About Ralph

Ralph Savelsberg, also known as Mad physicist, is an actual physicist, but he's not all that mad. He has been building with LEGO ever since he could first put two bricks together. He primarily builds scale models of cars and aircraft. You can find most of Ralph's stuff on his flickr pages.

Posts by Ralph

LEGO builders on the South Pole [Interview]

It seems that wherever there are technical and creative people, there is also LEGO. LEGO has been taken into space to the International Space Station and, as it turns out, there is also LEGO on the South Pole. Recently I was contacted by Ethan Rudnitsky, who works at the U.S. Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, located on the geographic South Pole, with a question about building a Hercules aircraft out of LEGO, with the purpose of displaying the model at the station. Ethan is part of the crew who are spending the winter there. He told me that there are other LEGO enthusiasts on the station as well and that, as part of the last supply flight in February, the crew were sent a shipment of LEGO sets.

South Pole builders

LEGO models and their builders on the South Pole. Builders, from left to right: Ethan Rudnitsky, Rachel Cook, Christian Krueger, Jennah King, Chet Waggonger and Adam Jones. Photograph courtesy of Christian Krueger.

We’ve taken this opportunity to find out a bit more about life and LEGO on the South Pole, by asking Ethan a few questions via e-mail.

Read the full interview after the break

Dennis Glaasker’s Big Boy is an old-school engine packed with high tech

After building two huge 1/16 Diesel locomotives, one of which we blogged in February, Dennis Glaasker (Bricksonwheels) has turned his attention to something rather more old-school: a Union Pacific 1941 `Big Boy’ steam engine.

Lego Union Pacific Big Boy in 1:38

Its scale is 1/38, based on LEGO’s track gauge. This is relatively small by Dennis’ standards, but the model is still more than 1 m long and took two and half months to build. The engine can run, albeit not on standard radius curves, and to get it to run, Dennis chose to include several custom and aftermarket parts. The wheels and the valve gear and side rods were 3D printed by Jaap Kroon (JaapTechnic). The model is driven by three (!) Power Functions XL motors, controlled through an SBrick and powered by a rechargeable RC battery pack. To top it all off, this behemoth is equipped with lights and electronics supplied by Brickstuff. Purists may be horrified by this cornucopia of high-tech non-LEGO parts, but I think it’s hard to deny that the end result is impressive.

Announcing the 2016 LEGO Military Build Competition [News]

After a two-year hiatus, the annual LEGO Military Build Contest is back. If, like me, you are a (part-time) military builder and remember the contests from a few years ago, you’ll be excited, because the models that did well in previous contests were some of the best military models around and several ended up being blogged here. This year’s competition is being run and judged by Magnus Lauglo, Justin Vaughn, Evan Melick, Aleksander Stein, and last but not least , Andy Baumgart, who designed the exceedingly cool contest poster.

Competition incoming!

You can enter in five different categories, that cover a wide variety of scales and possibilities, from serious scale models and designing your own IFV to something slightly wacky:

IFVs
Come up with an original design for a new minifig scale Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) for the fictional country of Azmir.
20th Century Battlefields
Build a diorama representing an actual battle that took place in the 20th Century.
World of Tanks
A good chunk of us Lego Military Modellers enjoy building tanks, so why not give you all a chance to strut your stuff? The massively popular video game World of Tanks is the inspiration behind this Scale Model category.
Naval aviation
This category invites you to build a scale model of any naval- or maritime aviation aircraft
Springfield’s Citizen Militia
In an effort to bolster civic pride, Mayor Quimby has called upon the citizens of Springfield to participate in the town’s very first Military Parade! Help your benevolent leader to make this a ‘Show of Power’ that nobody shall soon forget.

Be sure to check out the details of each of the categories in the military contest group on flickr before you start building or ask your question/ find your answer in the Q&A thread. You have until the 15th of August to complete your models. Rest assured that at TBB we will be keeping a close watch on this year’s entries.

The cat is back! A LEGO 1/36 scale Grumman F-14

It has been thirty years since Top Gun hit the big screen, and the true star of the movie, the charismatic Grumman F-14 Tomcat, was retired from US Navy service almost ten years ago. I built my first LEGO Tomcat more than 20 years ago and I have kept making improvements, as I learned new tricks and as new parts became available. Usually the changes were fairly small, with the core of the model changing very little.

