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

The first of the Century Fighters

During the nineteen-fifties, rapid advances in aeronautical engineering meant that the top speed of fighter aircraft shot up from below supersonic to more than twice the speed of sound. For the U.S. Air Force, this huge increase in performance coincided with the introduction of a now almost legendary range of fighter aircraft, starting with the F-100 Super Sabre and ending with the F-106 Delta Dart, also known as the Century Fighters. Over the years I have built both an F-105 Thunderchief and a Delta Dart. Just after Brickfair Virginia 2013, a number of military builders including myself visited the National Air & Space Museum Udvar Hazy Center near Dulles Airport and, after seeing the museum’s Super Sabre, I wanted one, badly.

F-100D Super Sabre

The trouble was, this is not particularly easy. I didn’t just want any old Super Sabre; I wanted one in Vietnam war era camouflage much like the one in the museum. I find the best match for the camouflage colours is dark tan, dark green (or Earth green, as LEGO calls it) and old dark grey, and the parts palette in all of these colours is limited. The jet also doesn’t have a particularly easy shape, with a slightly odd oval intake and curved fuselage sides. Then I got a bit side-tracked, building movie cars for a couple of years. However, after a lot of procrastination and head-scratching, it is finally done. The model represents an F-100D that served as a fighter-bomber aircraft with 184th Fighter Squadron, the ‘Flying Razorbacks’, of the Arkansas Air National Guard, late in the type’s operational career.

LUGNuts 100th challenge

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock for the last eight years, LUGNuts is the Flickr group for LEGO car enthusiasts, founded by Lino Martins and Nathan Proudlove, with Tim Inman, the impossibly prolific Peter Blackert and yours truly serving as moderators. Ever since it was founded, the group has organised a monthly build challenge centred on a particular type of car or car-related sub culture. Normally these challenges are just for the fun of it and they’ve inspired many cars blogged here on TBB. This month is extra special, however, because it’s the 100th challenge!

LUGNuts 100th Challenge…100 Ways To Win

To mark this occasion we’ve turned the challenge into a competition, with whoppers of prizes. The third place winner gets the Technic 42050 Drag Racer, second place gets the Technic 42039 24 Hours LeMans Race Car and for the first place winner, we pull out all the stops with the Technic 42030 Remote-Controlled Volvo L350F Wheel Loader. These prizes are sponsored by The Brothers Brick, one of the biggest Bricklink stores in the US, Constructibles, and the LUGNuts Admins and moderators. Furthermore, the three winners will also receive autographed editions of The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling, courtesy of Dennis Glaasker, Dennis Bosman, and No Starch Press. Thanks to Dennis Glaasker and his equally creative daughter Stacey for making the poster.

To compete, join the discussion, pick a number, get assigned one of the individual challenges from our top-secret list of wacky cool cars and start building.

It needs suspension work and shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining ...

Back in 2013, quite a while before the LEGO Cuusoo/Ideas Ecto-1 was unveiled, I built my own version of this movie classic. For many LEGO builders, including yours truly, a model is never quite finished. I am happy with it when I build it, but if the model is still around a few years later, my fingers sometimes start to itch to make a few improvements. LEGO keep making new and useful parts and I may pick up a few new tricks along the way. My Ecto-1 looked as though it could do with a bit of work.

Ecto-1 revamped

This turned out to be pretty extensive. The roof, some of the interior equipment and the rear end are mostly unchanged, but everything else is new. I was never too happy that the sides of the car from the Ideas set had a nicer shape than those on my model, but using cheese slopes and various brackets, I was able to make them much more rounded. This meant rebuilding the chassis and fitting new door handles and involved a lot of tinkering to ensure that the red from the fins continues along the bottom of the windows. The front was completely overhauled, with new 1×2 curved slopes used for the edge of the hood and a completely rebuilt radiator, with new jumper plates, that allow a stud to be stuck in the middle from below, used for the half-stud offsets. The windows have been partially tinted and I’ve even fitted new hubcaps.

Ecto-1 revamped

Good to go for another few years!

