For me, as long-time fan of the Transformers and having built LEGO Transformers myself, LEGO releasing LEGO Transformers 10302 Optimus Prime was a pleasant surprise. It looks great as a robot, decent as a truck and the transformation sequence is fantastic. Its look is also largely faithful to the original Optimus Prime toy from the eighties. In my book, the one thing that could make it even better was for Optimus to have his trailer or Combat Deck. So, I built one myself.
Posts by Ralph
Hooked on minifigure-scale cranes
Hot on the heels of my Mammoet mobile crane, I decided to build another minifigure-scale crane. This time it is a truck-based crane: a Liebherr LTF 1060.
Unlike the Mammoet crane, this one uses a commercial truck chassis built by Scania. This type of cranes typically has better on-road mobility than those that use dedicated chassis. I primarily liked it because it was different and, when I found a yellow one operated by the Dutch company “Kuiphuis” pulling a trailer with accessories, I was hooked.
LEGO’s long history and the quality of the elements mean that there is a vast collection of parts suitable for this type of build. For instance, among the real crane’s accessories are a crane crab and a concrete bucket. And LEGO made a crane grab in yellow. And there is a suitable handle for the bucket, in yellow too. These parts are thirty and twenty years old, respectively.
A small-scale crane for mammoth tasks
A fair few of the Dutch builders that I occasionally hang out with are very much into building heavy-duty trucks and construction equipment, such as cranes or mining excavators. And they tend to like to build them BIG. I’ve dabbled a bit in the genre, but I’ve always been somewhat the odd one out in our little group, mainly building smaller models. And I’ve gone progressively smaller: in recent years more and more of my models are scaled for minifigures. I rarely have the time or patience to build really big things. I am also running out of space to display large models.
If you take a big crane and build it to a small scale, you still end up with a fairly substantial model, though. Case in point: my Liebherr LTM-1350 mobile crane, as operated by the Dutch company Mammoet (Mammoth). Despite its relatively small scale, there is just enough room for some functionality. For instance, the crane’s outriggers and boom can extend and it has working steering on five of its six axles. When fully extended, its boom reaches a height of close to a metre (about three feet). Furthermore, cranes like this may be mobile, but they do require a fleet of support vehicles. This includes a separate truck to carry its counter-weights. The crane’s crew also tends to have a small “pool car” to drive around. If the crane is in transit, an escort van usually accompanies the convoy. The small scale meant I could build all of them.
A North Korean train with surprising cargo
After President Trump’s failed attempt to broker peace on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea resumed ballistic missile tests in 2019. They have done so many since, it has become quite hard to keep track of them all. However, two tests, in September 2021 and in January of this year, stand out because the missiles were launched from a train. Putting missiles on a train makes some sense. If it were to come under attack, North Korea needs to ensure it can still launch its missiles. Mobile launchers make it much harder for an adversary to find and destroy them on the ground. And North Korea has poor roads but a fairly well-developed train network. Finding the launchers becomes a shell game; just about any box car in the country can house an unpleasant surprise.
The train in September consisted of a single Soviet-built M62 diesel locomotive; a very common type in communist countries. This pulled two freight cars. The first was a regular Chinese-built P61 box car. The second was externally similar, but it had an opening roof, extra doors in its side and launchers for two ballistic missiles inside. I admire the skill that goes into building a LEGO train, but the last time I built one was in 2014. And the one before that was in 2009, so it is fair to say that I rarely build trains. But North Korean missiles on a train definitely piqued my interest. I have built number of other missile launchers recently, including a Soviet MAZ-547 transporter erector launcher for an SS-20 ballistic missile and a Cold-War cruise missile launcher. This fits that theme perfectly.
Furthermore, I also happen to write professionally about missiles from North Korea and I write computer models to predict their trajectories. So, the research that went into building this model is directly linked to what I do for a living. Over the years I have found that quite a few people in similar lines of work are actually LEGO builders.
