Assembling Your First Plane

When you buy a plane, it is usually shipped to you in multiple pieces. You will have to put the plane together before you are able to fly it. All planes are different and will be assembled differently. The goal of this tutorial is not to teach you how to build any individual plane, but rather to just give you some quick pointers that will help you get through it. For advice on a specific plane, I recommend you hit youtube and look for someone's build video. Also check some of the popular forums to see if there are any common problems with your plane. You'll want to deal with possible structural or build issues while you assemble it, not afterwards.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time building this plane. Allocate 3-4 hours to work on it. While its possible to throw together a lot of planes in 30-40 minutes, you don't want to do this. Take your time, go slowly and double check everything before you do it. You will only build it once, and you will want it done right. Don't be afraid to check the fit or alignment of the parts before you glue things on. You are going to want to take as long as you need, and pay attention to all the details.

The Unobxing

For the purpose of this module, we'll assume you've bought an "almost ready to fly" (ARF) or a "ready to fly" (RTF) plane. If so, your plane might look like the above picture when its unboxed. Along with all of these parts, there will be an instruction manual. With a lot of manufacturers, this document will be completely worthless as it will be composed in poorly written Chinglish (badly translated English). Try your best to read through it and make sense of things before you even touch any of the plane parts. At this point it will be a good idea to look at the parts list in the manual and make sure that you have all the pieces you are supposed to have.

After you've verified that all of the parts are there, begin inspecting them. You will want to look for major defects BEFORE you start gluing things together. For one, the seller of the plane will probably assume you've crashed it if you say your fully assembled plane has a broken piece. They will want pictures of the unattached part. Also, if you epoxy a broken piece onto the plane, its going to be hard to remove it. Epoxy usually makes a very strong bond, so its likely the foam will start separating before the glue does if you try to pull it off. This means you'll have even more damage to your plane, and you won't have even flown it yet!

Starting the Assembly

Before we start putting everything together, its a good idea to have the following items: 5 minute epoxy, hot glue, popsicle sticks, an Xacto knife or a razor blade, those tiny jeweler's screwdrivers, paper towels, sand paper and packing tape. You may not need all of these supplies, but they are good to have just in case. You may be wondering about the glue they give you with the plane. To say this bluntly, that glue is usually garbage and isn't worth the risk of using.

Gluing the wings and tail on is probably going to be your first step. Be sure that you are are gluing white foam to white foam. If there is any paint on there, be sure to sand it off. If you do not sand off the paint, you will be gluing your wings to a surface that will easily remove itself. If you can't remove the paint, or even if you just think the glue joint won't hold, there is a little trick that can help make a stronger bond. Take one of the smaller jeweler screw drivers, and poke some small circular holes throughout the two pieces you are gluing. Keep the holes small, and keep them well within the center of the gluing surface. When you cover it with epoxy, make sure these holes fill with epoxy. This will allow the epoxy to bind to a greater surface area and almost create the equivalent of a rivet into that surface..

When you are ready to glue, you will want to use 5 min. epoxy for anything that is supposed to make a permanent bond. Mix the two part epoxy, and use a popsicle stick to apply it to both of the surfaces you need to glue together. The epoxy is easy to spread thin, so you don't actually need to use THAT much, but its better to have a little extra than too little. Remember, you have about 3-4 minutes before the epoxy starts to become unusable, so you can't take too much time. If you stop to push out more glue and mix it, you may end up having the glue dry out. When you have the surfaces covered in epoxy, you will take your wing (or whatever you are gluing) and press it with a little force onto the plane. As you press down, excess glue will likely shoot out the sides. Just take a paper towel and remove the excess glue. Once all of the excess is removed, focus on keeping the wing properly aligned. Its helpful to have a friend with you stand a few feet back, just to make sure nothing glues on crooked. Try to keep things as even as possible. Repeat this for any other surfaces you need to glue.

The Smaller Pieces

After the major parts have been glued on, you will need to work on the smaller components. You will probably have to put the control horns on the surfaces (ailerons, rudder, and elevator). Some of the horns will be screwed in, while others will need to be glued. In order to be safe, its a good idea to throw some hot glue on top of the base of the horn. In fact, if there is anything you think might not be secure, always throw some hot glue over it - just try not to overdo it, hot glue is heavy.

