Auntie Ju

My first acquaintance with this model was way back in 1982 as a keen 12-year-old during the first of many visits to Woodvale. Much like every weekend I’ve spent there since, it was a fantastic experience - the trade presence in the massive hangars seemed huge to the eyes of this pre-teen, with goodies seemingly stacked right to the roof. A varied range of superb models adorned the flightline: small to almost full-size, sports to exquisite scale, yet one particular example, within the latter category, really grabbed my attention. A large German tri-motor, the Junkers Ju 52. It looked simply stunning with its crinkle cut finish and, thanks to my instructor’s involvement in the show, my dad and I were allowed into the pit area to get up close to this fine aircraft. This, I can tell you, was quite a thrill for a young lad who was still learning to fly his first model - a Keil Kraft trainer with a plastic fuselage (a lovely purple one at that!).

Whilst my dad made conversation with the Junkers’ builder, Peter Neate, I looked over the model and its ultra-snazzy and expensive four-stroke motors, wondering if it actually did drop the Stormtroopers that were lying at its side. Eventually, I summoned the courage to ask a couple of stupid questions, such as how high? and how fast? and I can still picture dad’s embarrassment. Even so, to Peter’s credit, he answered very willingly.   

COMPANY OF MASTERS

We hung around the pit for quite some time that day, admiring the scale competition flights and watching in awe as the likes of Mick Reeves, Brian Taylor, Martin Wilkinson, Arthur Searl, and indeed Peter Neate, committed aviation with their scale creations. The Ju 52, my dad noted, was particularly ponderous and scale-like in flight, clawing for height on its four-strokes (four-stroke model motors were still in their infancy at the time, so to have three attached to the same model was really quite something). The Junkers - if memory serves me right - came second in the Large Scale class, hot on the heels of Mick Charles’ Jurca Sirocco, which seemed large enough for me to comfortably get in! For the next few years I saw Peter and his Ju 52 (along with his other models) at a number of other scale events beyond Woodvale, including the RCM&E Scale Days at Old Warden and, of course, the BMFA Nats.

VITALS AND HISTORY

The 11.5’ (3.5m) span Junkers is a traditional build using balsa, ply and spruce with glass fibre cowlings. Fully sheeted before being covered with lithoplate aluminium skins, it weighs a healthy 34 lb. Peter made his own tooling for the corrugations, these being in three sizes, since there are three different gauges of sheet on the full-size. Finally, with the panels cut to scale size, they were attached with contact adhesive and cyano.

Peter wasn’t the sole operator when it came to flying the Junkers, indeed Ken Binks often took the helm. For those too young to know Ken, he was the Ali Machinchy of the ‘80s and 90s - what he couldn’t fly, couldn’t fly, period! He was an extremely accomplished pilot who became involved in a great deal of film work and regularly mopped up at competitions, from scale to F3A aerobatics, where he was crowned British Champion several times. Still an active modeller, I believe I’m right in saying that he’s doing extremely well in the field of R/C yacht racing at the moment.


Potted history of Tante Ju

Built: 1981 / 1982

Maiden flight: Baldock, 1982

1982: 25 flights in total

1983 / 84: 0 flights (engines transferred to an HP42)

1985: 2 flights in Germany

1986: 2 flights in Germany

1990: Euston Films Ltd. for Selling Hitler

1991: Shipped to Canada, painted yellow and fitted with skis for the opening scenes of Map of the Human Heart. Subsequently returned to England, re-painted and stored

Apparently, for Map of the Human Heart the model had to be flown in temperatures that were well below freezing and was fitted with chemical hand warmers, next to the Rx and every servo. Now that’s cold!


RESTORATION

Sadly, Peter passed away in 2002, and a few years later - some 28 years after first seeing the Junkers - I was extremely honoured when asked to be involved in its refurbishment, along with a selection of Peter’s other aircraft. And so it was that I collected the model from Peter’s son, John, at the 2009 Nats.

