Owning a scale electric amphibian is no longer a fantasy!
By Frank Fanelli/photos by Frank Fanelli and Jim Wiggin
Once upon a time I owned a large scratchbuilt Grumman Widgeon. There were big plans for the plane: retracts, flaps, optional retractable wing tip floats (an option on some of the real ones), fabulous paint scheme, etc. It didn't happen and after a while I traded it. But the fascination with the Widgeon and off-the-water flying endured.
AT A GLANCE
Type: R/C electric scale
Construction: balsa, ply and fiberglass
Wing span: 51 inches
Wing area: 373 sq. in.
Length: 36 inches
Weight: 4-4.5 pounds
Wing loading: 25-28 oz./sq.ft.
Prop: (2) EP 8-6
Motor: (2) RimFire 400
ESC: (2) 25-amp
Radio: 4-channel, 4 micro servos
Dist. by: Hobbico
P.O. Box 9021
Champaign, IL 61826
Well the stars do align sometimes. ElectriFly had just come out with their new 51-inch G-44 Widgeon for two Rimfire 400 motors. And I had a week's vacation in October, at my boyhood home in New York, complete with an accommodating lake. How could I miss?
When the Widgeon came, I got started right away, but weather and wind didn't leave much time to finish and fly it by the end of the week. That gave me a chance to look the contents over more thoroughly. What I and you will find is that the Widgeon is a combination wood/fiberglass model. The wings are traditional built-up balsa, while the complete fuselage, with fin, is very nicely molded fiberglass.
That's a very welcome change from many of the foam planes and a good choice for a really watertight and waterproof hull. It would be best to note here that the ElectriFly Widgeon is strictly a water plane. There is no provision for landing gear, but that doesn't mean that the fuselage couldn't be modified for a fixed main gear, and a tail wheel added. But that's a project for another time. I was more intent on enjoying the Widgeon on the water.
The rest of the kit is very complete. The only shopping needed is for the two Rimfire motors, the two 25-amp ESCs, and the radio gear. With all the choices available in servos, the manual makes it easy, citing two Futaba 3114s for the ailerons (21 ounce-inches) and two 3115s, one for the elevator and the other for the rudder (39 ounce-inches). The single battery needed is a 3350 mAh 3S Li-Po.
While taking all the pieces out of the box, I was impressed by how drum tight the MonoKote covering was. From the time I got the Widgeon in the mid-Fall it stayed that way until mid-December when the humidity levels dropped. Then it wrinkled a little, but some work with a Coverite iron set at 320 degrees took care of that.
One suggestion before diving into the assembly would be that all the small sheet metal, machine, and socket head screws be separated and identified before starting assembly. During the building process, the manual explicitly specifies what screws are to be used in individual steps so rather than hunt around for them, it's easier to have them ready when needed.
The manual is pretty good with its instructions and pictures so it was an enjoyable process putting the plane together and the instructions don't leave any perplexing questions about what to do and the order in which to do them.
The wing is the major part of the whole assembly process since there's a lot going on there: motors, cables, servos, floats. About the most difficult part of the assembly process was snaking the wires for the servo cables and the motor through the center section. Thankfully ElectriFly has put lengths of string from the servo bays and motor nacelle area to guide the cables and wires into and out of the respective holes.
Three suggestions here that made the process easier for me. First, identify the strings to save later frustration. Secondly, enlarge the single hole in the bottom of the center section panel. There are a lot of wires that will come through it. If left the same size it will get pretty tight quickly. Of course don't make it the size of a manhole cover.
Third suggestion relates to the motor wires. At first I tried just tying the string around the end of the motor's 3-wire bundle. But the ends of each wire went off in a different direction and kept snagging on ribs in the panel.
A cleaner way was to wrap some blue painter's tape around and over the end of the bundle. The tape extended beyond the wires so I put a small hole in the tape and tied the string to that. The wires went through more easily since they were all tightly aligned in the same direction.
