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Flying Models Product Reviews

Vintage R/C's News Flash

Retro R/C's News Flash: Mel's 18

Here's a 1930s classic with a modern twist that ensures a fun build
with out-of-sight flights

By Jim Wiggin/photos by the author

Flying Models April 2012There was a time in my life when most things were simple. Summer for me was an exercise in mowing lawns, yard work and staining decks, all in the effort of saving enough money so that I could go to the local hobby shop and pick up my next freeflight model. Many a summer day and night would find me locked inside my bedroom, hunched over my workbench, whittling away on any given Comet, Guillows or Sterling rubber model. This devoted work and concentration took place while a gentle breeze came in the window and the Red Sox game played on a small black and white 13-inch television set. Ah, memories!



Type: F/F scale

Construction: balsa and ply

Wing span: 24 inches

Wing area: 102 sq. in.

Airfoil: single surface flat bottom

Length: 17 inches

Weight w/motor: 20 ounces

Wing loading: .28 grams/

Motor: 3/16-inch rubber, 36" long

Retro R/C
P.O. Box 193
Keego Harbor, MI 48320

I had a chance to relive some of those memories when I met Mark Freeland of Retro R/C at this year’s Weak Signals show in Toledo. Mark’s booth was set up next to our FLYING MODELS both. Mark had many of his freeflight models hung up and on display. For somebody like me, an avid hacker of balsa and tissue, the models called to me and provided me with nothing but temptation.

By Sunday I had enough and spoke to Mark about purchasing some of his kits. He was nice enough to hand me one of his new models and the subject of this review. Mark designed the 24-inch News Flash as a larger version of the Joe Konefes original 16-inch Phantom Flash. Mark’s kit is also sub titled “Mel’s 18."


The story as told to me from Mark goes something like this. Mark’s daughter, Mel, is, well, eighteen! Mark showed his daughter the first kit and proudly exclaimed that it was her 18th birthday gift. Mel’s utter look of horror subsided once she was told that 100% of the proceeds every kit sold will go directly to her college fund. So as you see, the News Flash is not only a freeflight model but also an instrument of “higher education!”

Mark’s kits are all sold in a plastic bag and although simple, they are quite complete. Opening the package I was impressed with the amount of materials included. This gives you three plan sheets, one with a general layout, plans (although you don’t need them), and a tissue layout sheet. There are four laser-cut sheets of balsa and bass to make up the bones of the kit as well as #64 Tan II rubber, prop, steel wire and Esaki tissue.

News Flash

Want to know what color your ship will be? No problem, Mark has put labels on all his kits so you can plan your trim scheme. The kit is so complete that really all you need is the standard building materials, hobby knife with #11 blade, adhesive of your choice, building board, modeling pins and sandpaper.

Assembling the News Flash

I built my News Flash with Titebond, mixed two parts glue to one part water and applied it to my parts with a small bottle made for gear lube on R/C cars. The bottle is made by Muchmore Products and includes a steel applicator, which gives me excellent control. One could use CyA; however my personal preference is the Titebond adhesive on all my freeflight models.

News Flash

Assembly is straightforward. The laser cutting is smooth, accurate and only has a few “gates” that the modeler must set free with the hobby knife. A quick sanding with 220-grit sandpaper cleans the balsa and bass nicely. The aircraft is designed to be self jigging, so plans are not necessary and even the stringers are laser cut. All you need is a flat surface and some quality pins.

Because the laser cutting is so accurate, one doesn’t need the plans, it really goes together like a three-dimensional puzzle; however, Retro R/C has included them for reference. Pay attention to the assembly process of the nose and gear as it only assembles one way.

News Flash

As I built the Flash, I was aware of the quality of wood used throughout the kit. Far too many beginners have been turned off of freeflight because of hard, heavy wood that predestines the model for lackluster flight, if at all. The News Flash is designed to fly, and fly well. Mark has used this model as a project for a small group of young people that are eleven years old.

Because of the kit design they successfully built and flew the News Flash under his guidance. None of these young people had ever built a model airplane before. With this said, I had no problem getting things framed up. Most of the time was spent waiting for the glue to dry.

News Flash

With the assembly complete, I sanded everything with 220-grit sandpaper for a smooth finish. You can leave the wood parts of the gear and fuselage stick a natural color or you can do what Mark suggests and add color with a magic marker. The magic marker doesn’t add any real weight and tints the balsa nicely. My Flash tissue is blue so I used a bright yellow and applied it with a Sharpie marker on the fuselage and gear.

The wheels are also made of balsa, sandwiched together then sanded and painted if desired. I used a black Sharpie to simulate a rubber like wheel.

