How To/Transform a Vintage Kit to Electric RC
Getting from eBay to the flying field
Iobtained a Sterling Nieuport 28 kit from eBay. It looked like an interesting model, as I had seen the plans for this aircraft on Hip Pocket Aeronautics as a free download. It was designed to cater to the nitro-powered U-control trend of the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s. Like many of its contemporaries, it was designed to be sturdy to withstand the abuse of neophyte pilots and the vibration of small engines. As a stunt plane, it featured a symmetrical airfoil on both 32-inch wings to make performing stunts easier. This kit is one of a series of World War I bipes produced by Sterling that also includes the S.E.5a and Fokker D.VII— both of which I’ve since obtained.
Start by assembling the bottom half of the fuselage using the thick side keels. Once complete, you can begin to hog out areas to lighten the structure. A coping saw, Dremel tool, or other tools may be used to do this. Once finished, install the remaining formers. Once these have been installed, they can be hogged out in a similar fashion. The forward formers can be left alone; it’s the tail aft of the cockpit that is of major concern, as pushrods need to be routed and you don’t want a heavy tail. The kit as built uses only a few stringers aft of the cockpit, which will yield an OK structure but not very scale. I chose to install a scale number of stringers (more or less), which requires careful spacing and fitting to make them contact the existing formers. Shim or cut away formers so that you get a nice straight run of stringers heading aft. Before sheeting the forward area of the fuselage, install the rudder and elevator servos and run the pushrods to the approximate location of the elevator and rudder horns. Also it is a good time to decide where to put the receiver. I chose to attach it to the underside of one of the side keels in the battery compartment; that way, it’s easily accessible. To mount the motor, you’ll need to build a motor standoff box. I made mine out of 1/8-inch light ply. I installed a RimFire GPMG4560 950Kv brushless motor (400 size) with an ElectriFly 25-amp Silver Series speed control. One of the characteristics of this speed control is its arming system, which requires the throttle stick to be advanced then reversed to arm the speed control—a nice safety feature for novice pilots.
If you’d like to slow the Nieuport down a bit and have slow, easy landings, a semi-symmetrical airfoil is better, and this is what I chose.
The wings in this kit feature a symmetrical airfoil that is fine for U-control— and even for RC, if you are consistent in keeping the speed up during flying. If, however, you’d like to slow the Nieuport down a bit and have slow, easy landings, a semi-symmetrical airfoil is better, and this is what I chose. To modify the ribs, simply sand the bottom side flat; stacking them and inserting a short section of spar stock (made out of scrap) is most efficient. Next, cut and sand the bottom flat. You’ll end up with a U-shaped channel for your spars, making assembly of the wings a snap. I planed/sanded the bottom side of the leading and trailing edge (LE/TE) stock to conform to the new shape of the airfoil. Next, align the forms in the notched LE and TE stock, and fit over the spars. I dry-fit first, then when the fit is good, I wick in some thin CA. I added about 3/16 inch of dihedral to the top wings (as in the original N.28). Build the bottom wings as the top except with no dihedral. When dry, carefully cut out pockets for the ailerons—I made mine slightly longer than scale because I wanted good roll rate, especially since the N.28 has ailerons on the bottom wing only. Once the pockets have been cut, add aft TE strips to define and finish the pockets; do the same for the ailerons. Next, install plates and bearers for the servos. I used Hitec HS-40s as they have a good amount of torque and are slim. Run the servo wires inboard and then feed them through holes cut in the top of the sheathing at the midpoint. Check-fit the bottom wings on the fuselage.
The stab and rudder in this kit were made out of solid stock. I wanted lighter tail feathers, so I used these shapes as bending jigs for 1/32-inch laminations of basswood (you could also use balsa). Soak the laminations in boiling water and then quickly bend them around the jig. When dry, you can glue them up. Once the curved shapes are glued and dry, you can build them over waxed paper as you would any stick-built tail feathers.
Assembly and Covering
Due to the nature of how the wings are joined to each other and the fuselage, it is necessary to cover all the components (I used cream Microlite, but Polyspan works equally well)—except the bottom of the lower wings and the top of the upper wing in order to properly cement the interplane and cabane struts. To cover the fuselage work from the tail forward, overlap pieces as you would shingles on a house. The airflow mainly moves from front to back as the plane flies, so your overlaps should be such that airflow will not pick up edges. I covered the pushrod exit areas first, then the stringer portion of the aft fuselage, finishing up with the sheathed areas around the nose of the plane. Covering sheeting is far quicker and easier than priming and sanding the sheeting. Cover the tail feathers normally, then cover the top of the lower wing and bottom of the upper wing. It is a good idea to apply the decals or paint the roundels on the bottom of the upper wings at this time (I used Callie Graphics dry transfers). Carefully open the slots for the interplane and cabane struts on the wings. Attach the lower wing to the fuselage. I tacked it in place sparingly with a little CA and then used four screws to secure it; that way, if the bottom wing needs to come off, the glue joint can be cracked, thus freeing it. Next, fit the upper wing over the cabane ends. This may require a little trimming to get a good fit. Be sure to check the alignment of the top wing relative to the bottom wing. Also make sure the distance between the wings is equal. Finally, check the angle of incidence relative to the top of the fuselage (taken from plans). Prepare four interplane struts out of basswood, hard balsa, or spruce. Next, shape, sand, and stain, applying the banding at this time (which is far easier than doing it after the struts are installed). Carefully insert the interplane struts into their slots, checking the alignment facing the plane and from the side. When satisfied, apply epoxy to the inside of the wing where the struts meet the plates. When cured, complete the covering the wings. Install tail feathers relative to the wing structure, taking care to align from the top and stern on (make sure the stabilizer is parallel to the wings and the rudder is plumb or square to the stabilizer).
