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Flite Test & Foam Board Airplanes

It was late in 2014 when I first heard about Flite Test.  I had just finshed scratch building my quadcopter and had been flying it for nearly a month.  The quadcopter was the first of many RC projects that I would eventually build.  At that time, I had given no thought about building a conventional RC airplane.  It all started when a coworker saw a video of my quadcopter and we began discussing RC planes. 

Phillip and his brother Johnson always fly on News Years Day even if they don't get out any other day of the year.  The holiday was fast approaching when Phillip invited me to attend their flying day.  I brought my quadcopter with me but spent most of the time watching Phillip and Johnson fly a couple of fixed wing RC aircraft that they had made.  It was that day that I got hooked and also learned about a company called Flite Test.

Flite Test's origins goes back to a garage sized company that sold very inexpensive RC airplane kits.  They had got going some time before I got the flying bug.  That was really lucky for me because their kits were very inexpensive, compared to traditional RC plane kits.  And why so cheap you might ask?  Their airplane desings used inexpensive foam board.  Foam board is a sandwhich made from two sheets of paper with a layer of 3/16" thick polystyrene in the middle.  It is sized at 20" x 30".  You can purchase it at any Dollar Tree store for just $1 per sheet.  Flite Test also sells a water resistant foam board if you find yourself flying in a situation where your plane gets wet.  Regular foam board will delaminate if you get it too wet. 

 

cutting foam board

If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that I mentioned that Flite Test sold kits.  They also provide the plans and templates for free on their website.  This means you can download the plans, print your paper templates, tape it to the foam board, and start cutting your parts which are then glued together to make your airplane.

Speaking of glue, the Flite Test models are assembled using hot glue.  The big benefit of using hot glue is that it dries in seconds and it bonds quite well.  The drawback is that it adds a fair amount of weight to your model which means globbing it on your foam board adds uncessary weight which reduces the planes flight performance.  Don't worry, it isn't hard to learn to use it sparingly.

 

foam board building session on the kitchen table

Here is what a typical building sessoion might look like.  My wife was nice enough to doante a few items from her quilting room.  A razor sharp rotary cutter and a ruler makes those long straight edges on the model very easy to do.  I also use an Exacto knife to cut the smaller parts from the foam board.  Packing tape is another very hady item that is used to reinforce high stress spots on the airplane.  Popsicle sticks, coffee stirers, etc. are also useful items you'll end up using as you assemble the airplane.  You can see the hot glue gun at the right edge of the photo.

A laptop or dekstop PC is really handy because Flite Test provides you with on-line assembly videos that are great.  This is THE perfect way for someone to start confidently building their first RC model.  You can stop, reweind, and review a section of the video as many times as necessary before you begin cutting out those parts from the foam board.  Their videos show you how to cut, glue, and tape so even though you may have no experience, you'll still be able to put together a good looking aircraft.  The Flite Tet webite also has an active online forum so there are thousands of fellow foam board builders that are always willing to answer questions and offer suggestions.  Flite Test even has videos that cover the best hot glue gun to use. 

 

FT Storch made with Dollar Tree foam board

Here is another Flite Test foam board design which is called the "FT Storch".  It uses about 3 sheets of foam board.  I originally bought this one as a kit from Flite Test.  After receiving it, I used the pieces in the kit as my templates and then made duplicates of them.  I purchased the foam board from the local Dollar Tree store.  The red and blue colors on airplane are created using very thin colored tape.  I cut a piece to length and then stick it on the foam board.  A single edged razor blade or an Exacto knife is used to trim the excess tape away.  It isn't always "drop dead" pretty like it would be if you used an airbrush, but it is super quick and cheap to do and goes along with the $3 investment in foam board.  Three FT Storch models have been made from my original kit which I still have.  The first Storch was the primary RC airplane I learned to fly so it was repaired many times (cut out the damaged piece of foam board and replace it).  It finally got too crumpled to keep patching so I stripped the electronics from it, removed the landing gear, etc. and made a brand new one which then cost me $3. 

 

a mounted RC aircraft electric motor

A foam board kit from Flite Test does not include the electronics, a battery pack, or any other RC radio equipment.  Those items are needed to power and control the aircraft.  Flite test does offer various electronics kits, such as one including the electronic speed control, motor, servos, etc., and each of their models has a list of the required electronics or suggested electronics kit.  You can purchase one of the electronic kits from Flite Test or you can buy the various parts yourself from online retailers or your local hobby shop.  I think it is great for Flite Test to do this.  If I were to crash my FT Storch (and I have a number of times) so bad that it was easier to make a new one rather than patch up the old one, I could most likely salvage 80% to 100% of the electronics and use them in the new plane I make.  This greatly reduces the cost of the new plane.

To fly any of your RC models, you'll need a RC transmitter.  This is the shiny little box you see the RC pilots holding.  It has a mirad of switches and two joysticks that control everything in the model from motor speed to retractable landing gear.  The price range for these RC transmitter can impact your budget anywhere from $60 to well over $1000.  I spent about $225 on mine, a Taranis X9D Plus.  I'm not saying you should buy this particular model, but for me, it was the best solution for what I wanted to do in the RC hobby arena.  You will use the same RC transmitter for all of your models, so it is a one time purchase.

 

cutting out a foam board airplane

As I was looking for some photos, I found this one.  It has the fuselage template for an airplane I was making taped onto a piece of Dollar Tree foam board.  I printed out the template using my computer's printer and then pieced the pages together to make the full sized template.  I used blue painter's tape (easier to remove when done) to hold the template on the the foam board while I traced the outline of it with a pencil.  When the tracing was done, the paper template was removed and the foam board was cut.  From there, I followed Flite Test's on-line video to assemble the model.  Once you've made a few of these planes, you might find yourself making minor alterations such as adding flaps or converting a 3 channel model into a 4 channel model.  Even if you make a mistake, you're only out your time and a piece or two of foam board.  It doesn't get much cheaper than that. 

Since Flite Test's modest beginnings, they've expanded into quite a growing company.  You can now purchase so much more from their online store compared to when I bought my first kit.  But they haven't forgotten the new folks just coming into the hobby.  They still make great videos for all their models as they are released and continue to offer the downloadable plans so you can make your own from scratch.

That's about it for this write-up.  I wanted to introduce you to Flite Test.  Stop by their website and spend some time checking them out.  Foam board planes are a great way to get into the RC hobby without breaking the bank, and Flite Test is the best place to learn all about them.  Good luck!


 

 

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