How To: ARF Stear­man Makeover


Model Airplane News - - CONTENTS - By Nick Ziroli Sr.

A facelift for the E-flite PT-17

When I saw the yel­low E-flite Stear­man from Hori­zon Hobby, all I could think of was re­paint­ing it in the mark­ing of my son Nick Jr.’s full-size Stear­man. I knew that, be­cause it was molded out of Z-Foam, this ARF re­make would be fairly easy to ac­com­plish. First off, the wings have the ex­act same color and mark­ings as Nick’s Stear­man, so this would save a lot of time. I would nor­mally use an air­brush for a project like this, but to save mask­ing and prep time, I used a brush to ap­ply all the paint.


To start, I re­moved the pi­lot bust for bet­ter ac­cess while paint­ing the in­side front of the cock­pit. The pi­lot was held in place with two screws and glue, but af­ter re­mov­ing the screws, it eas­ily broke free. I then pre­pared the wind­shields. The frames, like the rest of the fuse­lage, needed to be painted light gray. I cov­ered the out­side glass sur­faces with mask­ing tape, rub­bing the tape tightly into the cor­ners of the glass and frames with a chisel-shaped mix­ing stick. I then cut away the ex­cess tape with a sharp hobby knife to ex­pose the frame­work. I then sanded the out­side of the frames. Be­fore paint­ing the fuse­lage, I needed to peel off the num­bers and let­ter de­cals. I care­fully lifted a cor­ner of each item and peeled it off, pulling it back over it­self. Much of the paint came off with the de­cals, but the foam wasn’t dam­aged. The yel­low coat­ing of paint on this model was rather heavy, so I sanded all the sur­faces to be painted (ex­cept the wings) with 240-grit wet sand­pa­per; you could also use dry sand­pa­per used dry. The sand­pa­per was used to help smooth the ar­eas where the de­cals were. I used 1-inch-wide strips of the sand­pa­per looped over my fin­ger­tip. I didn’t sand through the paint—just enough to dull the sur­face so that the new paint would have bet­ter ad­he­sion. I didn’t use a sand­ing block as there were very few flat sur­faces and I would have sanded away the molded-in de­tails.


Be­fore ap­ply­ing the paint, I used a primer to cover over the bare foam from the de­cal ar­eas. Kilz primer and Min­wax Poly­crylic semigloss helped cover the foam, but I had to be care­ful while mask­ing. For the main scheme, I used in­ex­pen­sive sam­ple jars of Behr Ultra Satin water-based enamel; these are avail­able in most home-care stores. I used the Misty Coast color, which was a good match for the full-size Stear­man; it ad­hered pretty well to the yel­low paint. I used a 5/8-inch-wide flat artist brush and ap­plied the paint to the ar­eas where the de­cals were to help fill in the sur­face. I let this area dry and then sanded lightly to blend it in be­fore ap­ply­ing the rest of the paint to the fuse­lage. I made sure the paint was com­pletely dry be­fore sand­ing. I used smaller brushes while paint­ing the struts, wind­shield frames, and other small ar­eas. Once the base coat of paint had dried, I needed to mask off the edges of the red band. I cut some 1/4-inch-wide strips of mask­ing tape and rubbed the ad­he­sive side with my fin­gers to de­tack it a lit­tle and then ap­plied the tape. This helped pre­vent the tape from lift­ing the new paint. Don’t rub the tape down too hard. While paint­ing the band area, I ap­plied a num­ber of coats along the tape edge, us­ing a rather dry brush, so that the paint did not run un­der the tape. (This is good prac­tice to fol­low any time you paint along masked edges.) I next masked off the fin and rud­der blue in the same way. For the tail, I used artist Matte Acrylic Award Blue paint; these paints are in­ex­pen­sive and come in 2-ounce bot­tles. The blue was a lit­tle too dark, so I added a lit­tle bit of white to lighten it up. The hor­i­zon­tal sta­bi­lizer and el­e­va­tors were painted with the same color. If any paint gets in the align­ment hole for the bot­tom wing, the at­tach­ment pin may not fit. So I let the paint dry and then used a no. 6 drill bit to clean out the paint. With the wing in place, I masked off the bot­tom of the wing and painted the belly area to match the fuse­lage. As be­fore, I used nar­row strips of de­tacked tape. I painted the ca­bane struts and the in­ter­plane N struts in the same way. To paint the di­ag­o­nal braces be­tween the ca­bane struts, I masked off the ca­bane struts and sprayed on chrome sil­ver be­fore brush­ing the gray paint on the struts. The bot­tom mount­ing tabs for the N struts were a lit­tle long and needed to be trimmed to fit into the wing sock­ets. I made sure not to force them into the plas­tic sock­ets be­cause they might have bro­ken off from the wing. The struts were se­cured once they were at­tached and fas­tened to the top wing, and the N struts were se­cured to the top wing by four slide-in wire rods. I found that ta­per­ing the ends of the rods made it eas­ier to align them in the holes in the struts.