Use acrylic craft paints, available from Michaels or A. C. Moore. Three thin coats are recommended for good coverage; be sure to allow each coat to dry completely. After painting, I used one clear coat of Minwax Polycrylic, then when it was dry, I applied the dry transfers and a final coat of Polycrylic. The cowl of Meissner’s Nieuport was pretty jazzy, so careful layout was required. Use a compass on paper or foamcore and then transfer measurements to the cowl. Carefully tape it off. I did this in two sections: The cylinder portion was one step, and the face of the cowl another. These two sections were connected with a triangular “zigzag” that I eyeballed. I made the scale details out of cardstock and balsa and then painted them. The guns were made out of balsa and bits of wire. I used lightweight 3inch sport wheels, then covered them with shallow cones and discs made out of manilafolder stock. The cockpit coaming was made out of a strip of thin and supple leather. I appropriated the pilot from an Eflite PT17 foamie.
Before flying you must balance your model. The instructions say the balance point is the foremost wire of the Ucontrol system, which worked out to be about 1 3/4 inches aft of the LE of the top wing. Once your plane is balanced, it’s time to fly. Nieuport 28s fly easily and will break ground after a fairly short rollout. This model climbs steadily and in a scale fashion. Even a small Nieuport will handle a bit of breeze (6 to 8mph) just fine. The 28s are sensitive to their large rudder so will turn with just a little rudder input, crosscontrolled with aileron to achieve your desired angle of bank. It will also turn just fine using only ailerons. Due to its large aileron throws, it will roll easily and execute nice Immelmann turns. That big rudder will make hammerheads easy, and combined with the ailerons, you can make fairly swift snap rolls. Keep a bit of power along and this plane will settle in for a landing nicely, due to the long tail moment.
James Meissner’s Nieuport 28 as depicted inThe Nieuport 28 by Ted Hamady. (Illustration by Juanita Franzi, Aero Illustrations)
A classic Sterling kit from the early days of kit-built U-control model airplanes. You can find these periodically on eBay and at swap meets.
Adding aft stringers gives the fuselage a more scale appearance. This is a good time to place your pushrods. Small-diameter aluminum tubing makes great sleeves.
When the formers are in place, you can add the top keel and begin to open up the formers.
Now is a good time to install the elevator and rudder servos. I like them in the cockpit area for this scale as it’s easy to replace/service them.
Keel and gear have been installed. The formers on the top can now be installed.
Hogging out excess wood begins the lightening process, as these kits were overbuilt.
I left this area open as it forms the battery compartment and receiver attachment area. Once the receiver and wiring are in place, the remaining piece of sheeting can be fitted nearest to the lower wing leading edge.The motor standoff box, RimFire brushless motor, and speed control. I bevel the back of the motor box one or two degrees down and to the right, then epoxy to the firewall once the motor has been centered in the opening in the cowl.
Sheeting the forward portion of the fuselage. There are templates for each piece, which is handy.
Setting dihedral for the top wings. Using a 4-foot level is a great way to align the leading edges of a wing to ensure they are dead straight.
Building the top wing using spars, slotted leading and trailing edge, and ribs. Some of this material will need to be hogged out once the wings are completed.
Fitting the partially covered bottom wing to the fuselage and making servo connections.
Use the supplied horizontal stabilizer, elevators, and rudder as a bending jig. Be sure to deduct the thickness of your laminated frame.
The roundels have been applied. This set is available from Callie Graphics.
Rudder and elevators laminated around forms.
Aileron servo bays. The max height of your wing rib will determine the thickness of the servo. Remember that covering sags a bit (between ribs) on the top of a wing, so be sure to consider this.
Three thin coats of paint and graphics have been applied. It’s starting to look like a Nieuport 28!
Carefully mask off the “zigzag” of the cowl, then apply red paint using either a brush or a spray.
Lay out for the cowl. Divide a circle (same diameter as the cowl) into eight equal segments, then transfer to the cowl.
Using lightweight 3-inch sport wheels and paper cones makes great scale wheels, which are inexpensive and light.
The guns were made out of balsa and bits of wire.