Pretty in pink

Pink as a car colour is usually seen as either for girls or just as plain wrong. In the fifties, however, when bright colours were all the rage for American cars, pink was often a factory option. It’s particularly associated with Cadillacs, with Elvis Presley having owned several in that colour and Bruce Springsteen penning a song called Pink Cadillac. My latest model is a 1956 Ford, however.

Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria Skyliner

I’ve been collecting bright pink parts for a while now, for a different project, but this weekend decided to use some of it for the fantastically named 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria Skyliner. It’s full of fifties chic: it has a two-tone paint job, a glass panorama roof over the front seats and a so-called continental kit on the back, with a spare wheel and extended bumper. Building in pink added to the fun, as this involved a fair bit of improvisation to account for the still limited parts palette.

Most popular LEGO models featured on TBB in 2015 [News]

Time for another list; the top ten of fan-built models, based on how popular they were on TBB’s Facebook page and right here on Brothers-Brick.com. We may write about news and set-reviews, but the custom creations from builders around the world are the bread and butter of this blog. If you are sick to death of Star Wars, it’s best for you to ignore this list, as it is rather heavy on models based on the movie franchise. In fact, perhaps you are better off ignoring this blog altogether for the next few weeks, as I suspect there will be many more Star Wars models to come.

  1. Fan spends a year building 7,500-piece Millennium Falcon from the Force AwakensMillennium Falcon (Starwars VII)

    It happens to be the newest model in our Top Ten, but the Millenium Falcon from The Force Awakens built by flickr user marshal banana shot to the top of the list even faster than it could make the Kessel run. It ticks multiple boxes: it’s from Star Wars, large, immaculately detailed and has working lights to boot. It was also nicely photographed and came out just after the movie. Well played Mr. Banana, well played. Look for an interview with the builder in the new year.

For more of the list, click through

The best LEGO sets reviewed on TBB in 2015 [News]

The end of the year is only a few days away, which means it’s time for a few end-of-year best-of lists. In 2015 LEGO released almost 800 sets ranging from small polybags to the massive 2996 part SHIELD helicarrier. We’ve done our best to review the more interesting ones. This is our top ten most popular set reviews of 2015.

  1. Exclusive review of LEGO Ideas Wall•E set designed by Angus MacLane
    When Wall•E hit the big screen in 2008, it stole the hearts of cinema-goers. If movie critics had hearts, theirs would have been stolen too. Angus MacLane was Directing Animator for the movie and his LEGO version of the little robot is one of the LEGO Ideas sets released in 2015.

    21303 Wall•E (Review)

    We had one of these sets before it hit the stores. Andrew’s exclusive review can be summed-up in just a few words: It’s awesome. You loved it as well, as it’s our most popular review.

Click through to see the rest of the list!

Star Wars vehicles with a few twists

I am not quite old enough to have seen the first Star Wars movie in the cinema and remember it, have yet to see the latest instalment and, if I had to choose would prefer Star Trek (before J.J. Abrams ruined it), but I too jump on a bandwagon every once in a while. I’ve had a Landspeeder in my collection of movie vehicles for more than a year now and last weekend decided to add a Speeder Bike.

Star Wars vehicles and figures

“Where are the twists?” you may wonder. Well, Andrew has been virtually twisting my arm to blog them, to show that the contributors to this blog are builders (and to avoid an embarrassing repeat of the “Optimus Prime fiasco” when everybody and his uncle got around to blogging one of my models before I did). The more interesting twist, however, is their scale. At a first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that these are not that much different from LEGO’s own sets and, in terms of size, they indeed aren’t. Yet, I build my vehicles to a scale of 1/22, which is intended for brick-built figures roughly twice the size of minifigs. I particularly enjoyed building the Scout Trooper for the Speeder Bike. Looking into the specs and pictures of the props taken on the set, it turns out that they really are quite small; a Landspeeder should not be the size of Ecto-1, but more that of Mr. Bean’s Mini and a Scout Trooper on a Speeder Bike really should look like somebody riding a legless horse.

