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.”
My office at work looks across Lake Washington toward Seattle, and I spent much of the morning and afternoon distracted by F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets of the US Navy Blue Angels acrobatic team as they roared past my window. When I saw the predominantly blue and yellow color scheme of this excellent X-shaped fighter plane by Thomas W., I was immediately reminded of the Blue Angels. But with the double gull wings and large propellor, the real-world US Navy fighter that Thomas’s design truly evokes is the Vought F4U Corsair from World War II — one of my favorite aircraft of all time. The yellow stripe on the leading edge of the wings is lovely, and the white accents give the whole plane a more modern look for some reason.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Along with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-25 Mitchell with its iconic twin tail fins is one of my favorite World War II aircraft. As more and more LEGO elements have become available in dark green, nelsoma84 and Florida Shooter have been collaborating on a design for the venerable bomber.
Here’s nelsoma84’s Mitchell in its Pacific Theater gunship role with the “Air Apaches” of the 345th Bombardment Wing.
The builder says that the eagle-head nose — here with its ferocious complement of .50 caliber machine guns (there were 18 total on the airplane!) — is modular, and can be swapped out for a clear nose.
And here’s his collaborator’s version, the blue-nosed 499th Bomber Squadron version.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Creating a beautiful model is a lot like cookery – you need right ingredients, carefully prepared and elegantly served. I worked up my appetite while checking out this Agile Hawk 2.0 by Thomas W. Saying that stickers contribute a lot to the appearance of the aircraft won’t do much for the description of the model. The combination of white, lime and dark blue has always been great for tiny models, but completed with stickers it’s a double win solution.
But what I love the most about this aircraft is the fact that is not quite an original build. Actually it’s a makeover of an old model by rongYIREN that first appeared in 2012. An obligatory cloud next to the aircraft is simply the best way of creating an atmosphere around it with just one simple detail.
This build is so detailed, the colors are perfect, the wing shapes are amazing, and even the details with decals are superb. As a fan of planes — real or fictional — this model hits all the right spots. Congratulations Jon, you made made me badly yearn to swoosh this plane.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.