Kids Love Model Airplanes

Written by Don DeLoach Free Flight Sport Column As seen in the April 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

the steele elementary after-school class
01: The Steele Elementary after-school class is hard at work on Sky Bandits, under the mentorship of Pete McQuade (L, standing), Darold Jones (R, standing), and Skilly DeLoach (R, seated with a nametag).

Get Kids Involved!


A Recent Experience teaching an after-school beginners’ Free Flight (FF) course for kids has reiterated a truth that many of us have either forgotten or never truly believed: Kids still love model airplanes.

The class, limited to eight students, sold out online in 2 minutes. The same class that was taught the previous fall sold out in 5 minutes, and I was forced to add two extra slots when desperate parents demanded it. Keep in mind that this class sold out first among a large menu of choices such as chess, yoga, zoology, bicycling, dance, karate, and several others.

Approximately 120 of the school’s 300 students participated in these afterschool classes, with each family paying between $25 and $80. Our class was the second most expensive at $60 per student.

Surprised? So was I. The first year (2017), I genuinely thought our class would be no more popular than any other. But after 2018’s 2-minute sellout, it was obvious that its popularity was no fluke.

The class was six weeks long, 1 hour per week. I had two or three helpers from my club each week. We discussed the physics of flight, stability, and trim, but most importantly, we built and flew small FF models and focused on fun.

We started by folding simple bat-wing paper airplanes then moved up to a succession of simple foam and balsa gliders. The first glider kit we built was the Wing-Ling ’77, an ARF foam-plate flying wing that is expertly laser cut and has the nose weight already attached. You simply pop out the parts, slide on the fin, and fly—in approximately 30 seconds. The wing’s glide performance is remarkable considering its simplicity.

fourth-grader erin sullivan was a particularly
02: Fourth-grader Erin Sullivan was a particularly enthusiastic and proficient builder and flier. Here, she beams after an excellent flight with her Mountain Lion.

We assembled them on a particularly nice October day, and were able to fly them outside for half an hour. Kids learned to adjust the flying surfaces for looping flight or lengthy, straight glides. We did a few mass launches, and they exuberantly launched them from the top of the playground equipment. Several flights topped 10 seconds, and one caught a piece of lift and flew over the roof of the two-story school building! It was great fun.

The following week, we stepped up slightly in complexity and tackled Retro RC’s Sky Bandit, an elegant, laser-cut, 8-inch wingspan model. These airplanes slide together and use no glue, so the kids were quickly able to fly them.

We trimmed the models to fly in a straight line across the gym from a raised stage. Kids learned about smooth launches and the importance of rudder trim and dihedral. Many of them got the gliders to fly more than halfway across the gym—approximately 30 feet.

During week three, we introduced cutting and sanding to the skillsets. The first year we built 6-inch wingspan PEP scale gliders by Volaré Products. These are laser-cut reproductions of toys that were packaged in Kellogg’s PEP cereal during World War II. Volaré’s owner, George Bredehoft, scanned and traced the originals, so the sizes, shapes, dimensions, and proportions are the same as what the kids pulled out of the box in the 1940s.

Simple to Build

the sky bandit
The Sky Bandit by Retro RC is a simple kit that slides/straps together without adhesive.

The originals were ink stamped on a hard, thin wood. These reproductions are laser cut into 1/20-inch balsa with markings on both sides, creating neat, semiscale models that glide surprisingly well. Additionally, they provided a great excuse to talk to kids about aviation history, particularly US airpower during WW II.

the pep gliders by volar products
The PEP gliders by Volaré Products are respectable performers and provide a great conduit for a discussion about the history of military aviation.
skilly displays the wing-ling
Skilly displays the Wing-Ling ’77 (R) and the Mini Catapult, another great beginner’s kit available from Retro RC.

In weeks four and five, the kids were ready to tackle a stick-and-tissue, rubber-powered build—the Mountain Lion by Laser-Cut Planes. This outstanding, 16-inch wingspan model takes less than an hour to build (using CA glue) and flies off the board every time. It’s perfect for a small school gym and it’s quite rugged.

Our class had great success with the Mountain Lion. All of them flew at least 20 seconds, and some flew up to 30 seconds. Our school doesn’t have a large enough ball field to fly them outside, but if it did, we would have seen 1-minute flights or longer.

The Mountain Lion comes with 3/32-inch rubber strip, tissue for covering, and excellent instructions. I highly recommend it for 8- to 10-year-old kids with zero experience in model aircraft. Bulk discounts are available.

Contact your local school’s parent-teacher association and ask if it would like you to teach an after-school class. The organizers will likely gratefully accept your offer, and in return, you’ll get to see the spark of imagination of children getting their first taste of flight.


National Free Flight Society (NFFS)

Retro RC

(248) 212-9666

Volaré Products

(269) 420-9477

Laser-Cut Planes

[email protected]

AMA Flight School

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