Reader Project: Backyard F-14 Play Set

This project by reader Tom Gurule, was a true labor of love. The F-14 play set was built for Tom’s grandson, who wants to be a jet pilot when he grows up.

This project was originally submitted to The Family Handyman by reader Tom Gurule, who has since passed away. The following description shows what a true labor of love the F-14 play set was for Tom’s grandson, who wants to be a jet pilot when he grows up.

f-14 play set finished

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“My five-year-old grandson watched the jet fighters fly overhead each day as they would fly to and from a nearby pilot training facility. He loves airplanes and told me that one day he wanted to be a jet pilot. After discussing it with my daughter and her husband, I decided to build him a jet plane, where he could learn about airplanes and flying. He could also let his imagination take him anywhere he wanted to go, and know that his grandpa loved him enough to build something special for him.

building f-14 play set

f-14 play set covered

f-14 play set grandpa with grandson

We started by building a platform, an extension to the existing backyard play set, about 7 ft. off of the ground over (not attached to) the monkey bars of the play set. The height gives the feeling of being airborne as opposed to being at ground level. We first constructed the airplane wood frame made of 5/8-in. plywood, 2x4s, and strips of 1/4 x 2-in. pine. He would come home from school each day and head directly to the backyard to see the progress and provide his input. All the wood used on this project is pressure-treated pine.

The canopy is made of 1/8-in. lexan cut to fit and screwed onto a wood frame and opens and closes on hinges. The canopy also has a lock to keep it secure while the plane is not in use. The plane is a two-seater, since he wanted a Navy F-14 Tomcat. Trying to keep my material costs down, I used toilet plungers for the joysticks, adding a hand grip with rubber buttons from Era detergent bottles and switches for guns and missiles. Also, the instrument panel is covered with switches, dials, gages (images of avionics instrument gages such as fuel, altimeter, artificial horizon, air speed, clock, compass, radio with digital frequencies, radar, etc., all downloaded from suppliers’ websites).

f-14 play set interior

clear top of f-14 play set

grandson inside f-14 play set

Working knobs vary from plastic pop bottle caps to deodorant covers to plastic wiring caps. Small red LED lights are mounted next to many of the switches and gages. The brakes and aileron controls are made of 3/4-in. schedule pipe and 1-in. pine pieces with a small lead weight to keep the foot pedals upright. They swivel to simulate control of the ailerons and tip front and back like real airplane brake controls.

The pilot has control of the throttle and afterburner on the left side of his seat and an ejection seat and tail hook release spring-loaded handles on the right side of the seat. The back seat for the Radar Intercept Officer has a radar screen, also a download of the Dallas, Texas, area, along with his or her own set of switches, gages, knobs, dials, foot controls and joystick. The missiles are made of PVC pipe, wooden tips and wall paneling for fins.

front controls of f-14 play set

grandkids waving inside f-14 play set

adorable jet pilot by f-14 play set

The plane is covered with cut-to-fit flexible plastic paneling, normally used for shower walls. Crewmembers can enter the plane through an open canopy or from the bottom front of the plane or from the back end through the play set.

Our young pilot also wears a flight suit and a flight helmet, which is an old discarded motorcycle helmet, painted just like a real pilot’s with his own call sign on it. He is currently learning how to properly communicate with the control tower and how to file a flight plan so that his mom and dad always know where he is off to and when they might expect him back. He is eager and happy to take his little sister, his family and friends (adults, too) for a fun filled ride to any destination they like.” — Tom Gurule