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Zlin Akrobat: For the Tenderfoot Article & Plans
September 1971 American Aircraft Modeler

September 1971 American Aircraft Modeler

September 1971 American Aircraft Modeler - Airplanes and Rockets3 Table of Contents

These pages from vintage modeling magazines like Flying Aces, Air Trails, American Modeler, American Aircraft Modeler, Young Men, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, R/C Modeler, captured the era. All copyrights acknowledged.

Website visitor Adrian C., of Moncton NB, Canada, wrote to ask that I scan and post the article for a catapult-launched free flight glider model of the Zlin Akrobat. It appeared in the September 1971 edition of American Aircraft Modeler. Written by well known and frequent contributor to the "For the Tenderfoot" series in AAM, this version of contest-winning full-size Akrobat has an 11" wingspan and the plans provide a high level of detail and realism for such a small model. Its bright scale-like red and white covering scheme is particularly attractive. I took the liberty of adding color to the plans.

Zlin Akrobat: For the Tenderfoot

"For the Tenderfoot" Thing - Airplanes and RocketsBy Bill Hannan

With colorful trimmings, this profile model becomes almost three-dimensional.

Catapult launching gives it long flights even in small hands.

Here's a small, simplified model of the famous Czechoslovakian aerobatic aircraft, which has appeared in so many international events. This glider is based on the Zlin 526 AS Akrobat and the information is from a Czechoslovakian aviation publication.

Colored tissue is used for striped patterns - Airplanes and Rockets

Colored tissue is used for striped patterns, a ballpoint pen draws the lines.

The launcher dwarfs the model - Airplanes and Rockets

The launcher dwarfs the model.

Profile models are easy to build, yet offer a chance to develop techniques which are useful in more advanced models. So "Czech-out" the drawing, grab some wood and get started!


This model should be constructed from fairly hard balsa, except for the tail planes, which should be made from lightweight stock.

Fuselage: Trace the outline of the body onto thin paper which, when cut out, will serve as a pattern. Transfer the outline by drawing around it with a very soft pencil, onto a sheet of unwarped 1/8" sheet balsa. Cut the fuselage to size, being particularly careful to keep the wing and stabilizer openings in their correct positions. The section beneath the wing may be removed, to be trimmed and replaced later, after the wing is in place.

Give the fuselage a thorough overall sanding and gradually taper the aft portion (as viewed from the top) down to 1/16" thickness, where the rudder will be attached. All of the corners may be rounded, except at the top and rear areas where the fin and rudder will be mounted. Cut a slot in the bottom of the fuselage to receive the tailwheel unit, which is cut from thin plywood.

Wing: The wing panels are cut from unwarped 3/16" sheet balsa. Using the pattern system, transfer the outline to the wood and trim to shape. Do a precision job on the notches because they contribute greatly to the strength of the dihedral joint. After cutting the wings to outline, shape them to the airfoil section shown on the plan. A sanding block is the best tool for this operation.

Fit the two panels together at the correct dihedral angle. Probably a little trimming and sanding will be required for a good snug fit. Pre-glue each side by rubbing a small amount of glue into the joining areas. Apply a second coat of glue, place the parts together at the correct angle, and put aside to dry completely. A sheet of Saran Wrap will prevent the wing from becoming a permanent addition to the work table.

Empennage: Patterns of the tails are used to transfer the outlines onto 1/16" sheet balsa. In the fin and rudder parts, note the direction of the grain, which contributes to their strength. Sand the parts to a streamlined section, except for the actual mounting areas.

Wheels: The retracted landing gear strut assemblies are drawn on paper and glued in position. Only a single wheel need be made. Cut and sand it to shape from balsa, then cut it in half to represent the retracted wheel. Paint the tires with Hot Rod Primer. It looks a great deal more like rubber than the usual flat black.

Decor: Obviously, the model simply could be glued together and be ready for flight. But, nothing looks more unfinished than a plain balsa aircraft. So, take extra time to add the coloring which will really light up the natural good looks of the miniature Zlin Akrobat. The easiest way to do this is before assembly, when the parts are still -flat on the work bench.

Since Zlins have been employed by aerobatic pilots from various countries, many color schemes are available. Color photos of these machines have appeared in several aviation publications, so select one of them as a guide. Or, invent your own! Ours is an amalgam of East German, Czechoslovakian, and imagination. The OK is legitimate Czech, but the AAM is simply the initials of our favorite magazine!

Finishing: Give all parts a coat of clear dope, applying it quickly to both sides of each part, otherwise warping may occur. The parts must stand on edge while the sides are drying, so lean them against a drinking glass, and sticking will be minimized. Plasticized dopes, such as Sig Litecoat, will also help prevent distortion. After the first coat has dried, lightly sand each part to remove the balsa fuzz. Then apply two more coats of thin clear dope to all surfaces.

The color stripes are cut from Japanese or art store tissue, which is available in a large variety of colors. A sharp blade is a must to obtain clean edges when cutting tissue, and a metal straight-edge is the best guide. By cutting two layers at a time, decorations for both sides can be made at once. Taping the tissue down taut to a sheet of cardboard will help prevent wrinkling and tearing while cutting out the decorations. The markings letters may also be cut from colored tissue or paper.