Viper and Hornet revamped
Time flies. It has been 14 years since my LEGO aircraft were first featured on The Brothers Brick. Perhaps surprisingly, I still have most of the models I had back then. However, although I updated several of them over the years, my F-16 Fighting Falcon, commonly known as a Viper, and my F/A-18 Hornet were now really showing their age. My jet models usually have a retractable undercarriage and that takes up quite a bit of space. As a result, the fuselages on the old versions were about a stud too wide for their scale. So, my main goal was to make those narrower. This obviously requires major changes and, rather than updating the existing models once more, I decided to rebuild them from scratch.
Using curved parts, wedge plates, and various brackets that didn’t exist when I built the originals, I further improved their shape. Some things have stayed the same, though. Lately, I have built some studless models, but it is no secret that I do like studs on my models. To fit with my older models, these two still have them. And while the old versions may have been old, they had features that I liked, such as the design of the cockpit canopy on the F-16 and much of the design of the main landing gear on the Hornet, so I copied those. While I have become somewhat fatter as I have reached middle age, my models are now slimmer and far more elegant. And with these changes, they’re good to go for another decade.
Did your Land Rover break down? Call the AA
Of course, I don’t mean to imply that Land Rovers are unreliable vehicles. However, if you were in the UK, were to own a classic Land Rover and, God forbid, it would break down on you, what would you do? One of your options could be to call the AA. That is the organisation formerly known as The Automobile Association. Not the other famous organisation with the same initials that helps people overcome another expensive and destructive habit.
The AA operates a roadside assistance service, with mechanics crisscrossing the country in vans. However, if one of their mechanics can’t fix the problem, because it is actually pretty major, they also operate a fleet of recovery vehicles. A lot of those are German-built MAN TGL flatbed trucks, one of which I have now built in LEGO. Like the AA vans, these are a common sight on British roads, also quite commonly seen carrying Land Rovers. I’m still not saying those are unreliable, mind you. I actually like Land Rovers. My LEGO Land Rover model is something of a classic in its own right; I originally built it more than ten years ago and it has never broken down, except for when one of the wheels fell off as I was taking pictures of the truck. Since I’m a stickler for scale and I have not changed the style of my building for this, these two vehicles fit together really nicely.
Pushing the envelope with the YF-22
I keep a few folders on my computer, as well as a paper folder, with pictures and drawings of possible future LEGO projects. That paper folder has held a three-view drawing of a USAF F-22 Raptor fighter for at least ten years now. The drawing included a few measurements, for how large it would be if I were to build it LEGO. The reason it was in its folder for so long is that I could never figure out how to actually build it. However, I am still learning new tricks. Furthermore, LEGO keeps coming up with elements that make previously impossible things possible.
Now, I didn’t actually build the F-22. Other people have done admirable jobs on that (notably Corvin Stichert and Lennart Cort). I wanted something different, so instead, I built the YF-22 prototype. This won the “Advanced Tactical Fighter” competition in 1991, to replace the USAF’s F-15 fighters. The F-22 Raptor is its production version. The jet’s design really pushed the envelope, with low observability (“stealth”) combined with high speed and high agility. And building it, I feel I pushed the envelope too.
Minifigure-scale armor can be pretty tough
In the last few years, I have been building a range of LEGO minifigure-scale missiles and missile launchers. They range from cruise missiles launchers to ICBMs. My latest model is a so-called TELAR, part of the Soviet surface-to-air missile system called “Buk” (Russian: “Бук”; English “beech”). NATO calls it the SA-11 “Gadfly”. Soviet military doctrine emphasized integration between ground forces and their air defenses. Because of this, many Soviet surface-to-air missile systems used tracked vehicles, so that they could move together with the ground forces.
TELAR stands for a transporter-erector-launcher and radar. The name covers what it does quite nicely. The Buk TELAR carries four missiles on top of its turret, on rails that can be erected before launch. It has its own missile guidance radar in a dome at the front of its turret. The crew sits inside the armored hull below. Usually, such TELARs operate together with a few others, as well as a command post and a surveillance radar, which also are tracked vehicles. But, because it has its own radar, it can also operate on its own. Like most of my LEGO builds, it is not actually all that tough, though. It is only tough in the sense of that I found building a minifigure scale armored and tracked vehicle tough going. So, my hat is off to all of you out there who build minifigure-scale armor. This is one of the first times I have done it and I really struggled to keep it small enough. I wanted the scale to look right with the minifigure soldier next standing next to it. As a result, there is so little space inside that I could only fit a driver. And, like most of my builds, the model is actually quite flimsy. In fact, none of my models from the last ten years or so would ever be suitable as a child’s toy, even those that aren’t weapons of war. However, I do like the end result; it is a unique addition to my collection.
