Introduction: Child's Airplane for Fisher-Price People
I made this for our three children in the 1970s. It survived them and now our granddaughter is playing with it. The airplane was made with some scrap oak from old church pews and altar furniture.
Materials used were some old oak, some glue, and some latex varnish. You will also need some Fisher-Price people, or will need to make some of your own, probably on a lathe. I will give some dimensions in one of the steps.
Tools used were a radial arm saw (A table saw, even a hand crosscut saw would work.), a router, an electric drill with a 1/2 inch twist bit and a 7/8 inch spade bit, clamps for gluing, a chisel, a spokeshave, and a file. I also used some sandpaper and a brush for the varnish.
Step 1: The Fuselage
Begin with the fuselage of the airplane. Dimensions are not always critical, so long as the final proportions are pleasing to the eye and the end product looks like an airplane. This plane is roughly similar to a DC-3.
The fuselage as I made it is 1 5/8 inch thick side to side, 2 inches high top to bottom, and 12 3/4 inches long.
Measure 6 7/8 inches forward from the rear of the fuselage on the bottom of the airplane. Mark a line across the bottom of the fuselage. Rabbet 5/8 inch deep and 2 3/4 inch wide for the wing.
See the yellow text boxes for a reference when making the cuts described in the rest of this step. From this same mark taper the bottom of the fuselage to the rear end of the fuselage that makes the fuselage only 3/8 inch high at its rear end (under the tail and rear stabilizer).
Turn the fuselage over onto its top surface and taper the sides of the fuselage toward the rear. The tapers begin at the rear of the wing and leave the fuselage 3/4 inch wide at the rear end.
Step 2: Cuts for the Windscreen and the Upper Engine Cowling
Saw two compound angle cuts to define the double angle of the windscreen. It angles backward from the center of the fuselage and it has a slope from the upper engine cowling to the top of the fuselage. See the yellow text boxes for measurements that define those cuts. Make identical cuts, but in reverse on both sides of the fuselage for the two halves of the windscreen.
Step 3: Under the Engine Cowling
The underside of the engine cowling can be shaped according to personal preference for pleasing lines. The text boxes in the photos give some guidelines for beginning with your cuts. It is best to cut a little less at the start rather than too much. Some shaping and removal of material can be done with a file to achieve a balance between both sides and to achieve pleasing lines that look like a real airplane. Notice also that the front of the upper engine cowling slopes downward slightly from the windscreen to the front of the fuselage. The top of the upper engine cowling can also be shaped to have a convex shape that rolls away toward the sides of the fuselage.
Step 4: People Holes
The Fisher-Price people our kids enjoyed were the "old" style, that is, pre-1990s. There is a new style today with new dimensions. I am giving sizes for the "old" style. The next step will give further information, in case you wish to make your own people. The holes I drilled for the people in the top of the fuselage are 7/8 inch in diameter. They are centered between the sides of the fuselage. The first hole's center is 2 1/2 inches from the front of the fuselage. The center of each succeeding hole is 1 1/2 inch behind the preceding hole on center. Make four holes for the pilot and passengers. Make these holes 1/2 inch deep.
I drilled 1/2 inch holes from one side of the fuselage to the other to replicate windows in the aircraft. There are three of them. They are equally spaced between the centers for the holes on the top. They are also equally spaced between the top of the fuselage and the top of the wing.
Step 5: People Dimensions
You can find the "old" style people for sale on eBay, but they are expensive. You could turn your own on a lathe, or use sections of dowel rods in different diameters glued together. The round heads could be wooden balls from a craft store. You may want to drill a hole from the bottom up through the parts and insert a small diameter dowel rod for extra strength, especially for the round head. Hats and hair could be fashioned from common items like cardboard and yarn. Paint the faces according to your own tastes. Or, your children may already have some of the "new" people. Size the holes you drill in the fuselage according to what you will be using.
Step 6: The Rear Stabilizers
See the line drawing in the fourth image as well as the photos. Rout a tongue onto the bottom of the tail (vertical stabilizer). Make the tongue extend forward half the length of the tail. Also make the tongue long enough to reach through half of the thickness of the horizontal stabilizer ("rear wing" to some) plus the groove cut for it into the fuselage. See the first photo for the groove cut into the fuselage. See the third photo for how the tail (vertical stabilizer) is cut to leave a tongue that fits through half of the thickness of the horizontal stabilizer. All wings and stabilizers are 5/8 inch in thickness. Cut a corresponding groove into the top of the fuselage at the rear.
See the line drawing for the fifth image. The horizontal stabilizer is 2 inches by 4 inches, and shaped to look like those on a real airplane. The vertical stabilizer is 2 inches high (plus the length of the tongue) and 2 1/2 inches long. The front edge of the vertical stabilizer is sloped backward as it runs toward the top. The corners are rounded in a way that is pleasing to the eye. See step 1 for profile of the vertical stabilizer.
Glue the stabilizers in place with a good wood glue. Allow them to dry and cure fully.
The angular corners of the vertical and horizontal stabilizers should be rounded with a file and smoothed with sandpaper to resemble what you see in the photos. The attachment of both stabilizers is the weakest point in the construction of this airplane. I wanted the maximum glue surface area and the maximum interlocking of the parts to provide the greatest strength so the airplane would last when tested by children playing with it. If you wish, you may drill from the underside of the fuselage and add dowels pins that connect the stabilizeers more firmly to the airplane. I did not do this and my airplane has survived our children and our grandchild.
Step 7: The Wing
As said earlier, all control surfaces are from wood 5/8 inch thick. Notice that the wing is raked both on the leading and the trailing edges. Begin with a piece of wood 5/8 x 3 1/4 x 14. Taper the trailing edge of the wing so the taper rises 1/2 inch on each side to the point where each half of the wing intersects with the fuselage. From the point where each half of the leading edge of the wing intersects with the fuselage taper the wing back from its 2 3/4 inch width where it fits into the rabbet made for it in the bottom of the fuselage to a width of 2 inches at each wingtip. Round the corners.
While the wing is still unattached to the airplane, use a spokeshave to give it the classic teardrop shape of an airplane wing. Leave the wing with square corners where it fits into the rabbet on the bottom of the airplane, but shape it as much as possible from the side of the fuselage to the tip of the wing.
Glue the wing in place. Sand to make a smooth airplane look. Finish with clear varnish. The kids in your life will enjoy loading and flying their people with their own airplane.
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