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CAD Design for RC Airplanes

CAD Design for RC Airplanes

One of the best tools I ever discovered while being involved in RC scale modeling, is Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs. It opened an entirely new segment of modeling to me, while also greatly increasing the precision in which I designed and developed scratch build scale airplanes. I have been using CAD programs now for more than 20 years and this post is an online version of my PowerPoint presentation for drawing 3-views and developing plans to build RC airplanes.

Let’s get started:


Be careful! CAD can become an entirely new hobby in itself!

There are several reasonably priced CAD programs intended specifically for modelers looking to start playing with the design and drawing program. Also, there are “Lite” programs you can download from the web to get started.


I have been using Ashlar’s Graphite CAD program ever since it was first introduced. The program is in my opinion, the easiest and quickest CAD program to learn. I have designed many RC airplanes using Graphite and I am now using version 9.



Graphite is now available as a “Cloud” download program which you can pay for monthly from: http://ashlar.com/2d-3d-drafting/2d-3d-cad-graphite.html.


This CAD Kaos was the first design that I traced into CAD. I then simplifed and added modern hardware to the design. It was a great flying airplane just like the original Kaos 60.

When it comes to scale airplanes, CAD allows you to duplicate any airplane there is. Just start with simple designs and work your way up to more complicated ones.

Depending on the program you use, you can import, Bitmap, Tiff, JPG or other type of image file.

The other way to produce drawings, is to take direct measurements of the things you want to draw.

For the development of plans where you trace an existing airplane drawing, there are some rules I made that make the job a lot easier.

Learning what your program has to offer is also a first step to using it efficently.

The tools are found in the on-screen tool bar and the pull-down menu windows.

After developing your front, side and top views of your model, you have to make sure they are all to scale with each other. This is important before you start developing the plans’ details and add the spars, formers, ribs etc.

This is a section of a Wylam drawing of a P-40 Warhawk that I scanned and imported  into my program. See below to see the steps in developing the model’s wing.

Instead of using a freehand “spline Line tool” try to use the tool bar tools to develop the various shapes of the wing’s outline and basic details.

Starting to look like something!

Now make a mirror image, flip it around and add it to this one and you have a complete wing plan.

Don’t try to draw the ribs freehand. Just download the airfoils you need and add to your CAD File.

Just like everything else, you develop the ribs starting from the outside of the basic airfoil shape and working inward in steps.

You can also loft ribs if you want to develop your wing with a progressive airfoil shape that changes from the root to the tip. Start with the wing planform, and the rib placement. Make sure the ribs are spaced evenly. The stack the airfoils and divide into a number of stations.

Connect the station lines from the tip to the root rib. Then divide these lines by the number of the ribs you want. If you want 10 ribs, then divide the lines into to 10 equal sections.

Using the spline tool, connect the dots and you develop the individual ribs. Start from the rear end point and work forward on the rib to the leading edge. Remove the station and projection lines and you have the ribs above.

Here’s the wing planform and the ribs. Now you would work inward and add the notches for the spars and the other details like the wing skin and dihedral braces, trailing edges leading edges, etc.

The same basic technique is used to develop fuselage formers.

It’s a lot of work but in the end, you have perfectly fitting parts.

Print the parts out, paste them to your wood and start cutting!

Lofting formers is exactly like lofting ribs. The same techniques apply.

So you don’t want to cut the parts out yourself? that’s fine, send the CAD file out and have someone laser cut the parts out for you.

These parts were designed specifically for producing laser cut parts that interlock and form simplified model structures that are strong and lightweight. Often they are self aligning.

Break out the CA glue and kicker!

After designing and building your model, you can still use your CAD program to do other things like figureing out where the CG should go.

It’s all easy if you know what to do. The CAD program helps a lot.

Also, the side view technique for developing the placement of your CG is easy.

Got the weight of your finished model? Great, with the CAD program you can quickly find the wing area so you can figure out what the wing loading will be.

Updated: November 8, 2018 — 4:24 PM


Add a Comment
  1. Hello I am a retierde eng that back to my old hobby. I tries to use some cad but i really Forget because its for house not specially for the hobby.

    I imagine that if I have autodesk I can also have this one.

    What can I do to test, and how much it costs?

    Tks regards

    1. Hi Joao, there are a few CAD program companies that offer free trial downloads. You can try it out to see if you like it

    2. if you have money to spend go for devcad, it use the same command like autocad use.

  2. Okay- let’s see what will happen here, as this old man starts designing an airplane. I’m 77 and I’ve just drawn plans by hand up until now. But in offering the plans , potential buyers are put off by the lack of CAD drawings.
    So let’s drag me kicking and screaming into the now era.

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