Another method for doing the same thing would be to use a short piece of heat shrink tubing over the end of the bundle, with a bit of it extending past the end of the wire. A small hole, like the tape method, lets the string get tied to it. I would have used this method if I had the appropriate diameter tubing at hand.
A number of adhesives are mentioned in the manual, including cyanoacrylates and 5-minute epoxy. It would be good to also use some 30-minute epoxy for the joining of the wing panels. That will allow enough time, without rushing, to ìbutterî the joiner spars and the root ribs completely and evenly with epoxy. Use 5-minute, even 15-minute, epoxy and it will start curing before you get everything together.
The rest of the assembly is a piece of cake. One of the things that made it even more so was the Great Planes parallel ESC Adapter (GPMM3141). It eliminates a lot of fussy soldering. It's simple enough: two female Ultra Deans connectors soldered to a single male Ultra Deans. There are other adapters that do the same thing, but they rely on short lengths of wire and are nowhere near as compact as the Great Planes adapter. This is an essential item for this plane.
Two Great Planes 8ñ6 Slow-Fly props (GPMQ6610) are specified for the Widgeon's Rimfire 400 motors. They provide plenty of thrust, but like a lot of electric plastic props need little ring adapters in the prop hub to seat on the prop shaft without any slop. None of the adapters fit the prop shaft correctly. Some were excessively sloppy, some far too tight.
So I used the ones that were the closest tight fit on the prop shaft and drilled them with a #9 bit. Before I did that I had to CyA them in the shaft carefully. The #9 drill bit (0.196 inch diameter) made the prop fit the shaft perfectly.
Nearly every kit or ARF that uses a music wire joiner to connect left and right elevators has a joiner whose legs are not in the same plane (geometric, not aeronautic). It's important to check this and tweak the legs until they are both flat on a flat surface. The Widgeon did have some slight twist but it wasn't hard to get the legs flat.
By this time the Widgeon was pretty much complete. Needless to say, the drain hole at the rear of the fuselage hull step was sealed with the rubber drain plug that comes with the model. If there was any step in the assembly that should be paramount, this is it.
The fiberglass hatch in the nose does bear some additional attention. It's held in place with four magnets and does seem secure, but the first flight showed that it can come loose and because of that it got chewed up by the props as it flailed around. I'm not sure if it came loose on takeoff and some water got in the hull, shifting forward and aft, but the resulting flight was exciting to say the least.
Perhaps the simplest solution to securely fastening the hatch is some clear packing tape across the front and the back of the hatch. Don't need it on the sides. But it might not hurt to put a very small amount of waterproof caulk around the perimeter of the hatch to make absolutely sure no water will get in.
There's a large sheet of vinyl, self-adhesive graphics that come with the Widgeon. The model itself is already pretty colorful with its red, white and blue trim scheme. The painting of the fiberglass and the trim on the MonoKote covering is quite good. But I felt the need to add a bit more zest to the Widgeon with the vinyl graphics. There isn't any suggested trim scheme for the graphics so it's personal choice as to how many and which ones to use. My choices seemed to dress the model up pretty nicely.
At the end of the manual there are specs for the control throws and the c.g. point. Since I used the Tactic 6 radio I had to rely more on mechanical adjustments to pushrod settings in servo arms and control surface horns. I used the pictures in the manual to initially set the throws up, and found that that was a pretty reliable guide. The Tactic 6 does have low rates but they're not individual. There's one switch that sets all rates to low or to high. The low rate seems to be a percentageó70%, I thinkóof the high rates.
The c.g. came out right on the money with the plane set up just as the manual indicates. The balance point was right at the 2-inch mark specified, with the 3350 mAh battery in a forward position. There's room to shift it around. Placing it to the rear put the c.g. in a slightly tail heavy position.
So it was time to commit the Widgeon to the waves. First order of business was taxi testing to see how the plane manuevered on the water and how it would plane when power was applied. Have to say the Widgeon had very little tendency to drop a wing in turns or roll back and forth. Quite a pleasant plane to taxi, though the wind made turns one way quite wide.
