It’s done! Building my Transforming Bumblebee distracted me for a bit. However, I actually completed my Pave Low helicopter before the Beetle. In parts one and two of this series I explained how this sort of model has gotten a lot more complicated. Thanks to newer parts and techniques, the simple solutions I would have been happy with ten years ago just don’t hack it anymore. In this third and final part, I finally unveil the finished article.
For those of us who were in our early teens in the eighties, Michael Bay got it all wrong when he made his first Transformers movie. Listen to me, Mr. Bay: Bumblebee turns into a Volkswagen Beetle; not a Camaro. Travis Knight, the director of the new 2018 Bumblebee movie, was a teenager in the eighties and is a self-confessed Transformers fan. He nailed it.
We’ve already featured a really sweet LEGO version in Beetle mode by hachiroku24 and a screen-accurate Bumblebee robot by ekownimako. However, they don’t actually transform. I happen to think that this a pretty essential feature of any Transformer.
Making it transform is certainly not easy, but I pored over pictures of new Bumblebee toys released for the movie. I also happen to have a LEGO Beetle design that I like, which I could use as a starting point. It is quite small, though, at about 19 cm long (roughly 7 inches) and there is a lot of stuff that needs to fold into it. The end result is flimsy, it doesn’t really want to stand upright unsupported and it’s not nearly as nicely proportioned in robot mode as in the movie, but it works: the Beetle unfolds into a Bumblebee.
Progress on my Pave Low helicopter has been slow. In Part 1 of this series, I explained how I am using new parts and techniques to build an up-to-date version of the model I built ten years ago. In this second part of a short series, I’ll explain one of the difficulties I ran into. I plan my models such that actually building them is usually a fairly straightforward process. I used my old model as a template and had an idea of how to do most of the other things in my head. As a result much of the model so far indeed came together quite easily.
Note the words “usually”, “most” and “much” in those last three sentences. The tail on my old model was quite narrow and I wanted the new one to be wider, using curved slopes and bricks. However, the fin is tilted aft at a roughly 45 degree angle, with a horizontal fin on top of it. I only had a loose idea of how to this. Actually building it took about eight frustrating hours of tinkering and trial-and-error. The diagonal part is attached to the tail boom using clips and plates with bars. The horizontal fin uses a similar attachment. A major problem was positioning all of this at the proper angle. I wanted as few visible gaps as possible and the tail should also be reasonably sturdy. This was asking rather a lot. The result is an improvement over the old one, but I’m still not completely happy.
A few months ago, I wrote three articles on how I built the E-1 Tracer aircraft model. I haven’t built much in the intervening months, but recently I have started on a new project: an MH-53M Pave Low helicopter. This is a somewhat different cup of tea. It’s not a fixed-wing aircraft and I am not starting from scratch. Instead, I am starting with an old model that I built ten years ago.
This means that there is a lot less planning involved. The proportions of the old model were pretty much spot-on, but there are many parts and techniques that didn’t exist or weren’t possible ten years ago. As a result, the old model looked, well, old.
In this and subsequent articles, I’ll go into how I am building this new version and how newer parts and techniques change how I approach the design.
In the last four weeks, I have been building a LEGO scale model of a Grumman E-1 Tracer aircraft. Part 1 described how I planned the build, and part 2 dealt with how I built some of the difficult bits; in this, the third and final part, I explain how I built the last bits, and present the finished model.
For weeks this build seemed to progress really slowly. I know that for some builders September means building huge spaceships. It took me most of this month to build just the radome, the nose, the wings and the engine nacelles. When I started building the fuselage, however, it felt like I had reached the home stretch. All of a sudden things went really quickly. Building the final parts wasn’t necessarily easy, but certainly easier. It was great to see the collection of separate sections come together into something that looked like an aircraft. The anticipation of seeing the end result motivated me. So, here it is.
This article is Part 2 of an ongoing series. Read about the LEGO Grumman E-1 Tracer Part 1 here.
About two weeks ago, I started building a new aircraft model: a Grumman E-1 Tracer. Because some of you might like to know how one might build such a LEGO scale model, I am documenting my process in a short series. In the first part I described why I decided to build such an oddball aircraft in the first place and how I plan a build like this. I also explained that I usually start by building the difficult bits. A few of those are the subject of this article.
