Built, and reviewed by Nick Ziroli Sr. in the February 2012 issue of MAN
When I think of or see an Aero Commander I can’t help thinking of Bob Hoover. He did an incredible air show routine with this rather large twin piston engine corporate airplane. Dead stick loop, 8 point roll and landing, one wheel and then the other was his finale. He was also well known for his exciting display with a P-51. Mr. Hoover’s aviation career goes back to flying fighters in WW- II. Check Wikipedia, Bob Hoover, to learn what this man has done in his aviation career. Truly amazing.
Here we have a new kit; you have to build it, from House of Balsa. Why an Aero Commander? Don Dombrowski, owner of House of Balsa used to own and fly the real one and felt the need to have one again. So this semi-scale model, the Electric Commander was developed. It was designed for a pair of inexpensive electric Graupner 7302 Speed 300 brush motors and one 12 amp speed control. Of course equivalent brushless motors can be used. This requires a speed control for each motor. Controls are aileron, elevator and throttle. Rudder control could be added if desired. There is room next to the elevator servo for an additional servo.
The kit is well designed and engineered. All the parts are laser cut from 21 balsa sheets, 18 pieces 1/16”x 3”x 24” and 3 pieces 3/32”x 3”x 24”, plus one 1/16” thick plywood by 3”x 24”. Wood quality was very good. Included are a number of strips for the leading and trailing edges and blocks for the nose and wing tips. All pushrod material and connectors are included. What is not included or really required is a traditional set of plans. There is nothing to build over a plan so they are not necessary. Instead of plans there is a construction manual containing 132 photos and instructions. This is supplemented with an 11” x 17” sheet of full size details that can’t be printed on the parts. This is not a difficult build but it is not for the beginner. Some building background would be desirable.
Construction starts with the fuselage, a box with a center floor in it. There are notches and tabs on all the parts which make assembly fool proof, if you follow the instructions. A very handy alignment tool is included, the “Upright”, which makes it easy to hold parts square when they are being glued in place. There are some parts that must be assembled as instructed or there will be problems later. The aft 7” of the fuselage sides are notched into the front portion. Make sure when gluing these together both sides are the same. The top edge is a straight line from the trailing edge of the wing to the stabilizer so a straight edge would help. Cut 3/16” long pieces of the 1/8” dowel to position FD2 doublers to the fuselage sides. The top and bottom pieces are all laser cut and key perfectly into the sides.
The 1/16” plywood bottom battery access hatch is rather unique. It has four 1/2“diameter wheels that protrude through the bottom. This allows the Commander to take off from a paved surface. I’ve been doing this and find the prop clearance a little marginal. My props are getting shorter. If this is what you desire I would increase the size of the wheel opening in the hatch and go to a 1” diameter wheels. If you fly only off grass the wheels could be omitted. It’s very easy to hand launch.
Assemble the tail surfaces. If the rudder, R-4, is going to be functional do not glue it in place. Cut off enough of the bottom edge to clear the fuselage and hinge it to the fin. Ca hinges are included. The stabilizer includes the obvious Aero Commander dihedral. The two halves are notched together. A dihedral gauge is included that supports one tip at the correct angle. It is fool proof and no measuring required. The rudder is now glued to the stabilizer. There is also a gauge for positioning this at the proper angle. You are instructed to glue the stabilizer – rudder assembly in place at this time. I prefer to mount the wing first and then align the stab to the wing.
Locate all the wing skin sheets. The lower left skins are LLS1, 2 and 3, right are LRS1, 2 and 3. These are the plan that the wing panels are built on. Glue these and the top sheets, LTS and RTS, together on a flat surface. I do my building on an old glass table top 3/8” thick by 30” x 48”. Cover the work area with kitchen plastic film. Make sure that the tabs do not bottom in the notches before the edges are tight together. Sand a little off the tabs if required. I glue with thin Zap ca on the inside surface. If the joint is tight a little Zap goes a long way.
Lay the bottom skins, LLS and LRS on a flat surface. Glue the main and trailing edge spars in place. Make sure the tabs are in the correct notches. Add all the ribs gluing from the main spar to the trailing edge. Make sure rib R-1 is at the angle against the end of the spar. Glue the leading edge cap in place. Starting at R-5 pull the bottom skin up to the rib and glue with thin Zap. Work each way from there gluing each rib and leading edge. Trim off the excess skin at the leading and trailing edge. Lightly sand the top of the ribs and spars so the top skin sits on all the ribs.
