The idea for a non-stop, unrefuelled round the world flight was merely a dream until December 14th1986, when Voyager took off on its 9 day flight into the history books. The story of Voyager is straight out of fiction. A woman, her boyfriend and his brother dreamed up the scheme over lunch one day in 1981, and literally made the first design sketches on the back of a table napkin. If anyone were to write a story like that the editors would throw it out as simply unbelievable. To top off the unbelievability quotient, the project was almost completely funded by donations from individuals in one of the world's very first crowd-funding efforts..
Jeanna Yeager (who is not related to Chuck) and her boyfriend Dick Rutan (a former USAF fighter pilot) recruited Dick's brother Burt into the project because Burt designs aircraft and thinks so far out of the box that from the first sight of one of his creations it's obvious that he's never been anywhere near it. To call a Rutan design unconventional is understatement. But they fly, and fly well. Voyager was hand built, mostly by volunteers, during the next 5 years.
Voyager is not really an aircraft. It is actually a gigantic fuel tank which is shaped in such a way that it fools the air into treating it like an aircraft. Its wing is a sailplane's wing writ large. On takeoff (before the winglets scraped off), its span was 33.8 Metres while its overall length was only 8.9. The central pod contained two rather small piston engines of 240 horsepower combined. The majority of the flight was completed on the rear engine only in the interests of fuel efficiency. Two large booms composed mainly of fuel tanks were positioned approximately one third of the span from the central pod, connected to the nose of the pod by horizontal stabilizing surfaces and elevators. Typical of Rutan designs, the elevators were a canard rather than a conventional empennage. Each boom ended in a vertical stabilizing surface, but only the starboard stabilizer was equipped with a rudder. The wings were tipped with winglets for drag reduction but during the record flight they were damaged beyond repair by dragging on the runway before the aircraft reached flying speed and tore off during the first few minutes of the flight.
At its all-up weight when fully fuelled for the record flight, Voyager was extremely longitudinally unstable, and Dick had to hand-fly it constantly because he feared that it would go into an unrecoverable pitch oscillation if he attempted to leave the pilot's seat to let Jeanna take over. As a result he flew constantly for the first 3 days of the flight, handing over to Jeanna only when he was completely exhausted but convinced that the aircraft would fly hands-off for the few moments needed to change positions. Voyager's cockpit had about the same volume as a typical telephone booth and a similar level of comfort. It is difficult to imagine spending any time at all inside, let alone 9 whole days. Voyager landed safely at its starting point at Edwards Air Force Base on December 23rd having travelled 42 423 Km. It was never flown under its own power again. Voyager may be seen today on display hanging above the Visitor Information booth in the US National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
This is definitely an A-Model kit. The parts are very rough, and will need to be cleaned up before assembly. Some of the smaller parts are decidedly out of scale, a limitation of the plastic. There is flash on every part and it is quite obvious that the moulds are tired from the amount of plastic blobs around the edges and intruding into the surface of some of the parts.
The fuselage is two halves top and bottom from nose to tail. The cabin windows are open, with clear parts provided for them, but they are very small, thick and their clarity leaves much to be desired. No interior details are provided and the shape is suspect; it's much more rectangular than it should be, the rear engine exhausts are positioned incorrectly on the underside and the nose engine intakes are incorrect. All of these faults are correctable, but this is not in any way a “shake the box” kit. The booms are left and right halves, with a wheel well part which needs to be trapped inside. Pack the forward portions of the booms with as much weight as possible to keep the model on its landing gear. More weight needs to be crammed into the forward fuselage pod without interfering with the canards' mounting point. The left boom was tipped with a large HF radio antenna similar to that on a 747's wingtip. A-Model made no effort to duplicate this, so it will have to be scratchbuilt
The outer wing panels are one piece mouldings that attach to the booms with a fairly substantial tab. They need quite a bit of cleaning up. The inner wings are moulded in two pieces with the control surfaces attached to the top. Both are overly thick and need sanding down, especially the bottom piece. Treat this part of the build as though it's a vacuform kit. The winglets are a butt joint to the wingtips.
