An Interview with Axel
Axel Pfannmüller, owner and founder of Axel’s Scale Pilots, offers extremely detailed scale pilot figures and cockpit accessories for sailplane enthusiasts. Alex from RCAeroTowing.com (RCAT) conducted an interview with Axel (AXEL) to learn more about his products and the making of pilots.
RCAT: How did you come up with the idea to make pilots for RC sailplanes?
AXEL: I have been flying RC for quite a while now. At some point, I started to make my own pilots for my models. When I was at the flying field, other pilots soon began noticing my pilots and started asking me to make pilots for them, too. I started my business in 1996. First, I was offering my pilots only to customers in Germany. Soon I expanded to customers in Switzerland and France. I finally started offering products for the US market when Mr. Lehmann, who used to deliver RC models to the US, placed an ad in a German RC magazine, indicating that he was looking for scale model pilots. I began working together with Mr. Lehmann, and this helped me in getting known in the United States.
RCAT: Do you have any employees?
AXEL: I have several. My wife does all the sewing and runs the business end. She is a seamstress by trade. My son and daughter also help out on a part time basis, together with a few other people. Altogether, there are five of us involved with the making and distribution of our products.
RCAT: Do you only offer pilots for sailplanes?
AXEL: We actually make all kinds of pilots including for warbirds, sailplanes, and even helicopter. In addition, we also offer instruments. We do a lot of business with US customers and offer pilots from scale 1/2 to 1/5. About 50% of all pilots we make are for sailplanes. The rest is split up among the other RC disciplines.
RCAT: Please tell us how you make your pilots.
AXEL: The inner pilot is made from a foam rubber. I have developed the procedure for making that foam rubber myself. The rubber is pressed into a mold in order to obtain the shape for the pilot body.
Everything is made in house, even the smallest parts. We have no suppliers working for us. The 1/4 scale pilot, for example, takes about one day to produce. In order to be more productive, several people are involved in the making of each pilot. Each person has a certain responsibility in the making of our products. The end assembly is always done by me, however. This enables me to ensure the high quality of our products.
RCAT: And how do you do the scaling?
AXEL: I wanted to choose a person that is not too tall in order to have enough room in the cockpit to fit in that pilot. As a result, I actually measured myself. My height is 1.73m/5.68ft. I then continued with taking exact measurements, including proportions, of all my body parts and used those numbers to scale my pilots. Since I am a porcelain painter by trade, I had to draw muscle fiber during my training. Those acquired skills help me a lot when designing and creating a pilot. I’m trying to include as much anatomical detail as possible. That makes each pilot so unique. They are not mass produced, but handmade, and therefore special.
RCAT: How may customers order from you?
AXEL: Customers may order from our online store or by phone. We do not have a physical store. My wife enjoys communicating with our customers a lot. Consulting RC pilots is an important part of our business. That’s why some of our customers have been ordering from us for over ten years. Most of our US customers are in Florida. One of my famous customers is Matt Chapman, who has won two prizes at Top Gun with Axel pilots in his models. I’m proud to say that we have many friends in US.
RCAT: Since you made your hobby your profession, do you still fly your own RC models?
AXEL: I actually still fly RC, but only sailplanes. I prefer the Ka-6. My other hobby is riding motor bikes.
RCAT: Do you have new products coming out soon?
AXEL: I might start offering pilots in scale 1/4.5, because warbird pilots in Germany like to use the Zenoah G-62 engine a lot. Aircraft with that engine would translate to scale 1/4.5.
RCAT: Axel, thank you for taking the time for this interview. We at rcAerotowing.com truly appreciate the looks and quality of your pilots. Best wishes to you for the future!