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Back to Paper Modeling - with the Hoverfly

Sikorsky R-4 Hoverfly
Product #
Suggested Retail Price
$3.95 USD

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Pat Ripley Fezian writes:

Also remember a photocopy place will be able copy onto A3 card. So getting larger pieces is possible with a little cut and paste.

Revision Log
1 July 2008page first published

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©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Back in the early 90's, I was heavily into paper modeling. I worked at the time in the computer software industry. During the "debug" phase of a project, my work cycle consisted of fixing bugs in an area of the computer game, then recompiling a local copy of the game to test the bug fixes. Because I was classified as a "designer" rather than a "programmer," the company had saddled me with a rather slow computer, so I had half an hour of dead time every time I needed to recompile the game.

So I took up paper modeling. It was something I'd always wanted to try, plus I figured that if management saw that I had enough dead time to build castles and aircraft, perhaps they would give me a faster computer system! (No, they never did...)

Now, I'm returning to paper modeling, and it's really a different world. In the old days, you purchased printed kits; today, it's convenient just to download the kit and print it out yourself.

My first project was to replace a model that had gotten damaged during a move. I've always had a fascination with helicopters, and this was a model-on-a-postcard of one of the original helicopter designs.

Well, I went to the company's website - Fiddlers Green - and found out that the old model is retired. However, the company is in the process of upgrading all of its aircraft models.

The new model of the Sikorsky R-4 Hoverfly can be purchased for download as an individual PDF for $3.95 USD, or for $24.95 USD you can buy the entire helicopters-and-trainers collection (21 models). The publisher also offers to mail a CD with the PDFs for a slight extra fee.

I bought the collection, which means that I can access My Models at the publisher's website and download the PDFs as many times as I like.

Access to purchased PDFs

There's actually a bewildering array of R-4 Hoverfly files:

  • The Instructions (1 page)
  • the Large folder, which contains:
    • five model sheets, each as a separate PDF - plus an apparent repeat of the optional floats page.
  • The Regular folder, containing:
    • four model sheets
  • the Versions folder, which contains:
    • the Army folder:
      • The "large" version in Army colors and markings
    • the B&W folder:
      • the "large" version in PDF and JPG formats
    • the Silver folder
      • the "large" version again

Both the "large" and "regular" versions are labeled 1/24th scale, but I believe that is correct only for the "large" versions. The original model is drawn in high-visibility orange, but the Versions folder gives options for Army brown, silver (with the "silver" areas printing as non-colored, to be colored in later), and black-and-white (for those who want to customize the color and markings).

Six sheets for the Large version

My ultimate goal is to build this helicopter in a wargaming scale, but having never tried a "large scale" helicopter project, I decided to give the Army version a try as-is. (I'm told many people build the "large" version as their trial run, before building at whatever scale they prefer.)


When I went to print the models out, my computer system for some reason insisted that it couldn't print the files at full-size - no matter what I tried with margins and settings. So I settled for a reduction to 98% of the original.

98% reduction

In the PDF, a drawing shows the helicopter in green paint, but the model itself looks brown on my screen, and prints out in a subdued tone. I used Epson's Premier Presentation Paper Matte, which is a 9mil paper that I get the best printing results from. This paper seems thinner than what I used to get with pre-printed models.

Green art, brown art

Some people like to spray the printed paper with fixative or matte at this stage, but I kept it simple.


The Instructions chiefly consist of a single diagram showing how the parts fit together, with some supplementary comments and diagrams on the model sheets. There is no guide on where to start or what order to do things in. (There must be an introduction to paper modeling somewhere on the publisher's website, but I didn't find it.)

Assembly diagram

I started with the front hull. The main piece gives you the sides and bottom of the hull; another piece gives you the front and top. Except for the curved front, this is just a boxy shape and not difficult to assemble - though I recommend working front-to-back so you can access the front from the inside while gluing it together. Also, use the windscreen borders to line up the pieces correctly.

Aleene's Tacky Glue

For glue, I used two types: First, Aleene's Original Tacky Glue, which is basically a white glue (like Elmer's brand), but with less water content (i.e., thicker). This is the glue I preferred back in the old days, and it's still available in craft stores. The other glue I'm going to give a try is 3M Scotch Craft Stick, which has the advantage of being acid-free (in case my models end up in a museum!).

3M Scotch craft stick

I was really hoping that the craft stick would be a winner, because it is the most convenient to use - just swipe and stick! However, for the tags which hold the hull together, the craft stick glue didn't have enough "stick 'em" to hold the parts in place initially - so it was back to Tacky Glue for me.