With the frame sanded and appropriate parts colored, I applied a 50/50 mix of butyrate dope and thinner and coated the fuselage and wheels. Next came the covering of the wing panels and tail feathers. In the past I would use dope to cover the frames with tissue but the instructions suggest a glue stick. It is important to note that one should use the UHU brand of glue stick.

Another nice feature of the kit is the included pre-printed tissue, complete with the original Comet artwork of the skull and cross bones that are seen on the wing panels. To make sure the printed tissue is centered on the frame correctly, a full size pattern sheet is included so you know exactly how to cut the included tissue. There is no need to shrink the tissue; simply place glue from the glue stick to the frame edges and slowly attach the tissue to the frame. Work slowly and work out any wrinkles. The glue gives you enough time to work with the tissue. When done, simply trim the tissue with a new #11 blade.

Test Flight

Since I tend to fly outdoors in the early morning, I gave my Flash a light dusting of Krylon Clear. This seals my tissue and open frame and helps keep the airframe safe from warps should the ship encounter any early morning dew. I then built my power with the included Tan II rubber. There is a length of about 18 inches included. This will get you started and will help trim the model or keep it closer if you are flying from a small field.

News Flash

The prop was checked and to my surprise only required a small amount of sanding to be balanced. Prop and shaft assembled, I used the tried and true method of the square knot, and broke in the motor as well as added some Peck Polymers rubber lube. I assembled the wing and glued the stab and tail to the fuselage. The wing is mounted to the fuselage frame with the included rubber band. With the model assembled I next checked for warps and the center of gravity. The News Flash was ready for some testing.

The night I finished the News Flash, the air was calm thanks to the mid-summer evening. The included motor was wound about 50 turns. Standing in front of my apartment into the open courtyard, I held the News Flash in my right hand, holding the prop with my left. Releasing the prop and allowing it to get some speed, I slowly pushed the News Flash forward and released it.

The News Flash maintained an altitude equal to that in which I had released it and slowly turned left and glided down a few yards in front of me. A short flight but one that made me wish for a larger field.

Subsequent flights yielded similar results that evening and with trimming complete, the News Flash was ready to pack in more winds. My wish for a larger field would be granted when I was sent to cover the events in Geneseo, New York, a few weeks later.

Fortunately at FLYING MODELS, one does not have to wait long to make a flight of any kind of model. I arrived at Geneseo to cover the FAC Non-Nats event and I brought along the News Flash to take advantage of the large expanse. The bright yellow fuselage and blue wings would be easy to spot in such a large expanse. I was fortunate enough to have my pit area next to Dennis Norman, someone who is no stranger to the FAC or Scale freeflight models. Dennis is very familiar with the original Comet Phantom Flash and even makes pre printed tissue in various designs for the original 16-inch Phantom Flash.

Dennis saw my larger News Flash and we soon struck up a conversation. I put a few trim flights of about 100 winds from the original power. From there Dennis recommended using a 36-inch strand of ³⁄₁₆-inch rubber for longer flights. I went to my pit and assembled and lubed the motor, and installed it in the News Flash.

Starting with about 300 winds, I found the plane would fly nicely out of my hands, assume a nice left hand turn but then start to dive and land while under power. Dennis found that the left wing panel had some wash-in and so some trimming was in order.

News FlashAfter a suitable amount of wash-out was added to the offending wing panel, another flight was in order. I packed in 400 winds and walked to the center of the field. Releasing the News Flash was akin to releasing a wild bird. She took off almost vertical then leveled off and under power started a beautiful climb in a counterclockwise turn. I stood there, eyes locked, jaw dropped in a dopey pose 100% fixated on this simple yet elegant flying machine.

Fortunately for me, such a pose is not only acceptable among the FAC brethren, but nothing out of the ordinary. The model leveled out a few hundred feet above me and started its descent east bound. Over the pits, over the cars, past the hot dog stand and finally landing next to a full scale Navion. For a brief instant, I was a kid again, chasing the wooden and tissue creation as it made its flight path. I want to thank Dennis and some of his companions, for the help they were to me that day. With the suggested motor and trim, I made many more successful flights with the News Flash that day.

I wonder if Joe Konefes ever thought his simple design would enjoy such a long and successful life. Retro R/C has seen the stability of the design and has not only reproduced this 24-inch News Flash, but also the original Phantom Flash in 16 inches and an R/C version called the Radio Flash for the small ultra micro electronics. All three kits are very complete and the quality of balsa is exceptional. I encourage you to look up Retro R/C on the web.

While the 13-inch TV has been replaced with a flat screen color, the Red Sox still play and the warm breeze fills the workshop. Some things never change; however, they do improve. So is the state of the News Flash. While the design at its core has not changed, the improvements made in material and laser cutting take a good thing and make it better. I thoroughly enjoyed building and flying the Retro R/C News Flash and being transported back to a simpler time of my youth. .

This review appeared in the February 2012 issue of Flying Models.



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