Thomas Morse Scout
by Jim Landon

Up | Chez Jim Landon | Gallery | Home

The Tommy model is now on loan to the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum ( ) where I am a part-time volunteer. These photos were taken just a few days prior to mounting the model in a Plexiglas cube for delivery to the museum. The "in flight" scenes were taken in my back yard with the model suspended by string and the prop spinning by it's rubber band (String and foreground edited out after scanning the photos).

A final shot of the finished undercarriage. The whole undercarriage is scratch built except for the wheels, which came in the kit. It took four attempts to get the spreader bar fairing (that wood board between the wheels) the way I wanted it. It is whittled from mahogany. The axle is in two halves made from brass tubing, hinged in the center so that either wheel can bounce independently of the other, like the real plane. I used the next size larger brass tubing to make bearings for the wheels. A small rubber band simulates the bungee cord used on real WWI planes. The bungee cord's not white on my model because it's not white on the real plane.

This is another view of the undercarriage showing the details of what I call the "shock absorber unit". You can see the piano wire that contains the axle but allows the axle to bounce up on a hard landing.

This is a closeup of the cockpit area. I didn't realize how dusty the model was till I saw these pictures. I'm constantly sandpapering things and then dusting the model with a soft paintbrush (not enough obviously). The instrument panel is simply a photo of a real one that I downloaded from somebody's web site (sorry, don't recall where). One day maybe I will develop the skills to make tiny bezels and imitate the glass.

This is a closeup of the rigging at the bottom end of one of the inter-wing struts. The plastic turnbuckles are a Grandt Line product intended for model railroad use. I know they're not correct for a WWI plane, but I think they're cute, so just cool it! The rigging is all piano wire. I PAINSTAKINGLY fashioned tiny hook eyes secured to the struts and then PAINSTAKINGLY fitted the wires from eyelet to eyelet ... a dumb way to do it, but I love the look of real metal wire. The rigging is actually functional in strengthening the model. I keep banging my hands and tools into it and it doesn't break or sag (yet). The struts are whittled out of mahogany, sealed and sanded, then varnished with Future. Bits of plastic simulate the metal bracketry. To simulate the bolts I used pieces cut from ordinary sewing pins that I stole when SWMBO wasn't looking ... many go clear thru from the top side of the wing to the underside of the wing, or sometimes in tight quarters I used Grant Line plastic bolt heads.

A semi-final shot of the nearly finished model sitting on my sun deck with the prop spinning under it's own power (rubber band). When I saw this latest batch of photos I immediately decided it is too shiny. I never thought it looked excessively shiny indoors, to my eye, but outdoors it is too glossy. It's coated with pure Future. I may try to mix up a semi-gloss batch of Future and apply it to the fabric areas. I think glossy is maybe still okay for the engine cowl and other metal areas, and the wooden struts etc. I want to take more pictures of it sitting on an imitation landing field of some kind. Also convert some photos to black and white or sepia to look like an actual WWI photo.

My first ever attempt at trying to photograph a model as if it were flying. Yes, it's hanging from a fishing pole held by my son. I erased the fishing line with my computer ... and erased dust specs and scratches on the photo, and fixed a couple spots where the bright reflection prevented you from seeing the detail on the model. I want to take more pictures of it "flying" but next time with the propeller running like it is in the other photo. And also try to make the photo more convincing. And also take photos of it siting on an imitation landing field. Also convert some photos to black and white or sepia (brown tone) to look like an actual WWI photo. One expert at this who has inspired me is Keith Goodman at Check out his Albatros D.III "in flight". And of course our own Alberto Caserati at /Images/Casirati/index.html. (Sorry if there's someone else I should have mentioned.)

This is how I built the undercarriage. The axle shaft (1) is held in it's correct position by brackets (2) (popsicle sticks) attached to the alignment fixture (3). The wheels (4) are aligned with marks (5) on the fixture. The shock absorber assemblies (6) are held in position on the axle with small rubber bands which simulate bungee cord. The wood struts (7) are then sized to fit. The undercarriage struts were fashioned from early attempts at making inter-wing struts, where the choice of wood or finish was bad. These will be painted olive drab like the rest of the plane (and like the real plane). The shock absorber assemblies will be painted black ... which is one reason I took pictures at this stage. After stuff is painted black you can't see the details as well. I later replaced the single axle shaft with a two-piece one made from brass tubing, hinged in the center so that either wheel can move independently of the other, like the real plane. Gee, "independent front wheel suspension" in 1917!!

