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RC Airplace to Boat Conversion

Update: 7 June 2014 (Pool Test - Third (and probably final) Configuration)

Thanks to Ernie and Donna Hancock of Freedom's Phoenix for letting me use their pool.  :-)


Me and my newly configured toy. :-)

Back in the water.  I was surprised that the entire rudder assembly was under water.  But, it probably helped with the turning.
I was hoping it would go a bit faster.  Turning was better.  Drag was still a problem.

The wing pitches down and submerges, due to drag, when the speed gets high enough.

This was a fun project.  While I see some more more things that need working on before this is "ready for prime time", I'm happy with what I got out of the conversion.

26 May 2014 (Third Configuration)

The two changes I wanted to make were the position and height of the rear pontoon (so the rear of the boat will sit lower) and setting up the rudder so it pushes against the water, rather than the air, to steer the boat (to hopefully help it turn better).


Drilled a hole in the top and bottom of the bottle, glued it to the fuselage with Gorilla Glue and filled in the holes with a hot glue gun.

I also wanted to make something that worked a bit better to turn the rudder.  The turning mechanism I used in the earlier configurations is upside down now.  The control lines are attached to a piece of plexiglass that I've linked to the turning mechanism.  The plexiglass lever helps to make the rudder deflection to the left and right more even and consistent.

The new configuration.  I've decided to mount only one rudder underneath because I don't want to glue them on and only one is a tight enough fit that it won't easily fall off.
Testing the new rudder configuration

18 May 2014
(Pool Test - big day)

Thanks to Nick & Crystal Coons of Hyperion Works who were kind enough to let me use their pool.  :-)


In its natural element
The test went fairly well.  I didn't have much rudder authority (which I expected).  Also (hard to see in the video), the tail rides higher in the water than the rest of boat causing some downward thrust into the water (which I didn't expect) thus increasing drag.

11 May 2014
("Final" Configuration)

Today I got it completely assembled and tested as much as I could without having a pool or a lake to test it in.

 All the parts ready for final assembly
Attaching the "pontoons"

Putting it all together
 Making sure this design won't tip over easily
Testing the controls.  I would like to see greater and more even deflection with the rudder.  I'll see how goes . . .

The "final" configuration sans propeller.  I cut off the tips of the wings because I really don't want this thing accidentally getting airborne.  Now I just need to find a pool or small lake.

10 May 2014
(Reinforcing the ends of the wing)

The glue job on the wing's underside turned out well.  The next thing I decided to do was also reinforce the ends of the wing where I will be mounting the pontoons.  I cut up an old Sparkling Ice soft-drink bottle for this.  It's a thin plastic that is flexible and will keep a crease.  Also, it's curve lends it well to going along the top side of the wing.  Gorilla Glue was the glue of choice for this step too.

The underside of the wing with the plexiglass glued to it and zip-ties running around the plexiglass
How the wing will mount the fuselage.
 The start of repurposing the Sparkling Ice bottle

All glued and clamped.  Waiting for the glue to dry.

4 May 2014
(Reinforcing the middle of wing)

I'm going to use the wing to extend the pontoons further away from the fuselage to help with stability.  The wing is made of foam so it won't hold up well to holes the zip-ties will be going through.  To deal with that, I glued some plexiglass to the underside of the wing with Gorilla Glue.


18 April 2014 (Completion of conversion - first configuration)

I completed the conversion today.  This included mounting the rudder assembly to the fuselage, connecting the control lines, and attaching the floats.  My desire is to use as much of the original model as possible for the conversion.  So, I modified the landing gear (by bending the wires to form a 90-degree angle with the fuselage) so I could attach floats to it.  The tail float I attached to the tail via the rudder mounting screws sticking out the bottom.  It turned out the holes I drilled in the plastic bottle to attach it are just slightly less far apart than the mounting screws are (I was eye-balling it).  That created a tension that holds the bottle on without any other hardware.  I wasn't totally satisfied with my initial float mount design.  But, it was a quick way to get the plane on the water to see if it will even float.  The float base is very narrow and whole thing leaned to one side in the water.  This configuration clearly isn't stable.  But, I did learn that it will at least float without trouble.  Testing rudder control and deflection was the other important thing I tested here.  Unfortunately, the rudder deflection is only maybe 10-degrees.  I'm really shooting for something closer to 45-degrees.  When I fix the stability problem, it might turn out that 10-degrees is enough to make small enough turning radius.


12 April 2014
(The rudder assembly)

Mostly completed the rudder assembly today.  I still need to glue the brass tubing to the steering mechanism so they don't wobble.  But, this is how the rudder will look when it's attached to the boat.


28 March 2014
(The conversion begins)

I've settled on the idea of making it into a boat.  It just appeals to me more.  I already have a good (and simple) idea of how I want to make it float.  So, I focused on how I would make it steerable.  The seemed the most difficult problem.  Below we have some RC car steering system parts and brass tubing and the v-tail of the airplane. 

I have in mind a sort of swamp boat type design with two vertical rudders.  These pictures show the separation of the v-tail into two pieces, gluing the "rudder" on each of the tail pieces so they will move as one piece, cutting the brass tubing into two six-inch pieces and using a Dremel tool to cut out the tubing so they would slide over the steering system parts.  The last picture shows the completed steering assembly.


I also spent some time putting the electronics and motor back in the fuselage since it turned out I would be reusing that part too.

Early 2012

I bought a radio controlled airplane made by Hobbyzone.  The Firebird Commander 2.  It has two channels of control.  When I bought it, I didn't really have any experience with RC aircraft and the place I bought it from didn't bother to explain the significance of channels and how it would affect my ability to control the aircraft other than to say "more channels are better."  Not a helpful response and getting something with more channels caused the price to go up a lot.

While attempting to fly this aircraft, I learned the problem with only having only two channels of control.  In this aircraft that meant:  throttle and rudder.  So, I could go faster and I could turn (sort of).  If I wanted elevator control (pitch) or aileron control (roll), that required a transmitter and receiver with an extra channel for each of those functions.  If only the guy behind the store counter had explained that, it would have saved me a lot of trouble and he would have made a better sale.

Flying this plane turned out to be a very stressful experience.  Climbing required adding more throttle and if the plane was diving (which happened often) that required adding throttle too and the hope that there was enough altitude for the plane to gain enough speed for aerodynamic effects to cause the plane to pitch up and start climbing.  I was able to control it (barely) and I crashed it more than once and eventually broke the wing.  Crashing usually meant nosing into the ground.  Thankfully, this design had the propeller in the back and a rubber nose in the front.  So, electronics, motor and propeller survived all the crashes.

Moral: If anyone would like to get into RC flying, I very highly recommend they get something that has at least 3-channels (throttle, rudder & elevator) and ideally 4-channels.  Later on, I bought one of those cheap RC helicopters with 3-channels.  I was able to control it fine.  But I'd recommend at least 4-channels in that case as well so that it will fly more like a helicopter and be more controllable.

After I broke the wing, I decided I'd had enough of this airplane.  Into the closet it went.  I wasn't ready to throw it in the trash.  All the electronics worked.  It was just that only having 2-channels really made it unsuited to functioning in a 3-D environment.  Someday, I wanted salvage what was left and turn it into an RC device that is functional.  I had in mind either a boat or a car.

The plane and the box it came in.  When I bought it, it was in ready to fly condition.  In this picture, I've removed the motor and electronics in anticipation of using them somewhere else.