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It is my dream to make a basic flyable small scale aircraft (the size of a model aircraft). What is the basic knowledge needed to be able get started in the first place?

In particular, I would like to be able to design and build aircraft that can actually fly, while understanding why it all works. I imagine that there is a need to study fluid mechanics, the structures of aircraft, and certain mechanical and electrical systems.

It would be really helpful if you can enlighten me, and help jump start the learning process. In particular, suggestions about learning resources would be appreciated.

P.S. I have at least first-year university physics and I am always learning more.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: book recommendations for basic aerodynamics $\endgroup$ – fooot Dec 2 '16 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @fooot So the first step is to get a good understanding of aerodynamics? $\endgroup$ – Flux Dec 2 '16 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ That's a big part of the design aspect. At model aircraft scale the structure will not be as critical unless you are really trying to optimize space or weight. And then you have the specifics or RC aircraft systems but we've decided those are mostly off topic for this site. $\endgroup$ – fooot Dec 2 '16 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not saying the book recommendations totally answer your question here but it's a good place to start. $\endgroup$ – fooot Dec 2 '16 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ You can start with a flying model kit to learn to fly. Start making changes and then see what is actually the required amount of knowledge around aircraft design principles (which may not be so important). Using servos, radio-control and engine/motor will likely be important parts, more than advanced aerodynamics. Anyway, books here and instructable here. $\endgroup$ – mins Dec 3 '16 at 11:54
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One way is trial and error. That is how the early pioneers learned it, and building a few models is a good way to learn the basic stuff, too. That would be

  • Aerodynamics (what forces keep the aircraft in the air)
  • Flight mechanics (how to control it and make it fly straight by itself)
  • Structural design (how to make it light and stiff)
  • Systems (what equipment is needed to operate it)

My next recommendation might sound boring, but reading the federal regulations for light aircraft will cover all those aspects and more. In many cases you will wonder what that particular regulation tries to accomplish: This is your chance to learn! Post a question here and don't give up until you have fully understood why that particular regulation has been added. Yes, this will take a while, but building an aircraft all by yourself is no mean feat.

Last, join the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association or whatever organisation supports experimental aircraft builders in your country.

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Aerodynamics are important, obviously. Know the formulas for lift and drag and thrust reqd. This will help you to design the aircraft.

Also, you will want to read up about airframe maintenance, it will have some useful stuff about building aircraft from the common materials and will also give you an idea of how to cover it with whatever material you decide to go with.

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