Daft for Dutch DAF trucks
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of fun building minifigure scale trucks, instead of, say, aircraft or larger-scale vehicles. These are three of my latest: Dutch DAF trucks. The first represents an XF105 Super Space Cab, with a trailer carrying a 40ft Maersk refrigerated container. It is similar to thousands that roam European motorways.
A small truck for mammoth tasks
Like many men my age, at heart, I don’t necessarily feel all that different from when I was six years old and playing with my LEGO train. Besides LEGO and trains, as a boy, I liked fire engines, diggers and trucks, preferably with lots of lights. My latest build still fits that pattern. It is a Mercedes Actros truck with a stepframe trailer, as operated by the Dutch company Mammoet, which is Dutch for mammoth.
They specialize in heavy lifting and transport of oversized and heavy objects. So, by their standards, this truck is actually quite small. Their vehicles have an attractive and distinctive color scheme. It uses a lot of red, but the vehicles’ cabs are usually black. The trailer, built by the Dutch company Nooteboom, has a yellow edge for increased visibility. When I started building the truck, I wasn’t sure what load I’d put on the trailer, except that I wanted it to be predominantly yellow. Ultimately I picked a Liebherr wheel-loader with nicely chunky wheels. As a display base for some future LEGO event, I also built part of a road, which I decorated with some flowers and two road signs, both of which (would you believe it?) I already had as a six-year-old.
Honey, I shrunk the Scania
For years I didn’t really care much for minifigures. I tend to be fussy about the scale of my models and, since minifigures are far too wide for their height, it is awkward to use them with a proper scale model. Furthermore, a larger scale makes it easier to incorporate a lot of details and functionality, which are both things that I enjoy. So, most of my builds don’t feature figures.
Building a tiltrotor aircraft using Circuit Cubes [Review]
We’ve occasionally reviewed non-LEGO products on The Brothers Brick, by BrickArms, BrickForge or Citizen Brick for instance; companies that provide accessories for LEGO builds. A new kid on the block is Circuit Cubes. Instead of (accessories for) minifigures they make LEGO-compatible building sets and components, such as electric motors, aimed at teaching STEM subjects to children. They got in touch with me after reading my article on building a remote-controlled vehicle with LEGO Power Functions. They sent me several of their products in return for providing them with feedback. The sets themselves don’t interest me all that much. However, I would like to know how the Circuit Cubes components can be used to enhance my LEGO models. And this may interest those of you who want to motorize your own models too. So, this is not a traditional set review. Instead, I’m going to tell you about Circuit Cubes and how I used them in my own custom LEGO model: an XV-15 tiltrotor aircraft.
A tiltrotor is an unusual flying machine, but the basic idea is simple: with its rotors facing up it can take off and land like a helicopter; with them rotated facing forward they serve as propellers, with the aircraft’s wings providing lift. So, unlike a normal fixed-wing aircraft, a tiltrotor can land in tight spots or on small ships, but in forward flight, it is faster and more efficient than a helicopter. In practice getting this concept to work was difficult, but the Bell XV-15 TiltRotor Research Aircraft first flew in the late seventies and demonstrated that a practical and controllable tiltrotor was viable.
The challenge when building my RC vehicle was hiding the LEGO motors, battery box, Power Functions IR receiver, and what seemed like 2 meters of wiring. I could only fit them inside by building a van with quite a lot of space inside. Because of this experience, two of the Circuit Cubes immediately caught my attention: the Bluetooth Cube and the Cubit. The former is a rechargeable battery pack and Bluetooth controller in one. It has three outputs, remotely controlled via an app (available for Apple and Android). It is rechargeable using a USB cable. The Cubit is an electric motor. What makes these parts interesting is their small size. The Bluetooth Cube has a 4 x 4 stud top and is only two bricks tall. The Cubit has a 2 x 4 stud top and is also two bricks tall. This is much smaller than anything similar made by LEGO, with the exception of old 9V Micromotors.