Road to Top Gun: Zenith 801– Modeling in Metal

Road to Top Gun: Zenith 801– Modeling in Metal

Carlos Rangel is a regular at the annual Top Gun Scale Invitational and he is also known as “the guy who builds all-aluminum airplanes”. We got an email from Carlos recently along with some photos of his 2013 competition plane. Here’s what he said.

 Zenith 801

“Well, I was supposed to compete this year in the Masters Class with a very interesting and big all-metal airplane but due to work constrains and traveling, I was unable to get it finished in time as promised. Instead, I will be competing in the Pro-Am  prop category with my 30% scale  Zenith 801. This particular Zenith was modeled after one of the prototypes of the four seater line 801 Series.

 Zenith 801

My aircraft was built the same way full size aircraft is built–with factory drawings, no RC technique used here.  Although somewhat ugly, it is an accurate duplicate.  Each skin panel and rivet line is exact scale. All the structures are also duplicated just like the real size. It took me many hours to design and build it.

I use any thing from 0.008 through 0.040 inch material depending on the stress level, I use solid rivets varying from 3/64th through 3/32 inch. Small rivets are very expensive not to mention the care one has to take to avoid “smiles” and “tipping!!”

 Zenith 801

The airplane may not win any beauty contests, but, it is my airplane and it is unique and it was awarded with the “Engineering Excellence” award back in Top Gun 2007. I don’t normally build airplanes that others  might build. If you feel this airplane is worth publishing in your beautiful Road to Top Gun blog, I will be honored. It’s my desire to support Top Gun and maintain and encourage scale scratch building.”

Carlos Rangel

Updated: June 1, 2015 — 4:31 PM


  1. As a builder of steel, working scale models of steam engines and construction machinery I can appreciate the challenges of building an aluminum scale model airplane.Fortunately my models don’t have to be light enough to get off the ground. Beautiful workmanship, Carlos….


  3. WOW!! What a great job. I’d love to see more build pictures and a video in flight.
    Where does one find the cleco fasteners and how do you buck the rivets?

  4. hi carlos the plane is a real work of art and you did a butifull job.i would like to build a p-51 mustang in metal do you know where i can get the plans for it or other planes i mite wont to build please let me know at thanks rick

  5. BUITIFUL I have always wanted to build an all metal aircraft, and seeing one so well done just adds to my desire. NICE JOB Keep up the good work Signed Northern Wingnut

  6. The plane is amazing. I am a builder of planes and this plane really draws my attention. I woould like to email you and see what I would have to do to do a plane in this matter. Love to see video if you have one of it flying. I have been building since I was 9 years old and you have really peaked my interest. Amazing job. Thanks for showing the plane. Charles Bohlen

  7. Try The Yard Store in Wichita Kansas for rivets. They have a lot of airplane surplus that doesn’t have certs so can’t be used on full scale aircraft so are much cheaper

  8. I can appreciate the time and tedious effort required after trying to make 1/8 scale spark plug connectors for a power boat model. Very nice work. What is the wing span, all up wight, wing loading etc? Thanks ~~~ DRB

  9. Wow, For the same effort and a little more money, you could have built the full scale. Very impressive. A flying video would be great.

  10. If you made the full scale plane, just make it an inch smaller. Then you can get in it and fly, but also enter the Top Gun competition as a 99.2% scale.

  11. Good Luck, Carlos this year at Top Gun! As in the past, I encourage you to stick with your passion for metal construction. Your workmanship is second to none, and I look forward to you flying in, and enjoying the Top Gun Event – especially this 25th year anniversary meet!
    Why not take the pressure off yourself and enter in Team Scale; that way I can enjoy spending 15 minutes looking over every detail of your airplane up close.
    All the best, my friend
    Len Bechtold
    Team Scale Craftsmanship Judge, Top Gun

  12. Now this airplane is a real masterpiece! I just hope you get it in the air soon. And finally good luck @ Top Gun.

  13. Carlos, I 100% agree How about a 35% Grumman F3F-1 I have been working on this model for a year now. The gear was a challenge, but it works.

  14. Hello, My name is Lee Seiler. I build mwtal model ships. My site is at ><

    L love working with metal as I know you do.


  15. …we all know how nice is that feeling, when the plane that we had build is ready and in the air,,very nice,,, amazing work,

  16. Hola Carlos, me gusta mucho tu avion, me gustaria tambien construir una escala en aluminio, yo soy Colombiano vivo en Villavicencio, me gustaria comunicarme contigo mi correo es

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