Ship Model Aircraft Successfully

Print this articlePrint this article

Written by Fred Randall Tips for sending your large assembled treasures across the country How-to As seen in the June 2009 issue of Model Aviation.

I was kidding—or perhaps I only thought I was. When MA Editor Michael Ramsey expressed a desire to fly my Golden Era 60 Bipe (the subject of a February 2009 MA RC construction article), I replied by e-mail, “Fine … I’ll ship it and you can test fly it!” I hadn’t expected the reply I got. “I Double Dog Dare Ya!” he wrote. I try to be a sensible person, but I took this as a challenge. I suppose it has something to do with my Celtic ancestry. “I’m serious; where do you want it sent!?” I e-mailed back. So it began. A search ensued for a suitable container, or containers, for the model’s bulky and odd-shaped components. I determined that I would need two boxes; one would measure 60 x 32 x 24 inches and the other would be 60 x 24 x 18 inches. My first stop was one of the local shippers, which serves as an agent for UPS, FedEx, and DHL. The results were disappointing; it had no boxes big enough for the airplane’s parts. Not only that, but the clerk informed me that neither UPS nor DHL nor FedEx handles packages that large. UPS would ship the smaller of the two boxes for $200—more than I wanted to pay. Besides, I wanted to keep the boxes together. Now I had two problems: finding containers for the Golden Era and finding a shipper to take them to AMA Headquarters in Muncie, Indiana! I searched the Internet and found a Web site proclaiming that it could box and ship almost anything. Prominently displayed on the home page was a picture of a 1/4-scale, maybe larger, Extra 300 fuselage, mounted on a wooden pallet and ready for shipping. Terrific!
Double-layered corrugated cardboard is just that: two layers of ribbed material and three skin barriers. It’s tough as nails and should be specified when custom-ordering shipping boxes.

It was Sunday, so I e-mailed the company, explaining my dilemma in detail. Monday morning, I received a phone call from a gentleman who represented the shipping company. He said he would be able to accommodate the bipe. Including pickup at my home, on-site crating, materials, labor, and transportation to Muncie, the cost would come to only $800. I told him I’d check with “my people” and get back to him. The price was way more than I wanted to pay, and I gave up on that option. I got back on the Internet and looked for a source for containers. After many telephone calls and e-mails, with less than encouraging results, I received a return e-mail from Custom Made Boxes in Des Moines, Iowa. I was informed that the company could provide custom-made, double-thick corrugated boxes for the model at a reasonable cost. After a series of e-mails and telephone calls between Kim Weier and me, I ordered the boxes. The cost, including shipping to me at Uxbridge, Massachusetts, was just less than $100. While I waited for the boxes to arrive, I queried trucking companies, asking for the cost of shipping the packages to AMA Headquarters (a distance of 893.3 miles, according to MapQuest). I figured a weight of a bit less than 100 pounds for the two packages.
It’s good to use a strong tape on the inside flaps and seams.

I received quotes that were in the neighborhood of $300 from all of the shippers, and I’d have to take the boxes to the terminals. All cited the cost of diesel fuel at well more than $4 per gallon as the reason for the high price. I exchanged e-mails with Michael Ramsey, discussing the problem. One of his suggestions was to check with the Greyhound (bus lines) PackageXpress. I’ll tell you more about this later. Packing Recommendations: When the boxes arrived, I devised a plan for securing the bipe’s fuselage in the larger of the two. I made a quick trip to the local hardware store and lumberyard and returned home with some 8-foot lengths of 1 x 3-inch pine strips. Using the lumber, I made a ladder-like base framework. To that I stapled and hot-glued a pair of heavy corrugated-cardboard triangles that were notched to support the fuselage, front and rear. I lined the notches with 2-inchthick batting material and put the fuselage into the notches. During that operation, I realized that I was going to need to remove the landing gear. I would have preferred to leave it on for the additional protection it would have afforded the fuselage from underside damage, in case of mishandling. I removed the landing gear and taped it to the fuselage support, after which I covered the airplane with more batting. I covered the batting at the front and rear of the model with wide cardboard strips. I secured the assembly to the base frame using lots of “McGuyver grade” duct tape. The Golden Era was secure in its cradle, but it needed protection from being crushed from above. For that, I constructed a “roll cage” frame from the wood strapping.
From a different perspective, it’s easy to think that shipping a model inside a smaller box might be possible. Extra padding is an investment you’ll never regret.

