by Erich Schlitzkus
Double click the video to watch it in a separate tab or window
We all love to see our scale sailplanes gracefully glide through the air. That’s why most of us love the hobby of scale soaring. With the onsetof on-board video cams, that have great picture quality, we are able to see what our gliders look like from the cockpit or look into the cockpit from the wing. I can remember seeing a video of the great electric guru Keith Shaw a couple of years ago. It showed his biplane with a pilot that actually moved the rudder pedals and stick. This amazed me and I always wanted to add this scale detail to one of my planes.
This RC dream remained tucked in a dark corner of my mind. My next project was to be the Schneider Schulgleiter SG-38 or “school glider” that was the Luftwaffe’s basic flight instruction glider for student pilots. First flown in 1938, it was their choice for training in the late 1930’s and into the 1940’s.
One of the most striking features of the SG-38 is the pilot sitting out front in the open air. As I looked over the drawings, at that point the memory of Keith’s Shaw’s model jumped into view. I thought, hey, I can make this little man move.
Okay, now that the plan has been laid out, how do I make it happen? First, I had to decide how many body parts would move? I know the legs and arms were a must, but I was not sure about the head. After digging around on the web, I really liked the method used to make the head move in concert with the rudder. It gives the pilot a cool look, as if he is looking where he’s going. So it was set. I needed to find a 1/3 scale pilot that had the ability to move without too much additional force added to the servos.
It just so happened that I had an old DGA 1/3 scale pilot that needed a home. These kits have rubber parts for the head, hands and feet. The core on the little guy is a fabric pattern that you sew and stuff to create the body. Then you can have clothes made to put over top. The pilot kit comes with other cool parts like goggles and a cap. I really love the DGA kits but unfortunately they are not made anymore. I was able to get my grandmother, who is an old school sewing wiz, to make clothing for the little guy. I just gave her some pictures of real fighter pilots and she was off and running. In a couple weeks she was done. The pilot looked just like the real thing. I was super happy.
Now the fun begins
How do I make him move with the control surfaces? The legs should be a straightforward operation because they are attached to the rudder pedals which are driven by a servo. Not! I ended up having to move the seat forward a little to have enough movement in his knees and legs. This set-up process took me a whole evening to get it just right. Now I needed to attach his feet so I can take the pilot out of the seat if needed. Velcro was my first choice but I was afraid the wind may blow them off the pedals. In the end I was able to take his boots off, fix them to the pedals with small brass screws and then insert his feet back into his boots. I did put a little Velcro on the bottom of each foot and inside the boots just to give it a little more sticking power.
The next step was getting the pilot’s arms to move with the control stick. The elevator is set up with a servo under the seat that has a control arm attached to a cable. The motion of the control arm drives the cable just like the mechanics of a real airplane. To this assembly I added a push-rod that moves the control stick as the elevator servo arm moves back and forth. At first I tried to run the cable to the stick as well, but after many attempts at this approach it had a centering problem, due to the cable tension. That is why I resorted to the separate push-rod.
The last step was to make the pilot’s head move side to side with rudder inputs. I know I had to put the servo into the chest cavity to drive his head but then I didn’t want it to make his chest move too. My solution was an old HS-55 servo to which I added a brass drive plate to the top of the servo arm with some small screws. I then added a drive post to the servo arm with a paddle that was the same size as the inside of the pilot’s head. Now, you have to remember that all the body parts are rubber so you are able to pull his head onto the paddle like a glove. After some playing around with it for an hour or so, it dawned on me, that my chest turns when my heads turns, so why shouldn’t his move too? After making additional adjustments I was very pleased with the outcome. One thing I ended up doing was offsetting his head to one side. I just thought it made the pilot look a little more life-like.
Before I could say my pilot was finished, I thought he needed some makeup to help him look a little more life-like. I was able find a very helpful web page at http://www.acesofiron.com/paint.htm. It provides step by step painting instructions that are not hard to follow. I bought a paint set at Wal-Mart and started to give my little man a fitting paint job. I was very pleased with the outcome, considering I have never done anything like this before.
I think that making the pilot as realistic as possible, only adds to authenticity of the entire completed project. I hope that you will find this overview helpful and encourage you to try it the next time you are making your scale project come to life.