The Tracer’s wings are not quite perpendicular to the fuselage. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the engine pods and the main undercarriage weren’t attached to them. I have built angled wings before, including some rather large ones. In practice, however, it is almost impossible to mount the wings using hinges and also have them carry much of the model’s weight. Furthermore, if I were to build the wings at some weird angle, I would then have to figure out how to align the engines attached to still be parallel with the fuselage. My solution is to attach both engines directly to each other and also to the fuselage using a bridge structure. I built this bridge perpendicular to the fuselage using plates. I then put the actual wings on top of it. By combining 2×3 and 2×4 wedge plates I filled in the gaps where the tops of the engines join the wing. Getting everything to fit nicely involved a lot of trial-and-error, but it works.
Question: “How did you build this?” Answer: “By making a plan and sticking to it.” The question is one that many LEGO builders will have had. The answer, in my case, is completely true, but also wholly inadequate. So, in an attempt to give a more fulfilling answer, in the next few weeks I’ll occasionally write a piece detailing the progress on my latest project: a scale model of a Grumman E-1 Tracer aircaft.
Some builders start by experimenting with a few pieces until they find a combination they like. They then build the rest of the model from there. I’m not one of those people. I plan my builds. “Doesn’t that kill spontaneity?”, you may wonder. Well yes, it does, but if I wanted to build a scale model of a complex object such as an aircraft spontaneously, it simply wouldn’t happen. My brain doesn’t work like that. Furthermore, I enjoy looking at pictures of aircraft, reading about them and thinking about which to build and how to build it. To me this is half the fun. If If I am spontaneous, I’ll build car.
Last year, after Brickfair Virginia 2017, over a few drinks Magnus Lauglo, Aleksander Stein and I had a discussion on what to bring for 2018. The three of us have been attending BrickFair for years and have often admired the large collaborative displays at the event, with builders creating something together. Because of this we figured it would be nice for us to collaborate too rather than bringing our own stand-alone models. We soon agreed to build scenes from the Vietnam War.
I suspect that most ideas that come out of conversations in bars lead nowhere and that is probably a good thing. However, earlier this year we found that we were still pretty excited about this idea and we found that more people wanted to get involved. Ultimately, eleven more builders contributed (in no particular order): Peter Dornbach, Stijn van der Laan, Matt Hacker, Dean Roberts, Eínon, Evan Melick, Casey Mungle, Corvin, Yasser Mohran, Bret Harris and Brian Carter. Corvin, Aleksander and I are the only builders who don’t live in the US or Canada to regularly attend the Virginia event, but our Vietnam group turned out to be a pretty international crowd. We had builders who live in six different countries: the US, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, Norway and the Netherlands.
We picked Vietnam as the subject because we all watched classic Vietnam War movies when growing up, it is largely novel for most of us and it is far less common for military builds than models from, say, WW2. We considered building a single collaborative battle diorama, but chose to build separate scenes instead. It is hard to find a single battle that is actually interesting to build, as there is usually just a lot of terrain involved and multiple copies of trees, bunkers or vehicles. Separate scenes have the advantage of allowing different builders to give the subject their own twist. I was excited to see what the other guys came up with. The Vietnam War offers a lot of scope for building interesting military hardware, but we could also show some of the history, including the aftermath. Given the wide range of different models on display, we nailed it.
Even though the North Vietnamese didn’t have much of an air force at the start of the air war over Vietnam in 1964, with Soviet assistance they were soon able to present US pilots with a few surprises. Their MiG-17 fighters were old-fashioned and only had guns as their armament. The jets were small, though, and well-suited to out-turn heavier US jets mostly optimised for higher speeds. Peter Dornbach has built the more modern MiG-21, known as the “Fishbed” in the West. This entered Vietnamese service in 1966.
Peter’s model has a retractable undercarriage, opening cockpit and a brick-built representation of the characteristic camouflage used by the Vietnam People’s Air Force. With its higher speed and two AA-2 Atoll air-to-air missiles the Fishbed was typically used in hit-and-run attacks. The US countered this threat using the F-4 Phantom II. This wasn’t particularly agile, but had powerful twin engines. Its crews were taught to use these as an advantage against the MiGs by manoeuvring in the vertical.
The particular example built by Evan Melick is “Showtime-100”, a US Navy F-4J flown by Randy “Duke” Cunningham and William Driscoll who put this tactic to practice shooting down three Vietnamese fighters during a famous mission in May of 1972. Added to their two previous victories, this made them the US Navy’s first and only aces of the Vietnam war. Like most US Navy aircraft from the time period, it had distinctive squadron markings, which Evan recreated on his model using a mix of brick-built patterns, custom vinyl stickers and water-slide decals intended for 1/48 scale models. Note his clever use of new 45 degree angled tiles to build studless leading edges on the jet’s wings.
