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Written by Jim T. Graham 3D Printing and RC Column As seen in the January 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

What does 3-D printing have to do with the RC hobby? I was asked that question today, so I thought about it. Then I realized this would be a great topic for my Model Aviation column!

If you are an RC hobbyist, you probably like to tinker, build, and make things work. It’s all a part of the hobby. We don’t just fly or drive things remotely—we put them together and we figure out how they work. When we get something that works, we start to modify our project. I know that is how my brain works.

Until recently, all of my modifications involved preexisting parts from companies such as Ready Made RC or Du-Bro. I also keep various sizes of balsa and other "craft" woods to create servo and motor mounts, camera decks, and more. I’m here to tell you that my modeling world has just been opened up!

Jason Cole and I have been flying and working in the RC industry for more than a decade, so we often talk about our recent builds and projects. Lately he has been into 3-D printers. He is now on his third one.

I did a little research and got some input from Jason. I waited to choose a printer because it seemed like it was a ton of work just to get one put together and correctly working.

I decided I had waited long enough and took the plunge with a Creality3D CR-10 3-D printer from GearBest … now what? The printer received a lot of praise on YouTube and it had a bigger print bed than what I had expected. When it arrived, I took the big box into my 14-2019-old son’s room and proclaimed, "We are now 3-D printers!" He was as excited as I was!

The setup was easy compared with some airplanes that I have built, and everything I needed was in the box. The company even included spare parts, which I appreciated.

Now it was time to figure out how to make it dance. My son insisted on a few projects that he found, and I ended up with big piles of plastic spaghetti. It was then that I realized I had broken my own rule—I strayed too far before knowing my machine. The printer came with a 3-D object on an SD card. I hit the print button and was amazed!

When the first airplane that I ever built took to the air and actually flew, I just couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem realistic to expect a wooden airplane that I had worked on for a January to actually fly!

That is how I felt after my first 3-D printed object was made. The details! The smoothness! Unbelievable.

What does 3-D printing have to do with RC? In response to that, I ventured online to Thingiverse. This is a website where people such as you and I can share our 3-D creations. You can simply download them and then hit print.

Awesome files such as this can be found on the internet and are waiting to be printed!

This is where the fun part began. I had just purchased a new micro FPV camera that had no body. I typed in the camera’s part number and to my surprise, there were multiple 3-D-printable enclosures—cool! I entered the name of one of my current airplanes, the Stratosurfer. There waiting for me were custom canopies, motor mounts, and more. This was like Christmas morning!

Can I alter things I download from the website to suit my RC needs? Yes! I found a canopy for the Stratosurfer and did some research. I also discovered an online application that worked through a webpage. I opened the canopy file and with little effort, I figured out how to create an exit hole at the back to keep the internal components cool. This is what the future is supposed to be like!

Can I make my own 3-D designs? Yes again! I am the king daddy of creating custom things. I do it for every project and sometimes my ideas work, but rarely do they look professional.

Now I have the ability to decide if this airplane needs something—whether it is a camera mount, an air inlet, a faux 350 motor with blower, or eyeballs … whatever—I can design and print it, which makes me happy and excited!

Did I know that a 3-D printer would excite me this much? No. I had no idea that having the printer in the background whizzing and making something would make me happy. I know it sounds weird. All I can figure is that I am a maker. I’m always making something. It is an internal need and I guess this 3-D printer, which is only limited by size, allows me to make whatever I want. The modification world is mine!

Should you get a 3-D printer? If you were a regular kind of person I might not have a definite answer for you, but because you are an RC pilot, then it’s easy. Yes! You as a modeler will not only appreciate the things you can do with a 3-D printer, you will appreciate the entire process.


Creality3D CR-10 printer


Canopy 3-D file

The author’s Stratosurfer canopy is almost done!


One thing not mentioned in this article is the fact that you can also buy and print a flyable airplanes.

There is quite the growing community that are designing, printing and flying 3D printed planes. Checkout I've printed 5 and flown 3. The other two will maiden this spring.

If you build scale, a 3 D printer is invaluable!!! I would be lost without one!!

You didn't list what webpage/software you use to modify and/or make 3d things. I am on a license to fusion 360 by autocad, which is great, but I'll have to see if I can extend the trial like I've heard. If not, it may be too pricey for some people, but it is a great program.

If you decide to add a gopro or other HiDef camera to that FPV mix take a look at

Wing prints often lift off the bed at the LE and TE because the filaments shrink and pull it off the bed. The shrinking filaments pull on the point of the LE or TE. The pull on the part is the vector sum of the individual filaments. So you can place an oval under the TE and LE to adhere it to the bed.
Another helpful thing is to apply "MagiGoo" to the printer bed, but it is $20 for about 1.5 ounces, I know how to make it for 5 cents! It releases the part when it cools just like the expensive stuff!
My big problem is I find PLA to be heavy and brittle, so even though I solved the printing problems, I have become discouraged with the final outcome.

