RCU Review: Bill Pryor How to Crate/Ship a Giant Scale Airplane UPDATED!

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    Contributed by: Bill Pryor | Published: November 2005 | Views: 65280 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon

    Review by: Bill Pryor - updated 10/28/05


    I have seen many threads on bulletin boards asking how to build a crate, and how to ship it, but precious little published information on how to do it.

    I often see ads for planes that say you can pick them up, but they're too big to ship. Nothing is too big to ship. You might not be motivated to do it, but you can ship any size plane relatively painlessly and with reasonable confidence that it will arrive intact. People will often say that they don't have the time, but what I don't understand is why these same people are willing to spend 30-500 hours building their complex giant scale planes and then say they can't find 5 hours to build a simple box when they want to sell it.  As far as the cost goes, you can build just about any size crate for around $100 in materials. Just factor the cost into the price of the sale of the plane, or if you can, charge the buyer for all, or part, of the cost. I typically figure what I need to get for the plane including the crate, then don't charge for the crate. It's pretty easy to hide $100 in the sales price of a GS plane, but for some reason if you tell people they'll have to pay $100 for the crate they resist...which typically means a lost sale.
    Following is a step-by-step guide to shipping a giant scale plane. Most of it should apply to the majority of  planes (or helicopters), though you'll have to improvise on securing the plane depending on its construction and size. There are also some alternate packing methods I'll describe at the end of the article, plus some shipping carrier recommendations.
    The Stuff to Build It

    Crate Size: 79" X 34" X 24" - 75lbs
    Bill of Materials
    Quantity Description Each Total
    3 3/8" X 4' X 8' CDX plywood or OSB Board 15.00 45.00
    7 1"X2"X8' Doug Fir or Pine 1.50 10.50
    50 1 1/4" deck screw .10 5.00
    50 1" deck screw .10 5.00
    1 2"X4'X8" rigid foam insulation board 20.00 20.00
    1 30' soft foam wrap 7.00 7.00
    1 30' bubble wrap 7.00 7.00
    Total Cost $99.50
    Note: Costs will be more or less depending on your area and how much you already have in your garage. These same materials can build a larger crate too, depending on the dimensions of your box. Also, look at the alternate methods I mention at the end of the article to make sure there isn't a cheaper method to ship your plane if it's small enough.

    Step 1

    Here are the top, bottom and two sides of the crate ready to start assembly.  I built the ends out of scrap, joining two pieces together. I did this to avoid having to buy another sheet of plywood. In your application you may not have to do this depending on the size of the crate. There are no wood strips on the end pieces. The end pieces screw into the wood strips on the sides, top and bottom.

    Note: If you want to add a bit of extra strength to the crate, add wood glue to the 1"X2" strips before screwing them on. I didn't do this because I felt the crate was plenty strong enough as it was.

    Note: You can use any wood screws you want, but I chose self-starting, coated deck screws for ease of insertion and removal

    Sides: The 1"X2" strips are screwed (from the outside) onto all four sides with 1" deck screws. The strips are inset the thickness of the plywood all the way around. The inset depends on the thickness of the plywood, in this case 3/8".
    Top/Bottom: One strip is screwed on each end of the top and bottom. They should be inset the thickness of the plywood along the long edge, and the thickness of the strip at each end (3/4").

    Step 2
    Assembling the Coffin...
    I Mean Box

    Time to put the box together. First put the bottom of the box (top and bottom are identical at this point) onto a pair of saw horses.  Place one of the two end pieces on the bottom . Resting it on the small lip that should be sticking out beyond the screw strip. It should fit flush to the screw strip and the outside of the plywood should be flush with the bottom. Next put one of the sides on. Screw it to the bottom and the end you just put on.  Now you can put the other end on, and then the other side.  You're done with the box for  now.

    Note: Make sure and put plenty of screws everywhere.  This helps to add strength and doesn't take much effort (assuming you're using a power screw driver. If you're not, this is your excuse to go buy one!)

    Step 3

    You'll need to decide  how you plan to pack the plane and all of its components. There are several options for the wings, the one I used is one way. If your plane doesn't have a wing tube, you might pack the wings lengthwise along each side of the fuse in the same manner that I packed these wings on the bottom and top of the fuse.

    I first measured where I wanted the 2" rigid foam to cross the fuselage and support the fuse. On this plane I put it a bit in front of the tail group and just ahead of the canopy. I then figured where the wing half had to be in the rigid foam and roughly cut the foam in the shape of the wing, though large enough to accept the wing after being wrapped in bubble wrap.