One change for me as an "old" paper modeler, was that in the old days the pre-printed models usually had a semi-gloss surface, which allowed you to wipe away excess glue without leaving any marks. With computer-printed models and white glue, glue mistakes and streaks show up more - and when I tried to wipe one away with a damp paper towel, the ink started to run! So, I guess I need to be more careful...

While the hull was drying, I started work on the rotors and struts, since I thought those would take a while. The instructions recommend reinforcing these parts. For the landing struts, I glued the parts down to cardboard from a box of crackers; for the main rotor, I glued the parts to a particularly stout box of breakfast cereal I found.

Something I forgot: If the backside of the part will show in the final model, consider whether you want to glue the part to the printed or unprinted side of the cardboard. I glued the rear landing strut to the unprinted side, which means you can see the cracker box design on the inside surfaces of the strut (whoops!).

Since this involved gluing parts down to a flat cardboard surface, I again gave the craft stick a try. It worked much better at this, though occasionally the glue just wouldn't hold for some reason and the paper would peel off when dry.

The wheels were a pain to assemble. Each consists of a single piece: two sides (disks) and a strip of tread. I glued the tread into a cylinder, then glued the sides against the cylinder edges. The problem is that there isn't much surface here to glue against, and any variation in cutting or gluing can mean the sides are too small or too big. The design doesn't use tabs here, probably because tabs would make the wheels less round.

Back to the main hull: Now that it was dry, I assembled the rear hull (another boxy shape) and glued it inside the end of the front hull. It's a little tricky to line the hull parts together, as both parts are slightly warped in different directions (whoops!). I also glue the tail rotor into place, but then wish I'd waited until later (and that I'd reinforced that part) - it gets knocked around whenever I handle the model...

Hull rear, with rotor and strut in place

When the landing gear is dry, I cut the struts out, pre-folded them, and glued them together (each strut has an inside and outside piece). Again, the craft glue didn't like being folded, so it was Tacky Glue to the rescue. I also found it very handy to use some ratchet clamps with soft rubber ends that I picked up at discount (wish I had bought more of them!), to hold everything in place while the glue dries.

A cone-like piece needs to go on top of the hull, where the rotors will mount. For some reason, the cone is printed white when I think it should be brown like the rest of the hull. I glue the cone together, let it dry, then try to glue it to the hull - but the fit isn't so good. I end up using ample white glue and holding it in place for a long time.

Rotor cone

Meanwhile, remember the cereal box cardboard I glued the main rotors to, for extra strength? Turns out the cardboard is corrugated (i.e., with spaces inside) - much thicker than I wanted, and corrugated cardboard is harder to work with! But at least it's strong...

The directions suggest pinning the rotors to the hull, but that seems impractical to me - the pin would just wobble around inside that cone. So I substitute a cheap bamboo skewer from a bag from the local dollar store, paint it gunmetal with craft paints, and stick it into and through the rotor parts. Then I put the rotor into the cone, and carefully push down until the skewer pokes a hole in the main hull (to keep the rotor from flopping around - I should have made a hole earlier...).

I'm not sure if I've assembled the rotors correctly, as the instructions aren't clear...

Rotor in place

The side landing struts need to be glued on, which requires some patience (and maybe three hands!) - you're trying to glue the ends to the marks on the hull, while keeping the structure approximately at the right angle. I never did get them quite straight - and when you glue the wheels to the bottom, they stick out if you didn't get the strut bottoms parallel to the ground.

Model bottom, struts, and ink wash-out

That's it - project done!

Um... Wait a Minute...

When I was done with the model, it suddenly struck me: the rotors were too big! (Not just because I'd glued them down to corrugated cardboard - they were all too long, and smacked into the tail instead of being able to turn!)

I checked the model's webpage - and sure enough, photos showed that the real helicopter had much shorter rotors.

Chopped rotors

For the time being, I chopped the end off the rotors.

Chopped rotors
Chopped rotor doesn't hit the tail

I also contacted the publisher and let them know. Fiddlers Green immediately posted a corrected rotors PDF, which I printed out and built. (Because of a printer malfunction, this one turned out light blue rather than gray - but at least I didn't glue this one to corrugated cardboard. But I did glue one of the rotors facing backwards this time!)

New rotor (left), old rotor and pieces (right)

One More Step

Finished Hoverfly

Meanwhile, I read on one of the paper modeling forums that you should seal a paper model, to prevent humidity from loosening the glue over time. So I gave my model a spray of matte flat finish.

Spotted finish

Unfortunately, the spray left a "spotted" finish on the model. Also, one of the rotors apparently got too much spray, and now it curls upwards...

What's Next?

Having built this helicopter in "large" scale, I've got a good idea of where the pitfalls are for when I build it again in a wargaming scale. And I remember now some techniques I used to use in the "old days," and I've got this new glue I want to try... I think I'll print out another model, and get started!