Making an airminded youth (and a gliding model aeroplane)

Model plane

Here's something a bit different. It's a paper model aeroplane which I made from a design published on 30 June 1934 in "Boys and Girls", the weekly children's supplement to the Daily Mail. The claim is made there that it glides, but sadly all mine does is stall and then enter a tailspin ... but perhaps somebody taking greater care in making the model will have greater success! A PDF of the plan can be downloaded from here (size 1.4 Mb) and then printed out onto an A4-sized sheet of paper, if anyone wants to try it. The only other materials needed are a thin, stiff piece of card (for backing), glue, a match (for the wheel axle), a pin (for the propeller), tissue paper or something similar (to weight the nose, in the event that the model is actually airworthy). And scissors. The instructions are in the PDF; here are some tips based on my own experience:

  • It does make it a lot easier if you fold where appropriate before you assemble the model!
  • Take especial care to score along the lines on the rear fuselage section, as otherwise it will be out of shape and the tail assembly won't sit straight.
  • There's no need to make the left and right tabs on the forward underside of the fuselage overlap precisely, as the "fuselage closing strip" is then going to be too wide for the fuselage at the front and will spoil the aeroplane's clean lines.

I think the original was in colour, but the microfilm I printed it from was not, so unfortunately it's a little drab. The colours could be worked out from the roundel and added with a paint program -- or even just coloured in on the paper -- but that would require more energy than I was prepared to expend :)

"Boys and Girls" would often include an aviation-related cartoon or story -- in fact, one of the regular strips followed the adventures of Phil and Fifi, the "flying twins" -- but this edition was chock-full of airminded goodness. The Whisker Pets see an aeroplane and decide to make their own (hilarity ensues); a stork-powered air show entertains the inhabitants of Treasure Island ('I like being an airwoman', says Penelope the parrot); two panels list "Famous flyers' great flights" (including some not so famous now, such as the non-stop flight of Codos and Rossi from New York to Syria in 1933); and on the Pet & Hobby Page, Teddy Tail provides some hints on how to make airworthy model aircraft -- which I clearly should have read before making mine! This was obviously intended to coincide with the annual RAF Pageant held at Hendon on the very same day, a hugely popular air show: 200,000 attended that year, a record crowd -- despite the best efforts of pacifist demonstrators outside the front gates.

This being the Daily Mail, there was probably another agenda besides getting plane-crazy youngsters to remind their parents to buy their favourite right-wing newspaper that Saturday: to make even more plane-crazy youngsters. The need to create an airminded youth was a common theme in the Rothermere press in the 1930s. For example, just two days earlier, Amy (Johnson) Mollison's regular aviation column had been entitled "Don’t discourage the young idea in flying",1 in reference to an Air Ministry ban on solo flying under the age of 17, after a 16-year old boy had been killed doing just that near Scarborough. And, near the end of the year, Lord Rothermere himself contributed an article called "Make the youth of England air-minded! Has Germany 10,000 aeroplanes?"2 -- the question explaining and justifying the demand.

The RAF roundels on the model aeroplane mark it out as a machine of war, not a pleasure craft or commercial aeroplane. So while I had fun making and trying to fly it, I was also replaying (in a very small way) the mobilisation of youth for the next air war. I wonder how many of the adolescent boys and girls who made it before me joined the RAF or the ATA when the prospect of war became reality, just five years later?

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

  1. Daily Mail, 28 June 1934, p. 4. []
  2. Daily Mail, 4 December 1934, p. 15. []

19 thoughts on “Making an airminded youth (and a gliding model aeroplane)

  1. Maybe you need some more nose weight? Sounds like it needs to trim more nose-down; reduce the AoA. Remember that the Spit's aerofoil (NACA 210 I think) was chosen for 300-400mph manoeuvring; very thin! More importantly, what percentage of the aircraft's weight do you think the RR Merlin engine made up? IIRC a Spitfire weighed about 3 tons all-up and a Merlin must have been at least 20 per cent of that.

  2. Jakob

    Yep, you probably need more weight at the front. The CG needs to be in front of the aerodynamic centre of the wing, which is generally at 25-30% chord. Blu-tack under the nose is my favoured method.

  3. Post author

    OK, I added some more weight under the nose and that has indeed stopped it stalling, and it glides a bit further now. But it turns over and dives after a couple of metres, and I'd say it's because the dihedral angle of one of the wings is significantly greater than the other one. Difficult to fix now that everything is glued on. That's ok, I'm happy for the aeroplane to remain on static display :)

  4. Chris Williams

    Rule number one of paper aeroplane manufacture. If in doubt, put more weight on the nose. Eventually it'll fly, or rather 'fly', perhaps only ballistically.

    I've printed mine out and will make it on Sunday, aided by a handy 5-year-old. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. Quite some time ago now, me and my mates arranged a virtual lobby of a G8 summit, whereby we got passers-by to write messages to world leaders on printed-up paper darts. One of us then travelled to the summit, and threw them over the wall around the green zone (as it then wasn't). Dunno what some bemused mitteleuropan riot cops made of them, wobbling throught the tear smoke over the razor wire. Perhaps a hat decoration? But it's at least as effective as throwing rocks, and rather easier.

  5. Post author

    I’ve printed mine out and will make it on Sunday, aided by a handy 5-year-old.

    Get 'em while they're young -- Rothermere would have approved! Let us know how it goes.

  6. Perhaps a tad less nose-down trim?

    If the dihedral is wonky (technical term) the centre of lift will be over to the opposite side.

  7. Post author

    Well, I don't know -- technically it doesn't have ailerons or even flaps. The trailing edges of the wings could in theory be used as such but I wouldn't want to get in trouble with CASA for making illegal modifications to the aircraft!

  8. CK

    Did I mention that I own the Harbour Bridge and can sell it to you for a song?

    Ordinarily I'm quite into the graceful curves of flying surfaces (Spitfire, Concorde, A380), but, I don't know, I'm just not sure about those dotted lines...

  9. Chris Williams

    At least I avoided "GdH senior" styles of failure: there's been no catastrophic tearing round the cockpit, nor has the propellor fallen out onto an airshow crowd, nor the main spar broken at an inconvenient moment.

    But in the spirit of the Swallow, I will build another, the better to investigate the flight characteristics of spinning in.

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  11. Curt Silvers

    Just now discovered this thread while browsing for paper airplanes. I recognized this paper model as a variation of the famous Rigby Swallow. Mr. Rigby sold many versions, including flat punch-out ones and already built ones that were shipped in boxes. Plans for it were included in his book "Rigby Model Aircraft for Boys" published in 1935. It's design was inspired by the Supermarine Schneider Cup Trophy winning racer that led to the Spitfire fighter. So the Geoffrey de Havilland references seem quite appropriate, even though his Swallow prototype flight ended tragically.

    Right now I'm thinking about building a slightly larger version with an electric motor.


  12. Post author


    Thanks for that information. I think I planned to do a post on Rigby but never did. Did you try adding a motor? I still have the version shown in the post, though it's lost a wheel and I fear it will never fly again...


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