On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright accomplished the first sustained, manned flight of a powered, heavier-than-aircraft. Arguably the Wright Flyer holds the most important place in the history of aviation, and it’s fitting that Great Planes would produce a first class R/C replica of the Wright Flyer on the 100th anniversary of its legendary flight. I also believe it is fitting that it is a park flyer, suited to slow flight on miniature grass fields in the backyards around the world.
Great Planes has done a great job capturing the essence of the nostalgia evoked by the sight of this plane. With excellent detail and a great stand-off scale look, it also offers something the original didn’t have….great flying characteristics.
Wright Flyer complete and ready to fly. (Notice the profile pilot)
Kit Name: Wright Flyer ARF Electric Powered R/C Airplane
Manufacturer: Great Planes
Street Price: $89.99
Wingspan: 31 3/8 in. (795 mm)
Wing Area: 312 sq. in.
Canard Area: 64 sq. in.
Length: 24.5 in. ( 622 mm)
Ready to fly weight: (Factory) 11.6 oz. (330 g)
(Actual) 12.0 oz.
Wing Loading: 4.5 oz./sq. ft.
Radio System: Futaba 6XAs transmitter
(2) Futaba S3108 Micro Servos; one aileron, one elevator.
ElectriFly 4 channel FM receiver.
Electrifly Speed Controller
Channels Used: 3 total: aileron, elevator, throttle/speed controller.
- 3-channel radio with 2 micro servos
- 5-6 minute epoxy
- Hobby Knife
- Double-sided foam tape
- Sandpaper and sanding block
- Small Phillips screwdriver
Simple, quick assembly
Easy to fly
Resistance to stall
Kit Contents and Manual
Great Planes claims a 2 hour assembly time for this kit. I was highly skeptical of this number since manufacturer’s claims typically are highly exaggerated. Let’s find out how realistic their claim is.
Instead of doing a blow-by-blow of the assembly, since that’s what the manual is for, and it does an excellent job, I’ll try to highlight any difficult spots, or areas you should watch out for. To be honest there weren’t many steps that need clarification. The manual is well laid out, with excellent detail and plenty of pictures. My one nit on the manual is that the pictures aren’t as clear as they could be. This is due to the quality of the page duplication and not the image quality. I would like to see a bit higher quality in the copying process so it would be easier to see details. Other than that, the manual is great. A small addendum came with the manual outlining a few errors in the original manual, and a couple of changes in the assembly process. This shows Great Planes great attention to detail, and their constant efforts to make their kits better. They are one manufacturer that doesn’t put out a kit and forget about it.
Kudos to Great Planes!
As you can see in the center picture below, the kit comes very well packaged, and very complete; it even comes with the appropriate Nimh battery, speed controller and switch. Very nice! The package even came with a nice little profile foam pilot that isn’t even mentioned in the instructions. You can see it in the lower left hand corner of the center picture below. The only items that you need to complete the kit are a couple of micro servos, a micro receiver, a battery charger….and of course at least a 3 channel transmitter. One extra item I needed that was not documented, was a mini connector to extend the battery lead. I’ll explain below during the battery installation why this was necessary.
The “fuselage” is made out of a pre-assembled plastic framework. It appeared fragile to me, and it did turn out to be a bit fragile for my tastes, but I have to admit it was much stronger than I expected. I would have preferred to have seen the framework made out of a more flexible plastic, but this is really my only complaint about the quality of the kit contents. The foam wings are fairly thin, but they are pretty tough too. Since they are foam, it is easy to make field repairs with tape or 5 minute epoxy.
Installing the Wings
This is a pretty straightforward process, but there are a couple things to watch out for. The addendum has a note about the wing assembly and it is important. In the main manual they mention when you insert the wings that you need to center them using the marks on the wings…..the problem is there aren’t any marks on the wings, so you need to make marks on the center lines of both wings BEFORE sliding them into the frame. This is a very simple task, but you must remember to do it (guess who didn’t read the addendum. 🙁 ).
