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Lesson from a cheap garage sale plane - improper build

A lesson learned from a cheap garage sale airplane

One Day I received a call from my dad, he was at a garage sale that had a cheap RC airplane for sale. “Five Dollars!” he said. Since my dad knows very little about R/C stuff I asked questions to draw clues as to they type of plane and its condition. The most I got out of Dad was: “It’s red, the wing is on the bottom and the upright part in the back is broken, but still attached by its skin”. I figured what the heck the price was just too good to pass, so I asked him to pick it up for me.

Later that day, my dad arrived at my house with the prize. The plane was smaller than expected as it was likely powered by a .25 size glow engine. It was built from a kit several years ago and surprisingly in good shape. Even though the vertical stab was broken, it would require less than a couple hours to repair. Fortunately I still had a roll of the same color Monokote to make the repair.

The plane did not have an engine or any radio gear installed; however everything was ready to drop right in, all control linkages were still there. The servo arms were even still attached. As I examined the plane dad relayed the story of the plane, as it was told to him by the previous owner.

Apparently the gentleman, who had never flown R/C before, spent a couple months building the plane. Then watched it crash immediately upon takeoff on its maiden flight, with an “instructor” at the controls. To this day the guy is still fairly peeved that the instructor let it crash. This is where I found my dad was little more in tune to R/C than I thought. He asked what is the chance that crash was caused by faulty construction rather than the guy flying it? I told him the odds were pretty good but since I did not see the crash nor do we still have the engine and radio installed to examine all elements, a cause would be hard to determine.

Well shortly after those words came out my mouth, not only was cause easy to determine, it practically jumped out of the plane and said; “here I am!” I’m 99.9% certain it was due to a faulty elevator pushrod control. The control for the elevator was Nyrod (nylon rod), which is a nylon tube-in-tube pushrod system. As those who have experience with Nyrod know it must be well support at many points along its length to work correctly, and as you may have guessed, this one was not. The only support with this was where it exited the rear of the fuselage.

Sullivan Gold-n-Rods

I showed my dad how moving the Nyrod at the servo end made the elevator move; however when I placed just the slightest amount of resistance on the elevator, the Nyrod easily buckled inside the fuselage when pushing from the servo end. This plane was doomed before it even left the ground.

So who was really is at fault here? We can certainly say the builder carries a lot of blame. However if this was truly the guy’s very first airplane, he didn’t have the experience to know the Nyrod was not installed correctly and that the control the surfaces would be worthless when meeting some resistance from the rushing air.

I have to place blame with the experienced modeler who flew a plane that was obviously not airworthy. He either missed this flaw during a preflight or didn’t give it proper preflight at all.

When piloting the maiden flight of an airplane our responsibility goes far beyond just controlling the plane. Not only should we thoroughly check out an inexperienced modeler’s plane prior to flight for airworthiness but we should thoroughly preflight planes built by guys that have plenty of experience building and flying as well.

The lesson here is; as the pilot in command we are responsible to make sure the aircraft is airworthy prior to the flight, just as if it were our own plane.  Just remember to take the necessary steps to keep from turning somebody’s pride and joy into a $5.00 garage sale item.

What is your experience here? I’ve seen many new modelers with new planes come to the field and be told to fix a few things before an “instructor” is willing to fly it.  Have you ever had to play this card or have you been sent home flightless to fix a few items?

* When checking the airworthiness of an airplane prior to its first flight it’s best to use a maiden flight check list making sure you check ALL points. A printable checklist is available on this site at this link.  Preflight checklist

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