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

Keeping the North Sea safe with the Guardian: an incredible 40k piece LEGO ship over 1.65m long

More than three years ago Arjan Oudekotte started design work on a new ship model. He then got side-tracked for a bit, building a few other things such as a lovely American themed harbour and a large excavator, while the unfinished ship gathered dust. He still has to add a few small details, but he has now finally posted pictures that show the model in its entirety.

ETV Multraship Guardian

Click to see more of this incredible ship

Patrolling the Mekong River Delta with the PBR

Army and Marine Corps ground troops bore the brunt of the American casualties in the Vietnam War. Serving aboard a Navy ship off the coast may have been comparatively safe, but part of the US Navy was right in the thick of things too: the Riverine Patrol Force. They operated on South Vietnam’s many rivers, in particular in the Mekong river delta.

Vietnam War Patrol Boat Riverine

Hot on the heels of my USMC Seahorse helicopter, this weekend I built one of their boats: a Patrol Boat Riverine, which, like just about anything in the military, had its own abbreviation: ‘PBR’, which was typically pronounced as ‘Pibber’. These were small and fast boats that could operate on some of the smaller tributaries of the Mekong, often surrounded by jungle, with crews living in stifling heat and primitive conditions. This type of boat was made famous by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, a war movie whose ‘Making of’ is at least as memorable as the movie itself.

Vietnam War Patrol Boat Riverine

The making of my model was considerably less of a psychedelic trip than the journey described in the movie. Despite the dark green, which is still a somewhat awkward colour to build with, it came together very quickly. The diorama will be part of a collaboration and for it to fit with the other builders’ styles, the boat has very few visible studs. I built its hull mostly with bricks on their side, which gave me both a smooth deck and a nicer shape. I used BrickArms M60s and helmets as accessories for the minifigures, but the rest is all LEGO, including the luscious jungle foliage.

Search and Destroy with the Sikorsky Seahorse

The war in Vietnam was the first in which helicopters weren’t mainly used for resupply missions or as flying ambulances, but were a central element in newly developed tactics. In ‘Search & Destroy’ missions, helicopters flew troops into countryside controlled by Communist insurgents in order to, well, seek them out and destroy them. The troops would then be helicoptered to another location to repeat the procedure. I will spare you the details, but the insurgents had their own ideas about this and things often didn’t work out all that well.

Vietnam War USMC UH-34D Seahorse

My latest model represents a US Marine Corps Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse helicopter on just such a mission, picking up troops from a rice paddy somewhere in South Vietnam. The helicopter most people will associate with the war in Vietnam is the UH-1 Huey. Consequently, there already are really nice LEGO Hueys out there. I wanted something different, so I built the Seahorse instead. Because this will be part of a larger collaboration, the model represents something of a departure from my normal style. It is minifig scale, I built the helicopter with only a few visible studs and I’ve used some third-party accessories in the form of BrickArms weapons and helmets.

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The bandit in one the best bad movies ever made

Watching Top Gun is like eating a Philadelphia cheesesteak with cheez whiz. Some of the ingredients are a bit dodgy and there really is an awful lot of stringy cheese, but it tastes oh so good. Why? Forget Tom Cruise—the undisputed star of the movie is the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. However, instead Lego Admiral chose to build one of the villains, called the MiG-28, and that’s cool in my book.

MIG-28 as featured in "Top Gun"

The MiG-28s in Top Gun weren’t really Russian, of course, because they never made a MiG-28. In reality, the planes on-screen were F-5 Tigers, which are normally used by the US Navy as adversaries in air-to-air combat training. However, the jets certainly looked the part, as for the occasion they were painted in temporary color schemes with fictional national markings of some Communist country. This made them look even more sinister, as we all know that evil wears black. The LEGO model has a long shark-nose and an expertly rendered coke-bottle fuselage. Even more than thirty years later the MiG-28 still looks bad-ass.

LEGO Hercules travels to the South Pole [Interview]

It is not an everyday occurrence for me to get an email from the South Pole. Several months ago, however, I was contacted by Ethan Rudnitsky, who was spending the winter at the US Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, and who asked me for instructions to build a model of an LC-130 Hercules. This is the aircraft used to fly people to and from the station and Ethan wanted to put the model on display in the station. TBB used the opportunity to find out more about LEGO fans at the South Pole in an interview and agreed to supply the instructions, stickers, and the parts to build the Hercules.

Ethan and I had yet to work out how to get the model there. Enter Martin Rongen, a physicist and LEGO fan, like myself, who contacted me from Germany having seen my LC-130 prototype. He was due to travel to the Pole around Christmas (summer in Antarctica) and wondered whether I was willing to share instructions so that he could take the LEGO model with him. How about that? Problem solved! We could ship the whole lot to Germany.

Click here to read the full interview

STACK Dubai 2016 event report

“Are you busy in May?”, was a question I got in an e-mail early this year from my friend Ed Diment, co-director of Bright Bricks. The organisers had asked them to build models for a LEGO event in Dubai and to get in touch with fan builders, with large collections of models they would be willing to display at the event.

Stack Dubai LEGO event 2016

The event in question was Stack and it was the first of its kind in the Middle East. I’ve been very fortunate to attend many different LEGO events in Europe and in the US, but I knew this one was going to be special.
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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.

IMG_6621

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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.”