Willsonman all balsa Gee Bee Z build


Builder Extraordinare
Alrighty, I am off from work for 2 weeks and the wife gave me permission to get another kit since it had been so long. This is the Robert McKellar Gee Bee Z laser cut by Menzano laser. This is one of their latest "experiments" where they have taken the usual cut files and enlarged for larger wood. There are some discrepancies that need to be re-engineered but this really is a "builder's kit" in the truest form.

The plans are the original plane size (smaller than parts cut) and NONE of the parts are labeled. That's right, this is basically a 3D puzzle you glue together with only the picture on the front of the box to guide you. Good thing this is a tab and key design and most everything fits together well!

With all that, this is one of my absolute favorite airplanes of all time. I've always wanted one. Even the wife likes it. So, if this one takes a dive I at least have plans to enlarge and make different. So, on with the build.

First picture shows what you usually get for a "short kit." You only get the parts that are laser cut. Any stringers you will need to supply and my go-to place is National Balsa. However, with this kit not much is needed so I'll just pick up some from the local hobby shop... if they have them.

My chosen tools are generally #11 razors (a must for fine cutting), TitebondII for glue, q-tips, clothes pins, small clamps, sewing pins, and something PERFECTLY FLAT to build on. I am using a sheet of glass. Easy cleanup and it is working very well to keep my parts straight as I build. The #11s are a must for cutting the contest-grade balsa... it is super soft and you run the risk of ripping the wood if you use larger blades. I prefer wood glues over CA glues because the joints are generally more robust. CA is a brittle joint. Q-tips for wiping excess glue and pushing into joints. Clothes pins as mini-clamps that will not crust the very soft balsa. Small clamps for bigger jobs. Sewing pints for the obvious task of the occasional joint that needs pinning while it dries.

So to start off I almost always build the tail pieces. These were fairly straight forward but took time because... nothing was labeled and they all look the same at first glance. Once dry, I gave these pieces a rough sand on the outside. to make sure glue was smooth and ready for covering when it came to it.

Side tip: to remove burns or scorching from the wood caused by the laser cut... use a pencil eraser. The "gummy" kind usually work best as they are softer and are less prone to damaging the balsa.

Then on to the fusealge. There are no instructions and the plans do not cover every piece. I followed the build progression from the designer's prototype build. Its going fine but still, First "where's Waldo?" then Puzz3D!! Its fine because the glue dries slowly.

Last picture shows the "v-stab" (or lack thereof) being glued and held with clamps. Take note of the very bad current Center of Gravity :)

So I love TitebondII because its versatile. It glues strong and dries much faster than traditional wood glues, even in colder temperatures. Its sandable, paintable, coverable, and on and on and on. If you make a mistake this glue can easily be scored, cracked and then re-glued with no issues. Its just great stuff. I even use it on my foam building.

So follow along. Most of the build will be along shortly during this holiday season.


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Builder Extraordinare
Ok, lets dive right in here...

So as you place stringers do not be so worried about getting them the right length. In fact, oversize them so positioning is easier.

Once dried just cut the overage off. sand a little to clean it up more.

My clamps and even the clothes pins can easily crush the soft balsa. I use leftover popsicle sticks to spread the load out.

Tail portions covered. All weighing in at 3/8 oz. Pretty good.

Currently where progress lands. Of note are the exits for the pushrods at the tail. Also, the tail skid is from a marker flag from the home depot. Many more stringers to do on this tail portion at the top but its very much looking like a Bee at this point.


Some guy in the desert
I always found stringers to be the most satisfying part of balsa building. I remember the first time I got a kit that used flat balsa instead and how disappointed I was that I wouldn't get to glue in all the stringers :)

I just love the way that stringers seem so insubstantial - but they give the airframe so much strength and shape.

Just found a pile of balsa cleaning up my back room the other day...if the big gift my wife got me is the big cutting board I think it is...may have to finally decide on what to build with that stack ;)


Builder Extraordinare
For sure! Its one of the psychological aspects of balsa building. Each individual part is so incredibly delicate. Once built it is tremendously strong.

Its this same reason I find building with foam fun... only I don't care if I crush ore break something.


Just someone else.

Watching intensely, Wilsonman...

I've been planing another balsa build in my head, haven't figured out exactly what I want to do yet, so watching this will hopefully get me moving!