Clearly, she hadn’t been flown for a good many years but she had at least been stored in a dry workshop along with two spare O.S. 60 open-rocker engines - potentially quite handy, considering that the three on board the model were completely locked up! This being the case my first task was to extract the three engines from the airframe and place them in the oven to loosen up the solidified castor, having first removed their carburettors. This done, they could be turned over, flushed through, dismantled and cleaned. All seemed in good order generally, and all that needed replacing was a carb’ linkage and the barrel springs. I duly put the engines back together, ready for action.

Whilst the four-strokes were pretty straightforward to sort out, the fuel tanks proved to be a bit more of a headache. In common with quite a few scale models of the period the fuel tanks are built into the structure, meaning that replacement of the gunged up bottles and blocked plumbing would be impossible without major surgery. In the end I put a blob of solder onto the end of some flexible 1mm wire and used it to bore through the gunge and goo that was blocking the tubing. This, at least, allowed the tanks to be flushed using glow fuel, though it took about 20 minutes of flushing with an electric pump for each tank to flow cleanly. And you should have seen the colour of the flushed residue! 

One of the problems I’ve encountered with the fuel system since the restoration is that the (old) fill and drain tubes keep splitting at the end, and trimming them back to make good, of course, means that they’re getting ever shorter. Fortunately, the centre tank is serviceable through the cockpit, but the outer tanks aren’t so easy to get to. Ultimately, then, the remedy will be to fit tank hatches along the panel lines.

Another ‘system’ area that needed attention was the radio. The Junkers had JR servos on board, which I initially left in place whilst I hooked up the model’s new Futaba 2.4GHz R/C in order to note the control movements, check linkages etc. Despite their long redundancy all the servos worked perfectly, yet I felt duty bound to replace them with modern equivalents - Hitec 645MGs to all flying surfaces, with Futaba 9001s on throttles and ‘chute drop. Another common thing seen on models of this age is single servos using bell cranks or snakes for the wing control surfaces. On the Junkers all the servos are in the starboard wing panel and are connected to the port side controls when the port panel is slid onto the joiners. This has been retained in the restored model for two reasons: First, we didn’t want to chop into the model without good reason, and second, there isn’t anything wrong with this set-up if executed correctly. After all, it’s given very good service for years.

The fuselage linkages were generally very good, although I did replace a couple of pushrods and cranks through personal preference. The sprung u/c was dismantled, too, for the same reasons as the engines - all the moving parts were gooed up and seized. An interesting point about the undercarriage is that it’s made almost entirely out of nylon rod and tube, the only metal components being the axles and springs. By replacing the springs and adding a damper of rubber tube within, this quite unusual arrangement now works as beautifully as it used to.

In truth, the actual airframe was in fairly good condition. A few litho panels needing replacing, a few others re-affixing, paintwork touching up and some glazing renewed. The corrugated litho panels were replaced by making a simple polyester filler mould of the adjacent area, then a corresponding mould inside that, forming a very simple press for making similar panels. This worked well on the small areas required, but the ideal solution would be for Peter’s forming tools and roller to be unearthed. The original paint job was carried out using Humbrol enamels, which was easily matched and new paint feathered in. Thankfully, there wasn’t much masking required on the corrugations, as that would have been a nightmare, for sure! Ultimately, the existing fuel proofer isn’t up to the job of protecting the paintwork from modern fuels, so I plan to re-apply this using the excellent matt Klass Kote.

STICKY MOMENT?

With the model back in one piece and looking good, it was time to find out whether the old, previously gummed-up four-strokes would deliver. In fact, they started very easily, a tankful of fuel seeing them settled within 250rpm of each other throughout the throttle range. Not bad for 32-year-old engines! This was the first and last time I tacho’d the motors, since I’m a believer that you can hear when they’re running right, and as absolute synchronicity of revs isn’t essential I’m not going to go chasing it at the expense of reliability. As a point of interest, I set the throttles up so that I could operate the inner engine independently, just in case an outer went dead. My fuel of choice for the four-strokes is Model Technics TechPower 10, which has a Sical additive that improves the idling, pick-up (and therefore reliability) of such engines.

