the elliptical wing obtained by two overlapping leading edge pieces of balsa, I chose to tack the aileron stock onto the rear of the wing and shape all of the wing panels together, In the hope that this would produce a sleek aerodynamic wing.

But where does all the gubbins go? the solution to this lies in between the wing braces, you simply join and brace the wings as per usual and then remove the foam in between the braces, line the box with balsa and glue some hardwood servo bearers onto the exposed faces of the resultant box. This was for me the hardest part of the entire model, as the Idea was to end up with the output shaft of the servo exposed through a little hole in the thin ply covers, but in practice despite a lot of adjustment the outer two aileron servos just didn't have enough depth to fit in, so instead I settled for exposing the whole of the servo top, which didn't look too bad when reminded of the plank fuselage. The tailplane and fin were shaped and fitted (the tailplane needed a hardwood spar due to soft, weak wood) and the control snakes were glued inside the fuselage and covered by balsa strips, leaving only either end exposed.

Then came the crucial bit, joining the fuselage and wings together, as it turned out the interlocking slots needed only slight enlargement and fit pretty much perfectly, great. Two ton bonding strength epoxy was applied to the polystyrene foam, and when dry a strip of one eighth ply was rebated into the area under the wing and into the fuselage, to reinforce against any sudden separations. By this time I had decided, due to my poor hand launch technique (ever tried putting some 'spin' onto a model F18 whilst hand launching?) that an Undercarriage was essential, the kit said to ask aerotech but I was short of time and patience and feeling very industrious, so I fashioned two half inch square plywood blocks and cut two grooves down the centres to take the undercart wires. My only dislike was that these were positioned directly ahead of the wing braces, and in a heavy landing could not only destroy the wing centre section but also the carefully crafted radio bay! (not to mention its contents).

As for covering, I wasn't too keen on the Idea of spending more time spraying the plank than building it, so I opted for using solartex panels overlapped onto each other to create the camouflage colour scheme. The reasons were for strength and easy application solarspan is hard to beat, but also due to its woven finish it doesn't bubble up or require treating around overlaps, which was a crucial point. The model was given a final sand down, fuelproofed (incase it lasted), and then covered in small panels, which made covering a 54 Inch wingspan one piece Spitfire easier. Considering that this was the first time I had ever seen this method it worked well, and you could hardly notice the dark green, dark earth and duck egg blue colour scheme was really olive drab, antique and white, well I decided that I couldn't anyway...

Radio Installation was the easiest I had ever done, as was the scourge of profile models, the exposed tank strapped onto the side of the fuselage. The undercart was fitted, and it was discovered that some nose weight was necessary, but how to mount it? I simply extended the engine bolts, drilled the lead and screwed it to the bottom of the engine using a separate pair of nyloc nuts. The finished result was strong but spoilt the flowing lines of my plank, Disaster! The solution was to borrow an Idea from the Extra slim family (ever noticed those sleek Plastic covers to hide the engine retaining bolts?), and create a little balsa cover to fit over the lead, this screwed firmly into the ramin bearers and doubled up as a backup measure incase the lead came loose, furthermore I had created a sump for my engine at the same time.

Next came the test flight, as usual the weather had just entered a characteristic spell of British weather (just had to mention it somewhere) and as one Friday drew to a close the wind dropped, but so did the light. I was determined to fly so the much used and abused OS 46FX was fuelled up and the spit was taxied out. The throttle was slowly advanced and she was soon up and away, the flight was short and sweet and rather dull, and she flew with only minor trim changes which seemed a miracle, Then came the landing... Its easy to criticise those who can't land Spitfires until you're set up on a landing approach for the first time and waiting for the first signs of a stall, but at a little above tickover she cruised in gently lost height and landed at speed near the middle of the patch, no problem at all.

Some minor adjustments took place before the next flight, and yet again nothing at all happened, despite rolls, loops and wingovers, at full chat she proved to be very fast but also very locked in and stable, so it was time to expand the envelope. Snap rolls and spins are delightful, as she enters them with a real bite, and could many fun-flys to shame in this respect, Inverted is even possible though the washout becomes washin and causes what I can only describe as unstable flight. However, I still find the most enjoyment just cruising about doing lazy aerobatics.

As for the Stall, I have tried it on many occasions, and yes it is rather vicious, often resulting in a full turn before control is regained, but any Spitfire pilot should know this and not attempt to hover a spitfire a few meters above the ground.

The Verdict

As regards Flying Planks, they are a controversial subject, some people like them whilst others hate them, personally I think that they can provide great, cheap fun, buy one build it, stick in the radio and a reliable, non expensive engine and fly it. If your thinking of buying a scale spit and spending hours labouring over it then a plank would be an Ideal starting point, learn how it flys and how to fly it, as nothing looks worse than a scale masterpiece twitching and wobbling its way around the sky. Or just buy one for a knock-about model, for those days when you don't have time to rig up anything else, they fly on rails but can do more than most pilots. As regards Stalling Spitfires, I have decided that most of it is a myth brought about by a few poor pilots, you don't have to hold an examiners certificate and be able to fly the book to fly a spit, just know the basics and be competent at flying, don't start trying all your new manoeuvres with it until you know how it flys and how not to fly it, If you get into a problem, say, in a landing approach and start thrashing the sticks around then you won't get away with it like you would with a Wot 4, thats because it isn't a Wot 4 and you as a pilot should know this, and know that the aircraft. Treat it like what it is and you'll get hours of fun from it, treat it like something else and you'll end up with a charred heap of balsa. However there will be the exception, and I do grant that there are some aircraft that are just badly designed, and do exhibit the many poor qualities that can result in a crash that isn't the fault of the pilot. But most modern planes are tried and tested and fly pretty faultlessly, and in the case of a pilot crashing a spitfire then the excuse 'it tipstalled' is a suitable get-out for poor piloting skill, much the same way as radio interference is often used, if your a competent 'A' certificate holder and want a spit, then get one, and if your not sure you can always call on the experience of a club instructor, or buy a profile spit that won't break the bank and have a go, the joy of a nice scale model (or plank spit) in flight is truly poetry in motion and gives great joy to its pilot, trust me...

However this is only my own opinion, if you feel you have another point to add you can always publish your own article.

Matthew Harrison


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