You can even 3D print a hole plane and fly it it is great!!!

I have recently scratch built a DASH 8-100 and had no motor mounts or cowlings for the model and electric motors. So, Fusion 360 and my 3D printer created both.

I also use a strap to secure the battery and a strip of loop in the battery compartment. The loop will retain less debris and keep the battery compartment cleaner.The loop strip should be long enough to allow for Center of Gravity adjustment.

Good article Jim.
Might I add that my local branch library has two Makerbots for the public to use. They are both way more expensive than I'd buy but we are only charged a minuscule amount for the filament used. The main library has two different machines with dual heads. There is a mandatory online class (free also) and a one on one start-up session (free). If you are fortunate to have a library with a "maker space", you're in business. Check your's out.

For those of us that barely know what is possible for 3d printing how about some examples that can be used for airplanes, among other projects. Just reproducing a part already in production (like a canopy) is one thing, but designing a specialized part you can't get anywhere else is another. Show us some ideas.

The 3-D printed parts/sections are easily glued together making for a very strong airframe.The model flys better then most because it is actually total scale (wing shape,airfoil,details,etc.) The build took about 3 weeks and around $30.00 worth of material.

I'm going to be returning to RC sport flying this autumn, after being unemployed since September 2008, and receiving disability benefits (from a bad upper left leg due to a botched hernia surgery in 1985) from the autumn of 2014 onwards to keep me going...still, I've managed to have a short career in AutoCAD drafting (eight years, 2000 to 2008), have done a small bit-o-work on my home PC with learning 3D modeling with SolidWorks 2000 from 2011-2014, and now I'm looking to obtain a "recent but retired" copy of SolidWorks of a more recent vintage from, say, 2010 to 2012, that's no longer in use by the original licensee and has become "surplus software" for all intents and purposes, to get back to using it again.
Once I can manage to get a "surplus software" copy of SolidWorks to resume its use on my home PC, I'd get myself going again in preserving vintage designs of RC transmitter control hardware (joysticks/trims, and most importantly RUDDER KNOBS), whipping up realistic spring-leaf tailwheel hardware components, and many other RC Scale/Giant Scale hardware items via SolidWorks and 3D solid modeling to build up my skills.
For learning solid modeling, one way to do it (providing one can get access to something like SolidWorks in the first place) might be with the "SolidProfessor" online individual learning system, and some portions of that online coursework...without ANY ties to colleges or other learning institutions...might be the best way to learn solid modeling. all on our own.
Thankfully, I was learning SW-2000's basics for some three years here at home, all on my own with the software's "getting started" manual, SW-2000 installed on my then-Windows XP home PC, and lots of time; in a sort-of "mouse and manual" manner of learning. I simply want tor resume that learning path, with a "recent but retired" copy of SolidWorks from a state or federal source that's no longer in use and would now be "surplus software", that could readily help a disabled fellow like myself to continue learning the basics of 3D solid modeling.

I took an eFlite UltraStick 25e and converted it into a twin motor version by designing and printing motor mounts with chamferred air inlets, threaded X-Mount holes, down / side thrust built-in, etc. I used Fusion360 for the design to produce an STL file that the printer's SW could process.

You're right; once you start, it is amazing the parts you discover you really "need".

First, I agree, 3D printing is a huge boost to modelers. But, please allow a few words of caution before buying a system.

I run a university Makerspace and Prototyping Shop using and maintaining a range of 3D printers from hobbyist systems like the Creality offerings through Stratasys and 3D Systems light-industrial units.

Setting up and maintaining any 3D printer takes a significant amount of time and effort. It's an excellent learning experience. If you want to learn the basics of how digitally-controlled manufacturing systems work Go For It. Phenomenal experience, great resume builder, all that. Whenever I find students who have a hobby 3D printer at home I try to hire them immediately.

If what you want are the model parts, let me suggest another approach. Find a local Makerspace or Hackerspace. They're shared workshops, usually with staff who will maintain the equipment. They'll usually charge a nominal build fee plus material cost at a slight premium, and run the 3D print files you bring in. Frequently they'll suggest orientation, support, or design changes that give you a higher quality part faster and more reliably. Quite a few Public Libraries are creating small Makerspaces with 3D printers and some other fun tools/toys that can be useful every now and then for the aircraft modeler hobbyist.

So, for the cost of a Creality3D CR-10 system you could have dozens of finished parts faster, cheaper, and with a lot less frustration on your end. You'd also be supporting local shops that help out S(cience) T(echnology) E(ngineering) M(athematics) A(rtistic) education, local enterpreneurs, and maybe meet a whole bunch of other creative people to hang out with.


I want to create a snoopy pilot figure for my daughters airplane. I have a picture of what I want from the internet. Is this a project I can do with a printer? I have no clue on what's involved.

What is the "online application that worked through a webpage"?? I am also just starting out with the 3D world, and would like to learn how to edit things I find...Thanks

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