Thunder Tiger Cessna 177

 

The ASP .65 four-stroke has provided ample power

  • This review was first published in 2004. At the time the kit was produced by ARC before Thunder Tiger purchased the company. Accordingly it has since been re-issued and is now sold under the Thunder Tiger brand.

As a self-confessed and contented model helicopter flyer I don’t mind telling you, fixed-wing aircraft have to be pretty special these days if they’re to fight for my affections and disrupt my current building schedule. You see, there’s an impressive (for me!) scale whirlybird currently taking shape at home, it’s been on-going for some time now and I’m determined to have it airborne for the summer. With such an important project taking shape, I promised myself that nothing would distract me from my self-imposed deadline and, with a healthy strength in my convictions, nothing did... until I clapped eyes on the ARC Cessna 177 Cardinal, damn it! Aye, with the arrival of this arguably bland aeroplane I’d inadvertently stumbled across the proverbial ‘fly in the ointment’. “Fair enough,” I hear you say, “...but a Cessna? Why?”

Temporarily tired of the current mid-wing aerobatic monoplane glut, the ‘177 has tremendous appeal in that it upholds the mantle of variety. I mean, it looks superb, it captures the character of the full-size, has an eye-catching colour scheme and features some neat scale detail. Better still, it’s entirely moulded in plastic, which I find rather natty, and the components are very nicely manufactured. But there’s more! Fittings and accessories are of a very high standard, assembly time is limited, it’s reportedly aerobatic, and all previous ARC kits I’ve come across are tough as old boots. And as if that’s not enough, ARC also manufacture a set of floats for the model; particularly favourable since I’ve long harboured a desire to try my hand at flying off water.

Trust me, if you like the look of this aircraft in its land-based configuration, you’ll be bowled over when you see it with the float set attached, it really is a stunner! Anyway, the water thing is for another (warmer) day, and another article.
Apart from the obvious appeal of the design, there were one or two other factors that encouraged me to have a stab at it, the overriding issue being the fact that I don’t have a good, no fuss, fixed-wing sport aircraft in my stable, and this one looked very promising. At 67” span it’s a good size and with a sensibly large engine up front it looked as if it might return a lively aerobatic performance whilst also appearing to offer a training capability. Since I currently have a need to satisfy both, you can see how very useful the Cardinal was beginning to appear and how easy it was to convince myself that I really couldn’t do without it.

Eventually, the inevitable happened and I tucked it under my arm as I left the office for the Christmas break, with the intention of cobbling it together during the pause between boxing day and new year.

Despite the appearance, the shock absorbing qualities of the u/c are pretty minimal

PLASTIC REVOLUTION
For anyone with no previous knowledge of ARC models, they’re basically overgrown Airfix kits, that fly. Take a look at the contents and you’ll see what I mean - wood is virtually redundant.

The one-piece fuselage, wing skins, tailplane, fin and control surfaces are moulded from a tough ABS derivative that incorporates some subtle yet appealing surface detail. On the fuselage, for example, you’ll notice door panels, a rear luggage compartment, cowl panels and recessed window apertures, whilst the flying surfaces feature navigation lights and rib detail. Couple this to a semi-scale undercarriage, plus a set of authentic decals, and the result is a model that not only looks like the real thing but has a strangely authentic tinny ‘spam can’ feel that you just don’t get with balsa wood and Solarfilm.

That’s the main components dealt with, although the use of plastic doesn’t end there, for both the firewall and central fuselage former are moulded from the same stuff, as is the servo tray and wing joiner. A tougher reinforced plastic has been used for items such as the undercarriage, various mounting plates and, of course, the engine mount itself. Finally, completing this very reasonably priced package (£99 if you shop around) is a set of quality fittings (horns, clevises etc.), some good wheels, spinner, fuel tank, closed loop wire for the rudder, and the aforementioned sticker set.