In this photo I am dry-fitting one of the engine fairings (item 1) to the side of the fuselage. The fairings are scratch built from brass sheet because the kit just called for tissue paper over the balsa frame. I wanted it to look more authentic than that. Item 2 is one of the two openings for the aileron push-pull tubes. I had to relocate these holes because, well, um, because I royally screwed up. Where I originally had them, too far outboard, caused the push rods to bind. Item 3 is a preview of what the struts will look like with their simulated metal brackets. The area labeled 4 is where I still have to fill in the sides of the fuselage now that I finally hooked up the aileron control mechanism. It works, but the amount of travel is disappointing after all this time and work. There isn't enough "throw" in the linkage, and too much friction, and too much flexing of piano wire. But the ailerons move enough to convey the idea.

After finishing all the details on the fuselage, I started to get ready to attach the bottom wing, using the fixture I'd built. When I had the wing positioned under the fuselage on the fixture I noticed things just didn't look right, compared to photos of the real plane. The wing appeared to be high on the fuselage. After studying the situation for a while, I came to the realization that the wing location prescribed by the kit was wrong compared to the real plane. The kit manufacturer had apparently raised the bottom wing about 3/16 inch and tilted it. I suspect it was done to make the plane fly better, for those people who wanted to fly the model with rubber band power or a gas engine. But for me, trying to build a scale model for display, this was a catastrophe. I determined the correct position of the wing by studying drawings and photos. I added pieces to the fixture to ensure correct positioning. The result was enormous gaps between the wing assembly and the cutouts on the sides of the fuselage. After attaching the wing, I made filler pieces out of 1/16 inch thick plywood and glued them in slightly below flush. I used Squadron model putty to blend in the patches, then numerous coats of sanding sealer. When I tried to paint the patched area with olive drab, it quickly became obvious that there was no way to do it without the patch showing. So I totally repainted both sides of the fuselage. Which means I lost the numbers on both sides of the fuselage, and had to redo them.

This photo was taken for one big reason: I knew after the gun was painted black, it would be hard to photograph and see the construction details. As usual, after I took the photo I realized I'd forgotten some details, and after I finished it, I painted it black without taking another picture. The barrel is 1/16 inch outside diameter brass tubing. I reamed out the inside diameter at the exit end to make the wall thickness closer to scale. The barrel sits in a groove carved in the wood body. The cocking lever or whatever it is that runs alongside the body and hangs out the back end of the gun is piano wire. The simulated screws and bolts were created by drilling a #80 hole and inserting a common sewing pin firmly into the wood. The pin was then snipped off a smidgeon above the surface and the end filed flat. Other details were created by carving the wood, drilling holes in the wood, adding pieces from wooden toothpicks, bits of plastic stock, bits of brass and bits of piano wire. The mounting frame was made from piano wire, based on a scale drawing of the real thing found in a book. I didn't photograph it, but you can see it in later photos.

This is the underside of the tail section, showing the tail skid, which had to be built from scratch per photos Lee Mensinger provided, and drawings in the "Scale Aircraft Drawings, Vol I, WWI" book. The tail skid that came in the kit was just a simple piece of balsa which wouldn't have even served well on a 12 year old kid's rubber band flyer. This one is made from mahogany, brass, piano wire and plastic stock.

This photo shows the nearly finished rear half of the fuselage of the Guillow's balsa and tissue Thomas-Morse S4C model. The front was not finished when this picture was taken, but I didn't want to wait to post this photo. To read the complete description for this photo, go to

This is a "staged" photo of what the front end of Jim's "Tommy" will hopefully look like when finished. The firewall is scratch built from 1/8 inch birch plywood. The engine is made out of nine Williams Brothers Inc. LeRhone cylinder models, mounted on a scratch built crankcase. The prop is hand carved laminated wood. The cowl came in the kit. Everything is held in place on a drill bit that goes into a 2 X 4 behind the scenes. The nice gray backdrop is a piece of 600 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper. To see how Jim built the engine and propeller, see his website.

This is a photo of Jim's 1/13 scale model LeRhone 9C rotary engine that he built for his Guillows brand balsa and tissue 1/13 scale Thomas Morse S4C Scout (which is still under construction). To build this engine Jim purchased ten (nine plus a spare) 1/12 scale LeRhone Cylinder kits from Williams Brothers Inc. Jim scratch built the crankcase to be slightly undersize in order to fit the 3" interior diameter of the nose cowl.

