gave me a Peter Rake-designed Sopwith Camel from
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
See the silkspan
and dope covering tutorial video (April 2010).
Updated December 4, 2009
5, 2009 (click here)
12, 2009 (click here)
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 1:1.
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.
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.
Melanie with the Manzano Laser Works Sopwith Camel - Set up for electric-powered
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.
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 separate pieces).
Vertical fin & rudder laminations - a vessel for holding the
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.
was formed out of tin foil, then weights held the balsa under the
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
wings being rigged on the
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
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 Update
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 of others.
Peter Rake Sopwith Camel open framework, ready
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 for durability.
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
Landing gear solder joint.
November 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
Covering wing in sections.
1/4" wide strip of Monokote ironed into junction between lower wing
December 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
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 maiden flight!
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 readings.
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 the craft.
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 = 2.88 ft2
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 Camel
Posted February 11, 2012