Tag Archives: Aircraft

A terrible name for a pretty plane

Despite the cancellation of the event where I was going to display them, I’m still building a collection of LEGO minifig scale experimental aircraft. I like building them, and there’s always next year (or the year after that). The latest addition is the British Aerospace EAP. This stands for Experimental Aircraft Programme. Americans may object to the spelling of “programme.” However, they should bear in mind that it is British. The name is still terrible, though. It just doesn’t have the same ring as, say, Spitfire, Hurricane, Lightning, or Tornado. Furthermore, it doesn’t suggest that it refers to an actual aircraft rather than to some study.

It was designed in the early eighties, as a technology demonstrator for a new fighter to counter the Soviet MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker. These jets were far more advanced and agile than most of the jets that served NATO. Italy’s fighter was the ancient F-104 Starfighter. The RAF and German Air Forces still used F-4 Phantoms, from the sixties. The new Soviet jets outclassed all of them. New Tornado jets entering service wouldn’t fare much better, because they were fighter bombers. The three countries started collaborating on a new fighter. However, as is common with European defense programs, the collaboration soon ran into political difficulties. Germany hoped to collaborate with France, instead and withdrew its funding. Nonetheless, the UK’s defense industry forged ahead, with private and with UK and Italian government funding.

British Aerospace built a single prototype. It’s a very pretty aircraft, with an elegant fuselage, a cranked delta wing, and canard foreplanes. It first flew in 1986 and was retired five years later, after about 250 flights. The French would only collaborate with Germany if the French industry could have the lead. So, when the time came to build a production aircraft, Germany joined the UK, Italy, and Spain. They built the new European Fighter Aircraft, popularly known as the Typhoon. Now, that’s a good name. The British, with their EAP, paved the way, though.

LEGO Technic 42113 Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey [Review]

Last week, LEGO has officially announced that one of its upcoming Technic sets, the 42113 Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey is canceled due to its association with militaries. Since the set was slated to go on sale August 1, a number of the V-22 Osprey sets have already been distributed to retail stores in several countries. Some smaller retailers have even listed the set on their webpages, making them available for purchase, allowing a small number of them into the wild. The set consists of 1,673 pieces and contains two Powered Up electric components for motorization. The retail price of the set is $119.99 / 139.99€.

Click here to read the review

One Osprey that won’t get cancelled anytime soon

Are you bummed about the recent cancellation of LEGO’s Technic Osprey V-22 set? Yeah, me too. It’s like LEGO suddenly remembered that they don’t like being associated with military stuff and then it’s no soup for you! The decision has me scratching my head over what to do with the official Red Baron and both Sopwith Camel sets now. Anyway, Simon Liu is not one to let a cancelled set bring him down. I know it’s not the same, but here’s his very sleek futuristic V-42-Osprey in neat olive green with orange highlights. The point of showing you this is, while LEGO occasionally makes doofus decisions, they provide the pieces so that you can build anything you want. Who needs directions and an official set? With LEGO bricks and a bit of imagination, the world is your oyster. Or Osprey.

V42-Osprey

LEGO cancels release of Technic 42113 Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey [News]

LEGO has canceled the planned release of one of its upcoming Technic sets, the 42113 Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, due to its association with militaries. The summer 2020 LEGO Technic lineup includes the usual construction vehicles such as a Volvo Articulated Hauler, but it also includes the licensed V-22 Osprey, which is a far more unusual subject for LEGO set. LEGO has long publicly held that it does not produce modern military vehicles, and fans were quick to point out that the V-22 Osprey is traditionally a military aircraft. The German Peace Society organized a petition to halt LEGO’s production, and combined with broader questions from the LEGO fan community over LEGO’s licensing of this military aircraft, LEGO has today made the decision to halt rollout of the set. The set was slated to be released Aug. 1.

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is a tiltrotor aircraft for VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) missions and is operated by the U.S. Air Force, Marines, and Navy, as well as the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Although some examples are equipped to play search and rescue operations, the V-22 is not operated by any civilian sources.

Click to read LEGO’s official statement

Mobile Strike Force: ready!

During the pandemic, a group of LEGO fans have begun playing a virtual military conquest game a bit like Risk, except each person’s army consists solely of the creations they build to populate it. Douglas Hughes has mobilized his military in a big way with this absolute unit of a transport plane, which he’s fittingly dubbed “Chubs.” The stylized aesthetics of both the plane and the dock equipment reminds me of the Micro Machines I had as a kid, and I can’t help but want to start playing with this epic transport.

CHU-85 "Chubs" Ekranoplan!

