Mission Warbird – Secrets to Flying Giant-Scale Military Aircraft

Mission Warbird – Secrets to Flying Giant-Scale Military Aircraft

For many scale modelers, warbirds have the edge in popularity. It’s hard not to get pumped by Mustangs, Thunderbolts, Spitfires, Hellcats, and Me-109s. Although we generally don’t put them into the category, Panthers, F-86s, F-100s, and F-15s fit here also. Models of this type are generally larger, weigh more, and have higher wing loadings than other types, and require an awareness of what these factors mean when flying. It is here where “giant-sizing” our scale warbirds can provide benefits; bigger really does fly better!

Higher wing loadings are not all bad; they reduce the tendency of the model to be easily disturbed by wind gusts and makes landing approaches more predictable and precise. Once the rate of descent is established, it is easily controlled by the application of power. At the departure end of the runway, however, is where the higher wing loading can bite you. Haul your new scale beauty off the runway too soon, before the wing starts working, and you’ll likely be rewarded by a stall/snap back down onto that runway. Quick fingers and corrective action may save the day, but don’t count on it. How about when you’re rocketing along, straight and level, and start a hard left bank? It looks great so you go a little faster and tighter and bang! You don’t see the onset, but the model shudders, drops the right wing and enters a violent spin. Altitude is the only savior here, and you might not have enough.

At the other end of the spectrum are the lightly-loaded scale WW I warbirds like Fokkers, Spads, SE-5s, and Albatrosses. Lighter wing loading may make them a bit easier to fly, but they do require attention and technique to be flown correctly. Making that 180-degree turn with aileron alone won’t cut it. You may need to add rudder either by radio channel mixing or rudder input. This is where coordinated rudder/aileron control input is usually necessary. Getting used to coordinating the roll and yaw axes will also allow you to execute some of those really neat, cross-control, slipped landings that always look great. It’s a great landing approach maneuver that bleeds off lots of altitude quickly and, once you perfect the technique, you’ll really enjoy doing. This technique is far less effective, or required, as the wing loading goes up.

Matt Balazs starts up his 1/3.7-scale Fw 190.

Matt Balazs starts up his 1/3.7-scale Fw 190.

To minimize frustration during your transition from standard-size RC models, choose your first big warbird subject wisely. Sometimes desire overshadows wisdom and we pick subjects that we think we can grow into as our entry point. It will still take a number of intermediate steps until you’re ready for that 120-inch B-25 you’ve always wanted. Ignore the temptation to jump directly into complex multi-engine or turbine-powered subjects.

Is there an ideal first scale model? There probably is not because the model choice is usually based on your fascination with, or love of, the real airplane. If you would like to duplicate a specific type in model form, you’ll need to accept the fact that it may not be the best choice from a flying standpoint, and that you’re willing to do what is necessary to master the flying end or resign yourself to having a very large coffee table decoration. If your desire is to fly a scale model and that desire is not driven by a specific love affair with a full-scale warbird, the selection task becomes quite a bit easier.

With the number of big military ARFs now available, with more on the way, the most complicated portion of the selection process might picking the size you want. Take the Mustang for example; it’s available in almost every size imaginable in various forms. Other subjects are available, many also in a variety of sizes. Some seem to be better than others but all can be made flyable in a fraction of the time it takes to build a model from even a quality kit.

In my view, the ideal first giant-scale warbird subject would be something along the lines of a T-34 Mentor, T-28 Trojan, or similarly configured airplane. Here’s why: they have good proportions, are of low wing configuration, have wide stance, tricycle landing gear, generous wing areas, and adequate dihedral. In larger scales, they will also have enough mass and high enough wing loading to fly comfortably in breezy conditions and have comfortable landing and ground handling qualities. WW I subjects like the SE-5, Fokker, Albatros, Nieuport and similar subjects can be very tricky in the wind and their narrow-track gear along with the tailskid at the rear can make ground handling an adventure, especially on paved runways.

If you want to build and fly a giant-scale WW I model, you'll find valuable advice and know-how at a "Dawn Patrol" event.

If you want to build and fly a giant-scale WW I model, you’ll find valuable advice and know-how at a “Dawn Patrol” event.

Flying a giant-scale warbird is significantly different than general sport flying or even other categories of scale models. While some of your sport model flying habits and maneuvers will be valuable in your transition to scale flying, flying the big iron involves its own set of disciplines and, like other pursuits, requires practice to maintain any level of proficiency. I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn how a scale RC model should be flown is, follow me on this one, by watching full-size airplanes! I know that sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but you’d be amazed at just how “unscale-like” some scale models are flown. With all kinds of video references, History/Discovery/Military channel TV shows, and full-scale air shows available, why not take the time to get a visual flavor of what your model should look like flying? You’ll soon discover that most warbirds don’t leap off the runway and climb at a 45-degree angle. Studying some of these sources will go a long way toward giving you a mental picture of flying your model in a scale fashion. You’ll discover things like a T-6 doesn’t perform a loop like an Extra 300. It slows down at the top where it is just about out of energy before it completes the back side of the maneuver. You also may notice that, although your model P-51 may be Lomcevak-capable, the maneuver is not very becoming, nor do real Jugs routinely perform tail slides. With all the effort you took in making your model look exactly like a miniature re-creation, why not continue the illusion by flying it like the real one?

Marc Shepard's CARF-Models Corsair is an all-composite airframe with a 110-inch wingspan.

Marc Shepard’s CARF-Models Corsair is an all-composite airframe with a 110-inch wingspan.