Both jets are part of a Vietnam collaboration by about a dozen builders, including yours truly, which will be on display at Brickfair Virginia in a little less than three weeks.
Little more than a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending Bricktastic, in Manchester, England. It is a somewhat different kind of event than ones I’ve attended before: not organised by a regular LEGO Users Group or with a commercial goal, but run by and on behalf of Fairy Bricks. This is a UK Charity that donates LEGO to children in hospitals.
Bricktastic was a two-day public event, that attracted LEGO builders from all over the UK, as well as sizeable contingent from Ireland and small numbers of builders from other countries, including Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands. UK professional LEGO building company Bright Bricks are one of the sponsors of the event and they brought along a collection of “Mythical Beasts” including a stunning seven-headed hydra built using roughly 200,000 bricks, that greeted visitors near the entrance and surely was one of the highlights of the show. During set-up I got to whack some bits of the hydra into place with a mallet, which is certainly not a sentence I ever expected to write.
Bricktastic ticked all the boxes. The quality of the models on display was fantastic. Noteworthy is also that the exhibition room, at Manchester Central, was very nice: it was carpeted and surrounded by curtains. Because of this, the atmosphere was a lot cosier and quieter than is common in exhibition halls. Such a detail may seem unimportant, but imagine spending two days in a bare concrete box with harsh strip lighting and hundreds of excited children. That’s what you normally get an an exhibition hall. The public were wonderful. We didn’t even need barriers to protect the displays, which meant that everybody got a good view of the models and which made it easier to talk to people. The children could get creative themselves using large play areas. Fairy Bricks arranged the hotel for the exhibitors and organised a social program for both the Friday and Saturday evenings. Everyone seemed to have a great time and the proceedings went to a good cause. What more could you want?
From the way pop culture depicts the war in Vietnam, one would think it was all about fighting guerillas, involving lots of helicopters, close combat in jungles or rice paddies and music by the Rolling Stones. However, the US was simultaneously fighting a high-tech war, with US combat aircraft bombing targets in the North and duelling with air defenses of ever-increasing sophistication. Peter Dorbach has expertly recreated some of the North’s main tools in their fight against the so-called “Yankee Air Pirates”: the “Fan Song” guidance radar and a matching missile with its launcher.
These missile systems were part of the Soviet-built S-75 “Dvina” / SA-2 “Guideline” surface-to-air system. The comparison with the minifigs shows the size of these missiles. They had two stages and flew at 3.5 times the speed of sound. They weren’t particularly agile and they could be evaded, but this required careful timing. Initiating the evasive manoeuvre too soon gave the missile time to compensate. Manoeuvre too late and its massive warhead, with a 75 m blast radius, would do its job. S-75 missiles shot down dozens of aircraft during the conflict, with many crew members being killed or captured.
The model is part of a Vietnam War collaboration that will be displayed at BrickFair Virginia this summer. A surface-to-air missile may be a slightly unusual choice of subject, but it is certainly historically significant. The introduction of these systems completely changed air warfare. The S-75 is famous for shooting down Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spyplane on a secret mission over Russia in 1960, and another over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It is a Cold War classic and amazingly is still in service in about two dozen countries almost 60 years later.
In the last year or so, I have been steadily building a collection of classic US Navy aircraft. The latest addition is the A-3B Skywarrior, a twin-engined carrier-based jet bomber.
Back in the late forties nuclear weapons were large and heavy. According to the US Navy, a jet built to deliver one over a meaningful distance would have to weigh about 45 tons and be the size of a small airliner. Given that they wanted to operate their nuclear bombers from aircraft carriers, where space is at a premium, this posed an obvious problem. To add insult to injury, the first of a new generation of super-large aircraft carriers intended to operate these bombers was cancelled within a week after its keel had been laid. So, when the brilliant designer Ed Heinemann, also known for the A-1 Skyraider, proposed that Douglas Aviation build a bomber of about 30 tons that could fly from existing aircraft carriers, he definitely caught the Navy’s interest.
The resulting aircraft entered service in the mid fifties as the A-3 Skywarrior. It was still a big beast. It was the heaviest aircraft to routinely fly from aircraft carriers, which earned it the nickname “Whale”. The LEGO model is a pretty big beast too. At my usual scale of 1/36, it is about 78 studs long.