Place each decoration over its correct location on the part, then flow dope thinner right through the tissue. If sufficient clear dope has been applied to the part, the thinner will soften it enough to firmly hold the decoration in place. Sometimes a little gentle rubbing will be needed to snug the edges down, especially around curves. On tight radius corners, a drop of water applied with brush or fingertip will soften the tissue enough to allow it to conform to the shape. Be careful not to over-wet the tissue, or it may tear. The tissue technique may seem a bit tricky at first, but once it is mastered, it will be useful for all sorts of modeling projects.

After all of the decorations are in place, the various outlines, such as the aileron, may be drawn on with India ink and a drafting pen, or applied with chart tape. This very narrow tape may be obtained at art supply stores, or at some hobby dealers, where it is generally known as slot car striping tape.

Assembly: Glue on the tailplanes in their correct positions in relation to each other. Next, fit the wing into the fuselage opening, which may require a bit of trimming or sanding to achieve a good fit. Glue in the wing, being generous with the glue, in this high-stress joint. Fit the lower fuselage piece into place, sanding to fit, if necessary, and glue well. The wheels may be added to complete the model.

Flying: Catapult gliders are a special breed and require extra care in preparation if they are to perform efficiently. Briefly, the problem is the very great difference in speed between launching and gliding. Thus, tiny adjustments which may have little effect when the model is hand-glided, may have quite drastic effects when the model is catapult-launched.

Be certain that none of the surfaces is warped. If warps are found, they may be removed by holding the offending part over a steaming teakettle, bending it a bit beyond the desired location and then allowing to cool. Keep in mind that changes in temperature at the flying field may cause the warps to reappear, so check on them if the. model behaves strangely after having been adjusted.

The model should balance near the point indicated on the plan. A single finishing nail was sunk into a drilled hole in the nose of our model. Final minor changes in ballast are made with modeling clay. For the first flights, it is a good idea to put a small glob of clay on the lower nose, where it can serve as a shock absorber. A few hand glides should establish the need for addition or subtraction of weight. Also, if necessary, the elevators may be adjusted by slight bending. If the model should persist in falling off on one wing, a small lump of clay added to the opposite wing elevator setting. More up elevator means more nose weight (assuming the model is already correctly balanced). As the elevators are lowered, a slight amount of nose weight usually can be removed. In order to achieve consistent results, test flying should be performed on a calm day. Once the launching and adjustment techniques are learned, the model can be flown in wind also. If possible, do test flying over grass or weeds, which will help compensate for any pilot error.

You may want to experiment for best results, but our system is as follows. The catapult is a hardwood dowel 10" in length, 3/8" diameter. Smaller diameter sticks are not recommended, because they may break at exactly the wrong time - which really smarts! To the dowel tie both ends of a piece of 1/8" flat rubber about 16" long.

Our model is adjusted to glide in a gentle left circle, by means of wing tip weight or very slight left rudder bending, or both. The tip should cure the problem.

Adjustments made with clay ballast are safest, since their effect is virtually constant regardless of speed, as compared to surface bending, which causes distinctly different effects with speed changes. Ideally, the model should be flown with the elevator at 0 degrees in relation to the wing. However, this setting allows almost no margin for error in launching. That is to say that the model will be unlikely to pull out of a steep dive at low altitude. On the other hand, if too much up elevator is warped into the tail, the model will simply loop and will not gain enough altitude for good duration flights. Therefore, we suggest starting with a small amount of up elevator. Bend the trailing edges up perhaps 1/16" or so; then, as test flying and launching practice proceeds, the trailing edges may be lowered slightly.

A direct relationship exists between the amount of nose ballast required and the model is launched in a fairly steep banked attitude to the right, and upward at perhaps a 30-degree angle. The model is gripped directly above the tail wheel with the right hand, while the launching stick is held with the left. Pull back and release. Not pulling back far enough can be hard on the model until it has been adjusted, since it may stall at low altitude, without time to recover. Conversely, if the model is badly out of adjustment, too hard a launch may cause it to loop over and into the ground at balsa-crunching speeds. Try for a happy medium at first and increase the amount of stretch as you go along. A banked model may loop horizontally, which is less apt to do damage than the same model launched with the wings level. When flying on windy days, we have had best results when launching across the wind, rather than directly into it.

We think you will enjoy catapult gliders, and if you would like to participate in postal contests with other Tenderfoot modelers in other parts of the country, full details plus a delightful newsletter are available free from: <redacted>.


Zlin Akrobat Catapult Launched Glider Plans - Airplanes and Rockets

Zlin Akrobat Catapult Launched Glider Plans



The AMA Plans Service offers a full-size version of many of the plans show here at a very reasonable cost. They will scale the plans any size for you. It is always best to buy printed plans because my scanner versions often have distortions that can cause parts to fit poorly. Purchasing plans also help to support the operation of the Academy of Model Aeronautics - the #1 advocate for model aviation throughout the world. If the AMA no longer has this plan on file, I will be glad to send you my higher resolution version.

Try my Scale Calculator for Model Airplane Plans.



Posted January 9, 2024
(updated from original post on 4/14/2014)

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