If this is your first WW II warbird, you will probably want to equip it with flaps. They look really cool on landing and they do make a big difference in approach technique. They shorten and slow the approach, allowing you to carry more power and actually fly the model on to the runway rather than allowing it to float on past you as the headwind disappears. The drag they introduce makes the model slow down dramatically and usually the nose will pitch up slightly. Radio mixing will allow you to couple the flap and elevator channels so you can get the required amount of down-elevator as the flaps extend. This mixing eliminates the need to hold down-elevator and operate the flap switch at the same time, which smooths things out and eliminates abrupt pitch up tendencies. I rarely use flaps on takeoff, and if I do it’s because the judges may want to see them. I use 10 to 15 degrees maximum, just enough to be visible yet not quite enough to cause any major changes in flying qualities. At these settings the flaps allow the wing to create a bit more lift and aren’t acting as drag devices at all. For landing, choose 45 to 60 degrees to get the drag you need. These values will vary depending on the model and flying technique; they should all be tried at altitude until you get the desired results.

Flying an approach at 200 feet will give you time and altitude to recover from incorrect settings. Start reducing power on the downwind leg, abeam of your position, extend the gear, turn base and start the flaps coming down. The flaps should be fully extended when you turn final, and your intended touchdown point on the runway should already be picked out. Control the sink rate with power, flare and touchdown gently with the most perfect two-wheel landing you’ve ever done! Stay on the sticks because your warbird is still rolling out. Once the tail permanently settles, retract the flaps, hold some up-elevator to keep the tail down and taxi back to the pits. Wasn’t that easy?

Deryl Rolle's Seagull Models P-47 ARF comes built up, covered, and ready for radio and power installations.

Deryl Rolle’s Seagull Models P-47 ARF comes built up, covered, and ready for radio and power installations.

On that perfect landing you just made, you extended the landing gear and it worked perfectly. Retractable gear systems are almost standard fare on warbirds, especially giant ones. Imagine that 51 we talked about cruising around the pattern with some spindly wire struts sticking out of the wing. Yuck! Retract systems have become so sophisticated these days that out of the box you’ve got a scale-looking set that works reliably and installs easily. Some ARF manufacturers/ suppliers have even started to include them with the airframes. The choices in retract operation fall into pneumatic and mechanical (including electrical) categories with advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the ledger. Scale speed of extension/retraction can be easily handled by way of control valves, some of which also incorporate porting to control the sequence of the landing gear door cycling. Selection is really a matter of preference, which is usually based on past experience. If this is going to be your first retract-equipped warbird, ask around to see what other scale guys are using in your area.

A T-34 Mentor, like this one flown by Will Berninger, makes an excellent first giant-scale warbird.

A T-34 Mentor, like this one flown by Will Berninger, makes an excellent first giant-scale warbird.

Here’s the thing about giant-scale models: they’re not electric park fliers! You’ll need to make sure that your club flying site will accommodate the size of the model and the airspace it will consume. Make sure your chosen flying site will accommodate large, high-performance models. If not, look for a site that will safely handle your activities. If there’s already a scale contingent in your club, you’re in! If you’re a loner, try to hook up with someone with giant-scale experience, don’t try it solo. It can be dangerous, especially if it’s all new to you and you haven’t yet recognized the potential hazards of giant-scale modeling. Large props swung by powerful engines can inflict some serious injuries.

Tim Sibley built his 1/3-scale Dr. 1 triplane from a Balsa USA kit.

Tim Sibley built his 1/3-scale Dr. 1 triplane from a Balsa USA kit.

A lot can be learned by observation and discussion at some of the more well-publicized scale events like Top Gun and the Scale Masters. Local-level scale fly-ins are also becoming more popular since the pressure of competition is non-existent. Chances are you’ll run across someone who has the same warbird you’re now building and he’ll be eager to share his findings and offer helpful hints and ideas. You’ll also have the opportunity to see just which fellow scale guys really spent some time observing how real warbirds look when flying. Their models will be the ones that not only look real but are convincing in the air as well.

Getting your type rating on a giant-scale warbird is an exciting challenge, one which, when achieved, surely entitles you to bragging rights at the field. Just show up with a big warbird and check the reaction. Fly that baby skillfully, and you’ll have the most impressive model at the field. It takes a fair amount of skill and lots of practice to accomplish the objective, but you set the bar, so enjoy it! There’s a brotherhood of modelers that seem to have been born one generation too late to satisfy their aviation needs, but scale RC flying of WW II heavy metal might just fill the gap.

By Rich Uravitch
Photos by David Hart (capturedfromthehart.com)

Updated: July 6, 2023 — 11:35 AM


  1. Great article for a newbie. I am a newbie also, so no disrespect. I have two giant scale warbirds in my garage just sitting there. My first was a B25 from Great planes. I found out quickly that speed in proportion to the landing strip is very important. I found about 40% throttle with full flaps worked wonders. My first landing looked like a rock skipping across the water. Anyway just wanted to say, Great article, and loved the reminder to fly scale warburds like they flew in WW2. You’ll appreciate the beauty and the lethality of your warbird. Which ever it is.

  2. Very nice article, Rich!

  3. Great article. Too bad they don’t pass this out to all wana-be RC pilots. Scale warbirds are such an attraction to the ‘unknown’ and no one listens.

    A fellow rc’r decided on an e-flight TigerCat for his second beginner plane. Wasn’t cheap to purchase, looked good, yanked and rocketed off the runway, gear and flaps up, lots of switch flipping, steep banked, then climbed like it was on fire, too high and too far out, then stalled when he cut back on the power as he noticed he was leaving the county. Of course he had no clue what to do with that spin to the ground. That’s how long it lasted, as long as it takes for you to read that sentence. Just gota have that big warbird WAY BEFORE YOU’RE READY.

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