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Jan 23, 2019, 12:09 PM
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Year 8 - Step 3 - Balsa ARF


I owned two Precision Aerobatics (PA) planes years ago before I joined a club. A Mini Kitana and an Addiction. I didn't build them and the only reason I had them is the LHS gave me a great deal on both of them because one of the employees damaged them a little while "testing" them. They were supposed to hang on my wall until I was ready for balsa and balsa repairs. About a year later I was tired of flying mostly alone and joined a local flying club. One afternoon a guy I'm friends with started going on about his two PA planes he sold and missed. Long story short, he got his planes back and I got wall space back. He was very grateful. It was worth it.

I've been flying for almost 8 years now. I didn't fly the PAs, but I do have an old balsa E-Flite Cessna 150 Acrobat 250 I picked up 2 years ago and take out from time to time. It has survived so far and I am happy with it. The rest of my collection has been foam and almost entirely Horizon. There is a balsa Slick 3D sitting in its box in my basement for two years too, but I didn't put in the time to learn about balsa assembly and repair. I didn't feel ready. Plus, why balsa when we have all this wonderful foam stuff that is easily repaired. That started changing after having a few beers in the FoamTac tent at NEAT after not winning the plane I wanted at the Hobby King tent auction. I was passing the Flex Innovations (FI) tent on the way back to my club's spot on the flight line and decided to stop. I had money. They had a Mamba 10. We traded. A few days later on the maiden flight, I found exactly what I wanted to fly. It only took me trying well over 100 models. The E-Flite Ultimate2 was close. It just needed to be lighter. I picked up the FI Extra 300 and Cap 232 shortly after the Mamba 10. The Cap 232 was part of a huge trade that cleared out a lot of room in my basement. All 3 FI planes do things I've been trying to do for years. I still love my Horizon Planes. The remaining 50 or so are not going anywhere for now.

So I have these amazing balsa/foam hybrids in the hangar when I get a call from another friend and club member before Xmas. He has a PA Extra 260 kit in the box and wants to know how attached I am to my E-Flite Clipped Wing Cub. Not very, apparently, because I have been putting together the PA kit for the past month or so. I ordered the electronics from PA and they were closed until Jan 15th and then an ice storm kept mail from being delivered for a few days, so it has been slow going. Plus I had to get all the proper tools to work on it too. Covering irons (big and small), a lot of sharp hobby blades, and a few other things bumped up the $260 I spent on electronics to about $350. Plus I love the way my Flex planes fly, so add $100 for the Aura 8. Another $80 for the AR8010T RX with Sat. That's almost double the budget I was expecting, but at least now I have all the proper tools.

I did get the tools early. The PA Extra 260 out of the box was pathetic looking. I don't know how long the kit was in his basement, but it smelled like an old basement and the covering was wrinkled and loose. Once the covering tools arrived, I realized that I love smoothing over covering. I went over the entire plane slowly in a very zen way. It looks amazing now. I was doing this on my portable hobby table in the living room too. When my wife asked what I was doing, I said ironing my plane. That was priceless as I don't iron anything. Why buy a steam dryer if you don't use it?

Yesterday the electronics finally arrived from PA and my head was pretty clear (major surgery = months of unclear thinking), so I went to work. I installed the stab and elevator, sealed the elevator gap, and repaired the balsa I had to cut to install the elevator. I also installed the servos and horning in the wings, put on the landing gear including the tail wheel, and a few other things but I still have some work ahead of me. I was about to do the aileron pushrods when the instructions started to not be so clear, so I cleaned up and went to bed.

One thing I improvised came out really nice. Over the balsa I had to cut out for the stab/elevator, I wanted a little more strength. I covered the area with a thin coat of epoxy and put a small piece of black electrical tape over it. then it was set and firm, I put another light coating of epoxy over the tape. It blended right in with the black covering. I did the same thing for the tail wheel and the results were impressive. I don't think that tail wheel will come off in the grass. it is solid. I've been using electrical tape and epoxy layers to do repairs and so far I've had a lot of luck with it.

So now I have two Extras. I've been waiting years for Horizon to come out with a good one and finally gave up. So of course, Horizon came out with new Extra after I pick up two others! I have not ordered it. I really have not ordered anything since picking up the PA kit. Partly because I blew my budget getting the PA Extra running, but also because I really don't know what I want my next plane to be. I've had my eye on the Flex Mamba 70 since it came out, but if I'm going to do that I have to be really comfortable in my ability to maintain a balsa plane. I'm going to finish up this PA Extra and see how this season goes before I buy anything else.

In case you are wondering. Step 1 was learning to fly. Step 2 was learning to fly every type of foam aircraft with confidence. Step 4 will be building my own planes from scratch.
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