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How to Draw Transport: Drawing a Historic Plane From Scratch

This post is part of a series called How to Draw Vehicles.
How to Draw a Classic Steam Locomotive From Scratch
How to Draw Transport: How to Draw a Military Tank
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Powered flight has now been going since 1903 when the first uneasy takeoff by the Wright brothers in a motorised glider took the human race into a whole new world of adventure. 

With time, however, many distinctive aircraft have emerged, and none more so than combat aircraft. In this tutorial, come with me as we look at drawing an iconic plane from World War 2, the Supermarine Spitfire.

1. How to Set Up Accurate Perspective

Step 1

Firstly we are going to establish a guideline for our plane, beginning with a horizon line. Since the Spitfire has a rather distinctive wing shape, we want to draw the plane at an angle that best demonstrates this, so you want to be drawing your horizon line across your page just above the halfway point. 

The first step is to establish a horizon

Step 2

For this drawing we are going to be using just a single vanishing point. This particular point needs to be correctly placed, and with this specific picture you may find this is off the page. Therefore, to set this up correctly, you may have to use a single piece of masking tape placed on one side of your canvas (it will be the right side in this particular case) and then add your point using a steel ruler. 

Remember we are only using single point perspective for this drawing

Step 3

Having drawn your vanishing point, take your ruler again and draw a single line from the point across the canvas marking the middle of the plane body.

This first line will mark out the centre of the body of the Spitfire

Step 4

Next, draw a line that will be used as a guide for the top of the body.

A line for the top of the body comes next

Step 5

Then, draw in a third line that will be used as a guide for the bottom of the body.

Followed by another  line for the bottom of the body

Step 6

We need to add pointers for the wings, which of course are essential to any aircraft. Starting with the wing closest to the viewer, a line needs to be drawn from the vanishing point to the point where the tip of the wing will be.

The wing tips are quite a distance from the body as you can see

Step 7

You then need to draw in another line for the opposite wing. At this point, if you have placed your points correctly, a fan-like design should be emerging.

Perspective makes the opposite wing tip seem closer to the body

Step 8

To finish this stage, we need to add two more lines both at converging angles, which will be for the rear flaps that come out of either side of the rear of the plane and the rudder at the rear. These additional parts help steer the aircraft and give it stability in the air.

Another two lines mark the tips for the smaller steering flaps at the rear

Step 9

Now we have rough guidelines that we can use to start blocking our aircraft out.

Now you should have a perspective guide that looks like this

2. How to Create a Plane From Basic Shapes

Step 1

Now that we have established the perspective setup for our Spitfire, we will block it out using simple shapes. We shall start with the body, which you can make using a simple long angled box. If you have set up your guide correctly, it should be fairly simple to draw this shape.

Your first objective is to draw a rectangular box for the body

Step 2

We shall work on this plane going from left to right, but if you are left handed you can work in the opposite direction. On top of the original box needs to go a smaller cube for the cockpit area.

A smaller box sits on top of your firstThis will be the cockpit

Step 3

Alongside our first two shapes need to come the wings, and for these we are looking to create simple triangles that will form a basic structure of this section of our aircraft. We shall start with the one closer to us.

A skewed triangle will make a base for the wings

Step 4

Don’t forget to draw in another triangle for the second wing on the opposite side.

Remember the opposite side and note how the guidelines help

Step 5

For the rear flaps of the plane, we need to draw another two triangles, but make sure these are half the size of our first two.

Similarly the rear flaps are drawn in the same manner

Step 6

For the main section of the rear rudder, we need to add an upward angled triangle.

Triangles will help with the large rear rudder too

Step 7

A thin rectangle should then be drawn, placed to the right alongside the triangle in Step 6, which will be for the steering section of the rudder. 

The moveable section of the rudder you can make with an skewed rectangle

Step 8

You can also add a small cube underneath the body of the plane that will be the trailing wheel which supports the rear of the aircraft on the ground.

This small cube will be for the small wheel at the rear of the plane

Step 9

Hopefully, you should now have a skeleton of a plane that looks something like this!    

Now you should have a layout that looks like this

3. How to Draw an Aircraft in Detail

Step 1

Having got the skeleton of our plane set up, we shall now draw it in more detail. You will have to use a steady hand and a lot of care if you are using ink at this point! Once more, we shall work left to right and start with the nose of the plane.

Starting to draw in detail we begin with the nose of the plane

Step 2

We then move on to the body section as it follows the nose. At this stage, avoid drawing in the details in the cockpit section as it's more important to get the main parts of your aircraft correct before going into fine detail.

