The vast majority of modern RC airplanes are factory-built to some degree. It is no longer mandatory to spend long hours cutting, gluing, and sanding pieces of balsa wood to create a flying model. But for many, the process of transforming lightweight lumber into a flying machine is their favorite aspect of the RC hobby. There is certainly an enhanced sense of pride when your hand-built creation takes to the skies.
Building from kits is now a niche segment of aeromodeling. It was still the norm, however, when I got into the hobby as a kid in the 1980s. So, I learned basic building skills by necessity. I still use those skills today when building a modern kit or repairing a factory-built ship.
Some aspects of building balsa models can appear rather intimidating. But don't worry. It's all pretty easy once you break it down. In this article, I will walk you through the basic elements of what is involved.
About the ElectriCub II
Like so many other aspects of RC, balsa kits have benefitted from new technologies. Most new airplane kits are designed with CAD software and manufactured by laser cutting. This produces clean, sharp edges and parts that fit together perfectly (well, usually).
Not so long ago, kit components were produced by die-cutting. A cookie cutter-like tool would stamp the parts from balsa sheets. This process works fine so long as the die is sharp. But it was not uncommon to find parts with crushed or unfinished edges.
The example kit here, a Great Planes ElectriCub II ($100), is a bit of a hybrid. The design dates back to the 1990s and it was originally produced as a die-cut kit. The version you can buy today has most of the legacy die-cut parts, along with some updated pieces that are laser-cut.
Electric-powered models from the 90s are my favorite genre of airplanes to build. Power systems of the time used brushed motors and Ni-Cad batteries. The brushless motors and LiPo batteries of today can output significantly more power at far less weight. Upgrading to a modern power system often requires a few airframe modifications, but the performance boost makes it worthwhile.