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Model Airplane Design Made Easy
Many years ago I read a series of articles in Radio Control Modeler Magazine by Chuck Cunningham. These things inspired my brother and I into a long, rewarding hobby of building and designing model airplanes. We both couldn’t believe that with just a few simple formulas we could design and build our own models. I have kept that series of notes over the years and still follow those simple principles of model airplane design today.
Let’s talk about the basic design of a model airplane. When first coming to concept design you should think about a few questions about how you want your model to fly. Will the model be coach, game, intermediate, or any number of combinations? How big is the model you want to design and build? What type of power will you be using? Will the model be gas or electric? I’m going to use some general approximations to arrive at a model that, if built and tuned properly, will fly with little change from the original aircraft – nothing but the basic design.
Let’s start with a gas base model with a 60″ wingspan and a 12″ cable, driven by a .60 cu. in. 2-stroke engine. The numbers will be almost the same for an electric plane or one with a small or large engine and wings. So, dig out your calculator and follow along.
Wing Position and Method of Issue
The area of the wing is not more than the length of the wing X the chord. This will be a continuous wing wire 60″ long by 12″ wide or 60″X12″= 720 sq. in. Next, the Aspect Ratio or double wing, divided by the wing area (AR= B2/S) gives you. the basic idea of the flying characteristics of the model. High or low will determine if the model is a float or brick. It also helps determine the power required to fly the model. Using the formula and values so far:
B2/S=AR or 3600/720=5 or ratio or 5 to 1 (5:1)
Most sports models have an aspect ratio between 4:1 and 7:1. Less than 4:1 and become a NASA test pilot and more than 7:1 results in a glider type. Using the chart in figure 1 an aspect ratio of 5:1 results in a model with good overall handling and glide ratio. So, with the above considerations, a wingspan of 60″ with a chord of 12″ our total wing area is 720 sq. In. and the aspect ratio is 5:1. With this in mind we will continue on to the basic fuselage and use approximations to arrive at the dimensions of the basic fuselage.
Basic design of the fuselage
With our concepts from above we are ready to design the basic fuselage design. To keep this as simple as possible in designing a simple model airplane, we have set up the wings and cable of the model. We will assume that the fuselage will be 75% of the wingspan of the model and our formula will be 75% of 60″ or .75 X 60 = 45, so our fuselage length will be 45″. If we look at the side view of our model we know that the fuselage is basically two separate parts, the nose and the tail and the wing somewhere in between. In our example we will use a nose length of 20%, 11″ or the distance from the back of the prop to the leading edge of the wing. At this point we will not worry about C/G, as we will discuss this later in the design of the model. The tail moment will be twice the nose moment or 40% , 18″. This length is the distance from the moving wing to the leading edge of the horizontal stab. Yes, I know that to be clean in the design the length should be from the back of the prop to the C / G of the wing and the moment of the tail should be from the Wing C / G to the Tail C / G. This will involve a lot of calculations to reach the desired results. I try to keep it simple.
For many years I have considered the Horizontal Stabilizer to be in the range from 20% to 30% of the wing area. I usually use 22 to 23% in my designs. Please note that Deltas and flying wings are different designs and require different considerations. With our assumptions from above we will use 22% of the wing area. Therefore, 22% of 720 is equal to 158 sq. We’re going to round these numbers and just use a little math, so our cord will be 158/3=52 and the square root of 52 equals our cord of 7″. 21″. Our Stabilizer now has dimensions of 21″ X 7″.
Also over the years I have thought that the Vertical fin is in the range of about 1/3 of the horizontal Stab area. I usually take this from the top of the horizontal stitch to the top of the vertical end. So, again with a little math we can get to the basic design. The horizontal stab has an area of 158 sq. Using the square root or 52 we arrive at a Vertical Fin height of 7″ and a thread of 7.25″. Kind of a bad looking plane, so just adjust the altitude and the cable to get to a set of numbers that will keep about the same area on the vertical fin. One can add a dorsal fin to increase the area and reduce the length and width of the end profile.
In the next article we will look at all the design parameters, as there are still other concepts to consider. So far we have our basic design of a 60″ wing and a 12″ cable. Overall fuselage length is 45″ and nose moment is 11″ while tail moment is 18″ Horizontal stabilizer is 21″ X 7″ and vertical stabilizer is 7″ high. We still need to consider the location of the elevators, ailerons, and rudder. Also, push forward lines and event and of course Center of Gravity. Later I will discuss how to put a design into CAD and create a simple model of a flying airplane.
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