Fact Checked

What is a Model Airplane?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Any small scale representation of a full size airplane is considered to be a model airplane. A number of different varieties of model airplane exist for many different purposes: some are simple plastic models made to be showcased on home mantelpieces, while others are gas or battery powered versions that can actually fly. A model airplane can be made of simple plastic, die cast metals, or in the case of higher end versions made to fly via remote control, composite materials such as graphite or plastic that are then covered with airtight material and "doped" to make the plane aerodynamic.

The simplest version of a model airplane is the static scale model. These airplanes often come in kits and must be assembled using rubber cement or epoxy, and they might be made of plastic, balsa, fiberglass, paper, or other simple materials. They are popular among children and model hobbyists and are modeled after hundreds of different life-sized aircraft. Simple plastic model airplanes, like all other model planes, can also be made in the image of imaginary or concept aircraft as well. These types of model airplanes are sometimes used for promotional purposes as well, and are typically built to a certain scale. The most popular scale is 1:72--that is, 72 of the model airplane, placed end to end, would be the same length as one of the real airplanes.

Remote control for a model airplane.
Remote control for a model airplane.

Some versions of the model airplane are made to actually fly. There are generally three categories of flying model aircraft: a free flight version that is in no way attached to the ground or to the user, like a glider that is hand-thrown; a control line model plane, which uses a wire that tethers the plane to the user; and radio-controlled aircraft, in which the pilot uses a handset to send radio signals to a receiver inside the airplane. Constructing flying model airplanes is generally more labor-intensive and complex than constructing a static scale model, and flying models are often closer in form and function to real aircraft. Adding to the complexity of flying model aircraft, the planes almost all require some sort of propulsion in the form of an engine or combustion system, which can be tricky to build and maintain. Flying model aircraft can be built from scratch, but for entry level users, kits can be purchased that are completely or almost completely built. These are called ARF models, which stands for "Almost Ready to Fly."

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Discussion Comments


I used to do a lot of model airplane building when I was younger, but haven't put one together for a while. This has kind of resparked my interest in it, though.

I don't remember what all I built, but I know most if not all of them are still sitting in a box in the closet at my parents' home. I know I had the popular planes like an F-14 Tomcat. Toward the end, I got interested in foreign planes and helicopters. The helicopters were a lot of fun, because they had different parts than the planes, so it wasn't the exact same thing every time.

I know something I always wanted to build was one of the stealth bombers, but for some reason I could never find one to build. Now that there are a lot of online stores selling models, I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find one.


They aren't as popular as the plastic models, but I have always enjoyed building diecast model airplanes as a bit of variety. They are a lot different experience, since the materials are heavier and fit together differently. You have to do a little bit different preparation for the painting, too, if it is required.

I know there is one guy in the town where I live that is constantly building model airplanes and donates them to the airport. They have a little restaurant in there, and they hang them from the ceiling. I think it has gotten to the point now where he actually builds some of his own models. I think most of them are wood, but they are pretty impressive. He usually goes with the larger scale models as well, which have a lot more detail when they are all finished.


@kentuckycat - I used to have an RC model airplane kit when I was in my twenties. It was a lot of fun to play with. I was pretty good at terrorizing anyone or anything I could find with it.

The one I had was in the middle difficulty level I guess. It wasn't an ARF type, but I didn't have to put together every single part of the motor. I don't know if I could have done that.

The plane traveled pretty far on the signal. I don't know exactly how far, but it was several hundred feet. If it got behind a tree or house or something, you might be in trouble, though. I had a couple crash landings, but the planes are pretty durable in general.

The odd thing is that I have never tried to build any plastic airplane models. I never feel like I have any free time anymore, but maybe some day I'll try it.


Hmm, I have built a few of the plastic model airplanes before, but I have never tried building a model that will actually fly. Has anyone here ever tried it? It seems like it would be a lot of fun, but what kind of work is involved?

Now that I am thinking about it, it seems like there would be a lot of parts that you had to get working just right. Obviously, you would have to get the motor in good working conditions, but then there's stuff like connecting the flaps and everything else that need to be controlled.

If you make one of these, how far will it fly before the signal starts to run out? I'm sure they are fairly expensive, so I definitely wouldn't want to spend my time and money making one and then have it crash because it got too far way.

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    • Remote control for a model airplane.
      Remote control for a model airplane.
    • A model biplane.
      By: Piotr Sikora
      A model biplane.