Build an Easy-to-Assemble Sport Biplane

Dec 04, 2012 50 Comments by

Although author Rick Michelana likes the looks of a giant-scale biplane, he didn’t want to have to spend almost
an hour setting it up at the field. His sport biplane is built-up with foam wings and covered in fiberglass, and
it uses landing gear, wheel pants, and a cowl from an ARF model. See how Rick’s giant-scale sport bipe came to life in this online how-to:

One weekend, I watched two modelers assembling their giant scale ARF biplanes at our flying field. While the look of a biplane is great, I was not impressed by the fact that it took these men almost 45 minutes to assemble their models for flight.  I thought that I might like a sport biplane without all the assembly time. Therefore, I planned to scratch build one around the following parameters:

* It had to assemble very quickly; therefore, I would not use cabanes or N-struts.
* It would be built with balsa, plywood, and foam wings.
* I would design the fuselage around a pre-existing ARF cowl.
* I would use available ARF landing gear and wheel pants.
* It would be covered in fiberglass cloth and auto paint.

The following photos will document how this giant scale sport biplane came into being. All captions are below the pictures:

A friend and I cut four sets of foam wing cores. I cut “washout” into these fully symmetrical foam cores. These will later be sheeted with 3/32″ balsa skins that I will make.


 This project employs standard foam core building techniques. The wing span will eventually total 70 inches.

 


This is my stack of foam cores with all the wing skins now assembled.

Once the wing skins have been glued on, I will attach balsa leading and trailing edges cut from balsa sheets.

 

I used 1/4″ balsa in the rear and 3/8″ balsa in the front. I glued these on with Elmer’s carpenter glue and taped them in place until it dried.

I will use a razor plane and a sanding block to create the leading edge profile.

Excuse the fuzzy picture, but you can still see the finished shape verses what I began with.

I laid out the sides of the fuselage using 1/8″ balsa. I reinforced the firewall area, tank compartment, and wing attachment points with 1/8″ Mahogany door skins purchased at a local building supply. I made two identical pieces and used a hole saw to lighten them up.

Both sides were glued with carpenters glue and weighted until the glue dried.

I made a front and rear bulkhead from 1/8″ door skins. I will use the blue line on my table to ensure a straight fuselage.

I cut 1/8″ balsa strips and glued them with CA to the inside of the rear fuselage for added strength.

I added balsa gussets and sticks to complete the rear of the fuselage.

Before adding the firewall and sheeting the top of the fuselage, I drilled the wing dowel holes for both the top and bottom wings. I will employ two 1/4″ X 20 steel bolts to attach the wings to the fuselage. This technique allows this model to assemble in under five minutes. This was my first design parameter.

With the wings attached, I sheeted the top of the fuselage and made a fire wall that would fit a Great Planes Cap 232 cowling. My second and third goals are now established.

I’m using a US 41 that was lying around the shop. Since I will employ a 4″ spinner, I am making a new front ring from plywood, balsa, and some filler.

The engine is bolted on. As you can see, everything fits well.

I decided to cut some 1/4″ thick foam sheets. I will clue 1/16″balsa sheet to both sides. This will create flight surfaces that are 3/8″ thick and much lighter than 3/8″ solid balsa. It is best to always build light.

The model is now framed up. As you can see, I used two bolts per wing and no cabanes or “N” struts. This model goes together quickly at the field.

This giant scale airframe now weighs 7.5 lbs. The final weigh will consist of landing gear, wheel pants, fiberglass finish, engine with a smoke system, and radio equipment.

I painted the model white with orange and black trim. I went to my good friend at Sal’s Vinyl Graffix, and he made matching lettering.

I sanded the original paint off the Great Planes fiberglass Cap 232 cowling and painted it to match the airplane.

This is the finished product.

I used landing gear and wheel pants from Great Planes.

Another photo before heading out to the field.

We had a cloudy day. However, the smoke system is still visible. She flies as if it were a pattern ship, and knife edge flight is great in both directions. It is not difficult to scratch build. The results are a model that no one else has.