PLASTIC PIG?
Taking a moment to cast an eye over the bits you’ll notice that the fuselage has been moulded in two halves (joined at the centre), producing a seam that runs from nose to tail. The same joint is also evident where the upper and lower surfaces of the wing panels have been bonded, likewise the tailplane and fin halves. Since this seam is very slightly raised in places I decided that my first job would be to gently sand the joints flush. In fact, this is particularly important where stickers will later be required to cross the line, i.e. for the front and rear window, the anti glare panel on the cowl and at the leading edges of the flying surfaces. Other than this the mouldings are crisp and very nicely produced.
When assembling this model one of the things you’ll appreciate is how well all the parts fit and, of course, there’s a very good reason for it.

Unlike anything you’ll ever assemble from balsa wood, the components of the Cessna are manufactured to strict tolerances. In essence, they’re engineered. Every part that comes off the production line is identical in size, shape and quality. The components can’t absorb moisture, they’re not susceptible to variations in temperature, they won’t warp, and there’s no heat-shrink film to get wrinkled. To all intents and purposes, quality is assured and so too is a trouble free assembly... well, almost! Let’s take a look at how she goes together.

Take your time applying the stickers.......

ROLLS ROYCE
Whilst the wing is skinned with a plastic veneer the core is of traditional white foam, though we have to take ARC’s word for that as you can’t actually see it. Anyway, the result is a perfectly true and accurate set of symmetrical panels that taper from a root chord of 111/2” to 83/4” at the tip. No washout is evident, though I didn’t really expect to see any, and all-in-all it’s a mainplane to be proud of. Since the panels and their respective ailerons are supplied pre-hinged, very little effort is required to assemble the wing and, as you can probably guess, it starts and finishes at the centre-section where a single servo is employed to drive the control surfaces. In short: set the wings at the correct dihedral, slot in and glue the plastic spar, add the centre-section cover moulding, assemble the aileron torque rod paraphernalia, and Bob’s yer uncle. I won’t try and describe ARC’s beautifully engineered torque rod solution, suffice to say it’s a joy to assemble and, in a sad, nerdy sort of way, is very impressive.

If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself rocking the torque levers to and fro marvelling at the mechanics. Yes folks this is a true ‘Rolls Royce’ job and a far cry from the traditional bent piano wire in a piece of plastic tube.
With the wing basically complete our attention is drawn to the fuselage and installation of the two formers. Here again I was truly impressed with the consideration and forethought that had gone into the design of these items. Firstly there’s the firewall - a hollow, yet rigid, twin skin moulding that practically clicks into a pre-formed recess in the fuselage and, when glued, seals the mucky / noisy end of the aeroplane from the fuel tank and radio bay. In addition to this, and in common with traditional wooden kits, the firewall serves as an anchor point for the nose leg and engine mount, both items being securely bolted into place using a load-spreading reinforced backplate. Again, very neat and very cunning.

The second of the two formers (also a twin skin affair) is a truly multi-functional item in that it serves to strengthen the fuselage, house the nuts for the wing mounting bolts, anchor the main undercarriage, and support the servo tray. It’s very easy to take all this for granted, but you shouldn’t! Admire how effectively it fulfils its design objectives, appreciate the engineering that has gone into it and, finally, stick it in bloody tight! Actually, joking apart, the very fact that the wing and the undercarriage serve to lock this former in position means you’d probably be able to fly the model even if it came loose - though I’m not suggesting it would be a good idea!

Like many models of this ilk the Cardinal is equipped with a steerable nose wheel that, you’ll be pleased to hear, doesn’t rely on an inadequate grub screw to secure the steering arm and keep it on track. Instead, ARC have adopted a wholly more effective and durable solution that looks fit to survive the test of time. Mind you, I will admit to uttering a few expletives whilst attempting to hook it up to the rudder servo. Restricted by the firewall and the underside of the cowl, the steering arm has little room for manoeuvre and there’s even less space for any sort of clevis attachment. I spent a good hour or more fiddling with it and got there only by producing an elaborately shaped pushrod and hugely increasing the size of its access hole through the firewall.

