Melanie gave me a Peter Rake-designed Sopwith Camel from
Manzano Laser Works short kit for Christmas 2008. The entire
building process has been documented here. The laser cut parts are
very nice, as can be seen in these photos. BTW, if you can't get
enough Sopwith Camels, here is my
Cox Sopwith Camel.
silkspan and dope covering tutorial video (April 2010).
Updated December 4, 2009
Updated November 5, 2009
October 12, 2009
There are a couple places you can go to read construction articles
on the Sopwith Camel, but they are for radio control. My Camel was
originally going to be built for control line, so I figured it would
be worth including some additional information here. I have since
decided to use a 3-channel R/C setup. I planned at first to use
the recommended Graupner GR170323 motor/gearbox combination, but
have since settled on an E-flite Park 370 brushless outrunner motor
to get the extra power. Either a 2-cell, 1500 mAh LiPo or a 3-cell,
1300 mAh LiPo battery will be used. Using an APC 10x4.7 e-propeller
and the 3-cell LiPo, the thrust ration on a full charge well exceeds
The instructions and plans are very sparse, and leave a lot to
the imagination regarding the actual construction, so there are
photos here that you will not find elsewhere. A lot of balsa sheeting,
wire bending and soldering, and balsa carving and sanding is required.
While there are people out there gifted with an ability to figure
it all out even the first time around, many will appreciate some
help. Hopefully, this content will take the edge off the difficulty
in getting through the process. The old says goes that a picture
is worth a thousand words, and for model building that is definitely
true. Here are a few thousand extra words.
a video of Clive Gamble's FF
in flight. Its distinguishing feature is a
very short distance between the prop hook and the motor peg
New photos will be added as building progresses.
The photo below shows the bellcrank mounted in the fuselage.
I plan to attach the wings permanently, so the bellcrank faces upward
for access through the cockpit for maintenance. Lead-out lines are
coiled for now. You can also see how the landing gear wire is laced
and epoxied to the plywood mounts. After the bottom balsa sheet
is on, filler will cover the wire. There is another shot of the
bellcrank, only this time from the top. You can also see where the
the cabane struts are laced and epoxied to the formers.
March 2013 Update
I finally completed the wing repair and totally refinished the
entire Camel. About a pint of acetone and lots of paper towels were
used to wipe the color coat of dope off the entire airframe. Then,
a couple coats of clear were applied, and a couple coats of white
base color. Sanding was done every other coat. Even with the white
base, it took five coats of yellow to get a good opaque color. Just
two coats of olive drab green were needed, and three coats of Insignia
red. Prior to painting, two additional coats of white were applied
in all the areas where white would be needed in order to avoid having
to brush many coats of white over color. When the weather warms
up, I plan to spray a light coat of clear over everything.
Melanie with the Manzano Laser Works Sopwith
Camel - Set up for electric-powered control line.
I have found that it is easier to get the balsa sheeting right
for compound surfaces by first making paper templates. The ones
shown below were taped tightly to the frame, then a pencil was used
to trace the edges. I cut the templates with scissors, then used
them to draw the outline on the balsa sheeting. Cut them just slightly
oversize, then sand to fit. For installation, I glued the straight,
flat edge toward the rear of the fuselage, then wetted the top surface
with water and used masking tape to pull the sheeting tightly to
the formers and fuselage. After it dried, I lifted the sheeting
enough to apply glue, then taped everything back in place and let
the glue set. The process was repeated for most of the curved sheeting
pieces, including the front fuselage top pieces (I did it in three
Vertical fin & rudder laminations
A vessel for holding the lamination strips was
formed out of tin foil, then weights held the balsa under the alcohol
Here is the completed side sheeting, the rear top sheeting, and
the front top sheeting. The rear top sheeting (over the cockpit
area) was first cut a little oversize, then one edge was glued to
the fuselage side. The top of the sheeting was wetted, and then
masking tape held the sheeting to the formers while it dried. I
then sanded the loose side to make it mate with the other fuselage
side. I personally do not like having to use a lot of filler for
sanding later, so I put a little extra effort into getting a good
fit. In order to provide a good gluing surface for the front fuselage
top sheeting, I cut an 1/8" wide strip of 1/16" thick balsa that
matches the curve of the rear cockpit former. Otherwise, you would
need to have the sheeting join within the width of a single piece
of 1/16" balsa former.
Instructions for building the cowl are equally ambiguous. Nothing
indicates that the thin strip of plywood that gets wrapped around
the perimeter of the cowl should not go all the way around, but
it does not. The first step is to cut 1/8" balsa stick separators
that set the proper distance between the plywood cowl rings. I used
five separator pieces. Be sure to get everything square. Next, wet
the outside surface of the thin plywood and wrap it around the rings.
I used clamps to hold it in place. Once dry, remove the plywood,
apply glue, and clamp it in place until the glue sets. Sand both
side flush once dry. Finally, the 1/8" balsa half-circles (8 of
them) are glued to one face of the cowl ring. I shifted each set
of halves by 90° in order to keep all
the joints from being in the same location.