I cut my new mark­ings from some black-and-white MonoKote trim sheets I had on hand. To make the new num­bers and let­ters roughly the same size as those on the stock model, I stacked and taped a piece of white and black trim sheet to­gether. I then used the stock num­ber “3” (from the old de­cals) as a pat­tern since I could eas­ily make the “0” and the “6” from the ba­sic shape of the “3.” I used a sharp model knife to cut out the num­bers, us­ing a straight­edge to guide me. The U.S. Navy mark­ings were done the same way. To place the new mark­ings, I used the top of the fuse­lage hatch edge as an align­ment guide. For ref­er­ence, the large num­bers were 3/8 inch be­low this edge, and the U.S. Navy let­ters were 7/8 inch be­low it. I ap­plied the new mark­ings us­ing the wet tech­nique, ap­ply­ing glass cleaner to the sur­face and then slid­ing the mark­ings around to the cor­rect place. When sat­is­fied, I pat and squeegeed the let­ters down, and let it dry in the sun for a cou­ple of hours so that they were bonded tight.


Be­fore go­ing any fur­ther, I as­sem­bled the model and checked the bal­ance. With the new paint aft of the cen­ter of grav­ity, nose weight was re­quired. I moved the flight bat­tery as far for­ward as it would go and added 4.25 ounces in­side the dummy en­gine. The Stear­man flew great with no downtrim re­quired, and it was com­fort­ably sen­si­tive to con­trol inputs.


I cut out the sec­tion hand holds at the wingtips and cen­ter sec­tion. A sharp knife blade was re­quired. The 5/8-inch-long rear fuse­lage hand holds were formed from 1/16-inch-di­am­e­ter alu­minum tub­ing and glued into holes in the fuse­lage. This was also done for the foot­steps that project from the front of the up­per land­ing-gear fair­ings. I painted the en­gine crank­case gray and the ex­haust stacks a rusty brown color. The fuel­ing foot pad on top of the nose was sim­u­lated with a 1/2-inch-wide strip of black trim sheet sanded to dull the fin­ish. There is a small black spec plate on the left land­ing gear fair­ing that was made out of a piece of trim sheet. The oil-fill cap in the up­per rear cor­ner of the left nose side panel was made out of a 1/2-inch-di­am­e­ter disc of black trim sheet and a piece of 3/8-inch dowel painted yel­low and glued in place. I made the static scale pro­peller from an old Zinger 11x7W pro­peller. The outer tip was painted a dark tan color, and the lead­ing edge was painted brass. I did not add any weath­er­ing to the model, as Nick’s full-size Stear­man looks fac­tory fresh!


