How I Organized Original Blueprints of an Aircraft

Before you organize the original blueprints of an aircraft, collect as many reference photos as possible, and familiarize yourself with the aircraft shape, main assemblies and – especially – their joints. You will need all this knowledge to quickly recognize the drawings you need. About 60% of the original blueprints depict various small, internal details (tubes, brackets, plates, etc.) which are necessary only when you would like to build a real, flying airplane.

To select a useful subset of these blueprints, I had to review all the drawings in the microfilm set, and copy some of them into one of the target folders:

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Figure 98-1 Target folders structure and contents of a single folder

You can do such a “review” using two File Explorer windows: one for the source drawing list (of course with the preview pane), and the other for the target folder.

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Original Blueprints of a Historical Aircraft

Recreating geometry of a historical aircraft is usually a painstaking, iterative process. You can see this in my work on the SBD Dauntless. During the long hours of studying the photos and trying to figure out the precise shape of this plane I often wished to have its source blueprints! For many years the access to the original documentation was “the Holy Grail” of the advanced modelers. (Everybody wished to have this ultimate resource, but only few saw it. And even those, who saw these drawings, often did not know what they are seeing).

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Figure 97-1 This copy of the P-47 drawing was made using the old blueprint method

When the production of an aircraft is definitely closed, and it quits the service, its blueprints are packed into manufacturer’s archives. After a few decades most of these companies are sold, while the less successful ones are out of the business. The original technical documentation of an aircraft usually becomes a bunch of useless, unreadable paper rolls that disappear in trash bins.

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Recreating Geometry of a Forgotten WWI Fighter

This winter I was busy with my daily business and took a break from the SBD model. However, in February and March I spent few Sundays helping in another project: the Fokker D.V biplane, used in 1917 as an “advanced trainer” by German Air Corps:

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Figure 96-1 Fokker D.V

I was asked to take part in this project by C. West. He did all the research and provided all the materials: blueprints and photos. My part was recreating the geometry of this aircraft, especially its fuselage frame made of steel tubes. All what we had was a dozen of various archival photos, a poor general drawing, and the landing gear dimensions:

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Figure 96-2 All remaining D.V blueprints

In this case I had to turn the available photos into the precise reference, as I did for the SBD, then use them to determine the required geometry details.

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Recreating Grooves in the Sheet Metal Panels

This post is dedicated to a minor feature, which I have found surprisingly demanding: modeling the grooves pressed in the curved surfaces of the aircraft panels. In the SBD you can see some of such reinforcements on the inner cowling, behind the cylinder row (Figure 95‑1):

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Figure 95-1 Reinforcements of the inner cowling: the grooves, pressed in the sheet metal panels

They are 0.7-1.0” wide (Figure 95‑1a) and span over the inner cowling along its radial directions (Figure 95‑1b, c). In the SBD-5 and -6 these reinforcing grooves occur only on the lower part of the cowling (Figure 95‑1b), while in the earlier versions (SBD-1, -2, -3, and -4) they are also present on the  upper part (Figure 95‑1c).

Even when the flaps on the NACA cowling are closed, you can still see rounded endings of these grooves around the cowling rear edge (Figure 95‑2):

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Figure 95-2 Reinforcing grooves visible behind the NACA cowling

In the earlier versions (SBD-1..SBD-4) they appear on the narrow strip behind the NACA cowling (Figure 95‑2a). You can see more of the upper grooves when the NACA cowling flaps are set wide open. In the SBD-5 and -6 the engine and the NACA cowling were shifted forward by 3.5”, and the gap between the NACA ring and the inner cowling is wider. Thus, in these versions you can see even longer fragments of the grooves behind the NACA cowling (Figure 95‑2b).

Such grooves appear on many sheet metal elements, so I decided to write this post as a small tutorial that teaches how to recreate these elements. Thus, do not be surprised when I list the detailed Blender commands in the text below.

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Differences between Dauntless Versions: Carburetor Air Duct

After “mounting” the R-1820 engines into my SBD models, I decided to recreate some details of the inner cowling (the cowling panels placed behind the cylinder row). In this post I will form the missing parts of the carburetor air ducts, hidden under the NACA ring. There are significant differences in this area between various SBD versions, which never appeared in any scale plans, or in any popular monograph of this aircraft. I think that the pictures presented below highlight these differences. They can be useful for all those scale modelers who are going to build the SBD “Dauntless” models with the engine cowlings opened. (Sometimes you can encounter such advanced pieces of work on the various scale model contests).

Let’s start with the SBD-5s (and -6s), which are better documented (because they were produced in much larger quantities). They had a dual intake system, of the filtered/non-filtered air, which I discussed it in the previous post. I already recreated the two intakes of the filtered air, placed between the engine cylinders. Now I have to create the central, direct air duct and its opening at the top of the internal cowling.

Figure 94‑1 shows the initial state of my SBD-5 model:

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Figure 94-1 SBD-5: the carburetor and its cowling (initial state)

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Mounting the Engine

In my previous post I have finished the second variant of the R-1820-52 “Cyclone” engine, which was used in the SBD-3 and -4. (It looks like the earlier R-1820-32 model, mounted in the SBD-1 and -2). In the resulting Blender file linked at the end of that post you will find two “Cyclone” versions: the R-1820-52 (for the earlier SBD versions, up to SBD-4) and the R-1820-60 (for the SBD-5 and -6). Each of these engines has its own “scene”.

