Last November, we reviewed the Brickmania F-4C Phantom II Jet custom kit, and designer Cody Osell is back again with the massive 1033 F-14 Tomcat Supersonic Air Superiority Interceptor. The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is one of the most iconic Cold War jet fighters, featured in movies like Top Gun and The Final Countdown. The Brickmania kit includes 1,607 LEGO pieces and two custom-printed minifigures with accessories. We’ll also be taking a look at the NAS Miramar Action Pack add-on that includes four more custom minifigures.
We’ve featured custom LEGO kits by Brickmania many times over the years, but Dan Siskind‘s small business has grown considerably since the last time we reviewed one of the company’s kits. Most notably, Dan himself is no longer the sole or even primary designer — great LEGO builders like Cody Osell now contribute many of the custom designs to the company’s products. While Dan is best known for tanks, Cody has designed most of Brickmania’s airplane models, including the F-4C Phantom II we’ll be reviewing today.
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.
I’ve always wondered why we don’t paint our military jets with blue camouflage so they blend in with the blue sky. Well, after a quick Google search, it appears that the Russians thought the same thing, because the wonderful camoflauge pattern on this Sukhoi SU-34 by ModernBrix is indeed accurate to the real-life jet. It’s an excellent choice, because we rarely see this type of camouflage pattern recreated in LEGO.
Camouflage aside, the shaping is outstanding, especially on the cockpit and fuselage. The builder has also managed to fit side-by-side seating for two pilots in the cockpit — an uncommon feature the Sukhoi is known for — which eliminates the need for duplicate instruments required in the front and back of tandem seat fighter jets.
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.
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.
It is no secret that I think the Grumman F-14A Tomcat is the most beautiful jet fighter ever to grace the deck of an aircraft carrier. This is something that I share with James Cherry, who unveiled his massive 1/15 scale Tomcat model at the Great Western Brick Show in the UK little more than a week ago and who posted pictures today.
The Tomcat was also one of the largest carrier-based jets. The end result of building a large-scale model of a large jet is obviously going to be large. The LEGO model is 127 cm long, uses roughly 8000 parts and has taken nine months to build. James has included Power Functions to control the wing sweep as well as various control surfaces. Like on James’ older F-4J Phantom II, the complicated and subtle compound curves are mostly built using carefully angled surfaces and, to get closer to the look of the real jet than is possible with LEGO alone, he has used custom-made vinyl stickers and a vacuum formed canopy.
The jet wears the colourful markings of the US Navy’s first operational Tomcat squadron, VF-1 ‘Wolf Pack’, when it sailed aboard USS Enterprise in the late ‘seventies. One would think that it would make sense for a jet fighter to be painted in colours that are a bit less conspicuous, but that was never really the Tomcat’s style; it’s big and beautiful.
The model is 1.2m long, contains around 6,000 pieces, and took James nearly 5 months to design and build. But beyond the impressive scale and the lovely custom stickering, it’s the smooth curves and the shaping of the various sections which make this creation stand out for me. I also really like the handful of studs left exposed, creating a feel of riveted panels around the intakes.
James managed to squeeze no less than 5 Power Functions motors inside the model, allowing the rudder and various flaps to be operated using a remote control. It was very cool to see these features “in the brick” in London last weekend, and I wasn’t alone in thinking it was a highlight of the show. Carl Greatrix – one of the best LEGO plane modelers around – spent ages examining this creation and pronounced it “Bloody good”. High praise indeed.
I’d heartily recommend a visit to James’ Flickr photostream to check out all the details of this amazing model in the close-up images, as well as photos of his beautiful custom-chrome P-51 Mustang model.
We have featured a fair few trains built by Carl Greatrix (bricktrix) in the past. More recently he turned his attention to cars. Apparently there isn’t much that he cannot do, as he has now built an F-4B Phantom II jet fighter and it is gorgeous. I have been following his work-in-progress pictures for weeks, eagerly looking forward to the finished model.
In the sixties and early seventies, the Phantom was the premier fighter aircraft in the US armed forces, serving with the Navy, Marine Corps and the Air Force. Carl’s model wears flamboyant markings typical for US Navy Phantoms. The markings of VF-161 Chargers, which was home-based in Japan as part of the Air wing assigned to USS Midway, were some of the most attractive ever to grace a Phantom and I applaud Carl for choosing this squadron. The model isn’t just good-looking, but has a lot of functionality too. It has opening cockpits, for instance, as well as a retractable undercarriage and moveable control surfaces. Although I actually like studs on a model and prefer my own aircraft models to be somewhat less reliant on stickers, it’s interesting to see Carl apply his typical style to this subject. The result is phabulous.
Jeroen Ottens‘ brother Maarten sends word of Jeroen’s massive F-14 Tomcat, built entirely from LEGO Technic elements:
Although this plane isn’t new, it’s new to Flickr, and noteworthy because it helped get Jeroen a job as a LEGO Technic set designer. Indeed, the open framework and functionality are reminiscent of official sets, though the scale is off the charts.
(And besides, one brother suggesting another brother’s creation for The Brothers Brick is sure to win our hearts.)