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May 02, 2015

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Gonzo the Great and Mighty

Completed August 2001


Airfield Models ( Specifications and Equipment

Wing Span: 47-3/4"
Chord: 10"
Wing Area: 478 square inches
Aspect Ratio: 4.8:1
Weight: 36 ounces
Wing Loading: 10.8 oz./sq. ft.
Length: 33-3/8" from back of propeller to elevator hinge line
Engine: O.S. .15 CV-A
Transmitter: Futaba 8UHP
Receiver: Hitec Micro 555 5-Channel
Battery: 4.8v, 350 mA NiCad
Servos (3): Elevator, Rudder and Throttle JR C341

About Gonzo

Three-Channel Aircraft

Most people start out with a four-channel trainer and then progress to more advanced airplanes and have never owned or flown a simple, lightweight three-channel model.

Planes like Gonzo are reliable, low maintenance and low stress.  They are also a lot of fun.  I do not mind handing the transmitter over to anyone - particularly friends and family who are not really interested in getting into R/C but would like to give it a try.

I had very few opportunities to build or fly models while I was in the Army.  Living in barracks makes model building difficult and frustrating.  The situation changed when I was stationed in  Germany in 1998.

In Heidelberg, I lived in a flat that had eight bedrooms (two per roommate) plus common areas (kitchen, living room, etc.).   At that point I turned one of my two rooms into a shop and began building plastic models again.

It did not take long before I wanted to get back to flying.  I took some leave in the summer of 2001 and completed the Herr Pitts Special.  I hadn't flown for years and the Pitts looked like it was going to be hot so I decided to get back into flying with something a little tamer.

I bought an Almost-Ready-To-Fly (ARF) kit of a Piper Cub that was designed for a .25 engine.  It was built it in an evening and flown the next day.

One of the wing panels had been manufactured with a serious warp that wouldn't come out with a heat gun.  After a few weeks of unenjoyable flying, I donated the Cub to Reiner Pfister's hobby shop in Germany for him to do with whatever he wanted.

Because the local shops had nothing but ARF's, I realized that I would have to design my own plane or order a kit from the States.  The decision was easy.  I bought a stack of wood and got to work.

I designed and built Gonzo in less than a week in August 2001.  Essentially I wanted something that I could get into the air as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Stinky the small and insignificant.I did not expect Gonzo to make it back to the States in one piece so there was no point in putting a lot of effort into constructing it.  I just wanted something solid and simple that I could fly for a while before leaving Germany.

The basis for Gonzo's design was a three-channel plane I built back in the 80's named Stinky which was essentially a Craft Aire Piece 'O Cake with shortened wings and fuselage.

I did not have any drawings or tech data for Stinky so I went from memory and what looked right.



There is nothing special about the construction of this model.  The fuselage is a basic box with slab sides.  It could have been lighter by building it from sticks, but I did not want to take the time to do that, so I accepted the weight penalty.  Other than being a little on the wide side (proportionally), the moments give it nice handling qualities and only required 1/4 ounce of weight in the tail to balance.

The wing is very lightly constructed having two balsa main spars and three turbulators on the top of the wing between the leading edge and the main spar.  The wing also incorporates shear webs to strengthen it and help the wing resist twisting.

I built in a generous amount of dihedral to ensure the airplane would be responsive to rudder control.

The tail is conventional stick construction.  Robart 1/2A Hinge Points are used.  They were a little tricky to install as they are not much smaller in diameter than the thickness of the tail surfaces.  I probably would have used flat hinges if I had not had a drill press.

Gonzo has a landing gear, but it is take-off gear is my arm.  To save weight, I put an axle across the bottom of the fuselage in lieu of a bent wire gear.  I doubt the weight savings was significant.  If I were to do it again, I would either use a landing gear or not use a landing gear.



Gonzo flies very well for a three-channel airplane.  Control is provided via my Futaba 8UHP helicopter radio because my other radios were in Army storage somewhere.  The only functions used beyond basic control are dual-rates.

Gonzo on an adrenaline rush.

I put my helicopter gyro in it for kicks.  The gyro was set up on the roll axis and hooked up to the rudder servo.  Generally the it worked ok except when Gonzo dove the plane would start oscillating violently.  That ended the gyro experiment because a three channel aircraft uses one control to rotate two axis and confused the gyro.

Something Stinky can do that Gonzo can not is fly backwards in a steady breeze.  When the wind is blowing at about ten mph, I can get Stinky to hover in place.  In a little stronger wind, I can actually fly it backward across the field.  I wanted Gonzo to be able to do that, but it was a bit on the heavy side so it would have needed a stronger wind than would have been prudent to fly in.

One thing Gonzo does very well is spin.  All I have to do is give it about 1/3 throttle and point the nose up.  When it stalls, the sticks are thrown full over (up and left) and she immediately goes into a gentle, steady spin.  If the throttle is pulled back, the spin slows, but does not stop.  Once the sticks are released, Gonzo stops spinning after about a quarter turn.

Even though Gonzo is a lot of fun to fly, I really wanted a plane that floats lazily around the sky with very little control correction needed.  Gonzo just wasn't light enough, so I designed Great Gonzo.

When I returned from Germany, I was concerned that Gonzo wouldn't survive the trip.  Kudos to the German packers.  Gonzo was delivered in perfect condition.



Dart Number One
Gonzo Photo Gallery

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Copyright 2004 Paul K. Johnson