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1/20 scale 1903 Wright Brothers' Flyer build


Propeller Balancer
I'll start by mentioning that I have never built a balsa model before, I know a proper work surface makes things easier, and this will be a flightless bird.

...I can not believe to this day that this model is recommended to ages of as young as 12 years old. I don't deny that there are those 12 year olds out there that could happily build this model perfectly, however, it's not something I would ever expect of that age.

...Coming from modeling cars in styrene for years, this is also by far, the largest static model I have ever built due to it's 24" wingspan. I was never truly intimidated by it's size, but there is a reason I've owned it for 14 plus years, or since I was 13 or so, with me only just this past month or so deciding to just ing build it before it gets lost or destroyed.

...As the pictures show, you'll see that the box didn't fare the best, but this birthday present won't go wasted, I'm pretty happy I didn't try and fail to do it years ago, my 7-year-old-twin-younger-siblings would never have let this thing survive the first time I stepped out of my room; Heh, my Stepdad's PiperCub rubber band plane died to them pretty fast, first just a finger through the wing, a week later, many crashes/folded wing, and no admitting it from them.

...Now, The box says laser cut, and I'll give it that the parts that are cut were done very well, all the way through with just enough reinforcement in nibs to hold them into the sheets, but not hard to remove. However, the box came with about a mile of thread, and a single sheet of 1/16th thick balsa sliced at varying intervals to form both square stock, and several widths of rectangular stock.

...It also included 4 pieces to make two leading edges(diagonal cut end to end splice... wait, whaaa), 5 lengths of spar(an extra spar length? and splice that too?!? Good thing this one's not flying... EVER), the plans are reasonable, and have each part shown in all dimensions which is good for replication, and the fact that you have to shape so much yourself, the instructions are as usual not quite suited to my learning style, but not unclear.

...I could easily see powering this plane and flying it with some light modification, and plan to do so with another of the same assembled a little more robustly. (one piece CF spar for one thing!)

^^^You can see some geometrical problems coming forth to wrinkle my wing a little here, this got worse after shrinking! The instructions said to use one piece of tissue sheet for each wing, which is how I tried it first. The same issue came forth for the top wing, which I sheeted in two pieces, one from LE to spar, other from LE to spar opposite way round.

The instructions stated to mix 50:50 white glue with water and paint it through the tissue onto the ribs spar and leading edge, this is the top wing being weighted down for drying before shrinking.

Top wing drying, bottom wing not yet treated, sitting up to collect air from my laptop's huge 1.5*8" hot air dump.

^bottom wing drying slower

This model uses parts of the box in it's jigging, and visuals. The wing jigs are to be cut from the bottom of the box and used for alignment. I spent more time trying to get the jigs to sit right than it took to simply glue the vertical struts in while watching for true, using the jig to confirm later. The pilot figure is also laser-cut, and is a 2D profile of Orville Wright using the box-bottom graphics.

I have more pix already taken/progress made, but I figured this was already a pretty long post.
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Skill Collector
Nicely done sir! That's a pretty advanced model for a first time balsa build! Kudo's to you for taking on the challenge and doing so well with it!

Joker 53150

Mmmmmmm, balsa.
...well that escalated quickly! :) Looks good so far, and we're glad to have you post your first experience with balsa, hopefully it's not the last. You didn't mention if you want to be included in the Balsa Build-Along, so I'll just go ahead and add you to the list since it just started a week ago.

I look forward to seeing the finished product!


Propeller Balancer
Thanks for the compliments Rocky, I really appreciate it! I'll be making more, maybe not soon, but I've always liked the look and feel of balsa, even static models. I've been into larger woodworking for years too, though with little chance to practice much of it, and that's probably helped this go way smoother.

The balsa bridge I built in 8th grade was stronger than the tester, which limited out at 22 pounds, and I used 2 less sticks than allotted with a lower height profile than most but still a normal triangular-braced side-plated span. If I could find a job I might be able to actually stop dreaming/reminiscing and start buying, as both foam planes and balsa are very appealing to me.

