THINGS WE LOVE TO HATE (in a series of 1000)

Most things in life are bland, ordinary products: brown bread, for instance; the Nine o’clock News, Peugeot cars, golden retrievers.  They have to be broadly acceptable in order to sell without serious fault to the greatest majority of people and make the largest profit for their shareholders.  But there are products that are neither ordinary nor bland and which appeal only to a few: and they still arouse strong feelings both for and against, even in those they for whom they are made.  Try counter-tenor singers, Ferrari racing cars or catamaran sailing dinghies.

I’m sure you have things inside our hobby that drive you wild, but which you can’t do without.  I want to share my current top love/hate object.  It is


I have always been a fan of balsa wood, sanding sealer, tissue, dope and Humbrol enamels.  Nothing else in aeromodelling is as satisfying as producing a realistic finish using these simple materials, but the process is very time-consuming and the end result as fragile as a butterfly’s wing.  The first time I used Litespan was on the ailerons of a Dart Pup (which ended its short life as dust on our local flying field).  The perfection of that moment when the hot iron, drawn languidly over the slack surface of the film, first loosens, then wrinkles, then finally tightens the dull silver into an impossibly beautiful finish has stayed with me for a decade.  Because it’s the only time it’s happened so easily!  What is normal is that you follow the instructions to the letter and produce a bag of wrinkles fit for a Granny Smith, get adhesive all over your iron and throw the whole lot in the bin in a fit of what Peter Sellars used to call “a rit of fealous gage” . 

So what are the attractions and difficulties with this product from the hallowed halls of Solarfilm?  It is:

  • Lighter than tissue and dope, much much stronger and it is far quicker to get a reasonable finish.  I fell in love with the silver, which has a super finish, but “linen” is lovely, “black” beautiful, “green” gorgeous (oh get on with it Michael).

It is also:

  • Excruciatingly difficult to deal with, to cut, fix, tighten prior to ironing and, the final irony, almost impossible to get a really smooth, taut surface free of wrinkles.  It comes folded not rolled, so you have to cope with sharp corners all the time.  At least you can iron and damp tissue if it is creased - try this on heat shrink film!  Finally, and this is a shock to anyone who is used to Solarfilm, it will not really follow a double curvature.  Even when heated.  Oh, and you can’t just dope on a patch to repair it - re-covering is the only answer.

I have finally developed a method of applying Litespan that solves some (but unfortunately not all) of these problems.  You need; a brand new blade, Balsaloc, Pritt (Gluestick in WH Smiths), a cutting mat, straight edge and a iron.  (I used to use Wendy’s iron but was warned off after it got a coloured base from Solarfilm - I now use my own travelling iron).

1.  Cut out enough Litespan for only the panel you are to cover (for the Triplane I did cut 6 of each surface together).  Don’t allow any excess, except as closely as possible to the amount you need to fold or seal edges.  At the most, 1/8” is enough.

2.  Apply a coat of very slightly thinned Balsaloc to the borders of the film and allow to dry clear. 

3.  Now the key to the whole process.  Give just a minimal wipe over of Pritt/Gluestick to the balsa outline.  This allows the Litespan to adhere, but not to stick.

4.  Place the cut Litespan on the surface (remember, it has a shiny and a matt surface and a grain - choose one and stick with it) and fiddle it into the perfect position, gradually tightening and removing wrinkles.  The Pritt will grip quite firmly and allow you lots of working time, but it will not affect the heat-activated Balsaloc.  You can peel and start again with no penalty.  Don’t skimp this process.  Finally, go over the edges with your iron to seal the film onto the airframe.

5.  Where the edges of the film have to go round a curve, I used to think that you had to cut little “V” shapes every 3 or 4 mm to allow the film to fold without too much creasing, just like when using tissue paper.  But now, I just “roll” the excess round the edge and seal down with the iron.  Providing you have painted a thin film of adhesive onto the edge of the film, this works well and is almost invisible.  Compound curves like wing-tips must be covered in separate pieces.

6. Have a cup of tea to give time for the adhesive to set, then turn the iron up (to “Cotton”) and just brush the sole of the iron quickly over the surface of the film, starting in the centre and working gently out to the edges.  The film will do that funny thing films do and tighten just enough without distorting even the lightest structure.  Don’t rewarm the sealed edges or it will go all wrinkly as the adhesive melts.  I find myself blowing on the warm film to cool it, but this is a pathetic action for a grown man trained in science to contemplate.

You should get a wonderfully smooth, wrinkle-free surface that is perfect on its own, but that takes paint just as well as doped tissue but without all the warping and smell.

So there you are.  No-one’s perfect - the Triplane is authentically wrinkly (if sadly the wrong colour) but weather and thumb proof.  I may have to paint it, but I would have painted tissue anyway.

Sometimes though I think that next time I’ll use Solarfilm - shiny, sticky, colourful, lovely, easy to use - and to hell with it all!

Mike Roach May 2000

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