Cowl assembly, prior to cutting away bottom area
and final shaping
Below are a couple photos of the
being rigged on the Sopwith Camel.
This is the Sopwith Came on the workbench during the wing rigging
procedure. Per the instructions, the top wing was attached first,
since the dihedral of the bottom wing is set by the length of the
wing struts. Note that while I originally planned to make the Sopwith
Camel a control line model, I have decided instead to do 3-channel
radio control using rudder and no ailerons. Therefore, I have configured
about twice the normal dihedral in the bottom wing; the top wing
is still flat. That's not too much of a deviation from scale, so
only the true Camel fan will suspect anything is amiss. The first
step is to fix the fuselage in position and hold it there rigidly.
I used large T-pins crossed across the landing gear wire to stake
the model to the building board. A prop was placed under the rear
fuselage to make the fuselage bottom where the lower wings attach
level with the board.
Next, the top wing was attached by sliding the cabane wires into
the plywood saddles. It took a while, but I kept measuring, removing
the wing to bend the wires, and re-installing the top wing to get
everything exactly aligned (equal distance from wingtips to rear
of fuselage, wings level with building board). Once satisfied, I
removed the wing, sanded and cleaned the music wire cabane struts
with alcohol, then squirted thick CA into the plywood saddles and
re-mounted the wing. Finally, re-check alignment and let the glue
set. On my Camel, I used a small jeweler's file to file a couple
small grooves in each of the strut wires where they are captured
inside the plywood saddles just as an extra gripping point.
Here is a close-up that shows how the cabane struts are attached
to the top wing using 1/8" aircraft plywood that has a groove filed
in the middle to accept the music wire. Make the slot is a snug
fit that the wires can be slid in and out of during adjustment.
Aligning the bottom wings: Use a large square or triangle contacting
the trailing edge of the top wing to mark the location of the top
wing on the building board - one mark very near the fuselage and
then another out near the tip. Apply masking tape and mark the tape
(keeps the board clean). Then, using the 1/8" dowel stubs in the
bottom wing root rib, slide it into place against the fuselage.
Use the square or triangle right next the fuselage to mark the location
of the bottom edge trailing edge on the building board. Do both
left and right wing halves and verify that the distance from the
top wing mark to the bottom wing mark is the same on both sides
(or within a small fraction). Remove the bottom wings and
place a piece of masking tape on the board out near the tip where
the top wing mark is located. Place a mark on that tape the same
distance as the ones near the fuselage. Do the same for both sides.
Now, reattach the bottom wing halves and use the square or triangle
to align the trailing edges. Prop the wingtips up using the rear
wing strut as a gauge. Measure to make certain that both halves
are at the same dihedral angle. Re-verify the trailing edge alignment,
then flow some CA glue into the wing mount areas at the fuselage
interface. Leave the fuselage attached to the building board while
fitting the outer wing struts. Be sure to sand to shape and verify
that the angle of attach (incidence angle) of all wings are correct
before gluing the struts.
November 5, 2009
Well, it is November 5, 2009, and my Sopwith Camel is just about
ready for covering. Although I was going to do a silkspan and dope
job when the Camel was going to be configured for control line flight,
I am now planning to use Monokote - olive drab everywhere except
on the bottoms of the wings and rudder. The photos below show details
of the open framework, radio and battery installation, motor, wheels,
wing strut attachment points, elevator and rudder hinged surfaces,
etc. As mentioned earlier, the plans and instructions are very sparse
so I was sure to take lots of photos along the way for the benefits
Peter Rake Sopwith Camel
open framework, ready for covering.
1/16"x1/8" balsa strips were glued diagonally
across all the rear fuselage frame members. The added rigidity is
amazing (no twisting of the empennage), and the weight is negligible.
Top view of the framework.
1/8" plywood motor mount and string used to hold
the battery pack retaining strap in place.
Detail of wing strut attachment (stained &
lacquered). Note that 1/4" wide strips of 1/16" balsa have been
added to the side of the strut ribs (top and bottom wing) to provide
an anchor for Monokote. Monokote is applied from fuselage out to
struts, then from struts to wingtip.
Empennage details showing hinged surfaces.
Horizontal stabilizer mount sanded to correct
angle of attack.
Tail skid with music wire super glued on bottom
Using a small X-acto saw blade to create proper
size hinge slots.
HS-55 servo in custom mount
Carbon fiber pushrod - E/Z Link on servo end,
custom retainer on control horn end.
Landing gear solder joint.
22, 2009 Update
Covering with Monokote has begun.
Yellow is used on the bottoms of the wings, and olive drab is used
everywhere else except on the rudder (which is bleu, blanc, et rouge).
Decorations (roundels, etc.) will be added after the first few flights.
That's one of the many benefits of electric flight - test flights
can be made without fear of rendering the finish unable to accept
paint or iron-on covering because of oily exhaust residue.
