Design Class: How to draw simple RC airplane plans

by FliteTest | May 17, 2018 | (8) Posted in How To

After last week's Design Class drawing tutorial, let's take the design process to the next step - this article is all about creating your own plans the traditional way, with a pencil and ruler. We'll cover the equipment and techniques that makes it super easy for anyone to draw 1:1 scale RC airplane plans.

What you'll need

Of course, these days, many people use software to draw airplane plans. For this tutorial, though, I'm going to try and make it as simple as possible to help you come up with your own plans. For this reason, all you're going to need are a few physical items. 

First off, grab what you're going to be drawing on. In the past, I used large A1 sheets of paper until I discovered that you could use rolls of lining paper picked up from the DIY store. For how much paper you get, the price is great! Having large sheets to draw on is very handy when trying to draft a large 1:1 scale design. 

Rather obviously, you're also going to need to have something to draw with. Get yourself a few sharp pencils and put them in a pot. To keep these maintained, keep a sharpener somewhere nearby you can reach easily. Also, make sure to have a rubber in case you make a mistake. 

In terms of drawing aids, an ruler is an absolute must. Most of the time, a standard 12" (30cm) ruler is just fine, but often you might need to draw longer lines. For this, you're probably going to want to get yourself a meter ruler. 

Another few items you'll want to use is a (confusingly named) square. This helps to keep things, uhm, square! Perhaps get yourself a protractor too. This way you'll know the angles of things (such as the amount of dihedral in a wing).

Getting started

Find a nice big empty table to set to work on. Get yourself some coffee (or tea in my case) and get to work. 

You'll want to roll out your paper and keep it flat. I like to use either weights or electrical tape, which is easy to peel off the table, to keep everything level. Othertimes, a mug will work fine. 

If you're drawing a 1:1 scale plan, you're probably going to want to make sure that all of your electronics will fit inside the plane. A good way to set the size of your airframe is to work around your electronics. Simply lay them out on the paper and work out your dimensions. If you want to be scientific, you can also work out the weight of your electronics to base your wing area off. This way you get a more accurate idea of what sort of wing loading you'll have. 

I like to start with the fuselage when drawing my aircraft plans, but it's up to you where to begin. Ideally, you will have drawn a couple of initial 3-view diagrams picturing where you'll be putting your ESC, battery compartment and all of that, so it's just a matter of sticking some lines on the page to scale those sketches up. 

Occasionally you might want to draw a curve. I usually sketch out an arc lightly and then go back to darken the line when I'm happy with it. Work out the internal structure by drawing more lines that represent foam board/balsa formers. Try and make them 1:1 thickness.

Adding notes

Sometimes it's a good idea to write some notes alongside your plan. This helps you keep track of each component. 

Go to town and label things like servo locations, what size battery can fit in the compartment, types of material and general stuff like that. It's all about making it clearer for you to understand later on when it comes to building. I tend to do this in my sketchbooks in as well as on the final 1:1 scale plan.

Making it 3D

You might want to make a 'net' style plan. This is much like the way our FT plans are drawn. Essentially, the main parts of the wings and fuselage are connected together so you can simply fold them up and glue them together. 

If you want to keep things simple, you can just draw and cut out each piece separately before glueing them together. 

To translate your plan to the material, you could trace out the shapes of the plan onto another sheet of paper and cut them out. You could also make templates.

Another way would be to scan your plan into a computer. This way you can print out another to copy to cut up. 

In the end, you should end up with all of the pieces of your build ready to glue together! 

Next week, we'll be focusing more on of the practical side of design such as flying and modifying your designs to make them better fliers. 

How do you design your airplanes? Are you going to have a go at this? Let us know in the comments!

Article by James Whomsley

Editor of

Instagram @jameswhomsley


Crazed Scout Pilot on June 8, 2023
Great article brother! For me I find it harder to draw out every thing and then build all the pieces. What I like to do is, what I call, piece together were you add a piece of foam to the airplane and then cut it and shape it till it looks the way you want it to.
I did though try to design an airplane first drawing everything out and then building it. It was an F-16 and I think it turned out really well. I submitted for approval an article that I wrote about it, but it has not been posted yet.
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Design Class: How to draw simple RC airplane plans