Reaching higher with Beat Felber

Since mid-October I have had a pretty crazy time at work, very much at the expense of my blogging and pretty much everything else. I have built a few things, but I told my fellow contributors that I would only write something if it knocked my socks off. Well, consider me barefoot. The culprit is Swiss builder Beat Felber and his AR-1200M Mobile Crane. Tadano is a Japanese manufacturer of cranes and the model carries a Japanese livery, of the Showa Co., Ltd. of Kobe. This already makes it a bit more interesting than your average Liebherr. Furthermore, as you would expect from a builder who goes by the name Engineering with ABS, his model is full of working features.

Tadano AR-1200M Mobile Crane 05

It uses Power functions for the drive, for steering on all five axles and to extend the stabilisers on both sides, with pneumatics used to raise and lower the struts. The crane boom can be raised, slewed and extended using Power Functions and, of course, the winches are remote-controlled. It also has working lights. The boom reaches a height of 2.15 m (more than 7 ft.) and can be extended even further by adding a separate jib. This is not the tallest crane we’ve ever blogged, but size is not everything. It is gorgeous.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads

As you probably know, today, the 21st of October 2015, is the day that the DeLorean Time Machine from the 1985 blockbuster Back To the Future travelled to.

2015 Delorean Time Machine Front

Back in 1985, the makers of the movie imagined a rather cool-looking future in which we’d have flying cars, self-drying clothing, hovering skateboards and lots of fax machines, among other things. The hoverboard may be on its way, but fashion fortunately went in another direction and there are no flying cars either or at least none that work reliably. Instead we have smart-phones and social media.

Flying Delorean Time Machine from Back to the Future

We also have LEGO parts that I certainly couldn’t have imagined back in the eighties, as well as lots of different third-party accessories. Brian Williams (BMW Indy) has put some of these to very good use on his version of the Time Machine, with parts with a matte metal finish as well as lots of LED lighting and “glow” wire. He first posted pictures of this beauty a few months ago, but now seemed a particularly fitting day to bring it to your attention.

The Ace of Spades

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat was a big beast of a fighter, similar in size and weight to many WW2 bombers, but it could also carry a big punch in the form of four long-range air-to-air Phoenix missiles nestled under the fuselage and a Sidewinder and Sparrow missile under each of the wings. The jet and its armament were faithfully reproduced by Péter Dornbach (Dornbi). Like the real aircraft, his 1/48 scale model also has a working variable geometry ‘swing wing’.

Grumman F-14A Tomcat (1)

It may be an old warrior by now, with the last examples in US Navy service having been retired almost ten years ago, but it’s still one of the coolest jet fighters in my book, certainly in the high-visibility colour schemes typical for the Seventies. Péter’s model is resplendent in the markings of Fighter Squadron 41 “The Black Aces”, aboard USS Nimitz in 1978. Excellent choice!

The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling [Review]

In the last two years, my fellow Dutchmen Dennis Bosman (Legotrucks) and Dennis Glaasker (Bricksonwheels) have been working on a book titled The art of Lego Scale Modeling. It is one of a number of new titles released this fall by Nostarch Press and currently costs $21.74 on amazon (down from its normal list price of 29.95).

"The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling"

Both of these guys have been building scale models (primarily of trucks) for years and are long-term members of the LEGO community. For their book they have enlisted the cooperation of no fewer than 22 other builders, from all over the world, to present high-quality photographs of some of the best Lego scale models of vehicles you’ll ever see. I got my copy just before the weekend, because I was lucky enough to be able to contribute some of my own models for this title. I obviously cannot be completely objective here. Then again, no reviewer ever is.

The excellent photographs of the models themselves are accompanied by short bits of text, giving some information about the real-world vehicle, and the builds. These are interesting, but the photographs are the stars. If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will already have seen a fair few of the models, such as the Ferrari 458 Italia, by Nathaneal L.. The top-notch photography shows them in a new light.