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50 Responses to “Build an Easy-to-Assemble Sport Biplane”

  1. Keith Benicek says:

    You call that a “Easy-to-Assemble Sport Biplane”?? Hesus! Just the composite wings made of THREE different materials would take days …. weeks, for even a moderately experienced Kit Builder to do (and I’ve built 30 – 40 true kits over 35 years)! I’d rather buy a ARF if you want “Easy”, fly it for 3 weeks to a month and already crash it from getting too cocky, by the time it would take to find the components, cut, fidget pieces together, glass and paint this scratch built!! And an ARF would still look better …. until it’s a pile of Balsa and Plywood at the end.

    Are you people at MAN off your rockers?? Just go buy a KIT if you want to build something from pieces, at least you know it WILL fit together right and fly properly! I’ll even bet it would cost less, if not just in frustrations.

    • Steve Tillman says:

      All I can say to this is that “some” people actually “like” to actually build things. As to taking a long time to do the wings, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t take that long. Even when cutting your own foam wings, it is a very easy process.

      And lastly, some people like to have planes that have some individuality to them……not just the same old “suit off the rack”…

      SteveT

    • Rick Michelena says:

      Dear Kevin,

      I’m sorry, but there is no way any ARF looks as good as my scratch built airplanes. You cannot compare a perfectly fiberglassed and painted model to one covered in monokote. In our hot Texas sun, all the arf’s lose their covering over time. Sorry, been there, done that. Your comments about the frustration of piecing a scratch built model pales in comparison to the number of ARF’s I have watched crash due to poor design.

      However, I really do not understand your comment about flying and crashing in three weeks. I have airplanes that are 25 years old with 1,000′s of flights each. I build them to last. I treat them with the same level of respect I had for the $56 million dollar airliner I once flew.

      Rick Michelena (B-737-800,900 ATP)

  2. Bullethole says:

    I think he is referring to assembly at the field. Most bipes have a myriad of cabanes, struts and wires that take a great deal of time to assemble correctly. Looks like this plane is no more difficult than just bolting on another wing and go flying. This could be my winter project.

  3. Roland says:

    I think you are being just a tad critical of this man’s (MAN’s) efforts. Some folks take great pride and derive a lot of satisfaction from the building process. The title was “Easy to Assemble” (referring to time at the field, not in the workshop) not to build.

    And, just because you buy a kit to build something from pieces, does not assure you of a craft that you KNOW will fit together right and fly properly……..this requires the skill and crafstmanship of the modeler.

    Don’t get me wrong, ARF’s are great for buying and flying in the shortest amount of time, but, you have to admit, it will be just exactly like the other pilot at the flying field who shops where you do. I’ll bet Rick hasn’t seen another plane like his!

    Stay safe and happy flying,
    Roland

  4. Henry J says:

    While it would be nice to have a hot wire, foam cutting machine set-up, I don’t know anyone in this hobby that has one..and I know lots of folks! On the other hand it would not take weeks to build the wings. Once the cores are cut it would take probably two good days to sheet and finish the leading and trailing edges. Fiberglassing the wings another day or so.
    I am confused about a few things though…who is the author of this article…Rick Michelana…or Debra Cleghorn? The other thing I don’t understand is, why in an RC model magazine is Ms Cleghorn inserting articles about real aircraft going onto a ship or a lost military plane found in Florida? What do they have to do with this hobby?
    Other than the above I did find this article interesting.

    • Debra Cleghorn says:

      Rick Michelena wrote this article; I just posted it. :)

      I post stories about full-size planes and UAVs because many of our readers find them interesting. Many RC modelers I’ve met are aviation buffs and enjoy reading about full-size planes and innovations, even if they aren’t hobby-related.

    • Bill H. says:

      If you don’t want to read these articles, just don’t click on them. DUH! I like reading about REAL airplanes and RPVs.

  5. Harold J. Coleman says:

    To me the “easy to assemble” part means that is is easy to assemble at the field. It didnt say easy to build.
    I liked the idea of the build and think that I may try something similar when I attempt a scratch build.

  6. rcguy says:

    I love cabin-type biplanes for exactly the reason the author says: Easy to Build and setup. Many ARF modelers might look at this and think it is way too much effort, but believe me if you are a kit builder or a plans/scratch builder, you will appreciate, not having to make struts and cabanes. I love this plane, it shows there are still active designers making planes. Reminds me of the BeerCat. Also even more time could be saved by purchasing commercially available foam wings covered with balsa.
    Cheers,
    Gerry

  7. Bill Skoros says:

    Love the design! Are the plans going to be available? As for the full scale stuff, keep posting it. Not much into the UAV scene myself, but still enjoy reading about whats in use.

