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Old 08-09-2013, 08:00 PM   #1
solentlife
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Default Foam vs Balsa / Wood

After comparing todays models with yesteryears ............. I have to say I have come to conclusion that todays are less durable.

Simply put ..... a conventional balsa build breaks. A foam compresses, creases, deforms.

Simply put ..... put balsa / wood parts in line again - things are relatively OK. Put foam parts back and alignment is often out the window.

I build in both mediums ............. but balsa wins hands down....


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Old 08-09-2013, 08:34 PM   #2
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I don't think it a case of one 'winning' they are totally different materials that have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Generally wood (balsa ply spruce etc) makes for a stiffer airframe especially at larger sizes. Stiff is god for flying characteristics because you get a crisper responding plane. But when it comes to absorbing an impact stiff can be bad. In a heavy crash balsa/ply tends to shatter potentially making repair impractical or at least very time consuming.

Foam on the other hand absorbs the energy of an impact by compressing and flexing, so damage tends to be less catastrophic and more easily fixed.

But yeah, foam models do tend to start to look shabby after a while due to hanger rash etc, whereas balsa models (providing they aren't crashed) can look good for years. Though to be fair I've seen plenty of very ratty balsa model too!

Personally I also much prefer balsa mainly because balsa models feel like a craftsman made product, built by human hand with skill and care. Something you can feel proud of. Foam models are just spat out of some giant machine, no different to the foam packing in your new microwave oven.
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Old 08-09-2013, 09:36 PM   #3
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Default Foam vs Balsa Wood

I have always dreamed of making model airplanes for a living. I mean why not do something I really like to do? So when I saw this thread I figured it would be a good way to learn what other pilots like. As for me I think that a good balsa plane looks better, flys better, is stronger, but is usually more expensive and if you are doing it yourself much more time consuming.

Foam is much cheaper and does not warp. If you dive in from 100 feet I know the foam comes out better. Now days you have many foam airplanes to choose from that are ready to go in very little time. I have had a foam wing cutter for many years now and have cut a lot of foam wings but they weigh more.

Now that I have a laser cutter and a foam wing hot wire. Which is better? If I am going for light wieght? Balsa. If I am going for quick? Foam. If it is a tapered wing , Foam.

Frankly I dont know which is better........ I think it depends on what I am going to do with it and how much time I have.

But.... when it come to selling, if I had the money for foam injection moulding that sure would be the easiest way to make money quickly.
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Old 08-09-2013, 10:00 PM   #4
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We just did this a couple months ago, didn't we?

And the last time I checked they still make balsa planes pretty much the same as they always did. Maybe even better.

http://www.wattflyer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=70729
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Old 08-09-2013, 11:28 PM   #5
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I make mine out of foam AND wood . The two materials complement each other beautifully!

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Old 08-10-2013, 12:23 AM   #6
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I too use both.Where possible,I use foam sheet for fuse sides,and wing ribs.Not necessarily to save weight,but also to save money.Balsa is now a quite expensive material,so composite construction makes sense.
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Old 08-10-2013, 02:30 AM   #7
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wood #1.....foam #2,and i only like foam planes that don't cost as much as a balsa arf. to me its a total rippoff to spend $$$'s for a foamy. my most costly foamy is the funjet ultra,then the stinger. i love the cost of the hkpkj's,superfly, and the 3dx airfoil. very afordable and fun flying planes.

edit:most costly foamy still in the hanger is a arttech su 27 with 2 brushed motors edf...$170 back when i first got into the hobby and discovered it was a piece of crip that still hasn't been flown,needs all electrics updated to brushless and 2.4 rx. to many better ways to spend money then fixing it.i should fly it and when it crashes be glad to be rid of it.

the balsa kit builds are my favorite birds in the hanger,lots of enjoyable hr;s building and flying them.

narrow is the place to land...wide is the space to crash....choose the narrow way!
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Old 08-10-2013, 02:42 AM   #8
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Foam heavier?
It depends on how you use it.
Use thin foam (i.e. Depron) just like you would sheet balsa and it will be a great deal lighter and take just as long to make!
Of course as size/weight increase the degree of reinforcing required makes it less attractive.
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Old 08-10-2013, 02:44 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by solentlife View Post
After comparing todays models with yesteryears ............. I have to say I have come to conclusion that todays are less durable.