Interestingly, Doug’s sculpted the plane studs-out, which allowed him to get the complex curves the fuselage needs, while still leaving the interior mostly hollow. That would be a difficult balance to strike using other methods, such as stacked slopes.

To your planes for the brick Battle of Britain with the Spitfire!

LEGO builder Didier Burtin has designed a gorgeous Supermarine Spitfire Mk. II, along with a countryside hangar to house it. This famous aircraft was one of the most powerful weapons in the Battle for Britain in World War II, and in fact, there are two Spitfires here, one in traditional brown desert camouflage (maybe this is North Africa, and not Britain?), while the other is outfitted with the less common grey winter camouflage.

Spitfire Hangar Diorama

The concrete slabs that make up the mottled runway are actually slabs of sideways bricks, carefully spaced with enough room to slot in a variety of foliage and green clips to make up the overgrown grass. And of course the hangar itself is gorgeous, consisting of two grey baseplates gently curved to form the arched roof of the hangar. It’s an exceedingly simple technique that is perfectly suited to the task. But if one scene with Spitfires isn’t enough, Didier has also presented a diorama of a less fortunate Spitfire, having been ditched in a snowy landscape, where it plowed an impressive trail before breaking apart.

Spitfire Emergency Landing

Want to see more LEGO World War II models? Check out our archives: LEGO WWII models

The X-47B UAV may have no pilot, but it still needs minifigures

During the war in Vietnam, the US Navy monitored the heart rates of some of their pilots. Flying though Hanoi’s air defenses understandably raised their pulse. However, their hearts went even faster at the end of the flight, when they had to land their jets on an aircraft carrier. These may be big for a ship, but they are very small for an airport. Unlike pilots, unmanned aircraft or ‘drones’ don’t have hearts and they are never tired. If a drone crashes or gets shot down, its pilot can’t get hurt or taken hostage. Instead, the operator is safely at his or her home base, in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned container. So, it’s easy to see the attraction of unmanned aircraft. For the US Navy carrier landings remained a major hurdle, though. Enter the X-47B. Northrop Grumman built two of these weird-looking experimental jets, to demonstrate integrating unmanned combat aircraft into carrier operations. Between 2012 and 2014, the second of the two jets, nicknamed “Salty Dog 502”, performed several autonomous carrier landings and take-offs on three different aircraft carriers. At the time, the Navy expected to put unmanned combat aircraft into service in about five years’ time, but it has yet to happen.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying myself by building a series of LEGO models of experimental aircraft. Unusually, for me, these new models are mostly studless. I also built them to a scale for LEGO minifigures. Therefore there is a bit of irony in adding Salty Dog 502 to my collection. Not having to carve out space inside for a minifigure’s substantial rear end was a bit of a relief, though; I really struggled to fit a pilot in my YF-23. The X-47B is grey, much like operational US Navy aircraft. While its shape is certainly interesting, that is not enough for an attractive display. Fortunately, while the X-47 doesn’t need a pilot, it does require a ground crew to take care of it, like any other aircraft. So, I built a minifigure deck crew, as well as part of the deck and a small deck tractor to go with it. On US aircraft carriers the deck crew wears color-coded outfits that depict their different roles. These minifigures add a welcome splash of color.

A shape unlike any other fighter: The Northrop YF-23

Aviation history is littered with beautiful and promising designs that did not make it into production. Famous examples are the Canadian CF-105 Arrow and the British BAC TSR-2. Imagining what they could have achieved can entertain aviation enthusiasts for hours. That also applies to my latest aircraft model: the Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23, unofficially known as the Black Widow II. It was the losing contender in the USAF’s Advanced Tactical Fighter competition. It should replace the F-15 Eagle and counter the new Soviet/ Russian fighters under development in the seventies. To do this, it had to incorporate three features that were never before combined in a single aircraft: fighter-like maneuverability, stealth, and the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds.

The shape of the world’s first known stealth aircraft, the F-117A, was all straight lines and flat panels. At the time Lockheed designed it, they couldn’t yet calculate how curved surfaces would reflect radar signals. Northrop, however, experimented with much smoother Gaussian shapes. In the deepest secrecy, they built an aircraft called Tacit Blue. It looked like an inverted bathtub with wings, but it worked. They applied this knowledge to the YF-23 in an altogether more pleasing shape. Cross-sections of the forward fuselage have a rounded top and sloping sides that end in a distinctive fuselage chine. The wings have a diamond shape, as do the large, angled tailfins. These combine the function of traditional horizontal and vertical tailfins. Humps on the aft fuselage, known as bread loaves, hide the engines. To reduce their IR signature, the exhaust gasses are guided through long troughs. The jet is long and sleek. It looks unlike anything else ever flown.

