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

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.

LUGNuts contest winners: a lot of class and a touch of gas [News]

In early February we announced that LUGNuts, which is the online group for LEGO car lovers, was celebrating its 100th monthly challenge by organising a car building contest. Prizes were sponsored by TBB, among others. The cars to be built were randomly assigned to the contestants from a list compiled by LUGNuts admin Lino Martins. He has announced the winners to the group’s members and it is my pleasure to present them here to you.

In first place: Firas Abu-Jaber with the very classy Rolls Royce Springfield Silver Ghost Playboy Roadster.

Rolls Royce Springfield Silver Ghost Playboy Roadster

Thanks to a certain magazine, its name may not sound particularly classy nowadays, but it’s a beautiful car that is well built and very well presented. If you think you’ve seen it before, this may very well be because it was featured in a post by Elspeth little more than a week ago.

The entry that won the second prize is a bit gassy rather than classy: “El Laxante” by Andy Baumgart (D-Town Cracka). His assignment was to build a Chevrolet El Camino, which he brought to another level by putting it on tracks, among other things. It’s crazy, over the top and in real life would probably be smelly and very loud, but it’s fantastic.

'El Laxante' - '74 Chevy El Camino SS

Showing a degree of prescience, Elspeth’s earlier post also included the 3rd prize winner: Martien Nijdam (Pino) with his rendition of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It’s another classy classic car.

Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

These winners were decided by combining top five lists of each of the five group admins and moderators.
The contest got an impressive 77 eligible entries and there were a lot of great models to chose from.

Other entries that were on several of the judges’ lists, but that didn’t quite gain enough points to end up among the prize winners, were the Volksrods by _Tiler, the Chrysler Town and Country woody by Velocites and the studly Ford F100 by TechnicNick. On behalf of TBB and LUGNuts, I’d like to congratulate the winners and thank everybody who participated for making this the best LUGNuts challenge to date.

Dale’s RV from The Walking Dead in LEGO

The notion of zombies walking the earth strikes me as completely ridiculous and I never got into the whole ApocaLEGO theme either, but yet, somehow, I am completely hooked on The Walking Dead. I first saw an episode about two years ago and since have binge-watched the first four seasons and am camped in front of the TV for every new episode. I can’t really explain why. Perhaps it’s because some of the characters are so unsympathetic that the thought of a half-rotted zombie tearing their guts out is something to look forward to. Nobody seems safe, however, and whenever the more likeable characters are killed off, such as Dale Horvath in the 2nd season, I feel pretty much gutted myself (pun intended). A lot of fan-built LEGO models based on The Walking Dead are focussed on customized minifigures, but I wanted to have a vehicle from the show as part of my movie car collection. My choice: Dale’s Winnebago Chieftain RV.

Dale's RV from The Walking Dead

Click through to learn more about this LEGO Walking Dead RV

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.