So, motors fine, airframe fine, radio and range check fine, pilot as fine as he’ll ever be! The stage was set to see whether the model would fly again after its extended lay-up period. Initially, I ran the motors on the original O.S. F plugs but thought it wise to replace them with new ones before flying. They were, after all, some 19 years old and, I reasoned, may not be giving their best! What a waste of money that was. It made absolutely no difference to the performance in any respect. Still, peace of mind and all that. I was using the original props - 12.5 x 6” Graupner ‘greys’ - since they’d done sterling service before and were still in good condition. Besides, I’ve used the type before and have had nothing but success with them.

MAIDEN #2

Now for the next big moment, the Junkers’ second maiden (the first was in 1982!). Taxied to the very edge of our tarmac strip to give the model the longest run possible I opened the throttles slowly, whereupon the model gently accelerated. I lifted the tail as soon as practical, and with groundspeed increasing nicely the model became light about halfway down the strip, lifting off shortly afterwards into a steady, very shallow climb-out. Using the first circuit to gain height I then backed the throttles to just over 3/4, which was enough to maintain height when straight and level, although care was needed in turns or altitude and speed was lost.

I flew a few circuits, figure eights etc., to get familiar with the Ju 52’s quirks, then performed an overshoot to see what a landing approach would need to be like. No drama there, so I went for a landing - a complete non-event. With flaps down the model slowed up well and settled into a great approach, followed by a nice, tail-high landing and roll-out. Lovely.

The parachutes were fitted for the next couple of flights, and it was obvious that the extra weight would hinder operation when flying in less-than ideal conditions. The ‘chute mechanism was therefore altered to a staggered operation, allowing a string of parachutes on one pass, or just a single, or two at a time etc. With this sorted I had a few more flights to get completely comfortable with the model before its appearance at a very special occasion.

MEMORIAL FLIGHT

One of the main reasons for getting the Junkers flying again was to fly it for Peter’s widow, Sheila, at Peter’s club at Baldock, the place where the model was originally test-flown back in 1982. Weather conditions weren’t great, with a strong crosswind blowing towards the hill. The way the site is set up meant that flying on the day would be in right-hand circuits, the back side of the circuit being over the hill. The first turn would therefore have to be downwind, which wasn’t ideal, so it was agreed that the Junkers could creep right on take-off to make the first turn to the left and (more importantly) into wind, then after the climb-out revert back to right-hand circuits. This first turn was a bit of a knee-trembler, but after that the model performed beautifully, with a nice crosswind landing and taxi back to finish. It was clear that Sheila was very emotional to see Peter’s famous Junkers over the skies of Baldock once more.

TO DATE

The original props have since been changed to APC 12 x 6”, which has greatly improved the model’s take-off and climbing performance, with a cruising power setting of just over half throttle. An added benefit is that it will now comfortably take off with a full load of paratroopers and five parachutes that weigh about 2 lb (0.9kg), situated 18” behind the centre of gravity. The fuel consumption is markedly better, too.

RARE BIRD

The old Junkers is a pleasure to operate, provided the conditions and site are right. This, then, has led to the decision that it will only be flown if those criteria are met. It always was on the lower end of the power scale, and what with its film work and two subsequent repaints, it hasn’t got any lighter! It’s been suggested that it could be re-motored with more modern engines, but part of this old model’s character and charm is the fact that it was designed and built around these (even older) engines. So, it will stay as is, even if it means old Tante Ju (Auntie Ju) will perform less often. I get enormous pleasure from flying it, indeed just looking at it reminds me of the early Woodvales. The nostalgia that surrounds it, the stories it could tell and the places it’s been, please me greatly. I feel very privileged (to say the least) to have been part of its refurbishment.


Peter Neate

A modeller of some renown, Peter’s first published design was featured in Aero Modeller way back in 1947- a free-flight contest model of pylon design named Hi Ball. When R/C took his interest, various scale models followed. All those that I’m aware of were scratch-built own-designs, beautifully constructed and finished, and all superb fliers. Of the ones I know about, there was a Nieuport 17, a brace of Hanriot HD1s (1/6 and 1/5 scale), Airco DH2s (just under 1/5 and 1/4 scale), a Hawker Sea Fury, Westland Lysander, Handley Page HP42 (1/12 scale), plus a beautiful Minicab built as a hack model! Some of these designs were published and are still available, indeed my own 1/3 scale DH2 was built using the Peter Neate plan and Windsock Datafile.


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