Design Class: How To Fail (And Then Succeed)

by FliteTest | August 7, 2018 | (8) Posted in Tips

Designing airplanes is a tricky business. Sometimes it can be really hard! Here's how you make progress in the face of setbacks.

Recently, Jeremy experimented with his second design here at Flite Test. This was a Curtis biplane based on a 1920s design to go along with the Porco Rosso Airplane he came up with a few months ago. Unfortunately, the process wasn't quite as straightforward as he'd hoped. Based on this experience, here's how you get around setbacks when designing RC airplanes.


Before you continue reading, watch the video (if you haven't already). 

When you know you messed up

Here's Some Advice:

When something goes awry, it can be confusing, frustrating and a little depressing. To help you get past the barrier of failure and towards success, here are five top tips for when you make something that doesn't want to fly. 

1. Take a step back

It always helps to get some perspective on matters, so breath, take a break and simply look at your problem. Although it may not be immediately apparent, there will always be a scientific reason for why your airplane didn't work. Making sure that you take some time out to think is very important for finding it. 

2. Design to fail

There's every possibility that your new design won't work. It's all part of the game. There's also the possibility that it might end up getting destroyed on the first flight.  For this reason, don't spend a whole lot of time making the plane look gorgeous. Instead, leave the painting and decorating until later. If your prototype proves itself as a great flyer, then you can make it look like a work of art! Remember, when it comes to flight testing, things don't always go to plan. 

3. Make small adjustments

Sometimes it might only be a single tiny issue getting in the way of a successful flight. Try having a look at the size of the tail, for instance. On Jeremy's biplane, it turned out that the stabilizing surfaces were too small. This meant that the biplane, with its large floats, wouldn't track straight. Try modifying things like this and then simply try again! 

4. Make major adjustments

Sometimes you might have to resort to cutting up foam and sticking it back together again in new ways. Lop off the wings and build some new ones. Rip out your powerpod and try a new motor. Discard the landing gear and make it a belly-lander. Go wild and try not to care too much about the aesthetics. It's all about experimentation until you reach that glorious end result. 

5. Build something else

Unfortunately, it may end up being the case that you have to go back to the drawing board. It's not fun to admit defeat, but at least it means that you're trying! If your design still isn't working after making lots of modifications, move onto something new. Try building something that's entirely different; if you made a small stubby biplane, try designing a larger, sleeker monoplane. Hey, there are a lot of different plane types out there! Just keep trying.

Finding Success

Thankfully, Jeremy's plane did find a modicum of success. It managed to fly straight and level without trying to destroy itself, which is a marked improvement. 

The aircraft looks fantastic and will be a good match for the Porco Rosso plane in the flight video! 

The aircraft is made almost entirely of water-resistant foam board meaning it will be great to fly from a lake! 

As mentioned in the video, it used the fuselage from an SE5 and the wings from the Porco Rosso plane.

Keep building, keep testing and keep trying new things! 

Article by James Whomsley

Editor of


Jackson T on September 14, 2018
James, your fleet looks incredible! I wish I could build and paint like that!
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kilroy07 on August 7, 2018
I would like to personally thank Jeremy for making the video and keeping the candid moments in there!

Sometimes (especially for Noobs like myself) you look at the fantastic kits that FT produces (Such as the new Edge) and it would be easy to think they are superhuman!

Due to the build contests in the forums I am getting out of my comfort zone and attempting to design my own planes and let me tell ya, It Ain’t Easy!

So thank you for sharing that things don’t always go as planned for you as well, that alone gives me hope and determination to keep going.

P.S. Keep up the great work Jeremy, I love the designs you’ve been working on!

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Dave B on August 7, 2018
When do the plans for the SE-5/Porco Rosso come out?? Another great job Mr. Whomsley.
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Design Class: How To Fail (And Then Succeed)