I duct-taped a small box containing the cowl and hardware, as well as samples of the composite material I used in the wings, to the roll cage, and then I lowered the assembly into the larger box. The wooden frame was designed to fit snugly so that it couldn’t shift within the enclosure. I bid the bipe a fond farewell and closed its container. Then I turned my attention to the wings. I had purchased a 14-cubic-foot bag of packing peanuts from Postal Center USA to protect them. My wife, Lol (short for Lorraine), helped me pour a 4-inch layer of peanuts in the bottom of the smaller box. I placed the bubble-wrapped lower wing on top of the peanuts and poured in more peanuts, covering the wing under a thick coating. Then I placed the upper wing, also encased in bubble wrap, in the box. I poured in the rest of the peanuts, filling the box to capacity. I added a manila envelope that contained a few additional parts and a note for the “lucky” recipient. Last, I sealed both boxes with glue and tape, added labels, and included the address information. Now for getting the boxes to Muncie.
Loading the wings was the easy part, since they would lay flat. Protective bubble wrap prevents chafing the wing panels, which were packed surrounded by foam peanuts.

Budget-Wise Shipping: Following Michael’s suggestion, I went to the Greyhound Web site and clicked on “Package Express.” Fully expecting the boxes to be rejected because of size, I keyed in the city of origin and destination, size, and approximate weight data. The only size restriction was that the largest dimension couldn’t exceed 80 inches. The estimated price for overnight priority delivery to the Anderson, Indiana, Greyhound terminal was only roughly $100. I was ecstatic! After I settled down from my excitement, I checked the schedules. It was Saturday, and the buses run seven days. According to the timetable, if I got the packages on the bus at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, they would reach the Anderson terminal the following morning at 10:20 a.m.—just 23 hours and 50 minutes later. Anderson is 20 miles from AMA Headquarters, and Michael said it would be no problem for him to pick up the boxes. (Editor’s note: Fred was sending me an airplane to test; it was the least I could do!)
The box containing mainly the fuselage contents is laid next to the box and interior frame. The nose spinner is great for engine protection.

Sunday morning, Lol and I got up early and loaded the van. We almost had to put one box on the roof rack but found that we could stack them inside by sliding the smaller box in through the side door. It’s 20 miles to Worcester (we pronounce it Wussta, with a New England accent), where the Greyhound terminal is. It has street level access, so we off-loaded the boxes and toted them down a long hall to the ticket window. “Can I help you?” asked the ticket clerk, a short, stout lady. It had to be obvious, since we had the coffin-sized boxes in tow. I explained that they were fragile and needed to go to Anderson, Indiana, by Priority Express, ensuring a one-day trip.
The author made an interior frame from 1 x 3-foot framing material. It both supported the outer box and lent a structure to which the contents could be bound.

The clerk opened a door and directed us to bring the boxes inside. Then a young man, who looked like he had had a rough night, entered and punched in for work. The lady told us that he was a new hire and that she would help him through the transaction. “The contents are fragile and they must be in Anderson tomorrow!” I said again. The man weighed the boxes on a portable electric scale and recorded them as 35 and 16 pounds. I was getting antsy, because it was almost 10:20 and the process was going at a snail’s pace. “The contents are fragile and they must be in Anderson tomorrow!” I reiterated. I might as well have been talking to the tiled wall. The process crept along, until, at last, the clerk asked for my credit card. She swiped it, had me sign, said, “Thank you for using Greyhound!” and handed me a receipt. Lol and I waited in the van outside the area where the buses offload and onload passengers, until a Greyhound arrived. After the people disembarked, a cart with the bipe boxes on it was trundled up. A large compartment was opened in the side of the bus, and it easily swallowed the boxes. The porter seemed to do his job with all possible care. We waited for the bus to depart. I felt good on the way home, thinking that the model was in good hands.
Folded cardboard supported the airframe so it could be 2-4 inches away from the box sides, thus safe from turbulent impact. Foam batting prevents chafing.

