Everyone needs an airplane light in their living room. You can build this float plane with 2' LED or fluorescent bulbs using the floats as the light fixtures.
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Step 1: Supplies and Tools
Enough wood to glue together to make the fuselage. The pictured light was cut from 4"x4" of wood.
3/4" x 5" x 40" board for the wings
small piece of 1/4" plywood for the tail
2"x2"x2' for each of the two floats
Drill and bits
band saw or coping saw
Radial arm saw, table saw or hand saw
Belt sander, sandpaper, half round file
Electrical tape (various colors for the paint scheme)
Electrical contacts/holders for the LED or Fluorescent bulb (from used fixtures or purchase at your hardware)
Wire: consult a wire chart depending on your bulbs to make sure your wire has appropriate capacity.
Wire splicing connectors or solder , soldering iron and heat shrink
Step 2: Your Pattern
Find an airplane searching for images on the internet that has a good top and side view. For two bulbs the float plane worked well with a bulb in each float. You could recess a single bulb in the fuselage otherwise. I chose the Cessna Caravan because it is relatively square. Draw your pattern on large white paper considering the scale according to the light bulb you select. With 2' floats I made the fuselage about 32 inches long as the floats on the Caravan are nearly as long as the airplane. Glue or tape your pattern to the wood you have glued up for the fuselage. Use a band saw to follow the pattern lines. Cut the top view and then the side. The Caravan worked well for this because of the mostly straight sides so that it is secure while cutting.
Step 3: Remove Wood for a Place to Make Your Electrical Connections
Before gluing your fuselage together plan to remove a portion of the to interior to make room for your electrical connections and also to have access to screw the wings on to the fuselage. This step will also lighten the project. Don't be concerned about making this perfect as no one will see the top of the plane once it is in place near the ceiling. If you decide to use fluorescent bulbs this will be the place you will mount the ballasts and starters.
Glue and clamp together enough wood to make a full 4"x4" if you are making the Caravan.
Step 4: Shaping the Airplane
Once you have cut out the main shape with a band saw use a belt sander to do the final shaping. Mostly corners just need to be rounded off at this point. You may need to do some carving with a knife and files around the base of the windshield where it meets the engine compartment as the sander may have too large of a radius. Leave square areas where you plan to mount the wings and the floats.
Step 5: The Wings
Shape the wings with a belt sander to give it the aerodynamic look. The tip of the wing is the most noticed so spend some extra time shaping that. The rest of the wing just needs to be a bit thinner at the back and rounded at the front. Cut the wing root with about a 5 degree angle to give the wing a slight angle up at the wing tip. This adds to the complexity but also adds to the realism of your finished plane. Drill holes in the fuselage in the area where you removed the wood in the center top of the airplane and screw and glue the wings to the fuselage.
Step 6: The Tail
Use 1/4" plywood for the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. Shape with a sander. Cut a vertical slot in the top of the fuselage to receive the vertical stabilizer in the front and back of the horizontal stabilizer. Cut a horizontal slot out of the top of the plane so that the top of the horizontal stabilizer will be flush with the top of the fuselage. Screw the horizontal stabilizer to the fuselage. Glue the vertical into the slot above the horizontal stabilizer. Apply black tape on the leading edge if you want the look of deicing boots.
Step 7: Mounting the Floats
Use a 1 1/2" x 3" x 3" piece of wood to connect the floats to the fuselage. Countersink 2 long screws that go through this bracket into the fuselage. Drill a 1/4" hole through the center of this bracket for the wires coming from the light. Unless you have very long drill bits, you will have to drill down from the top of the fuselage (Use a 1" spade bit) to meet the holes coming up from the floats. You can drill these in steps, first the bracket then the fuselage and finally the floats.
Cut a 45 degree notch out of each end of this bracket to make it easier to keep things aligned for mounting the floats. Shape this bracket with a sander to give it some character and aerodynamic look. This takes a fairly large piece of wood as you have the screws holding the bracket to the fuselage and you need room for screws mounting the floats to the bracket. Glue and screw the bracket in place and the floats to the bracket.
Step 8: Mounting the Light Bulbs
Make a U shaped channel from your 2x2 which will allow the light bulb to be recessed part way into the float. Align this with your bracket and drill a hole to match the bracket where your wire will go through.
T8 LED 10 watt 2' tubes work great because they don't require ballasts and starters. I used old light fixtures and sanded down the plastic ends to fit the 2x2 floats. You can also purchase these ends at a hardware. The wires will need to run above the bulb inside the float and up through the bracket attaching the floats to the fuselage. Consult the wiring diagram for the bulb you are using as some use two wires on one end and nothing on the other end while others use a wire to each end of the bulb.
Step 9: Propeller Construction
Use 1/8" pieces of wood and cut them to a propeller shape. A two or four bladed prop would be easiest but for the three bladed prop for the Caravan cut three slots for the propeller blades into the spinner. You may need to sand down the blades to fit snugly in the slots. Sand down the spinner to a cone shape with a belt sander (sharpen like a pencil) after you have these slots. Paint the spinner with silver paint and the blades with black paint before gluing them together. Drill a hole in the front of your fuselage and a hole into the back of the propeller to place a dowel inside to attach the propeller to the plane.
Step 10: Painting
Spray paint a base coat on all of the surfaces. Use electrical tape for applying the paint scheme. Place the electrical tape on wax paper and then cut the desired striping and place it on the airplane. Print decals and windows from a good side view image. You will have to adjust the size and Microsoft Publisher or many other programs will allow you to see the actual size and measurement as you are adjusting it. Print the decals on self adhesive label paper. The windows, decals and N numbers should all fit on a single sheet if arranged properly. The attached, "Caravan Windows to print," document has the decals I used in a size scaled for my light. Make your tail numbers something meaningful like your family name. For example the tail label TWIGA on the pictured plane is the Swahili word for giraffe and is the name of the 7th grade boys dormitory that I built this light for at Rift Valley Academy. The logo and paint scheme are standard for Mission Aviation Fellowship airplanes.
Step 11: Wiring and Mounting
Use a chain to mount the plane to the ceiling. Find the center of gravity of the plane by experimenting so that it balances. Add hooks inside of the hole in the top. Use string or wire between the hooks and the mounting chain to adjust the angle of your plane as you may not want it balanced but in a slight turn or descent... Run the electrical wire up through the chain to make it less visible.
Step 12: Enjoy the Oohs and Ahhhs
No one will have a plane like yours. You will get lots of oohs and aaahs and statements like, "That is soooo cool!" "Where can I get one of those?" from visitors as well as enjoying it yourself.
Participated in the
Lights Contest 2017