Rest assured, this is a tough model

PLASTIC WELD
Unlike the foam core wing, the left and right-hand tailplane halves are hollow but for a full span balsa spar. With the three components carefully assembled and glued, the split, pre-hinged, elevator halves are linked at the centre by a cunningly designed control horn that bridges the gap between the two surfaces whilst doubling as a joiner. Similarly, the fin is supplied with a pre-hinged rudder that requires little more than the addition of control horns (one each side for the closed-loop system) and a cursory application of sandpaper to tidy the seams.

Installation of the tailplane and fin is aided by preformed slots in the rear of the fuselage, though it should be noted that there’s little or no room for vertical and / or horizontal adjustment in relation to the wing. In this respect I was rather relieved to find that both were a good accurate fit, if not a little fiddly to glue in position, and nicely aligned with the mainplane. Here, as with most joints on this model, thin cyano is the key as it softens the plastic and effectively welds the parts together.

POWER APLENTY
ARC’s recommended engine range covers .60 cu. in two-strokes and up to .70 four-strokes, however, do note that these dictate the upper limit of the power requirement and the model would very happily fly on a lesser motor. Any .50-size two-stroke, for example, would be eminently suitable for cruising around and mild aerobatics.

For my own part, I’d already decided that both the model and I deserved a four-stroke and, since dad and I have been highly impressed with the ASP FS .91 - installed in our World Models Midget Mustang - I chose the now superseded (with a .70) FS .65 from the same range. I made this decision on the basis of power, sound and aesthetics, i.e. there’d be plenty of power to pull the aircraft through large vertical manoeuvres, it would sound good and, without the large two-stroke muffler hanging in the breeze the engine installation and cowl would look much neater. While I’m on the subject it’s worth noting that the model is specifically designed for a side-mounted installation and is supplied with a pre-cut engine aperture. Allied to this is a large pre-formed recess in the lower right-hand corner of the fuselage that very neatly accommodates a two-stroke torpedo muffler, keeping it tucked nicely out of the way. Better still, if you fit a four-stroke there’s a supplementary cover plate supplied that almost totally hides the aforementioned recess and maintains the curvaceous lines of the Cessna cowl. Fabulous - even more reason to fit a four-stroke!

Truth be told, the engine installation was a bit of a trial. The ASP .65 is a large old lump and only just goes in. Whilst perseverance paid of in the end, you will need to be careful that the four-stroke’s rear choke assembly doesn’t rub against the engine mount. Mine was just a little too close for comfort in that it touched the head of a securing bolt, necessitating a small amount of filing to prevent possible metal-to-metal interference. Dropping the engine into position whilst negotiating the confined space and attempting to locate the needle valve and choke operating lever in their respective apertures, made me wish I’d chosen a smaller engine.

However, now it’s in, I’m really quite pleased I went to all the effort... so long as I don’t have to take it out again!
When it came to fitting the fuel tank I truly found pleasure in the quality of the thing and its associated accessories. With the front of the tank located in the firewall, the rear is banded into a plastic cradle that’s glued across the fuselage for a no fuss, hassle-free solution that guarantees correct alignment with the carburettor. Nice!

It's a pretty model with some nice detail touches

EASY PEASY
In complete contrast to the engine, radio installation was a breeze. A closed-loop system has been adopted for rudder, elevator utilises a carbon pushrod that runs along the centreline of the fuselage and exits just above the tailplane, whilst the throttle servo and carburettor are joined with piano wire.