VF-84 Jolly Rogers F-14A Tomcat

Ever since I completed my 1/22 scale model a few years ago, I’ve been eyeballing my three smaller 1/36 scale models, no longer liking what I saw. They looked very crude compared to the bigger model and they lacked a few essential features. The intakes on the Tomcat are cranked and the vertical tail fins are canted outward. These sort of things may not seem important, but they make a big difference to the look. Furthermore, the undercarriage never really worked properly, the nose was a bit long, the angles of the wings weren’t quite right and there were a host of other little things that could be improved. Of course, I had to avoid messing up the things I did like about the existing model, but small incremental changes weren’t going to hack it any more.

VF-84 Jolly Rogers F-14A Tomcat

I started with a new model, albeit with the old one nearby for comparison purposes. The first jet I decided to rebuild has the famous skull and crossbones markings of Fighter Squadron 84 “Jolly Rogers”, like they had in the ‘seventies. I don’t care much for stealth fighters. My Tomcats are probably the closest thing I have to a signature build, which makes me proud to say that the cat is back!

Swedish fighters are different

Before going bust, the Swedish car manufacturer Saab built cars that were stereotypically driven by architects and college professors. The cars were always a bit quirky and different, which is probably one of the reasons why the company went bust. Saab didn’t start by building cars, however. Its eponymous parent company started by building aircraft for the Swedish military and it is still going strong. The Saab J 35 “Draken” (Dragon), built by Stefan Johansson, first flew in 1955 and was one of Europe’s first supersonic fighter aircraft.

Stefan’s model clearly shows the very distinctive cranked delta wing of this Cold War classic. The Swedish military typically required their aircraft to be suitable for operations from poorly prepared surfaces, in terrible weather and to be maintained by conscripts with relatively little specialised training. The resulting aircraft always looked rather different from their contemporaries. This also applies to the Draken’s replacement in Swedish service: the Saab JA-37 “Viggen” (Thunderbolt). If anything, Stefan’s model of this jet is even more impressive.

It has a large double delta wing, canard foreplanes and an unusual undercarriage with double main wheels in tandem, designed to facilitate operating from unpaved runways. Another quirky feature is that, in order for the jet to fit inside small underground hangars, its vertical tailfin can be folded down. Judging from the row of hinges this can also be done on the model. The complicated curvy shapes of fuselage are recreated very effectively using various slopes, and while I am normally not a fan of studless builds, the choice to build the model’s wings using bricks on their side works really well. Saabs are unusual fighters and an unusual choice of subject for LEGO models, but these are just more reasons to like them.

Ghostbusters 3 Ecto 1 & 2 [Review]

The long-awaited third Ghostbusters movie is due to première in about five weeks. The first trailer quickly became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube and the second trailer strikes me as particularly unfunny too. Oh dear. Of course I’ll have to withhold judgement on whether the movie is any good until after it hits the discount DVD bin. And this is not a movie review site, of course, but there is at least one interesting thing that has already come out of this movie so far: a brand-new LEGO set, 75828 Ghostbusters ECTO 1 & 2.

The set was announced in February, is due for release in the Summer, and will retail in the US for $59.99. The goodie bag I received during my recent trip to Billund contained an early release copy of this set, which gives me the opportunity to review it.

Read the full review after the break

The Brothers Brick visits LEGO headquarters in Billund, Denmark

LEGO recently invited The Brothers Brick to their headquarters in Billund, Denmark, along with various other fan-run online groups, websites, and print media about LEGO. I was the lucky guy who got to on behalf of the Brothers Brick.

In our lives we all play a variety of roles, often without thinking. A list of mine would include (mad) physicist, prematurely grey and pasty white Dutchman, university lecturer and, of course, one of The Brothers Brick and Adult Fan Of LEGO. In the last few days, at least two new roles were added: reporter and interviewer. This is one of those occasions were being European, or more precisely, in Europe was an advantage. I’d been to Denmark once before, on a beer-fuelled student trip to Copenhagen 20 years ago, but this was going to be very different and, dare I say it, even more fun.

I arrived in Billund early in the evening on Wednesday and quickly realized that everything in this town revolves around LEGO. I passed the entrance to LEGOLAND on the way to my hotel, which was next to the LEGOLAND Village and, according to a sign on the door, was guarded by LEGO Security. No, really! After some dinner (no LEGO in that, fortunately) I took a stroll to see where I was expected the next morning, past the LEGOLAnD hotel to reach the LEGO Systems’ headquarters. Billund is very quiet, green, leafy, tidy and pleasant and it’s considered completely normal to walk around with a LEGO logo on your outfit.

