How-To Article by: Geoff Barber (gabarber)Email Me
If you're like me, and I think a lot of you are, you just can't help but add a few easy details to your airplanes. One of the easiest way to add detail, without spending countless hours and dollars, is to install an instrument panel in the cockpit.
Now, the Super Cub I'm using for this article came with an instrument panel decal. I installed it when I built the plane, but after sitting in the sun at the field, the decal started coming loose and rolling up. At the time, I just pulled it out and threw it away, but it always bothered me to have that spot open on the dash.
I thought about purchasing an instrument panel, as there are a few places online that make them, but I thought "Why can't I just make it myself?" So that's just what I did. Follow along with me and you too can make your own instrument panels!
If you're adding your panel to a new airplane before you finish assembly, install it before the windshield/ canopy. If you're adding the panel to a finished airplane, remove the windshield/ canopy. Trace the outline of the panel on to a thick piece of cardstock- I just happened to have an empty check book cover handy, so I used it to trace on. After you have your pattern, simply cut out the pattern.
Make sure that your pattern fits, and trim any additional material if necessary. Once you're satisfied with the fit, trace the outline on to a piece of Balsa. The nice part here is that almost all modelers have some balsa on hand, regardless whether you build from scratch, kits, or even ARFs.
Cut out your panel from the piece of balsa, and sand it to fit. It's nice to have some basic building tools at this point, but a block and a piece of sandpaper will work fine too.
Double check the fit of your new panel at this point. One thing I did on my panel was to sand the top edge flush with the curve of the decking on the nose of me Super Cub.
It is time to figure out the layout of your instrument panel. The internet is a great place to find illustrations for this purpose, and that is where the gauges for my panel came from. You can just print out a panel and glue it in place, but then it's no different than having a decal. After I found the layout I wanted, I cut the holes in my panel with a piece of brass tubing sharpened to cut circles.
Next up was to finish trimming the holes to the correct size. This is easily done using a rotary tool and a sanding drum or grinding bit. I used two different bits and beveled the edge of each hole to give it a mare finished look. Sand the panel flat now, and get it ready for painting.
Depending on the panel you're making, and the plane it's part of, you can paint your panel any color you want. I chose to paint mine with a flat black acrylic crafting paint. If your panel is in an open cockpit, you will want to use a fuel-proof paint if the plane is powered by a glow engine.
As I wanted to have two different sized gauges on my panel, I printed two different sizes, and cut the gauges out, leaving some paper around them to glue them to the back of the panel.
Here's the mostly finished panel. The gauges are glued to the back of the panel with CA. I chose to cut a strip out of a small plastic bag and glued that strip to the panel before the gauges. This gives the gauges a shiny look. After the panel was installed, I drilled two holes and glued in small nails. these simulate the knobs and switches on a real instrument panel.
This is a very basic, straight forward instrument panel. From here, your panel is limited only by your imagination. You can make your panel as real as you want. There are different ways to make the gauges- I've heard of people using the plastic blister packs from cold medicine to make more realistic gauges.
I don't like to spend my hobby money on items that I can make myself. If you're like me, and you enjoy detailing your planes without spending a lot of money, the you'll definitely like making your own instrument panel!