The holes for all the components in the wings are precut and drilled (you can see this in the picture on the left below), except the servo holes (these will very in size depending on the servos you use). This saves a ton of time locating and drilling the holes. They’re very accurately done and really make the wing assembly easy. I was starting to think maybe there was something to their two hour claim.
The motors are already wired and pre-mounted on the wings. Another great time-saver, but make sure and read the flight section carefully where I tell about a couple of problems I had with the pre-assembly.
Two more things about the wings. Make sure and heed Great Planes advise on not over tightening the aileron control horns. Once you over crush the foam wing, there’s no un-crushing it. Also, they tell you to be careful sliding the wings into the frame, and I will re-emphasize that. Take your time and go slowly. Don’t force them in the slots and they will go in without any damage.
The wing struts are a bit tricky to install, but if you follow the instructions carefully you won’t have any problem.
There are two strings that act as guy wires to strengthen the wing and they are precut and already have little loops on the ends. Again, excellent attention to detail and a great time savings for the builder. This is another place to make sure and read the addendum. The manual describes two different length strings, but they have been changed to all being the same length, so don’t get confused trying to figure out why both the strings are the same length.
Installing the top wing is another process that you need to take your time on. As mentioned above, go about this slowly and don’t force the wing. It’s a bit tricky getting the top wing in with all the struts sticking up, but it’s not that bad if you take your time.
Servo installation is fairly straightforward, but may require a little extra fitting if you use servos other than the recommended ones….which I did. If you’re using the recommended servos they should just slip right in (after cutting the required cutouts in the wings). There are a couple of issues here. First there is another note in the addendum that covers one of the issues. The wire connecting the aileron servo to the aileron bell crank has a “V” bend in the middle of it. This is used to make fine adjustments to the pushrod length to get both ailerons to line up correctly at neutral. They were both fairly close to exactly the right length to start with and required only minimal tweaking to get the ailerons just right. It is a bit of a pain to get the “V” compressed or extended. If you’re compressing the “V” (shortening the rod) I used a pair of small vise grips and it worked pretty well, but required some patience to get it just right. If you’re stretching the “V” (lengthening the rod), it’s a fairly straight forward task to spread it a bit, but then you will need to bend the rod on each side of the “V” so the rod is straight again. This probably sounds harder than it is, but is necessary to get the ailerons lined up correctly, so don’t skip this step.
Next, on the elevator (canard) servo pushrod, it isn’t obvious from the pictures which side of the frame near the servo the rod goes on. Hopefully the pictures I’ve enclosed below will make it more obvious for you. Again, with this step read the addendum for detailed instructions on installing the clip that supports the pushrod.
Thanks again to all the pre-bent and pre-built pushrods, it was very quick and easy to install both the servos and linkage.
Follow the same advise I gave on assembling the wings for the canard. Be very careful and don’t force the canards into their slots. Assembling the canards and elevator control rod is very straightforward. While assembling them I was not very happy with the way in which the elevator worked. Because of the attachment method, the elevators didn’t appear to work in unison while manually working the pushrod, but as I’ll report later it didn’t seem to affect flight performance in the least, so if you notice the same thing, don’t worry about, it works.
Although the addendum says that the rudders are now already glued in place, mine were not, but I think it’s possible that they were knocked off during shipping, though they were not damaged. It was a simple matter to glue them back on as per the manuals original instructions.
Talk about a simple radio installation! If you use the Great Planes Electrifly 4 channel receiver, like I did, it just slips neatly into the little box already installed on the wing (picture on left below). Next you cable tie on the included speed controller and switch as in the picture on the right below. You can now plug the servos into the receiver, motors to the speed control, and speed control into the receiver and you’re done except for the battery installation.
Battery Installation and Balance
I’m making this a separate section because it is extra critical with this model that you get the balance correct to ensure the successful flight of this model. Also, I ran into my first real problem assembling the model while installing the battery. The supplied battery and switch did not have long enough wires to reach each other. I ended up lengthening the battery wire to reach the wire from the switch (see the picture on the left below). Instead of splicing a length of wire onto the existing battery lead, and using the same connector that came on the battery, I chose to use another connector that I already had so there would be only one splice on the battery lead. You can see this in the picture on the left below. It did not turn out to be a problem with the different connectors as they still plugged in together, though the lock on the original connector would not work with the new connector. I did not see this as a problem because it is such a low stress, low vibration, installation. I did make sure that the wires on both sides of the connectors were held securely with cable ties.