To “mount” these engines into my SBD models, I imported both scenes to the main Blender file. I defined each engine variant as a group, to facilitate placing them in the aircraft models as the group instances. I also added the firewall bulkhead and updated the shape of the cowling behind the cylinder row. (I will refer to this piece as the “inner cowling”). So far I did not especially care for the shape of its central part, hidden below the NACA ring. Now I updated it for the real size and shape of the engine mounting ring (Figure 93‑1a):

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Figure 93-1 Mounting frame details

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Recreating the Wright R-1820-52 “Cyclone” (2)

In this post I will finish my model of the R-1820-52 “Cyclone”. (This is the continuation of the subproject that I started reporting in the previous post). Figure 92‑1 shows the oil sump, used in this engine:

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Figure 92-1 Oil sump in the R-1820-52

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Recreating the Wright R-1820-52 “Cyclone” (1)

Following the conclusion from my previous post, I have to recreate yet another “Cyclone” version: the R-1820-52, used in the SBD-3 and SBD-4. Fortunately, the R-1820-32, used in the SBD-1 and SBD-2, seems to be identical (at least – as viewed from the front), thus I do not need to recreate this “Cyclone” variant. I will describe the modeling process of the R-1820-52 in the “fast forward” mode, compressing the whole thing to two posts: this and the next one.

Initially I identified just two differences: the shape of the front crankcase section and the different ignition harness. I assumed that I will be able to reuse most of the R-1820-60 components. I had discovered most of the issues described in my previous post while working on this R-1820-52 version. In fact, it occurs that such an attempt to create a 3D model of such an engine is like an scientific experiment: it verifies the initial hypothesis and reveals the new facts that otherwise would be overlooked.

I started by renaming in the source Blender file the scene that contains the previously finished engine as “R-1820-60” (the “military” symbol of an engine belonging to the “Cyclone” G200 family). Then I created a new scene, named “R-1820-52” (the G100 family). This is my new “working place”. I copied there (precisely speaking: “linked”) some of the “R-1820-60” parts that were common for the G100 and G200 family. In this “*-52” version I followed the same “building path” which I used for the previous one. So I began with the crankcase and the basic cylinder elements (Figure 91‑1):

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Figure 91-1 Forming the new crankcase

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The R-1820 “Cyclone” Versions

I decided to write a post about the first decade of the R-1820 “Cyclone” development (up to the R-1820-60 version, i.e. 1940). This engine was used in many designs from 1930s, and you can find the references to its various models in many technical specifications. However, sometimes it is difficult to determine how such a referenced version looked like! The early models of the “Cyclone” were produced in small batches, so there is less historical photos. Sometimes even the specialists from the museums are misguided: in one of them, you can find a SBD-3 fitted with the engine and the propeller from the SBD-5. My query, which resulted in this article, started with comparison of the R-1820-60 (used in the SBD-5) and the R-1820-52 (used in the SBD-3 and -4). I have found so many differences, that I started to wonder about the engine used in the pre-war SBD-1 and SBD-2. (They used the earlier “Cyclone” version: R-1820-32). The results presented below may be interesting to the modelers who recreate aircraft from this period (for example – the Curtiss “Hawk”, or the Grumman F3F-2 “Flying Barrel”).

Let’s start from the beginning: below you can see the first model of the R-1820 family, designed in 1931 (Figure 90‑1):

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Figure 90-1 One of the earliest R-1820s

Frankly speaking, there is only a general resemblance to the later “Cyclone” versions. Note the small crankcase front section and the “archaic” cylinder heads. (They have different shape, and their fins are much shorter and widely spaced: these are indicators of a simpler casting technology). Another strange feature is the exhaust, which could be also mounted in the reversed (i.e. forward) direction. (Some of the aircraft from this era used front exhaust collectors). This engine used large spark plugs, mounted horizontally (in parallel to the centerline). It was rated at 575hp on takeoff, and used in some contemporary designs, like the Curtiss “Hawk” biplane.

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Recreating the Wright R-1820-60 “Cyclone”

In this post I will finish all the remaining details on the front of the R-1820 engine. (As I mentioned in earlier posts, this model is intended for the outdoor scenes, with closed cowlings. That’s why I recreated the more complex rear part in a simplified form, just to check if it fits properly to the airframe).

One of the most exposed “Cyclone” details is the variable-pitch propeller governor (Figure 89‑1):

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Figure 89-1 Propeller governor

This is an additional unit that controls the pitch of the Hamilton-Standard propeller. (It controls the oil pressure, which determines the actual pitch of the propeller blades). You can find it in every aircraft, but it is often dismounted from the “standalone” engines, presented in the museums. The large wheel at its top is used as an actuator attachment. The actuator can be a pushrod or a cable from the cockpit. In the case of the SBD (and many other WWII aircraft) it was a control cable (Figure 89‑1b). The engine depicted in Figure 89‑1a) is a standalone museum exposition, thus it lacks such a cable.

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