Builder Extraordinare
Today's progress. All stringers done and sheeting is completed. Need to sand everything flush on the sheeting. Glass the sheeting as well for that glass finish. I'll wait on that until I am done shaping the nose.

Merry Christmas!


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Builder Extraordinare
Progress continues. Observe from previous photo, the front of the fuselage has been applied and shaped... LOTS of sanding here. Since its balsa there is some resistance but don't get too heavy handed. Its harder to re-do this step. Once done with 150 grit, then to 220, then to 320, finally at 400 and its prepped for glassing.

Started on the top hatch. I'll be using two magnets over the plan's original one. Used gorilla glue for those. I'd image this will not fly too well without the hatch ;) Each panel on the hatch (of 4 total) must be hand cut from the supplied balsa sheet. This is a compound curve area so you really cannot cut a sheet for it. So, I start with a rough cut to size. Started at the bottom and that line is not straight... sand to shape, fits ok, bevel the edge for the angle, then round the front and back edges around to the stringer to mark for a straight cut. Once cut TRIPLE check your fit by dry fitting. Then apply glue and I prefer my metal ducting tape. Stuff stinks to anything and is stronger than pins.

Cowl is coming together. I'll be making the front part of it removable and I'll show how I do that. Simple but effective magnets and locator dowels.

Tomorrow I should wrap up the hatch as well as the cowl. That should lend to glass work. I cannot attach the cowl until I glass it. Maybe add some paint too. Not sure yet.


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Builder Extraordinare
Christopher... National Balsa... nationalbalsa.com

Robin, 42" wingspan. Not sure on the length. The prototype of this was around 35 ounces. I suspect I'll be over that. I am not using CA and tend to build heavy anyway. Not to mention the prototype was using only a 200Watt motor... Needless to say mine will be larger and thus use a larger battery.


Builder Extraordinare
The day's progress... what you cannot see: Servo rails and a lot of magnets.

The hatch. Slides sideways. Bottom has two ply hooks. Two magnets hold it tight. I added some triangle stock to reinforce the bottom of the hatch at the front and rear. The balsa was SO soft that I knew it would not hold up well over time.

Here is where a lot of work was needed. So, The front ring has 4 locating holes and 4 magnets. The cowl itself has 4 locating dowels and 4 corresponding magnets. The dowels are BBQ skewers. Magnets are salvaged from a burned up outrunner. I did not need so much magnet on this so I took the magnets I had and cut them in half with my diamond dremel wheel.

Just a couple of small spots for some spackle (tiny gaps and knotted grains) and she will be ready for glass work.


Posted a thousand or more times
really enjoying this build but i would be afraid to fly it after all that work :)


Builder Extraordinare
Nah, thats the fun part! After you crash so many planes from maidens you just get your big boy underwear on (and have a spare in the car for after) and do it. I've made so many planes now that maidens make me a little nervous, but not bad. I'll crash my own stuff but not someone else's.

Remember... I love to build. Making it fly is just a bonus. :)


Builder Extraordinare
I was able to put glass on yesterday. This is a simple matter of applying the glass fabric directly onto the wood using WBPU. No creases and make sure you apply the WBPU past the edge of the wood.

This is what you get once the WBPU is dry.

and more. Its stiff but not rigid. This will add a fair amount of strength but mostly protect from hangar and transportation rash. It will also serve as an exceptional surface for accepting paint for a high-gloss finish.

Then start trimming the edges using SAND PAPER. I use 180 grit here. Lightly drag along the edge where the cloth was overlayed and gently pull. Do not force it. If it does not immediately come lightly sand more. Then you will have crisp corners and not be able to tell there is glass at all unless you get close to see the weave.

Can't tell here can you?



I am currently letting these pieces dry again. I take a paper cup and put in some baby powder (any talcum powder will work) and tap the cup to get it to settle. Then I pour in roughly the same volume of WBPU. Mix with a stick until smooth. Brush on. The tiny talc pieces will help fill the weave and make things a bit easier to sand. You can further this trick if you need something softer to sand for shaping by adding the DAP lightweight spackle.

I applied one layer to each part and then applied another while still wet. I'll let this cure through the day and sand later and see where we are.

Joker 53150

Mmmmmmm, balsa.
Nice! What do you use for the final filler on the fiberglass prior to painting, or do you use a high-fill primer? I've used automotive spot-putty thinned down so it could be brushed on, which works very well.