Ok, so the instructions intend for the battery to be mounted parallel on the canard battery mount location, and if you run into balance problems, the instructions suggest adding weight where necessary to balance. Personally, on small planes like this, I try to avoid adding weight if at all possible, so I looked for another solution to achieve correct balance without adding any weight. The model did not balance correctly with the battery mounted in the suggested position, so I ended up turning the battery perpendicular to the canard and then I was able to move it back and forth to achieve the correct balance without adding any weight. I secured the battery to the canard with a small Velcro wrap which allows the battery to be easily moved back and forth for balance, but holds it securely in place when tightened.
The instructions are excellent for the balancing procedure so just make sure and follow them, though I would suggest using my method of mounting the battery to eliminate the need to add extra weight to balance.
The radio antenna installation can also be seen in the pictures below. You’ll see that the antenna has been wrapped around the fuse structure to use up some length while not compromising reception range. You’ll also notice that the antenna is run forward on this model, not to the rear, because of the canard design. The excess, which isn’t much, dangles off the front of the plane.
Control Setup and Flight Preparation
The control setup is very straight forward, but there is one really big caveat below, so please read this section. If you followed the instructions for installing the controls all you should need to do is set the control throws to the recommended values, and trim the controls so they are centered. Now comes a REALLY IMPORTANT step. Make sure the control surfaces are moving in the correct direction. The ailerons are standard in the directions they have to move, but remember this is a canard design so the elevator moves in the opposite direction of conventional model designs. If you set the elevators up backwards you are sure to crash on the first flight, so take your time, think it through, and make sure you have it right.
What you need to look for is when you give back stick (typically up elevator in a conventional design) the elevator should move DOWN (picture on the left below). This will make the plane’s nose rise to make it climb. When the elevator stick is moved forward the elevator should move UP (picture in the center below). This will make the plane nose down and dive. If you’ve never setup up a canard and you’re used to conventionally designed planes, this will seem very wrong, but it isn’t. Make sure your instincts don’t win out, because your first flight will be even shorter than the Wright Brothers if you don’t get this right.
Now we get to my second problem, which reared its ugly head during my second flight. The problem is Great Planes’ quality control, but it is a minor issue, and is easily avoided, if you address it before your first flight. Unfortunately I didn’t follow my typical procedure of not trusting ARFs and their pre-installed components and I didn’t check that everything was tight before my first flight. Please don’t make the error I did; make sure and check all pre-installed components to make sure everything is properly tightened. There actually is very little to check, but I could have avoided a crash if I had been a bit more diligent. Specifically, you need to check that the nuts that hold the propellers on are tight, and also that the screws that hold the motors on are tight. Both came loose after a couple of flights.
Now, something that isn’t mentioned in the manual is that the motors are actually mounted with a slot in the rear mount which allows the motors to be tilted so you can adjust their thrust angle (picture on the right below). A very nice design touch. Since this is not mentioned in the manual, the correct thrust angle is not documented, so for most people I would just leave them where they come set from the factory, but make sure the screws are tight and make a note of where the stock setting is in case you have to take them apart at some point and need to get them back to their original position.
OK, we’re done, so how long did it take? How exaggerated were the claims of 2 hours start to finish? Surprise, surprise, they weren’t. It took me one hour and fifty minutes, including the mod to the battery wire. I was very impressed. I don’t ever think that I’ve ever built a kit or ARF where I’ve even come close to the manufacturer’s claimed build time. I am a pretty experienced builder, so a newbie is probably going to take a bit longer, but I wouldn’t think by more than a 1/2 hour to an hour, so you’re still looking at a max of 3 hours, which is really not bad at all.
