Balsa wood model airplane kits

I’ve been doing some googling for my father, about making model airplanes from balsa wood. He’s in a nostalgic mode, and remembering the multi-piece balsa wood models he used to glue together, when he was a boy(late 30’s to very early 40’s) I think they ran with a rubber band.

Now I’ve found several sites selling model kits, some rather expensive, some cheap, but I’m not sure how closely any of them would approximate the kits he would have used. I’m pretty sure the planes he speaks of weren’t gliders, as Dad also mentions many pieces. They weren’t just snap together, you had to use glue, and maybe cut some pieces from a pattern. Not entirely sure about that last part. The kits must have been very cheap, even allowing for cost of living increases, as Dad’s family had very little money.

If there are any model airplane fans that could advise me on which kits are best, or most like the old ones, I’d sure appreciate it. Dad is hard to find gifts for, and this would make a cool Father’s Day present. I will of course keep on searching myself, but I know diddly-squat about model planes, especially any old ones.

I made a few of them when I was a kid, and they varied in complexity. They could be turned into gliders, but mostly they were for display.

The mid-range kit would have balsa with various parts scored so you could punch them out. You’d then glue them. It was different from plastic models in that the pieces were more like what you might use in construction of an actual (wood) plane: the wing was made up of sticks for rigidity, plus curved cross-section pieces. You’d glue it all together according to a diagram (the pieces were placed on the diagram) and hold the pieces down with straight pins. Once you glued the balsa, you’d cover it with tissue paper, which was shrunk, either with water or with something known as “dope.” Once the paper shrunk and dried, you could paint it.

The expert kits just had sheets of balsa, with maybe a template to use to cut it out with an XActo knife. But these are probably too big a project if your father hasn’t made one in awhile.

I’d check into kits made by Guillow. I built some of their kits in the 70’s and I’ve recently seen that they still sell some of the same designs.

Guillow still makes balsa kits. I can recommend the ‘Arrow’. It flies great. It’s the best-flying Guillow’s plane I ever built.

Comet and Sterling also make balsa kits, but I never built a Comet kit (I have one, though) and only a couple Sterlings.

I have a box of Guillow’s kits just waiting to be built. I’ll do it too, when I have the time and space. And yes, I have at least one Arrow to build.

Off topic, but if your dad should ever want to build a gas-powered free flight kit, definitely try to find the Sniffer by Midwest. I built one when I was 13 or 14, and it flew great on its Cox .020 Pee Wee engine. There was a larger model as well, called the Super Sniffer, that used an .049 Babe Bee engine. I have a couple of Sniffers and a Super Sniffer in my box-o-balsa planes. :slight_smile:

Here’s Guillow’s Arrow, BTW. Again, this one’s an especially nice flier. Better than the Guillow’s scale models I’ve built.

No joy finding a photo of a Sniffer, but I did see that plans for the Super Sniffer are available from Freeflight Models. The parts would have to be cut from sheet balsa; but the wing ribs are all the same, so you could make a template.

These sound exactly like what my dad talked about, especially the part about painting the paper. Do you know if this type is still made?

I’ve looked at the Guillow site too, but haven’t seen anything like the above. Maybe I’m missing it. I found a couple of kits on eBay, and have emailed questions to the seller about them.

Thanks for the help I am getting!

Is your dad in for a treat! Kits these days are worlds better than they were when he was a kid and the CA (cyanoacrylate or “super glues”) for balsa are incomparably better than Duco Cement. If he’s building “static” (not intended to fly), “scale” (look like the real thing) planes Guillow’s WWI (World War I) models are terrific and now feature laser-cut parts. For smaller models that fly beautifully (even I can make one of these fly) try Peck Polymers, especially their Nesmith Cougar, which flies well and is very easy to build.

Ah, Sniffer! I always wanted to build one of them.

Did you go to the Guillow website, or just the link to the Arrow? Guillow’s kits are exactly as RealityChuck described.

Thirty-three bucks. Not bad. I wish I had known about that site a couple of years ago when I bought two vintage 1970s kits off of eBay!