At some point, you are going to have to attach the propeller. You will need to make sure you glue on the cowl, the piece covering the motor, BEFORE you put on the propeller. After the cowl is on, you'll need to put the prop adapter over the motor shaft. From there, you will put the propeller over the adapter, and then tighten it on with the nut or screw that came with the collet adapter. Its important to make sure its tight and secure, but be careful you don't overdo it. Don't force the nut/screw on for more than half a turn.

We are now making some progress. Now is a good time to open the plane up and start connecting the electronics. Some times you will need to connect the ESC to the motor, but this is rare with ARF or RTF planes. Its usually already mounted in there for you, and the connections are already made. If you need to know how they connect, I suggest you read the section on ESC's and the other electronics. Typically all you will really need to do is connect the servos into the receiver. If the receiver is new, you will want to make sure its binded to your transmitter first. See the instructions for the Tx and the Rx if you don't know how this is done. If its binded, you just connect the 3-pin connectors to the appropriate places. On some receivers, the connectors will actually be labeled by the control surface they will move. For all others, they will be labeled by channels. In most cases, channel 1 is ailerons, CH 2 is elevator, CH 3 is throttle, CH 4 is rudder. You will want to verify this, as some manufacturers do not follow this convention. Its important to note that the servo cables can be put on the connector backwards, so make sure the black wire matches up with the negative (-) pin on the receiver.

Finally, you will want to slip on the pushrods and thread on the clevis attachment for each one. Put the battery in the plane, and let all the servos center first. If you don't plug in the battery, the servos will likely not be centered, and any alignment you perform will be useless. With all the servos centered, do your best to clip the clevis on to the control horn while keeping the control surface as centered as possible (i.e. ailerons, rudder and elevator should be flush and not raised). Every millimeter counts, and if you align the ailerons, rudder, or elevator even a little off center then you will need to adjust the sub-trim in order to fix this. While this is perfectly fine, I like to keep all my control surfaces mechanically centered. I, personally, don't want to use the transmitter at all to make these adjustments. The main reason is that, on more than one occasioned, I've had my transmitter settings accidentally wiped or altered. If I relied on trim or sub-trim, I'd have to do quite a lot of work to get these planes flying level again. The chances are, you will still need *some* adjustment on the transmitter once you get up in the air, but that is ok. The goal is just to minimize the amount of work and adjustments you need in the air by getting it done right when its on the ground.

At this point, there won't be much left to assemble. You will have to do some small things, like snap on the gear and add velcro to the battery and battery compartment. The velcro is a pretty important step, as you don't want your battery moving around at all. Velcro will hold it in place, even with heavier batteries. You will also want to velcro the receiver to ensure it doesn't move around. Again, you should also hot glue anything that you think shouldn't move. If anything was glued by the manufacturer, assume it will come off unless you add glue to secure it. Double check all the surfaces, and all of the connections. If anything doesn't seem right to you, take the time to investigate it so that it doesn't become a problem later on.

Finally, before you are ready to take this plane to the field, its a good idea to mark where the ideal Center of Gravity should be. The manual should have the measurement showing how far back from the front of the plane the CoG should be. This is usually a range, like 90mm-100mm. You will want to make three marks that will signify this range: front, center and back. This will help you identify whether you are outside of the bounds of the acceptable CoG set forth by the manufacturer. After this step, you are ready to fly!

Click Here for the Next Section (Your First Flight)

Supplemental Videos From the Web

Nitroplanes Build Video #1

Here is an example of a build of an RTF RC airplane from . This is a very good start to finish video and if you choose to buy a plane, you really should look for videos similar to this. It will give you a good heads up on any weird or problematic circumstances you may encounter.

Generic Build Video of F-22

This video is a good example of what you will find on youtube if you look around a bit. You get a very good idea on what is involved before you assemble the airplane. It will also give you an idea of the build quality before you purchase the plane. I'd look around for stuff like this before you purchase anything.

Click Here for the Next Section (Your First Flight)

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