    As you can see, I first wrapped the entire wing in thin soft packing foam to prevent scratching, and to provide some cushion. I then wrapped the sections that fit through the rigid foam in a couple of layers of bubble wrap.
    After cutting the foam for the wing I glued the rigid foam into the crate using 3M spray adhesive.

    Step 4
    Putting the Fuselage to Bed

    The rear of the fuselage rests on the padded wing, with the tail wheel clearing the bottom of the box by about a half inch.  I supported the front of the fuse with a large foam block constructed from 4  eight inch pieces of the rigid foam glued together. I glued this to the bottom of the box under the landing gear mounting area. I made this high enough to keep the wheels about an inch clear of the bottom of the box.

    I next cut a piece of the rigid foam to fit on top of the rigid foam that I had already placed in the box with the wing half in it. This went completely under the fuse with a cutout big enough to drop the fuse in snuggly with soft foam padding surrounding the bubble wrapped fuse. I now placed the fuse in the box with the tail resting on the wing in the rear, the foam padded rigid foam cradle, and resting on top of the foam block glued to the bottom of the crate.  The rigid foam cradle was glued to the sides of the box and to the rigid foam already in the box. The top of the cradle has sufficient clearance to prevent the lid from hitting it. You'll see later where I add rigid foam to reach to the lid at points where you want pressure to be transferred.

    The only thing remaining in this step was to cut a piece of foam to fit over the rear of the fuse. It slides down over the top of the fuse, holding it snuggly in place. Again, it is glued to the sides and the other piece of foam holding the wing.

    It is important that this is tight, and will not allow the plane to shift sideways because there is little clearance at the side of the horizontal tail (see photo on left). You can change this if you want and add more clearance, but it isn't really necessary as long as you have the fuse located well. The box is very rigid in this area.

    Step 5
    Putting the Fuselage to Bed - Details

    The picture on the right shows the wing under the fuse and the bubble wrap and soft foam padding. You can also see where the two pieces of rigid foam have been glued together

    Below  you can see the foam block that supports the fuse under the landing gear. This block keeps the landing gear from resting on the bottom of the box, so any bumps are not transferred through the gear to the fuse.

    Below is another picture of the block and you can see the clearance in front of the spinner. I did put a foam block over the spinner, but it really wasn't necessary as you'll see on the next page I located the plane using the wing tubes so it could not shift at all in the box.


    Step 6
    Keeping the Fuse From Moving

    The method I used to securely fix the fuse in the crate will only work if you have wing tubes in your plane. If you don't you'll need to come up with an alternate method to make sure the fuse can not  move without putting undo stress on the fuse.

    The method I came up with is fastening two 2X4 wood blocks together and drilling a slot in them the same size as the wing tube. It should be a close fit, but does not have to be a tight fit. I was only attempting to keep the plane from moving fore, aft, and upward. The foam block  under the landing gear kept the plane from moving down and the rigid foam cradles keep the plane from moving side to side. The hole is plenty deep so there is no pressure on the wing tube on the ends.

    Step 7
    Adding the Second Wing Half and Finishing Up

    The second wing half is added on top of the fuse in the same manner that the first one was packed on the bottom. The wing is again held snuggly in the rigid foam, but not too tightly.

    Rigid foam pieces are added to the top so it will contact the crate lid when it is closed. It is only over points on either side of the wing, not directly over the wing or fuse.  This is done so if any pressure is applied to the lid it will pass through to the bottom of the crate without adding pressure to the wing or fuse.

    You can also see the foam block I placed on the tip of the spinner, but I don't think this was necessary.

    Step 8
    Close it - Label It - Ship It!

    Add in any extras you have, such as plans, parts, documentation, etc., then close it up.....NO, WAIT! Take pictures of the contents first for insurance purposes (and to prove to the buyer the condition it was in when you shipped it)....now you can close it up....but check the note on shipping carriers below before you seal it up for good.

    Make sure and use plenty of screws. Now, get out the stencils and black spray paint and start spraying. Thanks to Michael Glavin for his post on the IMAC board regarding what should be stenciled on the crate. If you can't read it on the picture, the two messages that should be applied to all sides are "Fragile Aircraft Parts" and "Top Load Only". I also added an "Up" and arrow, and on the bottom I added "Other Side Up", but I built the crate to be safe in any position, and I think that's the way you should approach it too.

    You also need to write the "From" and "To" addresses on the crate too, though the shipper will also add their own labels.

