Ray’s Rants

Ray & C-47Ray Baker has been building model airplanes since 1938  He has built from manufactured kits containing only balsa wood and plans, kits with the parts partially cut ready to be punched out of the balsa and Almost Ready to Fly kits called ARF’s.  He has also built from scratch – such as from a photograph.

Ray has volunteered to publish his thoughts & knowledge right here as a series of articles on the why’s, how’s, and joys of doing it yourself.


Don asked me to write something on building wooden models. For the first article I want to write about airplanes in general, because we forget some of the rules, and fail to understand why an airplane flies.

Two major things affect an airplane, whether full size, or a model. The first is weight, and the second is strength. Many modelers focus on the second item, and forget the first. One word that I often hear when someone starts a new model, is “I have to beef up the construction”. This comes from the mistaken idea that I can build a model that will survive a crash. One thing I learned early in my modeling career, is that it can’t be done. In my early years into radio control, I would go through three airplanes each summer, repaired, time and again, and gaining weight which compounded the problem. I know I went through three planes a year, because each winter I would build three planes, knowing that I would be lucky if they lasted until Labour Day. The rule we have to first learn is that we build the model to fly, not crash. It’s not if it crashes, but when it crashes, and few models have ever lived long enough to retire them. If you fly them, you will crash them. If it isn’t lead thumbs, then we can blame equipment failure, or structural failure. That’s the right order, as most crashes come from lead thumbs, we zigged when we should have zagged. In the early days, equipment failures were very common, and those of us who survived those days really praise the equipment we have today. Structural failure is not very common, and happens when we apply to much stress on the airframe. This happens more often to heavy models doing crazy aerobatics.

If you get into building, there are ways we can build a model so it comes out weighing its design weight, or close to it. Every piece we put into a model weighs something, even it seems very light. We can’t do anything about the engine, its mount, undercarriage, wheels, radio, etc., they are all fixed weights that have to be along for the ride. So we have to concentrate on the weight of the airframe itself, and there are ways to build in strength, and keep the weight down.

Even in what we would term a wooden airplane, there are other materials used, and more than we would think. When we dug up the Mosquito at the airport, after being buried in the ground for almost 50 years, I doubted we would find much, as wood doesn’t survive in such an environment. We were surprised in how much metal was actually used in an all wood airplane. If I remember correctly, is was close to 900 lbs, and that was minus the engines, props, and wheels. In following articles we will cover the different materials we use, the pros and cons of them, and the reason why we use them in different ways.