First impressions: How often does one get to fly a trainer, sport scale warbird, and racing aircraft model all in one airframe? The Blériot Model XI by Maxford USA allows a pilot to do just that. As originally marketed by Louis Blériot, the Model XI could satisfy any pilot’s desire and be used as a trainer one day and a light bomber the next.
Aircraft from the Pioneer Era of aviation were often used for more than one application. Bléiot himself originally used the Blériot Model XI to cross the English Channel. This was a huge feat, because it was the first heavier-than-air aircraft to make the crossing, and the act placed 1,000 British pounds in Blériot’s pocket.
The epic Channel crossing secured a spot for Blériot and his airplane in the history books and provided him with a career in aviation. Taking off from France without a compass and with a French destroyer escort, Blériot crash-landed on English soil on July 25, 1909, prompting the headline, “Britain is no longer an Island.”
Blériot accomplished this with an airplane equipped with a three-cylinder, semi-radial, 25 hp Anzani engine—a modified motorcycle engine that was developed to be lightweight and air cooled. Along with the unusual engine, the Blériot prototype featured wing warping instead of ailerons, a rudder that moved as one piece, and elevators that encompassed the entire outer section of the horizontal stabilizer. The unique design was punctuated with an undercarriage featuring spoked, individually sprung front landing gear attached to the airframe via a large wooden structure reminiscent of a medieval rack.
The Maxford ARF nearly matches the Blériot prototype. From the preassembled open-truss frame to the three-cylinder dummy radial engine, this ARF is a work of art as well as a model airplane.
Other pilots at the airfield commented that the Maxford Blériot looked as though it belonged in a museum. My wife even remarked how attractive this model is. The original aircraft featured wing warping and undercambered wings, but with the limitations of balsa, Maxford substituted ailerons and a flat bottom airfoil.
For scale purists, Maxford includes instructions on how to eliminate the ailerons and make the Blériot a three-channel airframe. Not included with the kit were extra details that add to the model’s realism, including a dummy engine, pilot with seat, and vintage spoked wheels (for roughly $55). Many would-be purchasers may raise an eyebrow, feeling that these optional parts should be included with the kit; they definitely add to the overall scale realism of the model.
The Maxford Blériot requires a radio system, servos, 400-watt brushless power system, and propeller. We used four Tactic TSX5 micro high-speed servos, a Cobra 2826-12 brushless outrunner, 40-amp speed controller, and a HobbyKing DRX DSM2 OrangeRx receiver with a Spektrum DX7 radio.
I first laid all of the pieces out in a “semi-exploded view” to get an idea of how much work lies ahead of me. I opened the box and was greeted by the various parts taped with packing tape to the inside of the corrugated container.
The pieces were well protected, but removing them from their respective storage places required a sharp hobby knife and much patience. Looking over the photos in the assembly instructions did not accurately convey to me exactly how much work would be required to assemble this model, but with all of the parts laid out in front of me, it was obvious that I had several long nights’ worth of work ahead of me.
The assembly was not always straightforward and I sometimes had to read the instruction manual several times before I understood the step. After I felt clear about what I should do, I would test-fit the piece and reread the step. The old adage of “measure twice and cut once” should be your mantra as you assemble the Maxford Blériot. It was quickly evident that the long nights would turn into long weeks, but this model is worth the extra time and care.
The instruction manual has you start at the tail of the aircraft and work your way to the nose. The servos I selected were slightly large for the location provided by Maxford, but I was able to create the additional space needed to fit them in place with an emery board.
The horizontal stabilizer exactly matches the prototype. The outer sections function as elevators instead of the more-typical TE elevator. This was a unique design feature of the Blériot and I was happy to see that Maxford stayed true to the prototype.
I had some issues making the glued joint stick on the horizontal stabilizer and would suggest allowing plenty of time for it to dry. After letting it completely dry, I stress tested the surface areas to verify that it wouldn’t fail in flight.
After finishing the tail linkages, I moved to the wing assembly. The pilot can decide to permanently glue the wings in place or to use the rigging wires to hold them to the fuselage. I wanted the rigging to be 100% cosmetic, so I permanently glued the wings to the fuselage after I mounted the motor and landing gear to the aircraft.
Because of different motor size options, modifications to the landing gear assembly are left to the pilot to complete. This requires some type of cut-off tool and a drill. If you purchase the dummy engine, I suggest mounting it before installing the main landing gear.
At this point of the assembly, the Blériot was technically ready to fly, but it wouldn’t be complete if I skipped installing the rigging wires. Borrowing one of my wife’s sewing needles and using a toilet paper roll as a spool, I went to work threading the rigging. The needle was invaluable, and I would have been frustrated with this part of the project without it.