It looks like we’re ready to go, so it’s time to charge up the battery pack and head out to the backyard.
Since I wanted to try and duplicate the Wright Bros flight I spent a bit of time setting up a ramp for the Wright Flyer to take off from…..but unfortunately I wasn’t too successful. There was just too much friction. I could get it to move (check out the video), but it wouldn’t get up enough speed to take off from the ramp. I could have built a dolly with wheels to drop away on takeoff, but that wouldn’t have been very realistic, so I gave up on the idea and made all my launches as intended by tossing the Flyer out of my hand.
For the first flight I double and triple checked the control movements to make sure everything was moving in the right direction. I then did a motor run-up to make sure it was running at full power. With the wind down around 5 MPH and all systems appearing to be a go, I gave the Wright Flyer a toss into the wind and off it went. A very uneventful first launch. It flew away nicely with a very gentle toss and immediately started to climb.
I only had to add a tiny bit of down trim and a little aileron trim. The Flyer was much more stable than I had expected. I was flying on high rates from the beginning, but the roll rate is pretty fast, and the elevator a bit sensitive, so I’d recommend if you’re new, or fairly new to R/C planes, that you fly your first flights on low rates. It is very docile on low rates leaving no doubt in my mind that this could be used as a trainer for someone new to R/C. I tried some gentle turns in both directions and it was very easy to maintain a constant bank. I’m sure if I was flying in higher wind it would have bounced around a bit, but the little bit of wind I was flying in, didn’t have much affect on its stability. I then tried some climbs to see how well it would gain altitude and it isn’t bad at all. As long as you don’t try to force it to climb and are patient making small banked turns as you climb, it will just keep going up and up at a decent clip.
Slow Speed Flight
For obvious reasons I always I like to check out a new plane’s slow flight characteristics as quickly as possible during its first flight…..so, I slowed the Flyer down to see just how well it behaved at slow speed. Again, the plane was very stable, in fact, it was amazing. Thanks to the canard, this plane is virtually impossible to stall. As you slow down the canard stalls before the main wings, making the canard drop as it stalls picking up flying speed on its own, so the main wings are nearly impossible to get into a stalled condition. I’m sure it is possible, but I couldn’t do it. Since you can’t stall the main wing, you also don’t have to worry about tip stalls, which is often the death of a new flyer’s first plane(s). Well you don’t have to worry about it with this one. Since it was so well behaved I went ahead and brought it in to land on the grass, and as expected it touched down at a crawl and stopped in a foot or two. A very friendly flying plane.
What a silly heading for this type of plane. 🙂 Of course this plane was never intended to fly any real aerobatics, full-size, or model. The full-size could barely get off the ground, but believe it or not the model will do a couple of common aerobatic maneuvers, but you do have to work at it a bit. You’ll want some altitude, but if you pick up some speed in a shallow dive and have high rates on, you can do a loop or roll. The rolls are actually pretty decent looking, but the loops are a bit funny. If you had some more power this plane could perform a very nice looking loop, but I was impressed that it would do it at all.
Second and Third Flight
As I alluded to during the construction I had a couple of problems with the plane due to not double-checking the tightness of pre-installed components before flying. Bad me. On the second flight I was about 6 feet off the ground…luckily I was flying around low….and the Flyer all of a sudden nosed over and dove right into the ground. There was only minor damage with a cracked canard and a broken brace on the framework. What had happened is the left rear engine mounting screw, the one that adjusts the thrust angle of the motor, had come out and the motor had moved to full down incidence causing it to dive. It only took me a few minutes to fix it up as good as new and prepare for my second flight. Preparing for flight I ran the motors to full throttle and one of the propellers went flying off. Again I had forgotten to check the tightness of the pre-installed hardware. You’d think I would have taken the time after the first failure to check the rest of the plane out, but I didn’t. I would suggest you don’t make the same “novice” mistake. 🙁
Flight times were around 7 minutes. It would be very tempting to put a Lithium Poly battery in the Flyer to extend the flight times and to lower the weight a bit at the same time. You could easily double your flight time with the LiPo.