Centennial of Flight 2003: Australian Aeromodellers Tribute

Australian Aeromodelling Groups - Bonus

Updated April 5, 2003

Matchbox Flyers : Tiny airplanes that fit in a matchbox. Yes, and how they fly

Rod Miller, a science teacher in Fresno, Calif., first heard about mini-models from Don Martin. When Don was in military service in Germany, balsa was mighty scarce. To conserve wood and still have contests, matchbox airplanes were devised.

In developing a series of miniature craft Rod started from scratch, employing much initiative. Bamboo was one of his first materials, knowing he could split it up very small. Tests on tissues for covering led to condenser paper.

The need for 1/64" sheet balsa led to Swaney's hobby emporium in Long Beach and Micro-Dyne wood. Rubber for power started with golf ball rubber, ended with Bungee cord from a boat shop. Winding went from hand to hand drill to a gear train from a broken toy.


With conventional thrust bearings and shaft housings, Rod figured a lot of power was being absorbed in metal washers, besides metal was a little hard to work. Having been a chemistry major in college, he knew of an excellent material with a very low co-efficient of friction--Teflon.

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He found some used as a piston ring in an air compressor. With a cross-section 1/16" x 1/8" here was enough for thousands of washers. They are cut 1/16" x 1/16" then pierced with a pin. When cementing in place, it is necessary to completely cover the washer since the adhesive will not stick to the Teflon.

A word of caution--do not heat this material! It gives off toxic gasses when very hot. Rules for this event are simple. The matchbox limits plane size. Ready-to-fly model must fit within the box. The wing can't fold, the fuselage can't fold. Each entry in its ready-to-fly state is put in the tray section of the box which is passed thru the cover.


To keep everything reasonably sane no hollow motor sticks or tail booms are allowed. Microfilm would be okay and with this size model might be easier to use than tissue.

Just how big can a model be built? Inside of tray measures 1-3/8" x 2-9/16" x 4-1/2" Take advantage of the diagonal and your model can have a projected wingspan of 2-7/8" If you utilize the diagonal for length, a model can be as much as 4-5/8 " long.


Design-wise, imaginations can run wild. To provide sufficient wing area aspect ratios are fairly low, 1" chords are common. Is a lifting section desirable. Does it do any good? So build both types! Horizontal tail area is quite large, usually 40 to 90% for a tractor.

For a canard, we figure 100% would be practical. The fuselage can be small "sticks," or built-up triangles with 1/32-sq or smaller longerons at each corner, made long so plenty of rubber can be used. Propellers are 2 to 2-1/2 inches in diameter, almost equal to the wingspan. Two blades work better and are lighter than a single blade with counterbalance.

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No limitations on types! You should try twin pushers, canards, ROG's, tractors and even helicopters. (Some sharp designer will probably clean up with a matchbox helicopter.)

Contests can be held almost any place, even outdoors during calm weather. Auditoriums too small for regular indoor models are perfect for matchbox miniatures. Club attendance is stimulated by conducting "M.B." contests after meetings. It's an interesting new phase in building. Have some fun ... let yourself go,.. try Miller's matchbox miniatures.

The following appeared in Bud Tenny's column in the April 71 issue American Aircraft Modeler, yet another renaming of poor old Air Trails. The remark about the clever lad and his helicopter was prophetic. And note: 25 sec was more than enough to beat all the non-helicopters. That should give folks a target.

David Dodge

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Mad Modelers Strike Again: In 1969, the Mesquite Mad Modelers (suburban Dallas, Tex.) held an indoor contest and introduced their matchbox model concept (see "Where The Action Is," April 1970 American Aircraft Modeler). This year they repeated both the contest and the matchbox event. Most of last year's, entrants flew the same models to higher scores but to no avail.

Mike Fedor and two friends showed up with matchbox helicopters. Mike won the event in Open handily with a 25-sec. flight, and Jim Haught won Junior with a slightly lower score. Mike's helicopter snuggles neatly into the standard kitchen matchbox with room to spare. It easily could have had a one-quarter inchgreater rotor span, and thus might have done even better.

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