The makeshift spool also helped to keep things flowing smoothly because the bundle of string provided with the kit would tangle if you looked at it the wrong way. I found tying knots in the thread was next to impossible, because they would untie easily. To solve this, I decided to forgo the knots and used CA to attach the rigging to the airplane. This method worked well with the wing rigging wires, the open-truss frame, and tail section of the aircraft.
The last step with every build is to check the CG. The aircraft balanced perfectly with the battery placed as far forward as possible.
I worked on the project every night for three weeks. I took it slowly because I wanted the final result to showcase the level of detail that Maxford put into the Blériot.
Slipping the recommended four-cell LiPo flight battery into place is easy, thanks to the open design of the forward part of the fuselage. I was not satisfied with using the single piece of surface-mounted hook-and-loop material that was provided in the kit as the sole means of holding it in place. I was able to borrow a hook-and-loop strap from another aircraft.
Using a 3,300 mAh capacity battery put the Blériot’s all-up weight at 4 pounds, 5 ounces, which is 1 ounce less than Maxford’s specified weight. The wing’s LE is even with the firewall, which normally would all but guarantee a tail-heavy aircraft. The mass of the suspension-equipped main gear negates the need for ballast.
The landing gear’s unique design and configuration is styled after the full-scale Blériot. The position of the tail wheel at the aft end of the fuselage qualifies the Blériot as a tail dragger; however, the stance of the airplane on the gear is relatively flat and more reminiscent of a tricycle gear-equipped airplane. The large-diameter wheels and springy suspension work together to create a Cadillac-like ride.
Ground operations are smooth and easy; it fairly glides over even rough runway surfaces. The optional pseudo-spoked wheels help recreate the illusion of the full-scale Blériot’s metal spoked wheels.
With the aircraft’s pudgy nose aimed into the wind, I rolled smoothly and deliberately into the throttle. After all, the three-cylinder engine that powered the full-scale Blériot surely would not have provided excess acceleration.
As the speed built and I prepared to rotate, the model suddenly pulled hard to the left. Thinking that I had just allowed my corrective rudder thumb to fall asleep, I taxied back and reset for another takeoff attempt—and the same sudden hard veering was repeated.
Confident that I was simply not applying the timely and proactive rudder inputs typically required to counteract the torque encountered during a takeoff, I tried several more times to execute a smooth, straight, scalelike takeoff. Close visual observation and analysis finally revealed that the tail wheel control linkages were actually the culprit behind the foiled takeoffs.
The rudder servo horn connects to the rudder via a long pushrod; another pushrod then transfers the rudder motion forward to the tail wheel. This assembly could benefit from being slightly stiffer with less inherent free play.
I found it necessary to roll into the throttle fast and hard in order to successfully keep the Blériot tracking straight down the runway. Doing so is anything but scalelike, but it allows the rudder to quickly achieve the authority that it needs to effectively control the Blériot’s heading.
If attempting to mimic the in-flight behavior of a vintage monoplane is your fancy, the Blériot is a joy to fly. The Cobra brushless power system provides slightly more than 500 watts of power when used with a Master Airscrew 12 x 6 propeller, but the Blériot is happy cruising around the sky at half throttle.
Although the model was equipped with ailerons, I noticed that the Blériot makes its turns using mostly rudder input. I flew the Blériot in a variety of conditions—from light to gusty winds. The Blériot performed most predictably when flown in the former. The large frontal area and open fuselage contribute to the model’s tendency to drag. Flying it in higher winds seemed to exacerbate the drag and the model threatened to show an ugly side.
The Blériot’s slow-speed capabilities are impressive. Add a modest headwind and the Blériot can nearly slow to a walk. Basic aerobatic maneuvers such as rolls, loops, and stall turns are possible, but I did not feel particularly pressed to push the model through many.
Landings are beautiful and easy to perform; the Blériot glides down and reconnects with the earth with a light, springy bounce or two. Given the model’s willingness to sip the amps, my 6- to 7-minute flights often saw only 1,000 mAh pumped back into the flight battery.
I have always had a keen interest in less-frequently modeled aircraft. Although I have had an opportunity to fly several Maxford USA models in the last half dozen years, the Blériot is without a doubt my favorite!
Some aspects of the assembly were challenging, but eminently enjoyable. I was enamored with the completed model’s appearance and found myself wanting to find an appropriate place within my house to display it in between flight sessions—yes, it looks that good!
The fuselage’s open-truss design, with its complex network of rigging wires and spring-loaded landing gear, combined to create a model with a much higher level of detail than a typical ARF. The addition of the optional dummy engine, pilot figure, and spoked wheels are icing on the cake.
Although performing truly scalelike takeoffs is nearly impossible because of the control linkages used to control the tail wheel steering, the Maxford Blériot does not disappoint in the air. Superb slow-speed performance endows this model with the ability to putt around in a scalelike fashion.
If you favor Scale aircraft and have not yet owned a model that dates back to the infancy of aviation, the Maxford USA Blériot is an enjoyable way to experience the excitement of that era.