Simply put ..... a conventional balsa build breaks. A foam compresses, creases, deforms.

Simply put ..... put balsa / wood parts in line again - things are relatively OK. Put foam parts back and alignment is often out the window.

I build in both mediums ............. but balsa wins hands down....


Nigel
Yeah
Methinks they call them "Foamies" for a reason. Fun to bash around, you can fly them in wind conditions that would ground giant scale models. And, when the epoxy used in the foam repair outweighs the original airplane, time to replace the foamie. If your foamie is a pusher, and it gets pile driven into the ground, more often than not, all the electric stuff can live to fly another day.

On the other hand, having seen what it costs to make custom formed foam packing material that can be as complex as some of those foamies, yeah, think we are being ripped off.

As others have indicated, those foamies might last a year or three, where as the balsa/ply models can last so long, their covering needs to be replaced due to sunlight damage. As in my 150% Electrostreak with over 1000 flights on it.

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Old 08-10-2013, 08:00 AM   #10
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I also mix the two mediums..... spars in wood for stiffness and strength, ribs in foam etc.

Taking mu Ultimate bipe.... a wood job. major repair to front end was by combining foam with wood. It did a great job of putting her back in the air. But guess what part of the model now looks rough..... yes that foam front end.

I like and fly both..... but prize my wood jobs higher.

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Old 08-10-2013, 02:54 PM   #11
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A multi-cavity hard-tooled foam mold with details like panel lines, rivets, etc, can cost well over $200K to make. The multi-ton injection mold machine can cost upwards of $1million. The payback comes in the number of units produced from one set of molds. Foam models would make no sense at all if there was not a large market. It's all about production quantities. These makers not only have foam mold machines but they also have plastic injection mold machinery for the plastic parts. The mold themselves are multi-cavity so that with each strike, they can plop out up to about 64 parts.

Then, there's the skill to make the mold inserts themselves. Mold making as it used to be is a lost art for the most part. From Autocad or Solidworks to a CNC machining center or EDM machine, there's another 1/2 million + in engineering hours and CNC machinery involved to just get started. Overhead and capital costs are high, ergo, the Chinese. If an American mold making company were to produce foam airplane models, they would cost 2x to 3x what they cost now.

A good, full table CNC laser cutter can be bought for about $20K- $100K depending on size. Production machines much more. Have at it. From there, you have assembly, QC, packing, shipping, etc. A Supply chain and inventory to manage. Whoa Nellie !

I think Balsa models with nice ultacoat/monocoat coverings are gorgeous but unless you have some real repair skills, they can get expensive and time consuming in a hurry. I see a lot of guys bin their crashed balsa planes only to find a crafty scavenger like Nigel come along and in no time have it back in airworthy condition. Point is? It takes talent, skill and patience to survive in the balsa world unless you have a lot of money. Another lost art. Pre-cut balsa Kits are nice if you have a free six months to build.

Foamies can be repaired in quick order with CA, epoxy, hot glue, etc. and sometimes some CF and toothpicks. In today's world where nobody has much time, foamies get you up and running the fastest and for the most part, when you crash them beyond repair, it's not the end of the world. That's why I've held off building my 3DHS Super Vyper. I don't think I'm qualified to fly it yet and fear the early result- The bin !

So, I learn with EPP or EPO first then get up the courage to fly balsa. After that, I'll look for guys like Nigel to rebuild- LOL

Cheers,

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Old 08-10-2013, 04:28 PM   #12
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I appreciate the reference to me ... but I do not regard myself as anything but a normal model builder ...

It's funny that I can put together some awful smashed model and fly it again ... but give me a model ship hull to plank and I'm awful ! I love Billings Kits and tried a couple ... the planking was what I failed at.