      FYI, building a crate can take from about 4-8 hours from start to finish. My first one took me closer to 8 hours including shopping and travel time, and now it takes me from 3-4 hours.

    Alternate Methods

    1. Pack it in peanuts. If you have access to cheap Styrofoam peanuts in bulk, instead of all the foam wrapping and support, all you do is fill your crate, or cardboard box, full of peanuts, with the plane and parts floating in the middle. You do need to make sure you have ample clear space around the plane, but this is about the simplest, and yes, the safest way to "secure" the plane in your crate/box. I've received multiple GS planes from the Asia Pacific region in very large cardboard "crates" filled only with peanuts, and they've all arrived without any damage. BTW, the plane and parts stay put in the peanuts, they do not ship around during shipment, but make sure the crate/box is packed full.

    2. Use the original cardboard boxes, or make your own. For up to some 33% planes, you can ship in multiple cardboard boxes. It usually takes three. One for the fuse, one for the wings, and one for the engine, cowl and accessories. With this method you can ship up to some 33% planes via UPS/Fedex or Greyhound  for around a total $50 - $80.

    This is a picture of an H9 33% Extra fuse in a cardboard box I modified from the original shipping box. You can see the Styrofoam pieces I put in to help prevent the box from being crushed. The box just fit within the size restrictions for the above mentioned carriers. I did have to cut off the hinges for the rudder, which of course would have to be re-attached by the buyer, but that's a fairly simple task to have to do for the benefits gained shipping in this way. For the wings I used the original shipping box (you could make one pretty easily too), and for the cowl and engine I just bubble-wrapped them carefully in a third box.

    BTW, I typically fill the boxes with peanuts to be extra safe.






    UPS/Fedex Ground

    Maximum size: 165" - Length + Girth.

    Girth - The distance around your box at its widest point.
    Length - The longest dimension of your box.

    Maximum length: 108"

    Maximum weight: 150lbs


    Maximum weight: 70 lbs
    Maximum size: 130" - Length + Girth


    Maximum size: 30 inches X 47 inches X 82 inches.
    Maximum weight: 100lbs except with select routes it is 150lbs

    Maximum insurance: $1000. This usually works out ok if you use the alternate method #2 above, though you have to send them each as a separate shipment.

    Forward Air (www.forwardair.com)

    Pretty much unlimited size and weight. Remember, they go by dimensional weight when figuring costs on these.  In other words, with our relatively light content, you typically will get charged by the size of the box rather than the actual weight....so keep your crate as small as possible if you're shipping by Forward Air or any of the trucking or air freight companies.

    Special considerations: Forward Air requires room under the crate for a fork lift to pick it up. All you need to do is screw on a couple of 2X4s to the bottom. 

    Other Trucking lines

    Same as Forward Air, except typically more expensive, though you can get door-to-door service.

    Air Freight

    Southwest Airlines Cargo - This is the only one I've used, but others are available.

    Maximum weight: 150lbs
    Maximum size: Must fit in their cargo door - I don't have the max dimensions, but the crate in this article fit.

    Multiple crates can be shipped for one freight charge.

    Levels of service: Same day, 24 hour guarantee and standard freight (cheapest).

    Standard means it gets on the next flight space permitting. I used standard freight and I dropped the crate off with Southwest at 11 a.m. and it arrived in Tucson the same day at 4:40 p.m. The crate arrived in perfect shape. Rates can be relatively reasonable, even less than truck rates in some cases, so it is worth checking into if you're in a hurry, or the delivery location isn't too far away from you.

    Special considerations:

    1 - Southwest doesn't want anything on the bottom of the crate, such as runners for fork lifts as required by Forward Air. This is probably the same for all air freight companies because of the limitations of the cargo doors and loading methods.

    2 - One thing Southwest didn't tell me before I took the crate in, is that you have to open it for inspection before they'll take it.


    Buy it. As mentioned before, take pictures of the contents before closing the lid. It is very important to have this documentation if you need to file a claim. Each carrier handles insurance differently, and they're all pretty difficult to deal with, but you can get claims settled if you have your shipment properly insured and documented.


    40% 3W Extra in a long narrow box Same 3W Extra with all the accessories packed
    Proof - no plane is too large to ship - 40% Aeronca 40% AW Edge
    Spitfire - 88" one piece wing H9 33% Extra - Shipped via UPS

    I hope this article is helpful to you....now there are no more excuses! :-) Good luck, and have fun, shipping.


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