Scratch Building Tip: Making a Plan

by Willsonman | September 30, 2015 | (16) Posted in Tips


With the recent completion of my Sikorsky S-39 came questions about how I got such a large and detailed scale model built so quickly. Making a plan is just as vital as the glue and materials you select for any build. I'll go over some of the things that made the S-39 a success.


With every model comes the selection of many things. The subject for sure is the first priority. Are we building a 1930s float plane or a modern jet fighter? I used a series of forum polls to narrow down the field and gather interest in a project that would mainly take place of the course of 4 days.

After you have your subject you need to find plans or 3-views to work from and those will dictate parts such as hardware and electronics. Studying plans is very helpful for this selection and if you are building from 3-views you get to be more creative.

Russian website loaded with 3-views



Make an extensive list of the parts and incorporate direct links so you can easily find the parts when you go to order them. 

Sikorsky S-39 parts list

From this list you can manage your budget and see where possible changes can be made before you ever lift an x-acto blade to cut your costs. Overall the S-39 was in the $350-400 range, which is quite good considering the size and expensive hardware required. 

Then the goodies arrive to initiate proper motivation...

Time Budget

The more you build the better you will get at budgeting your time and estimating how long it will take to accomplish something. What you are really doing is setting goals. Like your parts list, write down the plan. Start with larger goals and then create subgoals.


  • 4 sections
  • hotwire cut
    • templates-10 minutes
    • cutting-60 minutes
  • Spars
    • pockets-30 minutes
    • glue-45 minutes
  • End caps-30 minutes
  • Tip shaping 60 minutes
  • etc.

When you beging to build review the plan frequently and see how you progress. I recommend a hard copy at first and make notes as you go so that you can revise you plan as you go. While I did have setbacks I made most of my goals by the end of FTFF. 

You can see from the video that due to circumstances I had to change my plans on-the-fly but becasue I had my plan and knew times I could re-budget and change my sequence. The video segments are out of order but you get the idea. 


This one is more difficult. It varies from person to person but for me there are two major things. 

1. Build composite. I build using composite materials because it builds fast. This means you can see the results of your labors much more quickly. It also means that your parts are less costly both in dollars and time, so if you make a mistake you do not get too discouraged. 

2. Build logs. One of the most beneficial aspects is to create a log of some sort to track your progress. as you review it you reinforce that you are doing well. Others reviewing the log can comment in and make suggestions that maybe you had not thought about. They can also offer additional encouragement. 

Sikorsky S-39 build log

Keeping tabs on your progress and taking time to really get into the build is really fun outside of the building itself. As you can see from my build log, I planned for 10 months. Lots of input from others and encouragement along the way.

Eyes on the prize

Taking small steps can be cumbersome toward the end of the project. I spent nearly the same amount of time in finish work as I did on the main construction for the S-39. I highly recommend doing your maiden with an unfinished airplane. The maiden is an adrenaline rush for sure but you also prevent yourself from spending more work on finishing only to discover that you built something wrong and you need to fix it, or rebuild after the crash. This is how my maiden went:

So in this case I recieved proper motivation to finish the rest of the project. As I finished a part or two I could take it back to the field for another sortie just to continue to take a break away and enjoy the building process. This allowed me to discover weak spots in the landing gear before I had a catastrophic failure after completion.


The end is a new beginning

As you conclude your build, the firends you shared it with and the new ones you made will cheer you on. Others will learn from you and you will be rewarded with an aircraft that not only looks good and flies, but tells one great story. Reflecting back on the build is new motivation to do another. I judge my builds by how motivated I am to do another one at the end of it. 

The results come from effective planning and the proof is in the following pictures: 


HilldaFlyer on October 4, 2015
Love the build!
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steadfast4life on October 4, 2015
How did you paint the pink foam? I've tried before and it won't stick well. Your project turned out great!

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Willsonman on October 4, 2015
Thank you! If you follow the link above to the build log you will see the methods I used for finish work outlined in great detail.
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Thorsclaw on October 5, 2015
don't forget for more great 3 views
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markyoe on October 4, 2015
Wow! I saw the nearly finished stage of the Shell plane a couple months ago and love how it turned out. Great work!
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2bflown on October 4, 2015
Amazing! Like the article and even like the plane more!

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winglet on October 4, 2015
Outstanding in every way!
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ncsky on October 4, 2015
What a beautiful job!
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PeterGregory on October 7, 2015
Very nice. I love the nostalgic colors and markings. What did you use for the engine nacelle?
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justplanemike on June 1, 2016
Hello, I spent some time with you at Flite fest as you built. I learned a lot.
The plane turned out great! Looking forward to seeing what your up to this year!
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Willsonman on June 6, 2016
Lots more flying! The Sikorsky will be making the trip so you can see it in-person in all its finished glory. I'll be presenting three sessions for the Building Series. You may have caught the foam cutting but I did not get to fiberglass work while at the event. Its an easy technique to learn. Something to consider!
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Scratch Building Tip: Making a Plan