  8. Bill Stevick says:

    Great article Deb. I love to read about other people who are willing to try new things. This is what makes the hobby fun for me too. I am always building something.

  9. Nigel Rollason says:

    The wing layout reminds me of the Beech “Staggerwing” …….
    Ok, one guy may have built some kits in the past but now prefers ready builts.
    Maybe some enterprising company can provide “Short” kits of veneered wing cores and packs of plain balsa sheet and ply.??
    Looks ok to me…….and e a half scale version too,for those ith smaller cars ??

  10. Gregg says:

    I built my own hot wire setup for cutting foam wing cores for about $30 for everything. That is the variable power supply setup and the rig that holds the wire tight to cut with. It isn’t that hard and once you have it you are done and won’t need another one. I’ve even considered adding a drop arm and some weights to make it a self pulling cutter. Google it, that is how I find and figure this stuff out.

  11. Carl Layden says:

    Great Article! The idea of building your own design to meet specific criteria using off the shelf cowl & gear etc good stuff. Looks like a good performer too, super job.

  12. Jim Vittetow says:

    Great job, very nice design and it looks straight forward to build, but if it was available as a kit or even better, an ARF, I think you would sell a lot of them.

  13. Disturbed at your writings... says:

    Plans available? Short kits available? Either one would put the “icing” on this article. Well done MAN! Lets get some building back into the mix !!

  14. More Build Articles Please says:

    More build articles please !! I loved reading this, and just need to know if plans are available, or even a short kit?

  15. Anonymous says:

    As a Plan and Stack of Balsa builder, I find this article great. I have a biplane that I hardly ever fly – too much time to assembe at the field. This is the REAL solution – great job! I do have a couple of questions: What size engine did you use? How much washout? Are the plans available or the basic dimensions of the wings, stabs and fuze available?

    • Rick Michelena says:

      Hey Anonymous,

      When I decided to do this, I wanted to do it as cheap as possible. I had a US 41 laying around my shop, so I designed it around those parameters. I also added a Dick Bennett Smoke System. As far as washout, I raised the tip about 3/16″. This is good for a couple of degrees. I had some very basic drawings, but they got ruined when my shop took in water during a massive hailstorm. I’ll see what I can do for a follow up.

  16. KRAM says:

    Great article. Would LOVE some plans!

  17. Robert Garelli says:

    Love articles like this. Miss seeing more of these type of build articles. Seems the only thing printed anymore are about ARF and how to assemble an EP.

    Some of you commented about the foam wings, back in the day…no too long ago, if you didn’t or couldn’t cut your own foam coar wings you coud order them. I just did a quick look and found that there are still companies cutting foam coar wings out there. Just need to do a search for “FOAM COAR WINGS” , one popped up right a way. https://www.flyingfoam.com/

  18. Wayne says:

    Debra,
    Continue the full scale stories etc.
    Do continue the build stories and maybe increase the number of them as well, after all this is not just a RTF, BNF and ARF hobby. I do have all three but I love building.
    Any How To’s are greatly appreciated, the reviews of new models are informative but that’s just advertizing and there is already enough of that in every magazine on the market now days.
    Just keep Us BUILDERS in mind.

    Thanks
    Wayne

  19. allen weast says:

    ok if you got the money put i get a arf and recover it the way i want it

  20. Rich Hardt says:

    Looks like a knock off of the Midwest “LIvewire” Beercat kit that I have in the basement. Designed by Hal DeBolt. May take it off the shelf and convert it to electic.

  21. A.Lynn Lockrow says:

    Beautiful idea and build;yes it looks like an updated Beercat. I did a 1.5 blow up of the old Midwest kit (70″) and flew it for years; great design …..this one looks easy to build with just a little effort and time and to be a fine flyer. How about a full article to be published in MAN with plans templates and source info for parts …..I’m up for a winter project, and the negative stagger wing makes this a winner in my book !

