I have a certain fondness for the Skywalker airframe. After all, it was the first plane I bought and the first plane I ever flew RC. But it wasn’t the first plane I flew FPV because I built it like a complete klutz.
Here’s what’s left of this venerable plane:
No, it wasn’t involved in any crash. I just decided to cannibalize the parts. The great thing about getting the foam trainers is that they aren’t expensive. The foam model itself is actually pretty cheap. You can get your own Skywalker here.
To build my first FPV plane, I took all the electronics out except for the larger motor you see, and outfitted a Sirius trainer with additional FPV gear. The Sirius is like the little sister to the larger Skywalker.
I would have liked to have used the Skywalker, but I just got so frustrated retrofitting that I gave up and moved on.
So what did I do wrong?
Well, a lot actually. You have to keep in mind that this was my first build, and I was totally new to the RC hobby, let alone FPV.
As I mentioned before, I spent months reading forums and searching around the internet. It wasn’t just the FPV lingo that was new, but I had no idea about how an RC airplane worked at all.
I could have bought an RTF, but that didn’t seem like much fun. I wanted the experience of building the plane myself and customizing it. Although I did a decent job of getting the thing together, it ultimately ended up being a ‘Spruce Goose‘. I had a decent LOS maiden flight, and then a few more flights after that. But it never turned into a frequent flyer due to the following reasons.
Overbuilt the Wings
I kept seeing a couple of comments about the Skywalker build over and over on the message boards:
- The Skywalker is a great RC and FPV platform.
- You have to reinforce basically every part of it: the wings, the tail, the motor mount, etc.
Well, I took that advice to heart, and I bought a few more carbon fiber rods online, some heavy-duty duct tape, and set about reinforcing the basic airframe.
What they don’t tell you, and what is not readily apparent, is that all this reinforcement adds weight, and a lot of it.
It may not seem like such a big deal glueing in a few extra spars in the wings and fuselage, or adding a few more sections of tape. But the ounces do add up. (Who knew to think in ounces?!)
What I discovered after building a couple of other planes, is that reinforcement in most cases is really unnecessary. I find it’s better to build as light as possible, because once built, it’s difficult to reduce the weight.
Installed a Pan and Tilt Before I Knew it Could Fly
A second mistake I made is buying and installing a pan and tilt before flying the plane. I recommend all beginner FPV RC pilots skip the pan and tilt idea completely.
There’s a few reasons for this. First, it just adds weight. Second, the pan and tilt adds complexity that you don’t need to be worrying about when you’re just trying to figure out how to fly an airplane. And third, it doesn’t work as well as you think.
My suggestion is to leave the pan and tilt out for the early flights, and if desired add in a nice digital servo for only the pan function later. Having the ability to pan is a nice feature, but I don’t see much utility in tilt.
Used Hinges on the Control Surfaces
Besides the many comments on the need to reinforce the wings, I also came across several posts explaining why hinges are a good idea for control surfaces.
Being a new guy, I didn’t have a feel for the appropriate way to hinge the control surfaces, so I went along with the idea.
I thought that there would be a lot of stress on the control surfaces while in flight, so I really wanted to attach them to the wings and tail well.
I did some searching and settled on Du-Bro pin-style hinges.
I did my best to align the holes in the control surface and the attachment point on the airframe, and used epoxy to secure them.
Of course, I used way too much glue and it went straight into the hinge joints. This was a real mess, and I had to use denatured alcohol to try to loosen them up a bit. For some reason I can’t stand using denatured alcohol and epoxy – it’s probably the smell.
I would squirt some of the alcohol into the joint, and after flexing it a few times, it seemed to loosen up. But the fix was only temporary, and the joint would seize up again an hour or so later.
No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the control surfaces to loosen up much. I also quickly realized that a couple of the hinges weren’t in alignment, and this probably made the joint much stiffer as well. The tricky part about using hinges, is that they all have to be installed at the same angle and depth, otherwise you’re just going to create more friction and a stiffer joint.
On my next builds, I used strictly Scotch Extreme Tape for the hinges, and this worked great. You can read more about using Extreme Tape for hinges by reading this. Scroll down to ‘How to Build a Strong Plane’.
The Skywalker is a great RC plane, and one of the best FPV platforms for beginners and experienced pilots, alike.
The more experienced flyers have probably moved on to other, newer clones like the ReadyMadeRC Penguin or the HobbyKing FPV platform, but you could definitely do worse than picking this airplane as your first FPV airframe.