Sunday passed, and Monday morning arrived. When the clock hit 10:45, I called the Anderson depot. A man with a curt attitude said that the boxes hadn’t arrived. I was upset and asked where they might be. After a spate of verbal sparring, he gave me a number to call. After the usual, “Your call is important to us … ” spiel, a woman answered. She asked for the order number. When I recited it to her, she said that the boxes weren’t sent priority and that it could take anywhere between two and 10 days! I am basically harmless but capable of a righteous rant when sufficiently agitated—and I was agitated! I explained to the poor woman in a less than polite tone that I had definitely requested priority shipping. Then I asked where the boxes were. “We don’t track non-priority shipments,” she said apologetically. If I was agitated before, I was now furious. I slammed the phone into the cradle with such force that the caller-ID box bounced off the side of the desk and clattered to the floor. On the Internet, I located the telephone number of the Greyhound home office in Texas and dialed it. After the usual dose of elevator music, a woman with a pleasant voice and a Texas drawl answered. Maintaining my cool, despite wanting to scream, I explained the situation.
See? Duct tape can be used for almost anything, as long as “anything” doesn’t need to move—such as a completely assembled model fuselage.

She said softly: “Oh, you poor dear! I don’t blame you for being upset. Unfortunately these things happen and what I suggest is to wait until 5:30 p.m. when the Anderson terminal reopens and call again. There’s every chance your shipment will be there then. Is there anything else I can do for you?” My mind raced; this wonderful, caring creature made me want to curl up in her lap and purr. I forced myself back to reality. I called the Anderson terminal at 5:45 p.m. The same annoyed tone as before spilled from the telephone, and I was again propelled to high orbit. Almost before I could speak, he growled “Not here” and hung up. I was reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who had shipped auto parts to California via Greyhound. He said: “Took three weeks! I tried to get the location of my stuff, but nobody knew. I had just filed a claim with Greyhound when my contact in California called to tell me the box arrived and it was in good condition!” I didn’t know what to think. Had I made a huge mistake by sending my precious MA construction article prototype by Greyhound? Exasperated beyond words, I got on the telephone with Michael Ramsey. He told me to calm down and that if anything happened to the airplane, it could be fixed. “After all, we’re modelers!” he said. “Handling little surprises is what we do!” Somehow I felt better.
Loose pieces should be safely housed in a box that can then be secured within the confines of the larger shipping container.

In the morning, Michael e-mailed me, reporting that the Golden Era Bipe was in Indianapolis and that, because the local bus service couldn’t handle the packages’ sizes, it would assign a courier service to deliver them directly to AMA Headquarters. Someone had finally read the “Priority Shipment” sticker on the box! To my profound relief, the boxes arrived in perfect shape. Miracles do happen; all was well with the world again. When the boxes were being prepared for shipping, a yellow “Priority Shipment” sticker was affixed to them as I requested.
This box was void of foam packing peanuts (thank goodness), yet it still arrived with the cargo totally secure. The secret is in binding the contents.

However, the new hire in Worcester made a mistake while checking in the packages; I was charged for standard (GLI) rather than priority (PPP) shipping, and the amount was $86.60. I thought the lower price was because the combined weight was only half of what I had estimated using the Web site calculator. The result was that the Greyhound company offices thought the shipment was GLI and handled my telephone queries accordingly. The people moving the packages saw the priority sticker and handled it appropriately. As it turned out, the boxes arrived at AMA Headquarters the next day. That was one heck of a bargain! Moral of the Story: Maybe you will sell a model on eBay or need one shipped to a contest location. I’ll fill you in on some things I’ve learned and advice you should take from my diary.
Not so much as a boot print or caved corner was detected when Greyhound’s PackageXpress service delivered the priority shipment.