This being a Rutan design it doesn't have an empennage as such. The horizontal stabilizing surfaces are a pair of canards which must be joined together and cemented into the lower half of the fuselage pod before closing it up. A great deal of care is necessary to get this assembly level, because it will affect how the rest of the model goes together. Getting it wrong will leave the whole model twisted. Voyager had a prominent trim tab surface on the left canard which is not included in the kit. It will have to be scratch built.
The engines are buried in the fuselage so there is actually no engine detail in the kit except for incorrect exhaust pipes and a pair of propeller shapes which look nothing like the propellers Voyager was actually fitted with. The forward propeller may be carved to shape and then feathered as it was for most of the flight. The rear propeller needs to be replaced with something that looks better. A-Model put both sets of engine exhausts in the bottom of the fuselage when in reality the forward engine exhausts exited out the sides just forward of the canard and the rear engine exhausts were housed in large fairings on the top of the rear fuselage. This may easily be seen in walkaround photographs
The landing gear struts and wheels are moulded together and the detail may be charitably described as somewhat soft and blobby. The soft plastic makes getting them off the sprue without breaking somewhat of a challenge, and then they need cleaning up to make the struts look like aircraft parts rather than petrified worms. The mounting points in the wheel wells are not precise and the gluing surfaces is small. A-Model made the mistake of assuming that Voyager had conventional two piece landing gear doors when it actually used one-piece doors. The doors are overly thick, and should be replaced with plastic card curved to match the curvature of the booms and fuselage. Each door hinged to the right and was left in dark grey primer paint. The model may be built with the landing gear retracted, and a stand is provided.
I don't compare models to drawings or published measurements. When assembled it will look like the Voyager as long as it isn't scrutinized by Burt Rutan.
Decals and markings
The decal sheet is in A-Model's typical matte finish and offers the rather minimal markings Voyager wore on its record flight. The colour scheme is mostly overall white (the bottoms of the wings were only half painted in the interests of saving weight) with metallic blue trim on the booms and fuselage pod. A small number of sponsor decals on the fins and fuselage, complemented by the name in script completes the markings.
The real thing
Voyager at the end of its flight
shortly before landing.
The instructions break the build into 5 steps.
This step deals with the fuselage pod. The canards assemble to their mounting plate and are glued into the lower nose before the upper half of the fuselage pod traps them in place. If you wish to display the model on its stand, now is your chance to open the slot. The windows, canopy, exhaust pipes and propellers are expected to be glued in place as well. I decided to deviate from the instructions.
First I sanded down the mating surfaces and cleaned up all the flash from the pod halves and the canards. I plugged the rear exhaust mounting holes and painted the interior flat black. Then I made a baffle plate to sit under the engine intakes in the top half to prevent the see-through look. I superglued in as much lead shot as I could squeeze in without interfering with the fit of the canard and then glued the pod halves together leaving off the canopy, exhausts and propellers. I made the rear engine's exhaust fairings on the top of the rear fuselage from some styrene tubing cut to length and trimmed to sit at the proper angle. The nose intakes will take a considerable amount of improving. The underside scoop is only about half as large as it needs to be, and the intakes on top of the nose should be raised up above the line of the fuselage. I chose to ignore these problems. Once everything was finished, I set this assembly aside to dry.
Step two deals with the booms and inner wing panels. Once again I treated the parts to a good sanding along their mating surfaces to refine the fit. I had to do quite a bit of sanding before the wing was ready to assemble. I glued in the main landing gear bays (which do not fit terribly well) and packed as much lead shot into the noses of the booms as I could before gluing everything together. I opened up the slots in both sides of the booms and filed down the wing tabs to make them fit as closely as possible. I cut a notch into the trailing edge of the left pod's stabilizer and superglued in a large pin shaft (suitably blunted so it wouldn't be dangerous). I glued the inner wing panels to their respective booms, making certain to keep everything properly square. Once these were dry, I glued each wing to the fuselage pod, and the tip of each canard to the tip of the booms. The right boom was equipped with a weather radar, and so protruded beyond the canard while the left boom met the canard exactly. The model replicates this, but it isn't immediately clear unless all the parts are correctly lined up. I left the assembled pod and booms to dry.
step three and four
These steps deal with the landing gear, erroneously instructing the builder to cut the doors in half. I left them until after the model had been painted and decalled.