I de­cided that the Stear­man would look bet­ter with fly­ing and land­ing wires. I repli­cated these us­ing semi­flat plas­tic Creatol­ogy lac­ing ma­te­rial from the lo­cal craft store. If you are lucky, you can find the ma­te­rial in chrome, sil­ver, and gray. I used white lac­ing and then painted it with Kry­lon gloss smoke gray paint. Be­fore paint­ing, I formed a loop in one end of an 18-inch length of the lac­ing for the wing clips. The lac­ing ma­te­rial is flat on one side and slightly oval on the other. For bet­ter glue ad­he­sion, I sanded the flat sur­face us­ing 220-grit sand­pa­per. I folded the sanded end over a length of pa­per-clip wire, ap­plied some Zap medium CA, held it to­gether us­ing small-nose pliers, and then ap­plied some Zip Kicker. I made sure the wire clip was free to move, then coated the en­tire over­lapped sec­tion with CA and re­moved the wire; I didn’t let the glue fill the wire hole. I then pinned the wing rig­ging be­tween two wood blocks to paint. Make the wire clips from a pa­per-clip and bent to shape as shown. My clips formed eas­ily and are plenty strong for se­cur­ing the rig­ging in place. Make two clips wide enough to fit two rig­ging lines. As­sem­ble the clips to the rig­ging line loops and drill 1/16-inch holes in the bot­tom of the top wing at the ca­bane struts and the N struts. These should be lo­cated about 1/8-inch out­board of the ca­bane struts and cen­tered on the front struts. The rear should be drilled af­ter all the other rig­ging is in place. Check the pho­tos to see where the rig­ging lines are at­tached. The dou­ble fly­ing-wire lines were epox­ied into 1/8-inch holes formed into the sides of the fuse­lage. I made these by push­ing a small screw­driver 3/4 inch into the foam. (You need to re­move the bot­tom wing for this. The holes are lo­cated at the bot­tom cor­ners of the out­lined panel on the sides of the fuse­lage.) With the top wing and rig­ging wires hooked into place, I pushed the in­board ends into the holes. I did one set at a time, wip­ing off the ex­cess epoxy. My goal was to have the rig­ging be about 1/2 inch short. When the epoxy had cured, I stretched the rear fly­ing wires and con­nected them to the holes at the rear N strut. I at­tached the bot­tom wing and con­nected the dou­ble land­ing-wire lines to the lower N-strut holes. I re­peated the process un­til all the wires were in place. You might want to con­sider adding 3/32-inch-di­am­e­ter tie bars at the rig­ging crossovers. To do this, use a dowel or a rounded length of hard balsa.


All this was a bit of work, but the added de­tails re­ally made a big dif­fer­ence. If you take your time and use these tech­niques, you can re­pro­duce a scale ver­sion of your own fa­vorite Stear­man bi­plane.

Here are some “be­fore” and “af­ter” pho­tos. With a bit of work, the re­sult is amaz­ing.

Mask off and paint the bot­tom cen­ter of the lower wing to match the fuse­lage.

When you re­move the de­cals, a lot of paint will also come off. Treat these ar­eas with some primer and ex­tra paint to fill in the foam sur­face.

The sup­plies for do­ing this makeover are avail­able at most home­im­prove­ment stores and craft shops.

With the makeover paint­ing com­plete, I re­bal­anced the model. It flew great, but it is still a lit­tle plain Jane.

Af­ter paint­ing the fuse­lage, set it aside and start cut­ting out your new mark­ings. Here, I am us­ing the stock no. 3 de­cal as a guide to form the new num­bers.

I used the flat edge of the bat­tery com­part­ment as an align­ment guide and then used strips of tape to help po­si­tion the new mark­ings.

All the wing-rig­ging wires are now in place. I also added the wire­spreader rod at the cross­over sec­tion for an added bit of de­tail.

Here, I am epoxy­ing the ends of the fly­ing wires into the holes in the fuse­lage.

Here, you see the dou­ble fly­ing wires at­tached at the N-strut lo­ca­tion.

You can add scale wing rig­ging to the model with plas­tic lac­ing ma­te­rial. Here, I am glu­ing the end loop us­ing a pa­per clip in the loop and hold­ing the ma­te­rial to­gether while the Zap glue dries.

I bent the wire at­tach­ment clips to shape from a pa­per clip, and drilled holes in the plas­tic plates around the strut sock­ets.

Above: Be­ing neat while you do the mask­ing, add small de­tails, and paint the cock­pit coam­ing con­trib­utes much to the look of the plane. Tak­ing your time makes a big dif­fer­ence. For the small tail-num­ber mark­ings, I had a friend cut them out for me us­ing his desk­top vinyl cut­ter. Left: Small de­tails, like the wing hand holds, can be cut out and painted to im­prove the model’s scale looks.

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