This reenactment sort of illustrates how the insignias were spray painted on the underside of the bottom wings, and later on the topside of the top wings. The blue disk has been painted on the right side of the picture, and the stencil has been moved into position for the second one. Newspaper was used to cover the rest of the wing. This stencil was made from self-adhesive shelf paper for lining cupboard shelves WHICH I DO NOT RECOMMEND, as you'll see later. It's like having a giant size piece of masking tape, and you just cut out the design with a razor blade. The size and location are per the book Scale Aircraft Dwgs Vol 1 -WWI. The Guillows kit did not furnish any decals for the bottom wing. I don't own an airbrush ... just use aerosol spray cans.

YUCK!! CATASTROPHE STRIKES! The shelf paper trick had worked reasonably well for the blue disks, but when I tried it for the white stars ... well, I almost had a stroke when I peeled away the shelf paper stencil and saw the heartbreaking results. I thought I had burnished the edges down real well, but apparently the shelf paper failed to stay adhered, and paint blew under and flowed under the edges. The damage was repaired (more or less) by scraping away the errant paint with a sharp Exacto knife.

ANOTHER CATASTROPHE! After the first white star catastrophe, shelf paper was out. So I used conventional masking tape and masked each of the ten straight sides of the star individually and burnished the edges very thoroughly. Once again I almost had a stroke when I peeled away the tape and saw the heartbreaking results. After contemplating the idea of killing myself, finding a new hobby or at least finding a source for good 1/12 scale decals, it dawned on me that I had used the factory edge” of the tape, just as it comes off the roll. It works waaaay better if you cut a fresh clean edge on the tape. Even better is to get some Frisk” professional artwork masking material ... makes a razor sharp finished paint edge ... and doesn’t pull your model apart when you try to remove it either, like masking tape does. Used it for the top wing insignias.

The color is waaaay off on this shot, even though the grass looks okay, but it shows the semi-finished insignias on the underside of the bottom wing assembly, after fixing the catastrophes. I say semi-finished because this was after I had sealed and sanded (and sealed and sanded and sealed and sanded and sealed and sanded) the whole underside of the wing and had not yet applied the final sealer (Future floor polish), which might partly explain the weird colors. Maybe Allan will let me replace this photo when I get a better one?

The color is better in this shot, but still off. It shows the semi-finished insignias on the topside of the top wing assembly. Again this was after I had sealed and sanded the areas of the wings where the insignias are, but had not yet applied the Future. The reason I had to paint my own insignias from scratch is because the decals in the kit refused to lay down around the stitches, even with Future and decal softener (which by the way chemically reacted and nearly ruined the top wing). Later I discovered the decals were too small anyway. The correct (I hope) insignia design, size and placement is based on data from Lee Mensinger, plus Scale Aircraft Dwgs Vol 1 - WWI.

Here I was starting to dry fit the top wing and wonder how in the world I was ever going to mount it onto the fuselage with those flimsy little struts. I later did something that no respectable man worth his salt would ever do ... I read the instructions. It says to mount the bottom wing assembly (visible in the background) first. I had always just sort of assumed I had to mount the top wing first because of needing access from below the fuselage to hook up the aileron push-pull tubes, which is still true, but after pondering it I think I can do it with the bottom wings in place. Hook up the what? Aileron push pull tubes? See my personal website.

This photo shows the sheet brass cowling added on the top front half of the fuselage and headrest fairing. Also visible are the Chart Pack tapes I added to try to make the turtledeck look more authentic. The brass triangles are ready to go on the sides of the fuselage but can’t be installed yet because I need access to hook up the aileron push pull tubes, and the engine driveshaft. The Guillows kit had no hint of any of these details, but I was inspired by the superb Tommy photos provided by Barry Stettler and Lee Mensinger, plus the book Scale Aircraft Dwgs Vol 1 -WWI”.

You're looking at the underside of the front end of the fuselage. The fuselage is nose-down so that sunlight illuminates the subject ... the lever arms which will one day hopefully operate the aileron push-pull tubes. The lever arms are that business near the bottom of the picture that looks kind of like a hairpin or cotter pin, but it.s really two pieces of piano wire epoxied into a hole in what looks like a cream colored plastic soda straw running vertically through the photo. The soda straw looking thing leads to the bottom of the joystick in the middle of the photo. Also visible is the rudder foot bar and control wires. The what? What joystick? What aileron tubes? See my personal website.

Up | Chez Jim Landon | Gallery | Home