I suppose in many ways - my ability to build or repair is born of necessity ... Latvia is poorly served as a Model location ... so I have to make do with whatever I can use ... the offshoot is that I get donated models that owners believe are beyond their repair abilities. Personally I think it's more they cannot dedicate themselves to it ... easier to click Paypal and buy another.

I get a kick out of building ... example the Mini4 and the SE5 that has proved far better than ever imagined ... both of course are in foam sheet.

My use of combination in the 61 powered Biplane - foam and wood has proven successful and the model now graces the skies at various meetings I go to ... many are surprised when they find out how much foam has replaced wood under the Tex covering !!

Each material has it's strengths and weaknesses ... and combining them is a great way to benefit. But I do say that foam models look tatty quicker than wood ..

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Old 08-11-2013, 12:37 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by solentlife View Post

Each material has it's strengths and weaknesses ... and combining them is a great way to benefit. But I do say that foam models look tatty quicker than wood ..

Nigel
It would be interesting to derive the average cost per flight of a foamie, versus the cost per flight of a quality balsa model over the life of that model.

One of my scratch built balsa models has over 1000 flights on it.

That is assuming no crashes and so on.

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Old 08-11-2013, 09:33 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by kyleservicetech View Post
It would be interesting to derive the average cost per flight of a foamie, versus the cost per flight of a quality balsa model over the life of that model.

One of my scratch built balsa models has over 1000 flights on it.

That is assuming no crashes and so on.
If I go back to my UK days of flying ... I had traditional built models last years ...... in fact most I sold on when I left UK ... Example : WOT4 - flew for approx. 6yrs, sold on in good flying condition, that was flown EVERY meeting / session and I used to get out flying on every opportunity possible.

There is an area that does affect longevity of the models ... landings and mishaps ... I say this and base it on own models ... foam models do not accept the harder landings / mishaps that balsa / wood based do. I would suggest do not compare TODAYS wood offerings from China with the older kit versions where wood was better, balsa and lite-ply quality was a serious consideration of the kit. Todays wood jobs like my Ultimate are brittle, easily damaged due to the crap lite-ply used.... so can fall into the same category as todays foam jobs - easily damaged.

Wood kit models from the 80's, 90's ... you rarely saw U/C legs ripped out, hinges basically stayed hinged, wing-tips didn't fold ..... Todays ? Not same ball-game.

BUT in terms of cosmetics - the wood jobs still today retain looks longer than foam.

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Old 08-11-2013, 08:11 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by solentlife View Post
If I go back to my UK days of flying ... I had traditional built models last years ...... in fact most I sold on when I left UK ... Example : WOT4 - flew for approx. 6yrs, sold on in good flying condition, that was flown EVERY meeting / session and I used to get out flying on every opportunity possible.

There is an area that does affect longevity of the models ... landings and mishaps ... I say this and base it on own models ... foam models do not accept the harder landings / mishaps that balsa / wood based do. I would suggest do not compare TODAYS wood offerings from China with the older kit versions where wood was better, balsa and lite-ply quality was a serious consideration of the kit. Todays wood jobs like my Ultimate are brittle, easily damaged due to the crap lite-ply used.... so can fall into the same category as todays foam jobs - easily damaged.

Wood kit models from the 80's, 90's ... you rarely saw U/C legs ripped out, hinges basically stayed hinged, wing-tips didn't fold ..... Todays ? Not same ball-game.

BUT in terms of cosmetics - the wood jobs still today retain looks longer than foam.

Nigel
Yeah, I've picked up a few of those ARF models where you wonder if the mfg ever did any flight testing on them. One of them the LG pulled out with the wheel pants going through the wings on a perfect landing. Found the LG was bolted to a piece of 1/8 inch Lite ply, 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches, attached with thin CA. No strength what so ever.

And, another case in point at our field with an in flight failure of a very popular model, the Escapade. This model uses a bolt on tail structure. On a flight at about 1/2 throttle on a glow engine, the horizontal stab failed, right at the fuselage. The model went in an 8 foot high corn field, and pretty much survived. That corn field saved the model from total loss from a straight in crash.

