Category Archives: Media


Squirrel Rubber Band Plane on CBC Radio Monday 3:10pm (All in a Day)

Highly efficient elastic strips for Squirrel kits.

Giacomo Panico and I will talk about the Squirrel project this Monday (July 23) on CBC Radio.

It’s hard to say what questions will come up so I am bringing a few things to show Giacomo. I’m posting the pictures here so you can see them in the event we discuss them (also incase my friends can give me more ideas).

I’ll take a few more pictures during the interview and write a report about the experience later.

I’m bringing some of this special elastic band (right). This stuff is procured in 10-20lb increments. It is stripped down by a machine (called a stripper). It is then cut to length for the Squirrel kits.

For loads of excitement you can see how the elastics are cut to size.

Box templates made from reused cardboard.
Detail of box templates.

I’m bringing some of the boxes that are used to share the Squirrel model airplane all over the world.

The raw cardboard is collected at places such as Grace Ottawa, cut into blanks to fit the “box-o-matic”. The box-o-matic then cuts the blanks into templates. This system works using robotics to move a cutter around to save the labor of cutting the box (aka CNC). You can see the box-o-matic during testing and starting to cut a box.

It can make 100+ boxes per hour of operator time.

“Reverse clothespins”.
Squirrel kits!

These boxes have features that allows them to be assembled using “reverse clothes pins” (right). They can be glued at the same time the boxes are loaded with Squirrels (left).

The Squirrels themselves have been packaged very light using only the instruction sheet to give the package rigidity. Quite a bit of effort was made to get the instruction sheet onto a single sheet to keep the weight of each Squirrel under 20g.

“Peace Plane”. It’s a paper plane that forms a circle.

Also you can make this really cool “Peace Plane” from the instruction sheet when you’re done. There are instructions and a downloadable version.

There are many steps in the making of the Squirrel kits but one of the more exiting steps is the cutting of the small parts from balsa using a laser beam controlled by robotics (CNC). If you follow the link you can see what this process looks like.

Shipment for Dinkar (school teacher in India).
Just in time box assembly.

I’m also bringing this shipment for India to the interview. This shipment is for my new pen-pal Dinkar who is a school teacher. I have been making regular donations of Squirrel kits and other stuff for him to share with the kids and for his own fun and exploration.

Notice how the box is glued and clamped at the same time it is loaded. I used to make the boxes and then load them when needed but then you have a pile of boxes instead of a pile of templates to deal with.

Also notice that I am sending him unpackaged Squirrels to save on postage and of course the environment. This allows me to keep Dinkar’s supply up to speed without going broke on postage. 🙂

The Lloyd Shales “Minnow”.

Dinkar was interested in the Minnow which is another simple model plane made by Lloyd Shales. It’s a good next step after you’ve made a few Squirrels. I had sent him one before but it did not survive shipping.

I’ve been donating my Squirrel kits all over the world including to DND (who sends them to Afghanistan and Sierr Leone), Brazil and Pakistan. Also locally to Big Brother and Sister, Boys and Girls Clubs and also kids I recruit myself. Some adults too.

More recently with Dinkar a couple of my friends and cousins started to pitch in. This is exciting because I’m not just sharing my own creation but I’m sharing the sharing.

I’ve also made a list of a few things to talk about (as if I could run out in the 20 minute or so interview). 🙂

Here are some of the things I’ve done and enjoyed about the Squirrel project.

-Don’t patent your project. Share it.

-Be kind to your fellow humans and planet.

-If you share a lot you will meet new friends. I now have pen-pals all over the world to collaborate with.

-I’ve moved away from being a software developer and towards being an inventor and an artist. I’ve worked on some cool projects and commissions including a robot that can draw portraits and an upcoming art installation that has artificial vision so it can detect your expression and respond.

-I’ve learned more about simplicity and accessibility. These concepts helped me succeed in software development but I’ve now refined the process of simplifying and verifying design.

-I’ve become involved with the “maker movement”. This is a movement back to making things that values sharing and open source. I’ve met many new friends as a result of attending events and the Blog-sphere of this movement.