The last step attaches the outer wing panels and winglets to the model, after which it is complete. Having skipped steps three and four, I cleaned up the outer wing panels and replicated the damage to the wingtips. Each wingtip dragged the runway slightly differently, so I had to carefully study the photographs in order to properly replicate it. The left wingtip dragged a trifle harder than the right, and was ground away in an almost perfect parabola, exposing the light blue structural foam beneath the fibreglass skin. When the winglet tore off, a small section of bent tubing was left protruding from the wingtip. By contrast, the right wingtip detached at a glue joint and the underlying foam kept much of its shape while the fibreglass skin on the underside was torn and split. I filed with wingtips and glued on some plastic card to replicate the torn skin on the right wingtip. A small section of bent wire was glued into a hole drilled in the left wingtip.
Each major joint between the wings, booms, canards and fuselage pod needed substantial amounts of putty and sanding to smooth everything out. Luckily there are very few panel lines on this aircraft. Once the sanding was completed I primed the model to highlight any remaining flaws. Once those were dealt with, the model got its final coat of primer. Once the primer was cured, I masked off the rear half of the wings and canard before spraying a coat of white primer. I left the masking tape slightly peeled up to show the somewhat ragged edge between the white and grey primer paint on the lower surfaces.
Once the primer was cured, I sprayed the model with Arctic white car paint. This was a bit of a mistake, because the car paint reacted to the primer on the left wing and caused some nasty wrinkles. There was nothing to do but sand it down, fill and prime once again. This time I left the model for a week before spraying the top coat once again.
After the paint was dry, I applied the decals. They were relatively easy to apply, but they're very thin and prone to twisting. I lost the inner forward decal on the right boom to this, so I had to mask and paint a replacement. The fuselage stripe decals are too long. Left as-is, they'll continue right under the canards and wrap part way around the nose when photographs clearly show that they actually stop at the trailing edge of the canard. They need to be trimmed short.
While I was waiting for the paint to dry, I refined the nose propeller by ruthlessly carving the vaguely propeller-shaped lump provided by A-Model into something that looked like the forward propeller. Then I chopped the blades off the hub and re-glued them in the feathered position. The rear propeller looks nothing like anything in the kit, so I had to trawl through the spares box to find a replacement. The nearest I could find was a propeller from the old Airfix Ford Trimotor, so I sanded it to the correct profile, trimmed the tips and in general coerced it into looking like Voyager's propeller. The propellers were painted black on their inner surfaces. The forward propeller was grey on its forward side, and the rear appears to have been silver on its aft side. The forward spinner was highly polished metal which I duplicated by a thick coating of chrome spray paint. Then I turned my attention to the landing gear, and spent an hour or so carving and sanding the struts into shape before painting the struts silver and the tires dark grey. I cut the gear doors from plastic card, and bent the main doors around a piece of tubing to give them their proper curvature. Then I dipped the canopy into Future to help it get as clear as it could and set it to dry under a protective cover to keep the dust away.
I painted the damaged foam with RLM 76 lichtblau after carefully masking off the wing tips to expose only the damage. The torn fibreglass on the right wing was painted black to replicate the carbon fibre cloth. I made the trim tab from a couple short lengths of wire and a rectangle of plastic card, all superglued into notches that I cut into the right canard's trailing edge.
When the paint and decals were dry it was time for final assembly. I made the exhaust pipes from pieces of aluminium tube and superglued them into place. The fuselage windows are Krystal Klear and while I had it out I attached the canopy. The landing gear and propellers were superglued in place and then the newly fabricated gear doors which I had painted dark grey were glued in place and the model was complete.
This model is not for the timid. With patience, care and a large dollop of modelling skills an acceptable replica may be made, but A-Model did not make it easy.