For the lower wings, a 1/4" wide strip of olive drab Monokote
was attached at the junction between the wing and fuselage in order
to accommodate a not-so-perfect joint later. A paper template was
made for the top of the lower wing halves to get the contour of
the fuselage interface right without having to trim the Monokote
at the fuselage during the ironing process. Likewise, a paper template
was used to cut the contour of the top of the wing halves into the
fuselage side covering prior to ironing. It worked out very well.
Covering wing in sections.
1/4" wide strip of Monokote ironed into junction
between lower wing and fuselage.
4, 2009 Update
My Camel is now fully covered, but
without any trim markings other than the bleu, blanc, et rouge stripes
on the rudder. An attempt to wrap the cowl in Monokote did not work
out well enough to keep. Using lots of heat from the heat gun, I
was able to successfully stretch the Monokote around the small radius
to where there were no wrinkles anywhere, but it was so thin that
it was translucent and you could see the wood underneath. So, I
peeled off the Monokote and covered the cowl with medium grade Silkspan
and dope. A few coats of clear were applied and sanded, then a couple
coats of Testors silver dope finished it.
The front half of the dummy radial engine provided with the kit
has been painted and installed in the cowl. The E-flite Park 380
brushless motor pokes out neatly through the crankcase area. As
suggested in the instructions, the cowl will be held to the firewall
with a couple small dabs of silicon cement.
Manzano Laser Works Sopwith Camel ready for its
Adjusting the incidence of the top and bottom wings took a fair
amount of work, but was worth it to guarantee that no surprise rolling
and/or stalling tendencies would be experienced! The first step
was to block up the Camel on the lower wings near the fuselage,
set to be parallel with the workbench surface. Then, measurements
were made at the lower wingtips to get it level from side to side.
The distance from the workbench to the trailing edge was measured
near the fuselage, and that was used to adjust the angle of the
wingtips. About 3/32" of washout (LE lower than TE) was set at the
tips to help tame the stall behavior. Changes were made by twisting
the wingtips while using a heat gun to re-shrink the Monokote to
hold the shape. the fuselage needs to be held rigidly in place whilst
twisting. The top wing was already set parallel to the bottom wing
during the installation on the cabane struts, so only the top wingtip
incidence needed to be checked. I used ruler measurements for that
as well, and set the same amount of washout in the top wingtips.
A final check was done using the Great Planes laser incidence meter,
as shown in the photo below. It confirmed my measurement. I did
not use the meter for initial adjustments because its weight was
barely tolerated by the relatively flimsy wing structure. I was
careful to configure the meter's distribution of weight to not cause
the wingtip to tilt to the front of rear and thereby affect the
Sopwith Camel sitting on leveling blocks for
wing incidence adjustment
To balance the Sopwith Camel, I taped a 1/4" round brass tube at
the center of gravity point per the plans (2.25" back from the firewall).
The tube was then set atop wooden block to get the wheels off the
surface, then weight was added as necessary. Be sure to hold the
airframe in a font-to-back level position before testing to see
which way it is going to tilt, or you can get a false reading. I
was a bit disappointed when it cam time to balance the Camel in
that it required 3.5 ounces of dead weight in the front of the cowl.
I hate that! Prior to adding the weight it was at a respectable
19.2 ounces; now it is sitting at 22.7 ounces - yuk. Well, it is
better to be heavier than planned than to be tail heavy and destroy
1/4" brass tube taped at balance point.
Pushrod connections at rudder and elevator -
wire retainer is bent from a pen spring (right)
Here is the ready-to fly wing loading:
Wing Area: 2 x 36" x 5.75" = 414 in2 =
Weight: 22.7 ounces
Wing Loading = 22.7 / 2.875 = 7.90 oz/in2
A lot of Park Flyers run in the 5 - 6 oz/ft2 range,
so she definitely will not fly like a Park Flyer, but then the Camel
is not advertised as such. To the other extreme, the Great Planes
electric Cub is rated at 16 - 17 oz/ft2, so she should
do much better than even a notoriously docile Cub. Now, I just need
a good day...
A few months ago while painting the bedroom where my model building
occurs, I was stupid enough to place the Sopwith Camel on the floor
where I thought is would be safe from damage. I have a rule of never
putting a model on the floor if I'm not going to be working on it,
then back on the bench or wall it goes. Well, as bad luck would
have it, a drawer that had been removed and stood on end tipped
over and cleaved a chunk out of the lower right wing panel. I spent
a good two or three days mentally flogging myself for that instance
of idiocy. I have finally gotten around to affecting a repair. I
cut off the ragged silkspan, and trimming and sanding the spar and
trailing edge, then made a template for the ribs. Rather than try
to cut out the good portion of the damaged ribs, I decided to place
the replacements next to the existing ribs. The photo below shows
The next step will be replacing the silkspan. Unfortunately,
the roundel on the bottom of the wing has an area that needs to
be re-painted. It might be a while (or never) before that gets done.
Sopwith Camel Lower Wing Repair
See photos at top of page of repaired and totally repainted Sopwith
Posted February 11, 2012