When power was applied there was a tendency for the nose to dig in a little and the spray from the forward motion kicked up into the prop arcs. The solution to minimize spray in the props was to start the taxi slowly with full up elevator (high rate).
Same technique applies to the start of the takeoff: full up elevator, and steady push to full throttle. The Widgeon will pick up speed nose high. It was time to release up elevator steadilyónot abruptlyówhen the plane started to bounce on the water. The nose came down so it could plane and pick up more speed.
This isn't a model to horse off the water. Because it has a decently high wing loading, too slow a liftoff with a lot of back stick can risk a stall, possibly a snap into the drink.
There's a cautionary tale to relate here that provided the 100% hindsight of experience. First, definitely seal the hatch. On my first flight, with the hatch secured only by its four magnets, it came off in flight. That wouldn't have been too bad, except that I had it tethered with the rubber band the instructions called for. It flailed around and acted like a berserk control surface.
Then it got into the prop arcs, got chewed up and may have jammed one motor, because suddenly the plane snapped while I tried to set up for a landing. Yup, it took a vertical nose dive right into the water and mangled the wing. The fuselage was completely intact, a testament to its strength.
Got a replacement wing kit and had the Widgeon back together in no time. There's another reason to seal the hatch completely. On subsequent taxi tests I noticed that water would flow over the nose of the aircraft. Without a good seal some of that water could get into the hull and slosh around, if there's enough, affecting the c.g.
Easiest way to seal the hatch was with some Scotch Blenderm tape. That's the same stuff used for hinging flat foamy control surfaces. It's pretty tacky on the fiberglass surface and conforms nicely to the curves. Yet it also removes easily and doesn't leave any residue.
My other tale of woe was my own brain fade. On the second flight I forgot to put the rubber drain plug back in the step of the fuselage hull. I put it in the water and started to taxi and couldn't figure out why the nose was getting progressively lower. Duh!
Yep, it started to sink nose down. I cut all power so none of the componentsóESC, battery, and motorsówould short out. And on the subject of getting wet, Laddie Mikulasko who's done a fair share of electric seaplane flying, suggested spraying some Corrosion X on the motors and the speed control. It's a water dispersant that can be used with electronic components and found at True Value.
The next flight turned out perfectly, though I had to wait out persistent 15ñ25 mph winds. Even found the beautiful, spacious Fairview Lake YMCA camp to fly the Widgeon. Bob Kahle, the Director, was not only gracious, but excited about it.
With the 3350 mAh 3-cell Li-Po I set a pretty conservative time limit of 4.5 minutes for the flight just so I didn't find myself well out in the lake with no power left to taxi back. Subsequent testing showed that at mostly half throttle the plane consumed a very modest 541 mAh.
In the air the plane proved it can scoot, even at half throttle. With the wing loading and a relatively thin airfoil the plane doesn't like to loaf. It grooves. You point it where you want and it stays there. Control response at high rate is quick and expo would help dampen that sensitivity but the Tactic radio I used only had low rates.
Just a few clicks of right aileron trim, and a few of down elevator were needed to get the Widgeon stabilized. Rolls are of the barrel variety and loops are pretty straightforward. Going down hill, the plane picks up speed quickly so throttle management was necessary.
When it was time to set up for landing the first approach was high and the speed built up coming down hill so the plane almost went whizzing by. Next time the approach was lower and the final was longer to get the descent rate stabilized. I also kept the speed up and let the plane settle gradually. It touched down, bounced and then settled in very nicely.
With all the gremlins behind me and the deadline met it's now time to get to know the Widgeon a lot better. It isn't a plane for a novice, and experience with relatively fast planes will help with the plane. It is a quality model, and could notch up your modeling experience to another level, a twin and a seaplane. If you want a great change of pace, consider the Widgeon.
This review appeared in the June 2012 issue of Flying Models.