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

STACK LEGO Event in Dubai [News]

When you think of Dubai, you may picture incredibly tall buildings, palm trees, desert and fancy cars. All of those are there, but Dubai also houses LEGO fans and the city’s first public LEGO fan event, called STACK, runs 19-22 October, 2016. Tickets for the event are available now!

LEGO Souk at Stack Dubai

There are lots of LEGO activities for children and lots of things to see. Bright Bricks have shipped a number of massive models over from the UK and built a few especially for this event, such as a LEGO souk (a traditional Middle-Eastern market) and a 4m tall LEGO model of the Burj Khalifa. You can see a video of their models here. There is also a special fan zone with models built by adult fans from Dubai, the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Portugal and the Netherlands. I am one of these lucky people.

If you’re in Dubai and a fan of LEGO (or you have children who are), be sure not to miss this. The event ends on Saturday and takes place in a purpose-built pavilion next to Dubai Skydive near the Dubai Marina. Tickets can be bought via ticketmaster.

James Cherry’s Tomcat is big and beautiful

It is no secret that I think the Grumman F-14A Tomcat is the most beautiful jet fighter ever to grace the deck of an aircraft carrier. This is something that I share with James Cherry, who unveiled his massive 1/15 scale Tomcat model at the Great Western Brick Show in the UK little more than a week ago and who posted pictures today.

F-14A Tomcat Front Qtr

The Tomcat was also one of the largest carrier-based jets. The end result of building a large-scale model of a large jet is obviously going to be large. The LEGO model is 127 cm long, uses roughly 8000 parts and has taken nine months to build. James has included Power Functions to control the wing sweep as well as various control surfaces. Like on James’ older F-4J Phantom II, the complicated and subtle compound curves are mostly built using carefully angled surfaces and, to get closer to the look of the real jet than is possible with LEGO alone, he has used custom-made vinyl stickers and a vacuum formed canopy.

F-14A Tomcat Rear Qtr

The jet wears the colourful markings of the US Navy’s first operational Tomcat squadron, VF-1 ‘Wolf Pack’, when it sailed aboard USS Enterprise in the late ‘seventies. One would think that it would make sense for a jet fighter to be painted in colours that are a bit less conspicuous, but that was never really the Tomcat’s style; it’s big and beautiful.

Ready for Mammoth tasks with the Liebherr LTM 1350

It may be less than two weeks ago since I blogged a build by Maksymilian Majchrzak ( [MAKS] ), but it seems he very much likes the same sort of things I do and he builds them well. Case in point: his latest crane.

Liebherr LTM 1350-6.1(4)

For those of you who are crane geeks, this is a Liebherr LTM 1350-6.1 in the colours of Mammoet (Mammoth) — a famous company from the Netherlands that specialises in heavy lifting and heavy haulage. This behemoth is built to my favourite scale of 1/22, which makes it roughly 100 studs long in road-going configuration.

Liebherr LTM 1350-6.1 (2)

The model is very detailed and has numerous working features such as steering, a telescopic boom that can be raised and lowered (which does involve inserting an extra part to lengthen the hydraulic ram), side supports that extend and retract, and he has included a brick-built figure. If there were a checklist of things I like, he has ticked almost all of the boxes.

LEGO at Comic Con Amsterdam 2016

As an adult LEGO builder and physicist, I think some people would argue that I am somewhat of a geek. One geeky thing I hadn’t done yet was attend a Comic Con. This changed last weekend, when I joined eight other members of Lowlug in displaying a wide variety of pop-culture LEGO models at Comic Con Amsterdam. Among them was Wayne Manor by Monstrophonic, which TBB blogged in July.


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Seeking submarines with the Sea King

For more than five decades, the Sikorsky Sea King has been one of great workhorses of the helicopter world. After returning from the Moon, Neal Armstrong, ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins were plucked from the ocean by a Sea King. US Presidents are routinely flown to and from the White House aboard ‘Marine One’, which is usually a Sea King fitted with a VIP interior.

SH-3H Sea King (2)

Originally, however, the Sea King was intended as a submarine hunter and the excellent 1/40 scale model built by Maksymilian Majchrzak ( [MAKS] ) represents one of these, as used by the US Navy aboard aircraft carriers in the seventies and eighties. From the sponsons to the five bladed rotors, it’s as close to real thing as you can get using LEGO parts and it looks about perfect from every angle.

Replying to “How did you build that?” at Brickfair Virginia

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend Brickfair Virginia. As always, I had a great time talking to other builders and seeing their excellent models in real life. I also got to show off my own Tomcat model. I know that a fair few builders dread the public days on Saturday and Sunday, but despite having to answer the same questions over and over again, I love chatting to the public. One of the more commonly asked questions is: “How did you build that?”. I can’t give a satisfactory reply in a single sentence, but thanks to Brickfair, I now have two somewhat more complete replies to share with you.

Inspired by a great talk on building landscapes I saw at Brickfair last year, this year I gave my own talk on how to build military aircraft. Without me talking you through them, the slides don’t tell the whole story, of course, but I was also interviewed by the delightful Matthew Kay from Beyond the Brick. In the interview, I got to show off some of the Tomcat’s features and got to talk about the building process.

I hope you’ll agree that both of these are more satisfying than my default answer: “by sticking one part to another and repeating this until the model is finished.”

Who You Gonna Call in 2016?

The new 2016 Ghostbusters movie is due to hit cinemas in the next few days, with the Hollywood première on Saturday. As I mentioned in my review of LEGO’s new Ecto-1 set a few weeks ago, I was not impressed by the movie trailers, but I do quite like that the main characters in the reboot are women and I also like the new version of Ecto-1.

Ghostbusters reboot Ecto-1

It will be no surprise then that I’ve built my own version as a new addition to my movie vehicle collection. Among fans of the original movie there has been a backlash against the female leads, but having built more than 50 movie vehicles and the actors in the last few years, I think it’s a bit staggering to see how so few movies seem to have female characters as anything other than sidekicks or eye candy. I also know that some fans of the original movies don’t like the idea of a reboot, but from poring over pictures of the new car, I think it’s obvious that whoever designed the car at least is a fan of the original movies too. Sure, it is an eighties Cadillac rather than a classic big-finned 1959 model, but nowadays a 1959 model is exceedingly rare while an eighties car isn’t worth much. It is pretty much the perfect choice. Its roof-mounted equipment also owes a lot to Dan Aykroyd’s ideas for Ghostbusting technology used in the original movies. I don’t have a vested interest in whether the movie is any good, but the car is cool and I loved building mine and the figures to go with it.

As a reminder, if you’d like a chance at getting your own copy of the LEGO set for free, you can still enter our giveaway.

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:

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.