Read the full report after the break

The Peregrine is a drone that looks killer

The military use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, popularly known as drones, goes back to WW2. As long ago as the Vietnam War, the USAF used versions of the Firebee UAV for dangerous reconnaissance missions over the North. In recent years, military drones have been used for surveillance as well as for controversial targeted killings, typically with relatively slow and high-flying machines against adversaries that don’t have meaningful air defences. These machines are not yet a viable replacement for a full blown jet fighter. The Peregrine, built by Stijn van der Laan (Red Spacecat), offers a glimpse of what a future unmanned combat aircraft may look like, if done up in a particularly snazzy colour scheme.

CFX-7 PEREGRINE UCAV

The way the wings and canard foreplanes are angled makes the model look super sleek and I love how the wedges used to build the engine nacelles and the forward fuselage interlock. More angles can be seen in Stijn’s flickr Album.

Swinging wings

Several months ago, Kenneth Vaessen built a Soviet MiG-23M ‘Flogger’, which we failed to blog at the time. His latest model is a German Marineflieger Panavia Tornado IDS. Both are classic Cold War warriors, but somewhat unusual as LEGO models, which makes them even more interesting.

Panavia Tornado IDS Marineflieger - 1

The Marineflieger version of the Tornado was used for anti-shipping missions over the Baltic and North Sea, armed with two belly-mounted Kormoran missiles, while the ‘Flogger’ was mainly used for air-to-air missions. These missions may seem very different, but the jets’ configurations have a major feature in common: the swing wings. In their most forward position these improve slow-speed manoeuvrability and allow more efficient cruising flight; to reduce drag for high-speed flight they are swept back.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23M Flogger-B - 9

When these jets were designed in the sixties, this was all the rage. The variable sweep on the wings works, the models have detailed weapons, retractable undercarriages (certainly no mean feat on the MiG), opening canopies and other nifty working features. They look great in their excellent brick-built camouflage.

Laserbeak, Ravage, Frenzy...Eject!

Building a good-looking model mecha is no mean feat, but building one that can transform is a whole other ballgame; one in which Joe Perez (MortalSwordsman) just scored big with his excellent transforming rendition of Soundwave.

Soundwave by MortalSordsman on flickr

Megatron’s faithful Communications Officer doesn’t just transform from boombox to robot mode, but also comes with three of his own sidekicks: the transforming cassettes Laserbeak, Ravage and Frenzy.

Mini Cassettes by MortalSwordsman on flickr

Can you think of a cooler piece of Eighties nostalgia?

F-4 Phantoms and the fine art of building camouflage

For almost ten years I have had a model of an F-4 Phantom in my LEGO aircraft collection. I have kept making changes to it, as I learned new tricks and picked up new parts. However, certainly compared to newer and larger models by Carl Greatrix and James Cherry, my old US Marine Corps F-4N looked a bit dull. Mind you, I am not about to start building studless or creating more of the colour scheme with stickers any time soon, but I did feel like jazzing it up some. My choice: turn it into an Israeli F-4E Kurnass 2000.

F-4E Kurnass 2000

What makes this interesting in my book is the brick-built camouflage and most of the work in the rebuild was spent on this. The LEGO colours that best match the original colours weren’t particularly easy to work with: tan, dark tan and sand green, but the overall look was worth the trouble.

Fellow Phantom enthusiast Justin Davies (rx79gez8gundam) recently posted an update of his Phantom design, built in LDD.

Click through to read more about designing camouflage in LEGO

The Mirage IV was a beautiful jet with a sinister purpose

In the sixties, under president Charles De Gaulle, France started to follow a fiercely independent foreign policy that included reliance on its own nuclear deterrence force, often known as the Force de Frappe. Nowadays, its core is formed by a small number of submarines armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, but from 1964 to 1996 France also operated Mirage IV medium-range supersonic bombers armed with nuclear weapons. It took Dutch builder Kenneth Vaessen about a month to build his 1/36 scale model of this relatively little-known Cold-War jet.

Dassault Mirage IV-P - 1

In the logic typical of the era, these bombers were intended to deter a Soviet nuclear attack on France, by being able to destroy Soviet cities in retaliation. Few sane people would like to think about this sinister mission for long, but you’ve got to admit that the jet looks beautiful. With its tall undercarriage, sharply angled delta wing, and long and slender forward fuselage, it completely follows the unofficial rule in aeronautical design stating that, if it looks right, it flies right. The excellent model has a retractable undercarriage, opening cockpit canopies and working airbrakes and is built in a realistic two-tone camouflage scheme.