  22. SHERWIN STIELOW says:

    WOULD LOVE TO GET A SET OF PLANS FOR THEI
    RC. for Scratch Build, Foam
    Do you offer plans

  23. FHH says:

    my solution to bipe assembly:

    transport it already assembled. up to 60 inch span bipes can fit in the back of any mini van or station wagon… larger can fit in a suburban or trailer. You have to get pretty large before you have to take it apart.

    Do a good preflight and go…

  24. Tom P says:

    Looks like a slicked up “Beercat”.
    Old Debolt kit

  25. Gord Seifert says:

    I too like this kind of article. Foam core is bit over my head right now, but maybe next year. This year I’m getting into stick building. I have more than enough ARFs.

    The article on the full size UAV was VERY interesting. I just subscribed to the digital version of Flight Journal as well. Anything that flies is fine by me. The history is fascinating and the photos in FJ are superb!

    Debra, I must admit that I found the ‘About the author’ a bit of a surprise as well. I expected to see something about the guy who built the plane, wrote the article and probably took the pictures as well. We all know who you are! :-)

    Gord

  26. Rick Michelena says:

    Hey guys,

    I’m glad you like my bipe. I have been cutting foam wings for 30 years. I still use the same bow and power source that I made in 1985. At one time, I built a C-130 completely out of foam. Every project I build uses a foam core wing. I cut these wings with a friend in under 40 minutes. I can build wings with foam much faster than wood. Therefore, the only RIBS I do are at my favorite BBQ! I had very rough plans but they got ruined when my shop was damaged. Debra has already contacted me about producing another set. She is really on top of everything!

  27. Kevin Matney says:

    Hi Guys
    When I cut cores I do it with the ailerons included. It make a better wing. It takes the same time to do this,but the building time is faster.

  28. Lester Medina says:

    Yeah that must have taken a lot more time.

  29. eduardo osorio says:

    I am please to say that I had a chance to meet Rick in person and I had the opportunity to fly with him many times in south Texas and what I like most about Rick is his passion around always wanting to help others, encourage and influence our younger generation to be creative and to continue this wonderful hobby alive. He is a true builder that could brag about his work because I can tell you is top notch (he never takes short cuts) and when it comes to safety he is always thinking of others first. but no, he decides to share with others just for the love of the hobby and it really bothers me when someone else is just jealous because he didn’t came up with the idea first. Rick is a visionary that I really respect and if you think you seen his best work, this man could write a book about the different projects that he has done in the past. Rick Thanks for sharing. Some of us could learn a thing or two from your wonderful experience. I took some notes and I will apply to my project. By the way, he did fly the real planes and retired with a great record. Thanks Rick keep them coming.

    • Matt Eberhard says:

      Don’t sweat it. The main issue was that someone decided the article was about a plane that was easy to BUILD and not easy to ASSEMBLE. Rick M was obviously talking about putting the plane together at the field and not building.

      The article truly IS easy to assemble with only a few bolts per wing! But if anyone was expecting “easy” and “build” to go together, they better stick to ARF’s and even then, they’ll probably get frustrated. ha. I remember when I first started flying I got VERY frustrated that I would buy these planes and then crash them after only 5 flights! Bad piloting and hasty setups were my problem. Once I started flying within my limits with my more expensive planes and double checking EVERYTHING, I stopped crashing. (I still crash the cheap 3D foamies cuz I’m pushing things and they’re easy to fix)

    • Rick Michelena says:

      Eddie,

      It is good to hear from you. I sure wish your job had not taken you so far away from our club. You are sorely missed. God bless and keep the blue side up!

  30. robert schmidt says:

    Very nice plane. will look forward to the plans. I also don’t like to spend a lot of time to put planes together at the field and like the Beech type stagger. I did do something similar. I scaled up a 1980 Baby Bi from RCM mag. by 150%. came out at 54″ but added 8″ to top wing and added Beech type flat ply struts.

  31. Dave says:

    I have never worked with foam wings. I noticed a notch in the foam core on some of the wing photos. Is there a carbon fiber spar that goes in there? If not, what is it for.
    The bipe is a work of art. It’s nice that it goes together so easily.
    Yes, you really did get my attention, but would prefer a little smaller version. When plans are available, I might scale them down to a .60 size and got for it.

