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

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.

The Chogenbo is coaxial coolness

Over the years several people have constructed mechanisms to get coaxial rotors on their helicopters to spin in opposite directions, including Henry Oberholtzer. Recently one of his ingenious creations was successfully adopted by Matt Hacker for his AH-5 “Chogenbo” (Japanese for Kestrel). The end result is one of the coolest and most believable near-future helicopters that I have seen in a long time. Matt unveiled the model at Brickfair Virginia in August, where it won the ‘Best Military’ category. I have been eagerly anticipating him posting pictures of it ever since.

AH-5 "Chogenbo"

Let me apologise for the info dump in advance, but there is no denying that I am a bit of an aviation geek. (It’s fewer than 4000 words, I promise.) Coaxial helicopters are cool. There is a fundamental limit, of about 400 km/h, to the forward speed of conventional helicopters. This is essentially set by the blades being swept forward reaching the speed of sound -this is a bad thing- and the blades being swept aft, also known as the retreating blades, moving too slow through the air to generate lift. This is called a retreating blade stall and is also a bad thing. That going faster is difficult is evidenced by the longevity of the current record, set by a modified Westland Lynx as long ago as 1986. If you want your helicopter to go faster, you’ll have to get creative. However, coaxial helicopters, with two sets of counter-rotating rotors on top of each other, do offer the promise of considerably faster flight. The retreating blades on a coaxial helicopter do suffer from retreating blade stall, but the resulting loss of lift is compensated by the lift generated by the blades of the other set on the same side of the helicopter moving forward. To see the coaxial rotors on Matt’s helicopter in action, check out his video.

Remember the little red button? Push the little red button

“We are the best kept secret in the galaxy. We monitor, licence and police all alien activity on the Earth. We’re your first, last, and only line of defense. We live in secret, we exist in shadow.”

Men In Black Ford P.O.S.

Men in Black is a 1997 hit movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as agents ‘K’ and ‘J’, who are part of a secret US government organisation that deals with extraterrestrials living on Earth. Their standard mode of transport is a nondescript black Ford LTD, called a Ford P.O.S. by ‘J’, that turns into a gravity-defying rocket ship at the push of a red button.

I’ve been meaning to add this vehicle to my collection of cars from movies and TV series for a long time, but I didn’t want to build a boring black sedan unless I could make it transform. In the movie this was done using CGI and, to my knowledge, there are no transforming toy versions of the car. This made recreating it in the real world a bit tricky. However, after Optimus Prime I felt fairly confident I could get it to work, albeit with a bit more fiddling than merely pushing a little button. I also decided to post the model only after I made the video showing the transformation sequence.

Thunder run

When Andrew Somers posted his M1A3 Abrams on flickr sometime last year, I was impressed by the details and its shape. However, I did not like it being grey when real tanks rarely are.


The model is still as grey as ever, but he has taken it to another level by adding a completely brick-built backdrop, complete with rubble in the street and a realistic-looking explosion; an effect that is enhanced by the depth of focus. This just goes to show that you don’t always have to photograph your model against a neutral background to get it blogged here!

Laugh it up, fuzzball!

Cute is not the first word that springs to mind when I think of a wookiee, although this is arguably a pretty rare occurrence. Fuzzball, as in the quote from Han Solo, seems rather more appropriate.

LEGO: Chewbacca (8inch)

Using lots of 1×2 curved slopes, Flickr user umamen has managed to capture Chewbacca’s shaggy looks and, yet, somehow there is something cute about the end result. I think it’s in the facial expression.

Review: Brick Wheels by Warren Elsmore

Brick Wheels: Amazing Air, Land & Sea Machines to Build from Legois the fourth book by British builder Warren Elsmore, who, together with his wife Kitty, is also the driving force behind the Afolcon/ Brick LEGO events due to take place later this year in Birmingham and London.

Brick Wheels Review

This is a substantial book, with 258 pages. It is crisply printed on sturdy semi-glossy paper and it has a flexible cover. It looks and feels like a quality product, which, given the low price point of just £12.99 in the UK, is pleasantly surprising. The US edition, called Brick Vehicles, costs only $13.

The book consists of five chapters. The introductory chapter covers such topics as names for parts, where to buy LEGO, on-line resources and sorting. This is probably mainly useful for builders who are just discovering that there are more people like them out there or as a guide for parents whose children are getting into building. The other four chapters deal with, respectively, road vehicles, trains, ships and flying vehicles. This is where things get more interesting, with pictures of inspirational models built by Warren himself and by friends of his, including about a dozen by yours truly, interspersed with pages of instructions for mostly smaller models that readers can build themselves.

Brick Wheels Review
Continue reading