Lockheed won the competition in 1991, with its YF-22 design. This became the F-22 Raptor, which is the USAF’s primary air-to-air combat fighter. It, too, is stealthy, of course, but its configuration is similar to the F-15 Eagle. If you let them, those same aviation enthusiasts that can rave about the Arrow or TSR-2 will tell you a whole plethora of reasons why the YF-23 lost. I think it was the prettiest of the two contenders, but perhaps its configuration was a bit too radical. Recreating it in LEGO certainly meant digging deep into my bag of tricks.

The S-37 “Berkut” is big, bad and black

The Sukhoi S-37/ Su-47, also known as the “Berkut” (“Беркут” or “Golden Eagle”), may look like something from Japanese anime or Ace Combat, but it was very much a real-world aircraft. A little less than twenty years ago, the Sukhoi design bureau (ОКБ Сухого) proposed this sinister-looking jet as the next-generation air superiority fighter for the Russian Air Force. It was a big black beast, with forward-swept wings for added agility and an internal weapons bay. Sukhoi also planned to add thrust-vectoring engines and an aft-looking radar. Although the design seemed promising, eventually things didn’t quite work out. The advanced features were never finished and only a single prototype ever flew.

In 2018 and 2019 I was part of a group of LEGO builders in Vietnam War and Cold War collaborations, for BrickFair Virginia. For the 2020 event, we’re planning another collaboration. We’ve themed it: “eXperimental Military”. It’s all about X-planes, prototypes and technology demonstrators. S-37 is my first contribution. To fit the styles of the other builders involved, I’ve once again adopted a slightly different aesthetic from my usual studded look. The model is almost completely studless. Rather than using plates and wedge plates for the wings, I built them using bricks mounted on their sides. Hinged sections at the leading and trailing edges hold slopes, to make them less blunt. Minifig scale is quite small and minifigs are a bit awkward. Nonetheless and despite the undercarriage bay underneath, the cockpit can house a minifig pilot, with the canopy closed. The real aircraft was not a success, but it sure makes for a badass looking LEGO model.

This Dieselpunk Dragonfly takes to the skies

Imagine a world, an alternate reality wedged somewhere between the 1920s and 1950s. It’s a little gritter and not as optimistic as say Steampunk but everyone wears a cool uniform, the radio shows are campy and the password to get into all the best speakeasies is; Dieselpunk. That is the world this LEGO creation by Asgardian Studio lives in. The builder tells us it was fun to render the red color scheme with a black and white checkered pattern and a smattering of orange highlights. This massive model has a 75cm (29.52in) wingspan, rotating propellers, retractable landing gear, and a fully detailed interior. I love the twin-fuselage, tri-propeller design, but the bubble eyes and dragonfly wings make this one awesome Dieselpunk model! We will surely look to the skies for more great works by Asgardian Studio.

Dieselpunk Dragonfly

The Douglas DC-3C has the quintessential airplane shape

Maybe it’s because this retro shape was so commonly illustrated in children’s books but, when I was a child learning to draw, I’d put pencil (or crayon) to paper and all my airplanes turned out pretty much like this. Without even knowing its name, I seemed aware that this is what the quintessential airplane should look like. Luis Peña not only provides  me its name — Douglas DC-3C — but a stunning 1:40 scale LEGO model, which is much harder to build than to draw. A trip to the National Aeronautical and Space Museum in Santiago, Chile inspired this model. He tells us that LAN Chile bought several of these craft in 1946 after they were originally used as cargo planes during World War II, then refurbished them for a second life as passenger planes.

Douglas DC-3C 1:40 Scale LEGO Model

This particular model measures 73 cm (28.74 in.) wide and 49 cm (19.29 in.) long. To Luis this represents an important part of Chilean aviation history and, in my childhood mind anyway, the most perfectly quintessential airplane shape. This is clearly not the first time we’ve been delighted by his work.

It will be hard to build a better, bigger bomber than this 6-foot LEGO B-36D

LEGO builder Jack Carleson is back with yet another model that shows why he goes by the screen name “Big Planes.” Following up on his incredible minifigure-scale Air Force One, Jack brings us a huge model of the Convair B-36D “Peacemaker” from the early cold war era.

LEGO B-36D “Peacemaker”

Entering service in 1949 with a profile that fits right between the B-29 that preceded it and the B-52 that replaced it (which is still in service), the B-36 is nonetheless distinct with its six push-prop engines augmented with four jet engine nacelles. Jack’s model is massive with a wingspan of 6 feet. That’s all the more impressive when you look at how rigid the self-supporting wings are, which is an amazing feat of LEGO engineering. Continue reading