I'll accept the inclusion Joker, never really thought about it to be honest. Kinda honored to see your interest, you're one of the more prolific balsa guys here lately.

While I know it's not perfect, it will be stuck in a glass box for basically ever, so most imperfections won't be visible without scrutiny.

Seriously gotta go get a paper towel before I drool too much about Joker's collection Hangar.

More pix tomorrow, I have to wrestle them from my phone, Christmas will see a "good" camera arriving.
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Your covering job with the tissue looks excellent for having no prior experience. Can't tell you how many planes I've crushed out of absolute frustration learning to cover with tissue. I think you will have a very nice show piece when it's finished.


Propeller Balancer
...I totally agree, tissue covering is a royal pain, just from these two simple wings. I have come to the personal conclusion that smaller sections are easier to get right, folding the corners was the most satisfying part for me, other than shrinking. Shrinking was probably the most fun I've ever had watching paper dry! (little victories, makes tedium more fun tolerable)

...The instruction page claimed that stringing the trailing edges would be the most tedious step in the build. The instructions lied. Stringing was easy, hold the thread "taut" and in place using forefinger/thumb, dab medium CA, wait 30 seconds, continue, and repeat. Tweezers were unacceptable in this, my hand cramped after the second rib; Do not underestimate the power of a pair of self-closing tweezers, which I do not have. Collecting tools has put a huge dent in my RC/build budget, but without tools...

...The results from tissue are just too cool looking whatever the flaws for me to try to claim that I won't do it again, but I doubt on anything over 14" if it plans to fly, not repairing it means totally worth the initial time. That said, if I make a flying Wright flyer, it will have red/white/blue plastic covering. Can't really get that canvas look with plastic IMO, so why pretend cream looks like canvas? I'm aware that plastic covering is not likely much/any easier, but a dandelion won't fold over the top and punch a hole in it quite so readily.

...I went to the only local modeling shop and bought a pin vise and two .032 twist bits to clear the rigging holes a little, as some of them were close enough to the ends of the struts to actually wick medium CA into the hole through the end-grain.

...Sadly, this modeling shop is more like a zit on the side of a body shop for real cars, very small, packed with kits, some supplies you can't get locally (stocks of BALSA) but not a plethora of goodness, just a nugget, geared for plastic cars, plastic static planes, and won't touch RC nor expand. The shop will likely go away when Soapy retires.

This is all kinds of light carving, assembly, and painting. I used the notDremel and a burr cutter to shape the engine, not much shape to give it though. Rigging is next, after I put that which will not fit through the rigging in first, which the directions are not clear about either. On with the pictures!

^"Pilot's yoke" and footrest.^

The die-cut stand was decently cut, with only sanding needed to match the oval info tag from the box-bottom, however, the cross-grain of the top was unsupported, so I added these two pieces of 3/16 scrap to stiffen it. The neck from the base to the top was made of 3 layers of heavy balsa glued and pressed flat 'till dry

Mr. Wright and the stand base getting flat.

So hard to get out of bed when you have such a good reason not to move! His steel chain has an added ring to stop it getting too tight, don't worry.

I'll be setting up some false warping cables on my model, even though they're not on the rigging diagram, it's a visual detail that I can't tolerate leaving out. Guillow's never even figured this plane had ailerons I'd bet. It amazes me that those two were on a learning path that took them further than current engineers in some aspects, a wing that stalls at 24 miles an hour, 19 feet fuse to tip 6 foot chord, weighing 16 pounds, and warping shape to alter flight path which NASA is scratching their heads over right now, and have been for years since spruce and canvas won't work for the people that invented a new ballpoint pen rather than use a pencil in zero G environments.

On a side note, I'd love to see another forum member take on flying this model, Holding the wings as I walk, they feel incredibly turbulent.

Makes sense to a point, and a miniaturization of the original that I saw on youtube concerned himself with it as well; To the point of adding a control surface to over 3/4 of the top wing trailing edge, that appeared (to me) to only reduce lift and make the model fly faster without wobbling.