The cause of the horizontal stab failure was obvious. The mfg design did not use a full length piece of balsa on the stab going through the fuse. That flat horizontal stab was about 1/4 inch or so thick. And the left and right half of the horizontal stab was BUTT GLUED right in the middle where it failed. Hard to tell, but the adhesive looked like CA. No other glue was used, only at the joint of the 1/4 inch balsa sheet. The mfg didn't even remove the covering for gluing anywhere else.

Word to the wise on any readers flying this model, take a close look at your horizontal stab.

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Old 08-11-2013, 08:25 PM   #16
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I always find it amazing the differences of models and yesterdays ...

Hinges were ALWAYS pinned through as well as glued.

Wing or any surfaces joint such as tailplanes etc. had decent glued joints with backing to spread stress ... for wings usually a fibreglass bandage fully around wing joint.

Landing gear had bearers fitted to spread the load across a number of ribs or parts.

CF and similar was unheard of except for Helicopter booms ... we built structures that catered for the stresses and strains.

I can remember the Mirage 2000 I had and it's habit of burying it's nose on landing .... no matter what you did - she would fold that nose leg back and prop break on the runway when landing ... (nose mounted 61 Glow with 11x7 prop). But that leg would spring back and mount was fine ... but it used to annoy me to keep changing props ! Try that with todays offerings !

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Old 08-11-2013, 08:36 PM   #17
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Seems to me that a true balsa "kits" are becoming more and more elusive.
Also the TIME to build them in this ever increasing world of technology is becoming
more elusive ? So the choice is scratch build for months/years, or scratch build for days/weeks. I personally like the "old" builds. There really is no right or wrong answer
here except to enjoy the hobby- IMHO.
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Old 08-11-2013, 08:47 PM   #18
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Geez Denny,

Thanks a lot ! Lol I just picked up an Escapade at a swap meet yesterday. Will check the glue joints. Yikes !
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Old 08-11-2013, 09:00 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by dahawk View Post
Geez Denny,

Thanks a lot ! Lol I just picked up an Escapade at a swap meet yesterday. Will check the glue joints. Yikes !
Yeah
From what we saw at the field, the horizontal stab has a triangle shaped piece of balsa on either side of the rudder stab. That triangle piece is only glued at its front and back. Under that triangle piece, the mfg NEVER removed the covering on the horizontal stab. That triangle piece was just sitting on top of the horizontal stab, and was NOT glued to it.

Take a look at yours and let us know what you find. I'm certain other wattflyer readers that have this Escapade would be interested.

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Old 08-11-2013, 09:32 PM   #20
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Will do. Thanks. I bought it used so it has some run time. My luck... Lol
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Old 08-11-2013, 10:19 PM   #21
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With a topic like this, I think you must include INTENTION in the discussion. The foamie shown here, which I have posted about in other areas recently, probably has less than $5 worth of foam in it's airframe. Probably no more than $5-8 for an assortment of CF stiffeners, packing tape, and a pair of wheels. (The electronic gear is going to add the same cost to whatever you are building with.) My INTENTION was to hack together an aileron training platform that would handle some wind. All the while, looking like a real airplane while in flight. I succeeded brilliantly (pat on my own back here). It is very stable in a 10 mph wind due to it's large tail area and the motor position far out front, does really nice sport aerobatics, is easy to fly and hard to get into trouble with because of the modest aileron area. It also floats like a glider with power off, and I can cut the power at 80-100 yards out and do really sweet T&Gs (one of my favorite things), making a very satisfying springy little earth-kiss before hauling skywards again. In fact, I would not be having any more fun with anything I could buy from a factory for $200, regardless of what it was made of. This build completely satisfied my INTENTION with minimal cost and effort. Also, I am not intimidated about risking it (as long as I can retrieve the electronics). As a relative newb, I know that I will outgrow (or at least tire of) this airplane at some point after it serves it's INTENTION of building my skills and giving me the confidence to fly in the wind. It took me probably 4 hours to construct. In this case foam was the perfect choice to satisfy my INTENTION without a huge investment in time or materials.


