Lately I’ve been on a bit of a building spree. The Cold War collaboration for BrickFair Virginia, for which I have already built the SS-20 Saber and Gryphon GLCM transporter erector launchers, has given me lots of ideas and motivation. So far I have focussed on Cold War doomsday weapons that never saw use in anger. The actual armed conflicts that took place during the Cold War, although certainly brutal, fortunately were fought using conventional weapons. One of these was the Korean War.
In 1950, when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, the US and a number of allies came to South Korea’s aid. At the time, the first jet aircraft were already in service. However, propeller-driven aircraft still had a role to play. Most US Navy aircraft carriers still had several squadrons of Vought F4U Corsairs on board.
This WW2 design may have seemed like an anachronism, but the veteran warbird could carry more weapons and spend more time overhead than faster jet fighters. They were the workhorse of US Naval aviation.
At the moment I am building models from the Cold War for a collaboration with my friends at BrickFair Virginia. I already presented my Soviet SS-20 “Saber” about a week ago. That missile platform was seen as a direct threat to Western Europe. Whilst I was buying parts for that, I was already planning to build one of the weapons systems that NATO fielded in Europe: the BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). Or, more precisely, the vehicle used to transport and launch them.
It consisted of a large German-built MAN truck that pulled a semi-trailer with the launcher. This housed up to four cruise missiles in a box that was elevated to an angle of 45 degrees before launch. I built the vehicle to a scale of 1/43, making it roughly 53 studs long. Building its four-tone camouflage scheme (with dark green, dark tan, tan and black) was a challenge, especially on such a small vehicle.
A little more than forty years ago, with the Cold War still in full swing, the Soviet Union introduced a new ballistic missile: the RSD-10 “Pioneer”. NATO code-named it the SS-20 “Saber”. It had a range of 500-5500 km and carried three nuclear warheads, each of which was roughly ten times as powerful as the bomb used against Hiroshima. It seemed purpose-built to threaten Western Europe. The missile’s short flight time, of roughly 15 minutes, left very little warning. Furthermore, it was mobile, which made it even harder to counter. A large six-axle MAZ-547 transporter erector launcher carried the missile, housed inside a large cannister, to dispersed launch sites.
My diorama shows the launcher at a snow-covered launch site, with the missile cannister raised upright for launch. On the model it is almost solid, so there is no actual missile inside, but you can just see the tips of the three warheads. Unlike most of my models, it is minifig-scaled (I picked 1/43) and built mostly without visible studs. I built it for a Cold War themed collaborative build for BrickFair Virginia, in the coming August.
Japanese cars well-engineered and sometimes innovative, but in my opinion they are often not all that exciting. However, Japanese manufacturers do have a history of building some pretty neat sports cars, like the 240Z /Fairlady or Nissan GT-R or the Honda CRX.
A little more than a year ago, during a work trip, I was lucky to spend a day in Tokyo. It is an amazing city and ever since I’ve been thinking about building some Japan-themed LEGO models. I already have a collection of LEGO emergency vehicles, so adding a Japanese police car seemed like a good idea. Their typical vehicle is the Toyota Crown, which certainly fits the not-all-that-exciting category. However, a bit of internet research revealed that, until a few years ago, the Tokyo Police department also had Mazda RX-8 patrol cars. It’s a curvy coupé with suicide doors that was mainly used for traffic duties. Building one of those was a much more interesting prospect. I simply had to have one.
For decades, the Long Island-based Grumman Corporation was the US Navy’s primary aircraft supplier. They built a range of now-famous aircraft, including the Wildcat, Avenger, Hellcat, Cougar and, of course, the Tomcat. Starting in the early seventies, they also built the EA-6B Prowler; a four-seat electronic warfare aircraft for jamming enemy air defenses. I’ve had a model of one of these since 2007. In recent days I rebuilt it using new parts and techniques. Thanks to curved slopes and a lot more sideways building, I’ve been able to improve the shape.
Prowlers entered US Navy service in 1971 and, after a career of more than 40 years, the US Marines have only just retired their last examples. Their longevity is a testament to the quality of the design. Because its products were famously well engineered, Grumman was also known as the “Iron Works”. Their aircraft, however, aren’t exactly famous for their elegant looks. Even the Tomcat, arguably one of the prettiest fighters ever to grace an aircraft carrier’s deck and certainly one of the company’s prettier products, looks quite ungainly from some angles. Also known as the “flying drumstick”, the Prowler is no exception. It has a fairly large front end, which houses two separate cockpits, each with side-by-side seating for two crewmen. The large “football” on top of the vertical fin contains jamming equipment, as do wing-mounted pods. The wings fold up for use aboard aircraft carriers. For air-to-air refuelling, it has an oddly-cranked probe just in front of the windscreen. It all makes sense, but it’s not pretty. I think “purposeful” is more appropriate.
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.
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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.
This article is the third and final installment in a series. Read about the LEGO Grumman E-1 Tracer Part 1 and Part 2 here.
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.
Read more about how Ralph plans and design his LEGO aircraft