Package the contents so that they can be stored at almost any angle. Even though the box might be marked “Top,” the directions could be mistaken. Boxes with double-wall thickness are well worth the money. If you make your own boxes, line them with an extra layer of cardboard, attached with hot glue. Inside a rigid wood frame, the contents are less likely to endure a container collapse. Strap down loose items or store them inside an interior box. Untethered items could damage the other contents in the box. Protect the aircraft’s finish against buffeting with soft material such as the batting I cited, Polyethylene Foam material, or bubble wrap. The airplane’s outside points, such as the rudder, fin, and stabilizer, should be packed at least 1 inch from the container sides and shielded with a foam or soft cover in case the contents shift or the box is shocked.
The day after its arrival, the Golden Era 60 Bipe was assembled and taken on its maiden flight. The shipping project was a valuable lesson—and a successful one—that didn’t cost a fortune.

Using Greyhound was a new experience, so tracking the shipment was more nerve-racking than it would have been otherwise. The employees did their jobs well—and at a price that no other professional carrier service was willing to offer. I learned that all packages should be shipped with some lead time, to allow for handling difficulties that can occur even with premium services. I recommend this service, and I hope that this story will help you with any shipping dilemmas you might encounter. The next time you open the box containing a new ARF or RTF, notice the content arrangement and packing used. The methods those manufacturers use are typically good examples of how to ship model aircraft. -Fred Randall


Custom Made Boxes (515) 309-6155 Greyhound (800) 739-5020 Postal Center USA


Thanks for a great article Fred! Its nice to know there is a way to ship a large model airplane.

I always ship my kits USPS unless I have no other choice. Why? Because they do a better job than Fed Ex , UPS, or DHL. I get the same service, delivery time, tracking, and international service for 1/3 the price.

Example, I live in California and eight years ago I had to send a fully assembled prototype model to a trade show in New York overnight. ( A design I was contracted for by another company.) I shipped it in a double walled cardboard box, suspended in the center by packing peanuts. The whole thing weighed 7 pounds. Fed Ex and UPS wanted $215 to ship it overnight with tracking and insurance because they use "cube weight", i.e. if the box is over a certain size it is charged at the 60 pound rate no matter what it weighs. USPS used actual weight, shipped it with the same services for $56 and it arrived intact. The last time I made a similar shipment by UPS they broke it. USPS does use dimensional weight for packages over a certain size. My models are smaller than the model shipped in the article, but if you don't have to ship something quite that large USPS is a good option.

I've shipped USPS all over the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South America and have not had damage or delays. By the way, if Fed Ex or UPS has to ship something to a remote area where they do not have a local office, they ship it to the nearest Post Office and pay USPS to deliver it.

I spent a lot of time and money building my Goldberg Anniversary Cub with an OS 90 twin and set up or glider towing. I also took the extra time and care to cover it with dacron dress lining rather than Mono. It also had a set of floats as well as the wheels. I get so tired of all the time it takes to carry all that from the house to the car, then out on the field, then back in the car and back into the house.
The solution was to make up a custom fit crate out of 1 X 2 framing and 3/8" marine ply. The crate was easy, but all the little fittings, like wheel cradles and wing racks took a lot of time. But, it was all worth it in the end.
Yellow Trucking shipped it from CA to MO once for $185. Not too bad for such a large model with all of it's parts in one crate.
It, and my whole life's collection of RC stuff was stolen in my enclosed trailer about ten years ago. Have a new Anniversary Cub, but e-powered now. Have several other models, too.
Your 1 X 2 framework inside the box was a great idea! Love that model, too! Great color scheme.

I had to ship a Lanier Stinger 120 kit and had learned about Greyhoiuhd from an EBAY seller of vintage Zenith console radios. I simply taped the box shiut with my shipping and return info inside and took it to the terminal. The courteous clerk took it in and charged me about half what other shippers wanted. While I was there some prototype exhause pipes bout eight feet long were shipped simply packaged in a plastic bag. Greyhound is nothing if not flexible.

I highly recomend them and woild always chose them to ship anything large.

Happy Thanks giving,

Don Patterson

This is a rookie crating idea...

Try this...

How can I get one

wonderful designs

Add new comment