1/72 McCormick-Romme Umbrellaplane
KIT #: ?
REVIEWER: Chris Peachment
NOTES: Made from plastic and wooden rod and strut, with some 10 thou plastic card


In July, 1911, aeronautical engineer and designer William Romme made two short flights in his most famous design the Umbrellaplane, or Cycloplane as it was sometimes called. At least seven different configurations of it are known

Harold McCormick, of the harvesting machine manufacturing business, and millionaire John D. Rockefeller supported the design. In 1910 Romme had won a design contest with a circular model monoplane. It was this that Romme developed into a full-scale airplane and bypassed the Wright patents on their aircraft. McCormick and Rockefeller formed a corporation to exploit the Romme designs. 

The first monoplane was wrecked by gales in November 1910. In April 1911 it was given some preliminary testing in San Antonio, Texas. While taxiing, it struck a rut, was turned over by the wind and badly damaged. Romme escaped without injury.

After this, no further progress was made, because of the wait for a Gnome engine.  

At the same time McCormick hired another engineer, from the University of Pennsylvania, Chance Milton Vought. He guided the development of the Umbrella Plane through its career. By July 15, 1911, the two McCormick airplanes had their Gnome engines installed, and on August 23,1911, Romme made the first successful flight reaching a height of 15 feet.

Movable control surfaces were installed on each side at the rear of the circular wing, rudders with greater cord replaced the two tall narrow rudders, and triangular centre projections on the wing were removed.

In early 1912, the propeller was attached directly to the Gnome engine eliminating the long drive shaft, ribs were installed in some of the wing surfaces, ailerons were moved forward, the rudder was moved further aft, and the separate elevator was eliminated and replaced by warping the wing trailing edge.

In April 1912, Andre Ruez, McCormick’s test pilot gave the Gnome engine full throttle and lifted the aircraft off the ground in a short hop. During the next few days Ruel climbed higher and made longer flights until he reached a height of 30 feet. Several minor changes were made and flights continued in 1912.  In March 1913, Max Lillie made several circuits of the Cicero field, in the Umbrella Plane, which attracted an immense interest from spectators.

It was finally abandoned in 1913.  Vought, in a newspaper interview, said that the umbrella plane was a “freak” and an “oddball”.


 The build was a lot less complicated than it might look. Plans were found on one of the websites below, scaled to 1/72, and several copies printed off to cut up for plans.

It is worth noting that there were continuous changes to the aircraft's layout, so it is worth deciding which one you want from the photos.

The centre post was the first thing to start with, and since I didn't have any plastic rod of that width, I chose an old paint brush and sawed off the end of the handle. Bevel the ends with a file and sandpaper.  Now comes the only hard part.

It has seven radiating spokes, and so you must sit down with your geometry set, suck your pen and work out how 360 degrees divides by seven, then mark where each spoke is mounted on the centre post. Drill out each mounting hole with a drill of the appropriate size, cut lengths of plastic rod to length, noting that the rear one for the rudder is longer than the others, then mount each spoke into its hole with superglue. I notice that “Buffirn” on the Reader's Forum of this website has discovered the delights of superglue gel. It is much more controllable than the runny stuff, and has the bonus of not glueing your fingers together. I never use anything else.

You can now sit back with a soothing drink and note how none of the spokes look at all regular. Curse Euclid for a bit, then start bending the spokes at their base until they look regular. You can take consolation in the fact that this is probably how the original was constructed.

Note that the spokes and central post seem to have been bound in what looks like cord. I have a feeling they might have been bamboo, which has a very high compressive and tensile strength, but weaker flexural strength and so the fibres often need this kind of strengthening. For this I used black thread and superglue.  Anyone who has made fishing flies will find it no trouble. Anyone else is going to need a magnifying glasses and a steady hand.

Each wing was cut from 10 thou card. In the original they were supported by loose ribs which were sewn into pockets on the underside. I scored the undersides with a metal rule and a couple of passes of a black biro to reproduce this. Otherwise it was all a loose affair, and can be seen flapping around in the breeze, so don't worry too much about wing rigidity here.

Make a small rudder from two bits of 10 thou card cut to pattern and sandwich a vertical rod in between them.


It is best done now. The wing linen got a coat of Vallejo Buff, and the wood bits got a coat of dark yellow. I did the rudder in white just for a little variation.  

Some rods of varying length were introduced at the forward end, between two spokes, and painted silver. The engine backing plate is mounted on one of them, carrying the rotary engine, and small support for the prop shaft is mounted on the forward rod. A seat was made up of sheet plastic, silver with a leather cushion formed from filler. The control column was made from rod, surmounted with a  wheel of solder with flat spokes. And four short posts from rod support the fuel tank which is a length of sprue with rounded ends. Paint it bronze.

Two ailerons, or balancers as they were called then, were made from card, supported by two rods each drilled through the centre line. Incidentally, I can see no reason why ailerons didn't stay in the language as “balancer”, a term far more descriptive than aileron, which is simply French for a small wing. But then we derive most of our military terms from French.  

Cadre, platoon, infantry, corps, cavalry, squadron, reconnaissance, morale, esprit de corps, aide de camp, Captain, Colonel, General, Admiral, all are French in origin. I suspect the influence of Napoleon here. He seems to have been the fount of all things dangerous in the modern world.

Rigging is straightforward, from the top of the central king post out to the places where the spokes are bound. I used my usual method of elastic thread, coloured silver with a gel pen, and glued down with gel superglue, placed by a sharpened toothpick. The aileron actuator rods will need rigging too. Also a line to the rudder post. 

The undercarriage too is straightforward. A curved skid was made from 20 thou card, supported at the rear end on the bottom of the king post, with supporting struts up front from rod. Spoked wheels came from Eduard etched sets of WWI, which are invaluable when modelling pioneer aircraft.  Tyres were solder wrapped around a paint brush handle of the right diameter. A rear skid was added to the curved skid, just below the king post. Finally a prop from the Bag of Dead Props, painted wood brown, with dark brown grain, and coat of clear orange, was mounted at ten to four.


There you have it, another aircraft which no man of sound body and sane mind would climb onto. It did nonetheless take to the air, and managed extended circuits around the airfield, before being abandoned as a bad idea. But it did have its later influence. The engineer Charles Vought died in 1930, but the Chance Vought company  went on to create the Flying Pancake circular wing aircraft.   With such forbears it must have been more than just vague memory of the Umbrellaplane which inspired them. Perhaps aircraft are Buddhist machines and undergo reincarnation.






Chris Peachment

October 2014

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