-I’m going to try and finish some more of my model airplane designs this summer. That’s lots of work. If you want to attend some of the workshops where these designs will be tested contact me!

Squirrel Mention in MAAC Magazine

I just noticed the Squirrel was mentioned in an old MAAC magazine. It was in April 2008.

Our great hobby teeters on the edge of disinterest by youth that has, for the most part grown complacent about anything more challenging than a computer mouse or game controller. However, the good fight is not lost and the proof is in a demonstration I gave at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton. The occasion was a fantastic overnight youth program called, “Night Ops” for Beavers, Cubs and Scouts. At this event, we had about 60 youth and 35 leaders watch awestruck as my troop flew six flying Squirrels amongst the Spitfires, Mitchells and Starfighters for nice 45-60 second flights. Not bad for a little plane that a beginner can build in under an hour!
The truth is that what is holding young people back from model aviation is more about an easy entry into the hobby than it is about computers and video games. At the museum, we gave away three planes to some attentive youth, handed out some building instructions and built three more Squirrels by flashlight with some excited leaders, after the kids went to bed.

It can be done! It does not take a lot of money or effort, just some simple planning and youthful enthusiasm on the part of the mentor; and that mentor should be you!

Here is the sales pitch. MAAC needs you, your club needs you and this hobby needs you! We need you to help plant the seeds of aeromodeling into the youth of today. The best part is that doing so will not only help the hobby; it will put some zest into the soul of many modelers who have forgotten the joy that came from building and flying their first model. It does not matter if the project is an ARF or traditional balsa kit; the experience will thrill you while adding some youthful spirit into a hobby that sometimes we take much seriously.

There are many easy ways to get started as a mentor:
· Introduce your son/daughter, grandchild or neighbour to a simple project
· Contact your local school or youth group to offer your expertise in building some simple models
· Forward your name and contact information to the Youth/Beginner Committee for inclusion in a new database of MAAC members willing to be mentors to youth groups in their area.

All these methods are very effective. However, I would like to make a special plea to every MAAC member and club to consider adding their names to a database of people willing to be mentors in a brand new MAAC initiative. Joining the new database will allow MAAC to connect you with local youth groups looking for someone to help them with a youth aviation program.

If you are looking for a traditional balsa model as a first model, I highly recommend a little flying rodent called the Squirrel, designed by Darcy Whyte specifically for youth groups. The model is inexpensive and simple enough that it can be built in less than one hour from a set of instructions that can be downloaded from While you are there, check out the videos of this durable little model in action.

The WRAMPAGER from the Westchester Radio AeroModelers is another excellent model designed specifically for youth programs. This model is a little more difficult than the Squirrel, so it works well as a second model. The plans can be downloaded from wrampager.html.

Go ahead and get involved with a local youth program, plant the seeds of the hobby’s future and become a local hero to the next generation of modelers.

Balsa model airplane industry

Model aviation got a mention over at Make Magazine. Laura Cochrane mentioned the next issue being on toys and games and the following interesting quote from Andrew Leonard:

I soon learned that while the golden age of the model airplane hobbyist scene belongs to the distant past, and nearly all the competitors that Guillow’s battled for market share in
the 1930s, 40s, and 50s are as dead as the dinosaurs, Guillow’s is still independently
operated and chugging forward. Remarkably, the firm still operates in the same Wakefield, Mass., warehouse complex that Paul K. Guillow, its eponymous founder and World War I Navy aviator, moved into back in 1933.

The more complex models require a lot of mentorship and/or a lot of time. So they have declined with so many other things that are more immediate. Computer games, television and other means of more immediate gratification have been very hard on the hobby.

But simpler models such as the Squirrel are just the opposite. Squirrel is putting model aviation back in the classroom and is bringing it to many other audiences including cub-scouts, air-cadets, churches, community centers and much more.

The Squirrel was covered by Make Magazine back in July 2009. It was described as an easy-to-build model plane.