Have you ever wanted to fly your remote control airplane at night but don't want to crash it because it's too dark? I have seen other r/c planes with lights on them but I can never find good instructions on how to do it yourself. I decided to just dive into it and try it so you won't have to go through the trouble of figuring it out yourself. This instructable can be done by anyone as it requires no special skills or technical knowledge. It would be helpful, however, to have a little knowledge about EL wire, but not much as this project doesn't really require any in-depth knowledge of it.
Step 1: Materials
You will need:
a radio control airplane
EL wire (length of wire depends on how big your plane is. Mine has about a 4 foot wingspan and I used around 16 feet of wire. This will also depend on the complexity of the designs you decide to put on your plane)
EL wire power inverter(s) Again, this depends on size and complexity of designs on your plane, but I used two two-AA battery power inverters. Keep in mind how heavy the payload will be. My plane is powerful enough that it can hand the weight of two inverters. Many planes might not be able to handle it.
Glue (I used gorilla glue)
Scotch Tape I just used this to hold the wire in place while the glue dried. you can really use anything you want to hold it in place.
Large Field (to fly in.)
Step 2: EL Wire
If this is the first time you have tried using EL wire, it can seem a little confusing. It's actually quite simple. The thing called the "power inverter" is just the power supply to the wire. Depending on the size of the wire, you will need different size inverters. As long as you aren't soldering the wire, that's all you need to know for this project. If you do want to solder and don't know how, I have seen a few instructables already posted on how to do it.
I got my EL wire from elwirepros.com. Look at their "Portable" EL Wire Kits. I used 2.2 mm wire, but you could use bigger wire if you want a brighter airplane. They are really easy. All you have to do is plug the wire into the inverter and turn it on. It is a little cheaper not to buy the pre-soldered kit, but I don't recommend it for a newbie to EL Wire.
Step 3: Balancing the Weight
This is the absolute most important part of the whole project. If this is not done correctly, your airplane will not fly correctly. You need to find somewhere inside the fuselage where you can put the power inverter(s) and maintain the balance of the plane. If balanced correctly, your plane should stay level when you pick it up near a certain point. This point is usually about 75% up the wing tip from the trailing edge (the edge with the ailerons/flaps) as shown in the photo below. this point is also usually near the highest point of the airfoil. It is easiest to put the inverter directly above the battery for the plane to keep the weight distribution the same as before. In doing so, you may need to cut out a small portion of Styrofoam I do not recommend removing the foam as you may weaken your plane's structural integrity.
As I said in the materials list, depending on the size of your plane, you may need multiple inverters. If this is the case, all you have to do is put one inverter a bit forward of the Center of Gravity (CG) of your plane (this is almost always where your battery is placed in the plane) and the other a bit aft of the battery/CG. You won't really need to worry about the EL wire itself throwing of the balance of your airplane. It might change the CG slightly, but it most likely will not be noticeable.
Step 4: Placing the Wire
Once you have your inverters in place, you can begin putting the EL wire in place. On my airplane, the wire could squeeze through a crack between the canopy and fuselage. However, you may need to cut a small hole in the fuselage to pass the wire through. From here, you can do whatever you want with the EL wire. You could trace the physical features of the plane or make cool designs all over. You can be creative with this part. I glued the wire down with gorilla glue and held the wire in place with scotch tape while the glue dried. I chose gorilla glue because it is strong and waterproof. You can use any glue you want. Warning: If you have a Styrofoam plane, make sure the glue is Styrofoam safe or the glue will eat into the foam and destroy it. I learned from experience during a "repair" on a different airplane.
After about an hour of experimenting with ways to feed a wire through a tight spot, I finally found a good solution. All you need to do is duct tape the end of the wire to the end of a skewer and feed it through the spot, like a needle and thread. I used duct tape so that the EL wire would have no chance of coming loose from the skewer while pulling it through. If you have a styrofoam plane, you can punch right through the fuselage with this needle and thread technique and make a hole exactly where you need it. If you have a wooden plane, you will need a drill to make holes. For some designs, you will not need to make holes at all.
Step 5: Fly!
Before flying your plane at night, be sure to test-fly it in daylight to work out any bugs you might have with balancing. You don't want to be flying a tail-heavy plane at night. You can tell that it is tail heavy if the tail seems to be dragging lower than the rest of the plane. When your plane is tail heavy, it is very difficult to maneuver without stalling. It will be impossible to fly it straight and it will porpoise up and down a lot. If it is nose heavy, it will try to dive. If any of these events happen, just try to land it and shift the weight around to fix it. These problems can be fixed by adjusting trim, but it is always better to adjust the weight instead.
Hindsight being 20/20, if I had to do this again I would make sure it is on a plane with a good glide ratio and high payload capacity. My Parkzone Extra 300's wings actually create no lift at all, so the added weight made it extremely difficult to land softly. It basically just dropped out of the sky when I powered down the throttle. Other than that, it was a great project and it made it very easy to fly when it gets dark out.
This was just meant to be a simple, easy, and inexpensive way to be able to fly at night and to make your plane look great. There is usually less wind at night, so get out there and have some fun! I hope you enjoyed my instructable!
As this is my first instructable, I'm open to criticisms on how I can do this better. Just leave a comment. Thanks.