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Old 08-12-2013, 02:14 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by maxflyer View Post
With a topic like this, I think you must include INTENTION in the discussion. The foamie shown here, which I have posted about in other areas recently, probably has less than $5 worth of foam in it's airframe. Probably no more than $5-8 for an assortment of CF stiffeners, packing tape, and a pair of wheels. (The electronic gear is going to add the same cost to whatever you are building with.) My INTENTION was to hack together an aileron training platform that would handle some wind. All the while, looking like a real airplane while in flight. I succeeded brilliantly (pat on my own back here). It is very stable in a 10 mph wind due to it's large tail area and the motor position far out front, does really nice sport aerobatics, is easy to fly and hard to get into trouble with because of the modest aileron area. It also floats like a glider with power off, and I can cut the power at 80-100 yards out and do really sweet T&Gs (one of my favorite things), making a very satisfying springy little earth-kiss before hauling skywards again. In fact, I would not be having any more fun with anything I could buy from a factory for $200, regardless of what it was made of. This build completely satisfied my INTENTION with minimal cost and effort. Also, I am not intimidated about risking it (as long as I can retrieve the electronics). As a relative newb, I know that I will outgrow (or at least tire of) this airplane at some point after it serves it's INTENTION of building my skills and giving me the confidence to fly in the wind. It took me probably 4 hours to construct. In this case foam was the perfect choice to satisfy my INTENTION without a huge investment in time or materials.
Do you have any reference to plans for this model???

DennyV
Retired and the days are just too short, busier than ever!
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Old 08-12-2013, 02:45 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by kyleservicetech View Post
Yeah
Methinks they call them "Foamies" for a reason. Fun to bash around, you can fly them in wind conditions that would ground giant scale models. And, when the epoxy used in the foam repair outweighs the original airplane, time to replace the foamie. If your foamie is a pusher, and it gets pile driven into the ground, more often than not, all the electric stuff can live to fly another day.

On the other hand, having seen what it costs to make custom formed foam packing material that can be as complex as some of those foamies, yeah, think we are being ripped off.

As others have indicated, those foamies might last a year or three, where as the balsa/ply models can last so long, their covering needs to be replaced due to sunlight damage. As in my 150% Electrostreak with over 1000 flights on it.

+1

I fly my Foamies in 25 to 30 Mph wind, I would not do that with my Balsa planes, Foamies are Basher Planes, bash them around, its Fun, and you will learn alot Bashing and throwing them around IMHO a Foamy plane will make you a better Pilot because your not afraid to take chances with it and learn new aerobatics

I may be getting Older, But I Refuse to grow Up I am Having to much Fun to Grow Up LOL
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Old 08-12-2013, 03:36 AM   #24
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+1 Chellie! When I started flying scratchbuilt 'prop in the slot' parkjets a few years ago, my skill level went up exponentially. Still an advanced beginner/low intermediate. But I learned alot of maneuvers I would not dare try with a balsa plane.

For alot of pilots, when they crash a balsa plane it's one and done. All Ihve to do is check the bin at the field. 4:1 balsa in there. LOL. Craftsman like Nigel , Road King and yourself are the exception, not the rule.

Salutations from Vegas !

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Old 08-12-2013, 03:53 AM   #25
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ditto what chellie said about foam and risky aerobatics. i flew the skimmer 600 sail plane today and really enjoyed it,but the most fun i had today and yesterday was flying the foamy superfly! 5 flights yesterday and 3 today. tons of aerobatics and flying low and slow is the best since it's epp.

truly the best toss in the air plane I've ever owned. hand launch is so easy...she flys like on rails and can hover in the high winds like a kite 1ft off the ground or zip around fast

i plan on always keeping the 5 batteries charged for those days after work to head to the soccer field down the road


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narrow is the place to land...wide is the space to crash....choose the narrow way!
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