    • Matt Eberhard says:

      The notch is probably for the servo wire. Gotta get it there somehow, and that’s probably what’s going on there.

    • Rick Michelena says:

      Hi Dave,

      The reason for the channel is because it allows an area to run your servo wires. I make a channel using a small piece of brass wire and then put it in a soldering gun. I run the wire along a metal ruler and this makes my wire channel. (I do the same for retract tubing)

      Maybe, I’ll write a future article on foam wing construction. When I got into this hobby in 1981, I was introduced to the art of foam wings by one of the best builders in our area. (Jim Marshall-current District VIII AMA AVP) He was a wealth of knowledge in this aera and even helped me build my first foam cutting device while using a car battery to supply the heat.

      I was eager to learn, and he was eager to teach…if only that scenario existed in today’s generation.

  32. Matt Eberhard says:

    I’ve “built” lots of ARF’s that were far from easy to build. Some took me 12 hours or more because of bad design. I’m looking at this and thinking, “Those wings would be EASY to build” compared to spar wings.
    The article however is geared toward “easy to assemble” at the FIELD and not in the garage. I have a Beast from Hangar 9 and it’s a killer plane with a 120 DA motor. Lite as a feather. Hover at half throttle. But assembling it is a 15 minute process. This gets even worse if you have a giant scale bipe with cables to attach. All in all, I’d say this project is totally worthy of a try, and the idea of taking a cool and DIFFERENT bipe to the field and having it put together in 5 minutes is very appealing.
    Great look and it’s awesome he added smoke. All bipes should have SMOKE! LOL

  33. Robert Cline says:

    Hey Rick, Great job on the bipe. If it has two wings and a prop its got to be good. Thanks for doing this. Dont pay any attention to the crybabys. And Debra keep posting the full scale stuff also.

  34. Bob Balsie says:

    Hi, All

    Great article and very nice job of designing and building…!!!

    I’m currently working on a “J-Bipe” kit. This kit was made long ago, but I believe that there is a manufacturer that it producing it again. It’s a .60 size model, and should be very easy to assemble at the field. The lower wing attaches with two 1/4″ nylon bolts and the upper wing attaches to the cabane struts with two 1/4″ nylon bolts and two wire clips. It has ailerons on both wings so you have to attach the connecting rods, but that’s about it. If you want an easy to assemble biplane but don’t have time to scratch build, this might be a good compromise.

  35. John Carlson says:

    Rick, great article, dude! I am a long time builder myself, and have cut a few foam cores in my time, too. I get sick and tired of reading about putting together yet another “me too” ARF. I am currently in the middle of a warbird build, a Jerry Bates Fokker DXXI. I sincerely believe I won’t be seeing another at my local field but wish that wasn’t the case. Just not enough builders left around. I hope the pendulum will swing back the other way and people will get more interested in creating one of a kind art works instead of the cookie cutter stuff we see so much of these days. Magazines like MAN can be a strong influence on our hobby and while I realize they have to reflect the interests of their readership, I hope they can justify including more articles like this within their pages. Keep building, my friend!

  36. Mike H. says:

    Neat build…reminds me of the Top Flite Hot Kanary I’ve got waiting for me in kit form in the garage! This is inspiring me to do something similar with that beauty!

  37. JG says:

    I’m new to RC flying and I have to say that is a great looking plane!

    I see large Bipes at my local club and this does seem a little less time to setup. Great job. I also like articles about full size aviation so please keep up the articles etc… at MAN

  38. Keith says:

    Seriously, you can’t put an article here saying, “Build an Easy-to-Assemble Sport Biplane” and not have any plans. I love this plane and hope you will take the time to reproduce the plans.

  39. George Waldrop says:

    I agree with all those above who want plans/etc (a source for cores and/or F/G parts maybe?). Bipes are my favorites and this one looks great, and looks like it would fly great as well. Great design! Standing by for plans/accessories!

  40. Ron Elliott says:

    Great job Rick I love to see guy’s withh the talent to create something different. This is why I chose MAN over the competition. Are ther any you tube video’s of it flying? A friend is building one similar how did you figure the CG

  41. Wayne Forke says:

    Hello Rick,
    I am very interested in scratch building a Proto Bipe. Are any plans or drawings available? Thanks so much. Wayne Forke.

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