Then comes the body notice there are a lot of smooth lines with this plane

Step 3

After the body section, you can now add the wings. The Spitfire has a rather distinctive rounded wing shape, which makes it instantly recognisable to enthusiasts. For pilots, it also made it a much better handling machine than its counterparts, so make sure you take time to get this part right. 

Next come the main wings

Step 4

For the opposite wing, the perspective and angle of the plane affect how much we can see, so a fair section will be hidden by the cockpit and engine compartment.

Perspective will obscure some of this plane and you can see this below

Step 5

Like the main wings, the rear flaps have a rounded shape so need to be drawn with care. The Spitfire was one of the very last front line propeller fighters to feature a large front wing design; modern-day fighters all adopt a large arrow-like shape.

The smaller rear flaps follow the same design as the main wings

Step 6 

Following on from the flaps, we now move to the tail of the plane. Again, aerodynamics and easy flying were in mind with the design of this aircraft, so a rounded tail was a must, with a large rear rudder section.

Notice how our base layout on the rudder comes together

Step 7 

To complete this stage, we can now add the rear trailing wheel in more detail. 

Completing this stage comes the fixed rear wheel

Step 8

Now, we should have a more refined illustration to look at. During World War Two, the Spitfire was assisted in bringing down enemy planes by the Hawker Hurricane. The Hurricane was of a slightly less aerodynamic design but just as effective at bringing down enemy bombers. The main fighter plane enemy to face the Spitfire was the German Messerschmitt BF109, which had a similar top speed to the Spitfire but was not quite as easy to fly, thus giving British pilots a slight edge in the air.

The Spitfire had companions like the Hurricane top and rivals like the Messerschmitt bottom

4. How to Add Finishing Touches to an Aircraft

Step 1

We now come to the finishing details. This is the part where all the pieces come together and you can add your own little touches to really personalise your own creations. 

First, we can add the propeller of the plane and, as the aircraft is in motion, it is very simple to draw a basic ellipse. Be sure to practice drawing these first if you feel you need to!

Your propellor can be created by drawing an ellipse

Step 2

To give the impression of motion, vary the thickness of your drawn line and erase little sections of your circle with a fine eraser. If you wish, you can add in some zig-zag lines to give the impression of speeding propeller blades, but be sparing with how many you put in. In this tutorial I have used just two lines.

These lightning like lines can be a simple way of describing motion in illustration

Step 3

Other little touches to add at the front of the aircraft are the series of exhaust vents that run down either side of the nose, but only one side is visible here.

The exhaust ports for the engine lie just below the engine cover

Step 4

Underneath the Spitfire is a vent that allows direct airflow into the engine system.

The air intake is slightly obscured but it can still be seen at this angle

Step 5

Now we can draw in the cockpit area, starting with the pilot and what limited control equipment you can see.

Now we can draw in the pilot and what we can see of the controls

Step 6

For the pilot, you can either use references from various print or online sources to help construct him or, if you are confident enough with your drawing skills, you can construct him from scratch yourself.

Do not be afraid to use a reference if you are having trouble with the pilot

Step 7

The sliding glass cockpit cover and front screen come next. Thanks to perspective, parts of these two components may obstruct the pilot and controls, so you may need to erase little sections in order to bring the puzzle together.   

The pilot in this aircraft had a screen and sliding top cover above him

Step 8

Now we move to the wings, and firstly we shall draw in the machine gun holes on the wings. Thankfully these days these ports are just a showpiece, and they have not been fired in anger for some time.

The machine gun ports are discreet but deadly

Step 9

Don’t forget the steering flaps on the rear of both the wings.

These flaps at the back of the wings are for banking and steering

Step 10

On top of the cockpit sits the radio aerial mast. Communication between pilot and ground control was still as important then as it is now.

The pointed aerial mast sits just behind the cockpit

Step 11

An aerial line runs from the aerial mast to a clip on the tail of the plane. In these still relatively early days of air-to-air radio, a line was essential for clear communication, but as time has progressed this line is not needed. The Spitfire and its counterparts were actually some of the last aircraft to use this dated system.

Do not forget the ariel line itself

Step 12

As we are approaching the end, any additional small details can be added. At this point, too, you can add your own little touches to make your aircraft unique.

Any other small details can now be added

At Last, the End Is Nigh!

Finally, you can now erase all of your construction lines and clean up your line art, and we now have a completed historical aircraft to look at! 

And at last we have a completed Supermarine Spitfire

So there we have a complete illustration of a truly historic piece of flying history that has been in the skies for the past 80 years. You can now add a touch of colour to this image if you wish to really bring it to life! I also hope I have at least given you some inspiration now to go and try it yourself and be adventurous, just as the designers and pilots of the Spitfires were all those years ago. The sky is the limit!

Bringing some colour to your artwork can really set it off
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