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.
Per Ardua Ad Astra — “Through adversity to the stars” — the motto of the UK’s Royal Air Force, and what sprang to mind as Paul Nicholson‘s LEGO version of a Supermarine Spitfire thundered into view. For a small model, the shaping is pretty good, capturing the iconic elliptical wing shape well, and there’s a nice mix of colours to create a camouflage effect. And the use of 1×1 “cheese slopes” delivers the essential touch of the raked exhausts down the sides of the engine. I’m less of a fan of the forced-perspective base — I think the presentation would have benefitted from further separation of the plane from the ground, and perhaps a tighter depth of field pushing the background out of focus. However, despite those minor photography gripes the plane itself is a cracking model, immediately recognisable and eminently swooshable.
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
Military jets are a popular subject for LEGO model-makers and represent a particular challenge with their swept back wings and curved fuselages — difficult shapes to recreate in bricks. But Evan M seems up to the challenge, presenting this fabulous minifig-scale F-4 Phantom, decked out in US Navy Vietnam-era livery.
Evan has made great use of some of the new angled tile parts to give the wings a smooth leading-edge, but there’s excellent brickwork all over the model. We’ve seen fimpressive LEGO Phantoms before, notably James Cherry’s astonishing 6,000-piece LEGO F-4 Phantom, but this is one of the best fast jet models I’ve seen at this sort of scale. The overall shaping and the model’s sleek lines are readily apparent in this side view, as is the smart integration of the twin cockpit pieces and the subtle angle up on the wing tips. Retractable landing gear and a full load-out too! Fantastic stuff.
Although not based on a specific aircraft, the latest model from Finnish builder Tino Poutiainen accurately replicates the wild, “held together with string and dreams” frontier of the early days of manned flight. Like the real-life Wright Flyer, Baldwin Red Devil, and other early turn-of-the-20th-century experimental aeroplanes, Tino’s model appears rickety, thin, and massively unsafe: he did a superb job of making the whole thing look like it’s going to fall apart as soon as its wheels leave the ground.
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.
Sometimes we get so caught up with focusing on what complicated LEGO techniques and original ideas our next build will have, that we forget the most important things, like building something that simply looks good. And “simply” is the key word here. Jussi Koskinen‘s sunset landing and all its main components are mostly simple in their design, but come together as a breathtaking picture.
The landscaping is very nice, with different layers creating a forced perspective, which is really solidified by the frontmost layer. The plane has some really clever solutions, especially the inverted convex tiles (boat studs) to make the wingtips as elegant as possible. The real magic is in the lighting though, setting the serene evening feeling of coming back home from a business trip or a vacation.
Last time we featured builder Wesley, he took us to the smoky skies above the trenches of WWI with a magnificent trio of early aircraft. This time he’s set the clock forward a few decades to the Battle of Britain with this gorgeous Supermarine Spitfire Mk.II, created in a nifty scale that’s slightly smaller than minifigure scale. He’s taken off a few of the panels to show the plane in service, which also acts as an added bonus in showing us how it’s built.
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.
Read more about Ralph’s latest airplane, including the design process
It never ceases to amaze me that the Blackbird SR-71 was an invention of the 1960s. One can only wonder what flight technology exists today that we will only learn of decades from now. The sleek body and shape of this black beauty are captured well even it is brick form. Builder and designer Plane Bricks even made sure it fit the two required flight crew for operation with a pilot in the front, and reconnaissance systems officer behind complete with flight panelling details.
Check out some of the other detailing where the bird is also designed with a proper landing gear and storage during flight and flaps that tilt.
Click to see more details
“Swooshable” is one of the finest compliments that can be paid to a LEGO aircraft or spacecraft model. Does it make you want to lift it up and swoosh it around the room whilst making engine noises? This cracking air racer from Red Spacecat could serve as some sort of dictionary definition of the term. The smooth lines, the rear-mounted contra-rotating prop, the colour blocking and stickers — all magic.
Couple all that with a folding undercarriage and a touch of Octan sponsorship, and you’ve got an absolute belter of a little LEGO plane…