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Been thinking of getting into the hobby of building ultralight helicopters, and would PVC tubing be a good choice to build the overall airframe?

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No. The strength to weight ratio of PVC is poor compared to aluminum and you would end up with a very heavy, albeit cheap, machine, and will be even worse when compared to carbon fibre tubing, which would be the optimal choice performance-wise. Extruded aluminum tubing would likely be the best choice cost wise. Forget about building a plumb-O-copter.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you're talking about the sort of PVC tubing used for irrigation systems, not only is it not very strong, it's also quite flexible. Hold a 10-ft length (standard size in US hardware stores) in the middle, and it will deflect at least 6" on either end. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 10 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ I think he has in mind Sched 40 or Sched 80 rigid plumbing pipe. $\endgroup$ – John K Jul 10 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ If I'm not mistaken (I'm no expert), schedule 40 PVC is the white pipe commonly used for irrigation &c. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 11 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ Sched 40 is the standard PVC for residential house plumbing, good for a 2 or 3 hundred psi burst. Schedule 80 is for higher pressure applications and has nearly double the wall thickness (smaller ID). $\endgroup$ – John K Jul 14 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but bursting strength is not really what's important in building airframes :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 15 at 21:05
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In my experience using PVC to build scale models, PVC doesn't make a good construction material:

  1. it's too flexible. PVC pipe will bend under its own weight.
  2. the glue typically used to join PVC is pretty weak, impact loads will break the bond.
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PVC is no where near stiff enough for a given weight. And its strength to weight ratio is poor. The structural efficiency of air machines is absolutely critical otherwise you are building a machine that may not fly at all.

Plus, do a search for helicopter ground resonance, especially watch some youtube videos of helicopters destroying themselves.

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