This week, James Whomsley builds a small, free-flight model of the Cessna Bird Dog.
The Vintage Model Company is attempting to recapture the spirit the lost age of balsa models through its brand new 'stick and tissue' aircraft designs. They're a pretty new company on the aeromodelling scene, but they've already made an impact. They sent me a couple of kits, so here's my review of the first - a Cessna Bird Dog.
Getting started with the build
The box that the kit comes in is very nicely designed. Yes, it's just a cardboard box, but I appreciate the attention to detail. The aesthetic looks vintage and yet feels clean, modern and precise - just like the kit itself. There's a nice picture of the model to show you what you'll end up with. Each one of these kits costs around £25 in the UK (which is about $32). Not bad at all.
The primary sections of the Cessna to assemble were the wing sections. The center 'hub' was the first part to go together. Each balsa part of this kit is laser cut to extremely fine margins. When I visited the HQ of the Vintage Model Company, I was shown how they were able to get the tolerances so tight - it was impressive to say the least. The results of this attention to detail can certainly be felt when assembling the model. You almost don't even need glue!
Each wing was then assembled from the pre-cut laser ribs. Stringers lined the top and bottom for extra strength and form.
When building a balsa model from a board like this, it's important to try to avoid sticking pins directly through thinner spars, ribs and formers. If new to this medium, check out my article guide for getting into building balsa wood airplanes.
When prised from the board, the finished wing sections were sanded and put aside ready for covering.
The tail sections were also built up at this stage. Again, these were sanded smooth. They went together very easily. Although the manual has detailed instructions, aside from finding the right components, the actual assembly of these parts was very intuitive.
Moving onto the fuselage, this section was mostly assembled away from the main board (which made for a refreshing change). Starting with the sides, formers were added to create a three-dimensional structure. Unfortunately, the components themselves aren't numbered meaning that a reference drawing has to be used to find every part. This adds some unnecessary time to the build, especially as there are at least 100 individual parts to this small kit, but it isn't a massive deal.
The largely finished fuselage appeared before my eyes relatively quickly, owing in part again to the way parts just slot together with ease.
Stringers made up the turtle decks and nose. As this is a free-flight model with a rubber band motor, the nose itself is another piece that is carved from several laminated pieces of balsa stuck together.
With all of the major components completed, an appreciation for how the finished model will look can be gained.
Overall, this first stage of the model's construction has been a great experience. As mentioned repeatedly, it all goes together so smoothly and with a fuss. I had a small problem with getting the dihedral of the wings equal on both sides, but that was probably down to my lack of skill rather than anything! A beginner to balsa wood would absolutely fine building one of these Magnificent Flying Machine models. The whole airframe feels lightweight but very strong, just as it should do.
Look out for part 2 in this build series coming soon!
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Article by James Whomsley
Editor of FliteTest.com