I doubt I'll bother with true wing-warping when I make a flying one, but I have theory or two that are close enough.
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Hostage Taker of Quads
Staff member
That said, if I make a flying Wright flyer, it will have red/white/blue plastic covering. Can't really get that canvas look with plastic IMO, so why pretend cream looks like canvas? I'm aware that plastic covering is not likely much/any easier, but a dandelion won't fold over the top and punch a hole in it quite so readily.
How about a compromise?

Thin mylar, covered with light tissue.

You can get super-light metalized and clear Mylar (metalized for opaque structures) which sticks well to the frame with a bit of balsalock, shrinks just a touch under heat, then a coat of thinned "dope" bonds the tissue to the Mylar. You pick up all the benefits of a waterproof plastic covering with less weight than multiple coats of dope, and add some of the strength, color and texture the tissue provides. Since the plastic is under the tissue, the final texture is the grainy mat you'd expect from stretched tissue -- a LOT closer to canvas in scale finish.

There's a few good instructions online, but this one seems to cover it well:


Best source I've seen for 1/4 mil mylar on this side of the pond is at FAI model supply.

That being said . . . a Red/White/Blue Wright Flyer would be pretty distinct.


Propeller Balancer
Thanks, Dan for the recommendation, I like the idea. It'll be some time before I get around to it, but I'll definitely be researching multiple methods before truly deciding, I was also dreaming of lighting the wings from the inside, so clear mylar under tissue would be perfect for that.

I painted the chain-drives, and propeller mounts last night, then cut the pin for the engine output shaft. Getting closer to rigging! I've been taking my time since the late-night sessions with the wings, dun' wanna burn out on it. Being that all this little stuff has to be visible, I have to pick when to let details just be, and that's always hard for me to do.

More pix later!

EDIT: I glued the propeller mounts in halfway, and realized that they will need to be shimmed. It will never be an eyesore, just filling a gap between the top wing's spar and the prop mounts. I'm taking pix as I go.
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Propeller Balancer
Picture Bump!

painted prop mounts

Better look at the radiator, part of a system using convection to circulate, no water pump.

I found that my stand base had warped after taking the weight off it, and decided to fix the issue, this and the next 3 pix show the problem and what I did to fix it.

I didn't have large nor thick enough pieces of poster board to equal the thickness of the box, so forward-ho!

The foil you see under the paints box is keeping the stand from getting glued to anything important.

this is a spare piece of one of the wing rib sheets, it will make at least 2 shims.

Accidentally knocked the right prop mount out gluing up the pilot yoke, so I applied the shim before re-gluing

Shim and gap both look bigger than they are, that's a #11 blade stuck into the end of the shim matching it's "plane" and the prop mount isn't yet vertical in this pic.

I have to figure out why the engine is so far to the left, so I left Orville off the wing for the moment, may just be that the wings aren't perfectly aligned, in which case, rigging will fix it. If the wings are fine, I'll just stick some 1/16 x 3/16 pieces under the engine mounts reaching to the ribs it belongs mounted to.

She's looking more and more like there might be enough tacked onto the wings to maybe resemble a Wright Flyer! I never had any doubts, but it's awesome when a project goes from a pile of parts to something recognizable.


Propeller Balancer
Mini Update:

My cousin's 7-year-old twin boys marked the corner of my plans early in this build, I finally got a chance to tell them I was displeased, and not to mess with my stuff, it costs money and much time.

I was out of sight for 15 minutes, returned to find they had left on the long drive to their home. Several hours later, I was contemplating rigging the string and looked to the top of the china hutch. My model was upside down, and facing backwards.

I thought this "I break your stuff because I like you" crap phenomenon was over for me, my youngest sibling is taking Driver's.

Luckily, they only managed to dislodge one whole strut and the end of another, however, I shouldn't have to put a model plane on the gun rack on the upper floor of the house to get them to leave it alone.

I am open to suggestions as to how I should convince these two that this is not a favorable way to gain my attention.