Ferrari 458 Italia in Art of LEGO Scale Modeling

Although there probably are other scale models out there of similar quality, the Dennises have made a really nice selection of trucks, including a few by the authors themselves, cars, motorcycles, race cars, cranes, aircraft, military models and ships. A few models were built specifically for the book, such as the wonderful Scania by Ingmar Spijkhoven (2LegoOrNot2Lego).

Model Scania 143M Torpedo by Ingmar Spijkhoven

If you are expecting a detailed explanation of how to build models like these, this book will disappoint you. There’s a brief section on how to build them, with a few useful pointers, but a look at the biographies of the builders included in the back of the book will tell you that most of them have been at this for years, if not decades. You can’t learn to build models like these by reading a book; it takes experience. If you’re looking for instructions, you’re not going to find them either. The instructions for some of the individual models alone would be enough to fill most of the book’s 204 pages. You will find plenty of inspiration, though.

As usual with LEGO books from this publisher, the cover and binding seem pretty sturdy. The pictures are nicely printed in a matt-gloss finish and are printed on decent quality paper. This is what you would expect from what’s essentially a coffee table picture book. What I didn’t expect is the size of the book. I would have liked to see it a bit larger (it is about 20 by 25 cm/ 8 x 10 inches). This size was probably chosen to keep the book affordable. The pages are still large enough to give you a good view of the models and to appreciate most of the details, but some would definitely look even better on a larger canvas. This is a minor niggle. If scale models of vehicles built out of LEGO are your thing (and if not, why not?!), this is a title you definitely do not want to miss.

LEGO Creator Blue Power Jet 31039 [Review]

For a few weeks now I’ve had Lego set 31039, Blue Power Jet, sitting on a shelf in my LEGO room. It’s currently $69.55 from amazon. I picked mine up from the LEGO Store in Tyson’s Corner back in August after Brickfair, because, as an aircraft builder, I figured I would enjoy building this and be well-suited to write a set review. However, subsequently, I didn’t get around to it. Fortunately, my father helped me out here. He stayed at my place for a while a few weeks ago and, some of the time together was spent with me building my Men In Black Ford and with him building the jet. The review, however, still went nowhere.

Lego set 31039, Blue Power Jet

For the record, the set contains 608 parts and the instructions to build the jet or, alternatively, a powerboat or a helicopter. My father, who never had LEGO as a child, enjoyed the build, although the dark blue, dark grey and black were a bit hard to identify in the instructions. The model looks great and construction of the wings clearly shows the masterful hand of Mike Psiaki, who, before becoming a set designer, was already well-known for his ingenious aircraft models. The jet has lots of play features, such as an opening cockpit, a folding undercarriage and moveable control surfaces, yada yada yada. I’m ill-suited to writing this review (and not just because I didn’t graduate from The Eurobricks Reviewers Academy; for a more detailed review with lots of photographs of the model under construction, I suggest brickset). As nice as the finished jet is, I don’t enjoy following instructions for anything and the main reason why I like this set and pretty much the whole point of any LEGO set is that I can use the parts to build my own models. This one is a wonderful parts pack. Just look at all that lovely dark blue. Preciousss!

As LEGO fans we’ve all probably heard or read it many times: according to lots of people who used to build with LEGO as children, back in the sixties and seventies LEGO only made simple bricks in boxes with no instructions, but nowadays, if you look at the LEGO shelves in your local toy store, all you’ll see are licensed products and sets full of parts that can only be used for the model in the instructions. This allegedly kills children’s creativity. Have these people looked at the Creator range at all? One would think that the fact that there are instructions for three different models is enough of a hint that the parts aren’t single use. This doesn’t only apply to an arguably fairly expensive set such as the Blue Power Jet, but also to the smaller sets in the range. Furthermore, just because there are instructions, doesn’t mean your children have to follow them. Radical, isn’t it? What kills creativity is having them build the model from the instructions and then not allowing them to take it apart and mix up the elements with all the other parts, because a few might get lost or because, eventually, your children may want to rebuild the original. Have them improvise! I betcha Mike used to build his own stuff when he was a child.