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RC Pilot Figures
Whimsy vs. Scale
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 11-25-2014
RC’rs have been putting pilot figures in their models for decades. Many do not consider a plane complete until it has a pilot figure in the cockpit. There are surprisingly realistic-appearing pilot figures available from full figures to busts and heads, all designed to fit the different cockpit configurations. For me a realistic looking pilot figure just doesn’t do it. Though I have flown scale planes for friends my own planes are designed more for violence in the sky. If it won’t do a tight snap roll on takeoff I won’t be flying it for long.
Realism vs. Whimsy
Many years ago when I was in RC I cut down a soft cartoon character to a bust and glued it in one of my planes. It was an instant hit with kids at the field but some of the reputed adults I flew with considered it to be a form of blasphemy. Clearly some of us need to lighten up.
While scale-appearing pilots can be found at hobby shops and many on line RC suppliers the kind of characters I seek can be found at virtually any store with a toy section. There are a surprising number of characters and sizes in those aisles that make it possible to find a character that fits your plane. Most of these are full body characters that need to be cut down to fit in the cockpit. I would suggest doing this “reduction” where kids can’t see you cut a character they may be familiar with in half. Kids have never asked me about the missing half once the figure is in the plane and I am happy to let that point slide. (A friend of mine way back when had a portion of a Mickey Mouse doll in his cockpit and anticipated questions about “the rest of him” so he glued the feet on the bottom of the fuselage below the cockpit.)
Prepping the Figure
To get a figure ready to be installed I measure the available space in the cockpit. Sometimes the entire character can be used but many need to be “reduced”. Because most of these characters are soft I try to leave them tall enough to contact the inside of the canopy to help hold it somewhat upright. Some more violent aerobatics will move the figure a bit and people sometimes notice that the figure is positioned a little differently when you land.
One word of caution is that these figures are often stuffed with a material that looks like cotton but is obviously man made. I have found that over stuffing the portion you will use with some material from the other “piece” seems to help it hold its shape and to remain more upright.
The stuffing inside most of these characters is worthless for gluing. It is better to use thick CA to “stitch” the outer covering to the balsa. I tuck the fabric under the figure a little and CA it to the wood. I keep working my way around the base of the figure until all of it is secured to the wood.
Though I have been tempted to try and secure the top of the figure to the inside of the canopy I have never come up with a method that would not be conspicuous so I count on simple friction and G-forces to maintain a reasonable position. As mentioned earlier these “pilot” figures often look better when they come back a little off center and looking a bit panicked.
Though the portions of the characters we use usually weigh a couple of ounces they are usually located close to the CG check to be sure that has not moved rearward. I have never had a pilot figure alter my CG enough to worry about but I generally like a slightly rearward CG. I suppose you could tape the doll portion to the canopy to determine its impact on the CG before installation but I seldom am that rational and check the CG later.
I think it is important that we not get too serious about all of this. If you want a scale-looking pilot, great, make your plane so it pleases your eye. There certainly are many out there who appreciate that kind of realism. However, if you crave whimsy over scale scan the toy aisles and imagine the characters looking out of your canopy as your plane taxis to and from the runway. If you appreciate the curiosity and laughter of children who may visit your field one of those toy aisle characters could be just what you are looking for.
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