This is a reproduction of the author’s first RC airplane, the Royal Rudderbug. Bob built the airplane
from the original Berkeley plans, which he still had in his files. He added an elevator and flies it
with a modern radio and servos.
An early two-tube receiver, similar to Bob’s
first one, was powered by two 22.5-volt and
four 1.5-volt zinc-carbon batteries. Battery life
was not good in those days and they needed
replaced frequently for successful flights.
Down memory lane
Ihave flown RC aircraft since 1953, when I built my first RC airplane. I was in high school then, and was
fascinated by the thought of flying an
airplane that I built with a radio system
that I had carefully installed. It was a
Royal Rudderbug by Berkeley Models,
which I purchased with money I earned
setting pins at a local bowling alley—
there were no automatic pinsetters in
I chose the Royal Rudderbug, based
on a recommendation from Block’s
Hobby Shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
It was a rudder-only design that only
required a simple, single-channel
receiver and an inexpensive escapement.
I powered it with a Webra . 15 diesel
engine, also upon the recommendation
of that hobby shop. I had read about
RC pioneers Walt and Bill Good, and
thought that a design influenced by Walt
had to be a good choice.
Having built a Veco Sioux Free Flight
(FF) model before the Royal Rudderbug,
I was somewhat familiar with the silk-and-dope covering method of the time.
Because this was my first RC model,
I had to have my dad’s support to
purchase the radio system. Again based
on the recommendation from Block’s
Hobby Shop, I talked my dad into
buying me a transmitter, receiver, and
escapement. By then I had earned a few
more dollars to purchase the engine.
My transmitter of choice was a
ground-based unit built by Gyro
Electronic Company. The receiver had
two tubes and was designed by Ed
Lorenze and built by Esco in Manhattan,
New York. This was a state-of-the-art system at that time. A Babcock
compound escapement was used to
actuate the rudder with the help of a
rubber motor—common practice for the
Diesel motors were customary at
the time in the United Kingdom and
Germany, probably because diesel fuel
was less expensive than glow fuel and
could be made at home with readily
available alcohol, ether, and castor oil.
One of the people at Block’s Hobby
Shop had been flying with Webra diesel
engines, so I bought a Webra . 15.
The Royal Rudderbug was popular
because of its inherent stability, an
important design feature in early
RC days. The main objective was to
successfully control the airplane, not let
it fly away, and carefully land it where
you launched it.
Hand launches were the order of the
day, and a good day was when you went
home with the airplane. An excellent
day was when you took the airplane
home without the need for repairs!
As I recall, that first trip to the flying
field with my pride and joy was filled
with testing and no powered flight. It
was important to test-glide an early RC
airplane before its first powered flight.
Model aircraft veterans made this clear
to me—it had to perform well when the
There was no throttle control on the
77 Model Aviation MAY 2016