Like a lot of newcomers to the hobby I kinda worked backwards from the fast, sexy stuff to the humble Hobbyzone Champ. If you don't have one, buy one now.
I can't say anything about the dumpy-looking little orange scrap of foam that hasn't been said before, so I'll just leave it at this: It's brilliant.
But it occurred to me this evening when my kindergarten-age son and 3-year-old daughter were having trouble catching the little Champ out of the air that it might be better as a biplane. My instinct was correct.
About 40 minutes later, I'd come up with what I think is a really good way to have a "convertible" biplane champ without any modifications to the airframe — you CAN have your high-concept fanciness without adulterating your beloved little orange foamie.
I'll put it in a sentence, and then the pictures should speak for themselves:
A wire "cradle" is made to slot snugly into the Champ's plastic landing gear slot that holds the lower biplane wing, which is made from the tattered remnants of the last wing (you know you kept it) that locates the wing vertically snuggly against the bottom of the fuselage and "clips" it in forward, providing correct leading-edge alignment.
I just had time to sail it around the front yard a few times in the dead of night. Very floaty, of course, but the lower wing is slightly swept back and about a quarter-inch aft of the top wing, so the overall center of lift is a little further back than stock and it doesn't balloon as bad as I'd feared. It looks great in the air.
You could definitely fly it in a much tighter space — around the office looks doable.
Thank you. The center section's a piece of scrap foam left over from the broken wing. There are a couple small-diameter aluminum tubes running through it and about an inch into the lower wings to give the rigidity it needs. Fancier folk might have used a carbon rod, but you can bend aluminum for dihedral and it doesn't weigh much more than balsa.
A quarter throttle keeps it in the air and turning with the lower wing on. You can just give it a dab of juice in the turns and let it roll out level and straight on the lowest power you can hear turning the prop. It glides wonderfully.
The Champ's not fast to begin with, but the extra lift and drag from the second wing makes an out-in-the-street flyer into an in-your-yard flyer, and I think it looks lovely in the air. Without gear it's definitely got that Beech Staggerwing swagger goin' on.
There's not as much of the nose-high floatiness as I was afraid of, but if you want to pierce a stiff breeze with two wings you'll want to tape a paperclip or two to the nose.
I've got some decent little 4-channel foamies, but I've got to admit that there's something about the little Champ that makes me want to wax a bit poetic... It can't do a roll worthy of the name and asking it to loop is like asking Judi Dench to cartwheel — she can, but why would you want her to?
What it does do extraordinarily well is capture the simple beauty of flight.
As a model, the thing is without pretense; it is unashamedly a little orange toy airplane, and as such my children love the thing on about the same level that I do. There is an element of magic in flight regardless of how well you understand the physics of it. What a small and simple well-engineered flying model like this one does is distill that magic into a fine, clear drop.
Of course it does it a little better as a biplane.
Got to take the tiny orange airplane out for a proper shakedown this evening. I put a half-dozen batteries through a tiny ducted fan "jet" to get that out of my system and wait for the wind to calm down, then it was time to explore the ole flight envelope with the biplane Champ.
The wind picked up steadily, of course. It was coming a pretty good blow around sunset, but I wasn't letting that bother me.
With the biplane wing attached, the model retains it basic handling qualities as far as I can tell. The added weight is well offset by the new wing's lift, and so the stall speed is noticeably slower. As a biplane, the thing needs full power only in those OMGWTFLOL moments you get when you fly such a light plane in dubious wind. Just like the other night when my flying area was defined by my porch light, the plane really only needs about a quarter power to maintain altitude, even in shallow turns, so the tiny battery lasts for ages.
It looks just brilliant in the air. Brilliant.
Certain types of aircraft are just right on an aesthetic level. When Hemingway, for example, was a war correspondent in England he observed, correctly, that "a P-51 can do something to a man's heart." So too can a cabin biplane, and the little orange Champ with its new wing is as emotively effective as flashing a giant neon "Golden Age of Flight" sign in your face.
After putting a couple batteries through the Champ with the biplane wing attached, which mostly involved "hovering" it into the wind right in front of me, I took the new wing off and put the landing gear back on. It does, it must be said, fly better as a monoplane, but not by much; barely perceptibly. With the biplane wing it's a little more susceptible to pitch over-control — as it would be — but the slower stall speed and the way it looks in the air more than make up for the shortcomings.
A better engineer than me could probably hash out a plug-in lower wing that weighs much less than mine, but in my estimation you wouldn't be screwing up too bad if you made one that weighted a lot more. I'd say if you've got one of these models a biplane wing is a must-do project.