And that, to all intents and purposes, is all there is to building this model... or it would be, but for the fact that we haven’t put the stickers on!
When it comes to application of the decals don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be able to slap ‘em on in ten minutes, you most certainly won’t. Whilst they’re not particularly difficult to apply (using the soapy water trick), they are difficult to apply well. The front and rear windscreen stickers and the anti glare job on the cowl are especially trying in that they’re applied across a double curvature. That said, they will eventually follow the contours but you’ll have to spend some time working them down. As a result of this I filled the best part of three evenings with my bowl of soapy water and a scalpel, but what a difference it makes!

FINISHING TOUCHES
Having got the model to this stage, and spent all that valuable time in the process, there are one or two items that we really should attend to before letting her loose. First and foremost, add a rubber ‘keeper’ to each of the clevises to ensure they stay put. A ring of fuel tubing works well. Also, since ARC have been kind enough to simulate navigation lights it would be very rude not to paint them - red on the left wing tip, green on the right, red on the tail - go on, little touches like this really do make a difference. Finally, if you fit a four-stroke you’ll need to add a piece of fuel tube to the crankcase breather and, rather than let it dangle inside the cowl, why not plumb it to a nipple on the side of the cowl and prevent the engine bay from being sprayed with oil?

TOP NOTCH
A new model, new engine and new radio could be regarded as a recipe for disaster in certain camps, though I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint, providing the model has been thoroughly checked and prepared prior to flight. So, first and foremost, the engine! Reliability is the key to success here and I was determined not to fly her until I was happy with the tick-over. Bursting into life with the first application of the starter (no choke necessary) the .65 throttled smoothly and ran remarkably well even on the first tank of fuel. By the second she was humming nicely and idled reliably, albeit a little fast. An engine-on range check followed and, as there appeared to be no problems, I topped up the tank and prepared for the off.

Running a 13 x 6” APC propeller the engine produces bags of power for this model to the point that she’ll literally race off the ground if you so wish. Personally, I like to see a more gentle power application on take-off and found that she’d happily get airborne on just over half throttle. As you’d expect, the Cardinal is a truly stable airframe with crisp well harmonised controls and weight enough to hold her own gusty conditions. She’s a slippery model too and on half throttle will fair eat up the sky. This being the case the temptation is to fly it as such fearing it might stall on anything less. But, of course, it won’t. Pull the noise lever back and the ‘177 will cruise around nicely on quarter. Will it stall? Yes sir, but not by the tip! A nodding mush is the best you can expect, nothing violent and nothing that’ll catch you out.
With such a crisp control response and effortless power, standard aerobatic manoeuvres such as loops, rolls, and cubans, come very easy. With a .65 up front you’ll be able to pull large heavenly loops and graceful reversals that leave the ground shrinking behind. Inverted flight requires no more thought than a good sport aerobat, with only a small amount of down elevator required to keep that nose on the straight and level. It’ll spin, flick, stall turn and bunt, but by far the best thing it does is look good! Cruising round in a series of low passes with the odd loop or slow roll thrown in for good measure is just what this model was made for and it brings great satisfaction... I must be getting old.

NOT BAD, EH?
Well, that’s my current assessment of the aeroplane. In short it’s a superb semi-scale sports aerobat with impeccable flying characteristics for the type. Kit quality is excellent, and although the build is a little trying in places, it’s not awful and, let’s be honest, the end result more than makes up for it. As it’s the sort of model you’d be proud to have as a trainer I fully intend to asses it for this very purpose in the next issue. For the time being however, I’m afraid we’ve run out of space. So, until then...

DATAFILE
Model type: Semi-scale sport aerobat
Manufactured by: Thunder Tiger
UK distributor: Amerang
www.amerang.co.uk
Available from: Your local model shop
Typical price: £110 (Dec 2010)
Wingspan: 67”
Wing area: 678 sq. in.
All-up weight: 7 lb 10oz
Wing loading: 26 oz / sq. ft.
Rec’d engine range: .60 two-stroke; .70 four-stroke
Engine used: ASP .65 four-stroke
Control functions: Aileron, elevator, rudder, throttle
Features: Steerable nose wheel, optional float set

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