Lay the wing assembly on a flat surface and glue the top skins in place. In doing this I drifted from the instructions. I wanted to make sure this highly tapered wing did not have any wash in at the tip. To assure this I taped some shims along the trailing edge to make sure that if it was off at all the tip would be at a negative angle. The shims were made from thin cardboard, the subscription cards in this magazine. Three layers, 1/4” x 3/4” were taped along the bottom trailing edge at the tip, two layers 6 inches in from the tip and one piece 12” from the tip. Now cover the top. Trim and sand the excess off even with the leading and trailing edge caps. Glue the leading edge in place and using the template as a guide carve and sand them to shape.
Using the guide on the template sheet bend the wire and tube aileron torque rods to shape. Tack glue these in place on the wing. Cut the trailing edges to lengths per the template sheet. Groove the face of template C trailing edge to fit over the torque rod assembly and glue in place. Be sure to put a little Vasoline or similar product on the tube to wire joint. Any ca between the tube and wire will mean remaking the torque rod assembly. Drill and notch the ailerons for the torque rod. Hinge the ailerons and add the end trailing edge piece and tip. Carve and sand to shape. Sand the root ribs for a good joint. Use the dihedral gauge to assure the proper dihedral angle. Glue the wing panels together. Add the re-inforcing tape around the joint and the front wing dowel. Mount the servo and aileron pushrods. Fit the wing to the fuselage. With the wing square to the fuselage drill and install the rear hold down bolt.
Align the stabilizer to the wing and glue in place. Install elevator servo and pushrods. The engine nacelles are rather simple boxes. Be sure not to remove the wing opening pieces until after the nacelle is completed. Glue all the top and bottom pieces together. Make sure the tab and notch numbers are correct. Assemble the sides and formers to the bottom. For the Speed 300 motors to fit properly to the motor mount former, double NFW’s, they must be glued on with the markings facing to the rear. If another motor that is rear mounted is being used a mounting plate inside the nacelle will be required. Starting in the middle and working towards each end glue the top cover in place. Sand all the edges round and remove the wing openings.
Slide the nacelles onto the wing. Align with the location marks on the wings and glue in place. The Commander may be finished in a light iron on film or paint. I had what Krylon spray can paint I needed on hand so I used that. One each light coat of clear, white and yellow were applied. To save many coats of yellow I always apply white first. This kit includes very nice stick on graphics that are thin and stay in place. Install the motors and wires. Install the electronics and check out control directions and travel.
The E-Commander is not an indoor or park flyer. It is fast and maneuverable. It can do all the loop and roll maneuvers you tell it to do. The addition of a functional rudder would increase the aerobatic capabilities but it is fun as built from the kit. It looks great in the air and always attracts a lot of attention. This kit is available direct only from House of Balsa. For information of price and availability call 760-246-6462 or www.houseofbalsa.com
Radio: Airtronics RDS-8000 transmitter, 92824 receiver 2 Hitec HS-55 servos
Motors: 2 Graupner Speed 300, 7.2 volt, #7302 2 Graupner Spinners, 24 mm for Speed 300, optional www.graupner-usa.com
Speed Control: Hobby Lobby 12 amp Jeti #JES012 www.hobby-lobby.com
Battery: Thunder Power Pro Lite V2 LiPo 1350 mAh, 3S, 11.1V, 3Cell
Props: 2 Gunther 4.9”x4.3”, (125x110mm)
Model: Aero Commander
Manufacturer: Direct only from House of Balsa www.houseofbalsa.com 760-246-6462
Type: Twin electric semi-scale Wingspan: 40 in.
Wing area: 187 sq. in.
Length: 27 ¾ in.
Weight: 18 – 20 oz.
Wing loading: 13.86 oz./ sq. ft.
Motor req’d: 2 Graupner Speed 300
Radio req’d: 3-channel, 2 servos, 1 esc
Price: Call for current price and availability
Come back soon to see the flight shots and detailed flight performance evaluation of this impressive little sport-scale twin classic! (Flight Shots Added June 27, 2011) Photos by Palmer Johnson!