Maybe I was 15 or 16 when I built one of those (although I could have been 13 or 14). I painted the fuselage white without covering it with Silkspan. The wings just had clear dope on them. Man, did that think fly! A couple of years before, I’d lost a Super Sniffer because I didn’t do the dethermaliser. Being older and wiser, I did put the pop-up tail on this one. On its first flight, the Sniffer flew in large, graceful circles. The dethermaliser popped before the engine stopped, and it made a series of accellerated stalls. When the engine quit, it stalled and recovered, and stalled and recovered, and stalled and recovered… But in the summer desert air, it went quite a distance and I had to chase it down on my trusty Yamaha 100 Enduro. What a plane! :slight_smile:

As I said, I have a Super Sniffer kit waiting to be built. I’m thinking of putting a two-channel radio in it (elevator and rudder) when I finally get around to building it. Maybe I’ll use the plans to build another one from scratch. With a large, often calm, bay just down the hill from me, it would be neat to build or buy floats for it.

I’m thinking of going electric and two channels, power and rudder, with a little down elevator built into a right turn to pull her out of a thermal and bring her home.

Any good hobby shop will carry what you’re looking for…the Guillow’s and Comet models haven’t changed much since I was a kid…still the kind of stick-built models you’re seeking. Tissue-paper covering (shrunk with water, THEN doped to seal before painting) is cool in a retro kind of way, but the newer plastic-film, heat-shrunk covering rally rocks…and it lets you see the construction theough the covering, if you use the transparent colors. Really easy to work with, too. CA-type glues have totally revolutionized the construction process.

I used to love building these things. I got back into radio-controlled flight about 15 years ago…until I realized that I got more enjoyment out of building than I did out of flying…and rebuilding after the inevitable “Farmer Brown” (“He planted it…”).

If you really want to get masochistic, there are plans available for scratch-built models (no kit…just buy the balsa stock). Pick up a copy of “R/C Modeler” at your local hobby shop.

If you want to get into R/C, I’d recommend gliders. I’m particularly fond of the Carl Goldberg “Gentle Lady” or the “Sophisticated Lady”…beautiful models that fly sweetly and look just as good displayed statically. It’s a near-six-foot wingspan, though…
The Sophisticated Lady

A word of warning, though…you’re dangerously close to the High School Model Rocketry Club, here. :slight_smile:

Incidentally, here is a photo of Guillow’s B-24 Liberator where you can see the typical construction of their models. In the fuselage you can see the ‘formers’, and in the wings you can see the ribs and spars. The shape is ‘filled out’ with the ‘stringers’, which are the thin strips. Once the frame is built and sanded, it is covered with clear dope. When the dope is dry, the edges are doped again and the frame is covered with tissue. After the dope gluing down the tissue is dry, the tissue is sprayed with water so that it shrinks. When the tissue is dry and tight, it is painted with dope.

Note that the B-24 pictured is a display model. The flying models use the same construction, and are powered by rubber motors. Some of them can be fitted with Cox .020 or .049 engines for free flight or control line flight.

Guillow’s is known for its flying scale models. I’ve found that the 300-series (GA aircraft) fly fairly well. The 200-series (WWI) fly okay, but I never could get the Fokker to fly very well. The Nieuport 11 is a better flier.

The 600-series are the ‘simple build-by-number kits’. I built the Lancer and found it to be rather fragile. I think these kits use thinner wood, and can warp if you’re not careful.

As I said, the Arrow is the best of the bunch in my opinion.

Does Guillow even use flying-quality balsa on anything? Everything I’ve built had crappy, heavy, splintery balsa. Peck Polymers uses very good balsa, very light and easy to work with.

For a while it seemed that the classic stick-and-tissue method of model building was going to end because of environmental concerns and loss of wild habitat for the balsa tree but most is now grown on plantations. It’s a cool wood!

Check out the Old Time Nostalgia and the Old Time Replica links on the site that dropzone already linked to.

Supposed to be authentic replica models from the 1930’s and 1940’s

If your dad just wants to build a plane, and not necessarily a replica of the kinds of planes he built as a kid, I recommend an electric ‘park flyer’. Small airplanes designed to be flown from schoolyards. He won’t need a license, a membership to an R/C club, or insurance to fly it. You can get sophisticated wood models, or inexpensive foam planes that can be built in an evening.

With modern battery technology, these planes can fly for about as long as you can stand (an hour on a charge), have great performance, and they’re great fun.

I used to fly larger sailplanes and .40 gas powered planes. But I found over the years that I gave it up due to the hassle. Driving to the R/C field, the mess of the gas and oil, the time it took to build the planes, etc. Just too much for me. These little park flyers are great - you can pick it up on a whim, walk or drive to the nearest schoolyard, fly around for half an hour, and go home. All my other planes and gear are collecting dust now.