Usually I don’t build space-themed models, but my latest two models are exceptions. Then again, they aren’t exactly your everyday space builds, representing real-world spaceplanes developed for the US military. The first is the X-20 Dyna-Soar (for “dynamic soarer”). This was an ambitious program to build a reusable manned spaceplane. It started within weeks of the Soviet Union’s first Sputnik launch. It never came to fruition, though. A few years later, with the first prototype already under construction, escalating costs and an unclear mission resulted in its cancellation.
The second is the much more recent and successful X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. This is an unmanned reusable spaceplane currently in service with the US Space Force. So far, two vehicles have flown six missions. The latest was the longest, with almost 909 days spent in orbit. Its official role is to demonstrate reusable space technologies. However, there has been speculation that it carries reconnaissance equipment and may even be intended for anti-satellite missions or to test space-based weapons.
In less than two weeks, both of these models will be on display at BrickFair Northern Virginia, as part of the “eXperimental Military Collaboration”.
This past Saturday marked the 500th day since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Last year, I wrote about why I personally choose to actively support Ukraine and its defenders. Remembering my WW2 vet grandfather, my first group of minifigures highlighted the work of combat medics and other women contributing to Ukraine’s defense. Many people asked me to create minifigs depicting the defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, all of whom by then were being held in Russian captivity. These two groups of minifigures were then featured on Ukrainian TV, leading to messages from the wives of POWs, including the wife of the Azovstal garrison’s commander, Denys Prokopenko. But in addition to the families of these prominent officers, I heard from the wives of less-famous soldiers still held in captivity, asking if I’d create LEGO versions of their husbands, sometimes even sharing photos taken inside the Azovstal steel plant.
Unfortunately, sourcing unusual LEGO parts (including custom-printed pieces) ended up being a months-long process, and many of the figures were only completed quite recently. Over the months, some of the Ukrainian POWs have been exchanged, and I began chatting directly with the released soldiers. A young soldier with the call sign “Tayvaz” defended Azovstal until the last, and lost several of his brothers-in-arms during the battle. Before his exchange after nearly a year of captivity, his wife shared photos of her husband along with heartbreaking photos of the men who hadn’t made it out. On the day I was taking photographs of my minifigs depicting Tayvaz and his brothers, I’d been chatting with him to make sure I’d gotten the details correct. I love filtered natural light, and I was outside on our front lawn. The trees behind me shifted in the wind, and a sunbeam broke through and illuminated the minifigs of the three lost soldiers (photo above). I burst into tears, sent Tayvaz the photo, and we shared a moment of sorrow — my own emotions a mere shadow of his enormous loss — across the distance between Seattle and Kyiv.
Read more about how these minifigs are making their way to Ukraine
The Supermarine Spitfire is possibly the most iconic propellor-driven plane, and has appeared just about everywhere — books, comics, TV shows, films, music , and indeed, LEGO bricks. And while British dance legends the Prodigy penned the title of this post, the prodigy behind this brick-built Spitfire is Juliusz D. It’s slightly smaller than some other Spitfires you might have seen over the years, but it’s no less impressive for it. One of my favourite bits is the canopy, one of the first bits Juliusz built. In fact, this is apparently where the whole build stemmed from. Some custom decals – alongside stickers re-purposed from 76907 Lotus Evija – are the perfect icing on the cake to complete the iconic look of this WWII fighter.
If you see this hovering out your window chances are you’re in some deep trouble. It has a capacity for eight troops so you know things are about to get hairy. Thankfully for the rest of us, we can enjoy this LEGO replica built by Stefan Johannson from the relative comfort of our homes. Even as a LEGO model, this thing oozes menace! I particularly like the sag of the rotor blades. Initially introduced by the Soviet Airforce in 1972, this timeless gunship is currently being used by fifty-eight countries and has served in dozens of skirmishes, including the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This particular model is sporting Ukrainian colors so there is a high probability its real-life counterpart is defending its people and giving those invaders the business. Serious attack helicopter business! News reports cite that the resilient Ukrainian people have been successful in taking down Russian forces with pickled vegetable jars and farm equipment. I can only imagine what they can do with this.
It was fun, silly and therefore I was inspired to write about it. Sandro Quattrini built this Tankhead mech and was himself inspired by Emerson Tung’s Tankhead art. It’s like a circle of inspiration! I enjoy the color scheme, complex curves and overall stance and attitude of this mech. The oversized gatling gun it carries isn’t without its charms either. Maybe it’ll inspire you to build something. What does it inspire in you? let us know in the comments. While you’re at it, check out why we think Sandro Quattrini is an inspiration to us.
Don’t let its size fool you! This teensy LEGO SR-71 Blackbird by Greyson is a mighty recon machine from the factories of Lockheed Martin. Even while working in a monochromatic palette, this plane still feels dynamic, a perfect recreation of its real-life kin. Each wedge plate feels perfectly placed, and the shaping on the fuselage is all the better for Greyson’s excellent use of the katana minifig accessory. I even like the shaping on its gray stand: a simple bit that only accentuates the clever design of the micro aircraft.
Castles and knights are cool, but they are not the only ones who need impressive fortresses. What about grenadiers? These guys know a thing about pretty fortified buildings. Ayrlego and Evancelt Lego combine their love for historical-era creations to collaborate on a couple of sweet-looking military buildings. First, Arylego recreated the grenadiers’ parades outside their barracks in the Corlander settlement of Queenston. And it’s the massive corner tower that reminded me of the classic LEGO castles! In white, it looks stunning, bringing us to a very different place and era (compared to fantasy).
Meanwhile, Evancelt Lego goes with a different layout for his armory but sticks to the distinctive architectural style of the barracks. It took me a moment to notice a totally unique design for trees: they fit so well, I nearly left them unnoticed. And, of course, the combination of various shades of yellow and orange on the walls is so good. The weathering effects bring these builds to a whole new level.
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.
Devid VII delivers a devastating desert destroyer with this high-tech hover vehicle. The insectoid shape calls to mind the Dune ornithopters, but the markings suggest this is a future Earth military vehicle, rather than an otherworldly piece of technology. Wherever it originates from, Devid’s done an amazing job with not just the build, but the small vignette that supports it. Thanks to the angle of the ship and the dust cloud it’s kicking up, we can practically hear the hover engines as it speeds past us.
Caleb Flutur didn’t have to go this hard for the pun, but we’re glad he did. By transforming the classic children’s character “Thomas the Tank Engine” into simply “Thomas the Tank,” Caleb has produced a surprisingly accurate military vehicle. Sure, it’s made from primary colors and has eyes, but look at the details! The intricate tank tread mechanics, the machine gun atop the turret. And it had to be done while incorporating some of Thomas’s iconic striping, which actually ups the difficulty level beyond what a regular tank would require.
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.
As dawn broke across Ukraine on February 24th this year, the Russian Federation launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. In my day job, I’ve been working with software development teams in Ukraine for nearly 15 years, mainly in Kharkiv, barely 30 miles (less than 50 km) from the Russian border. In the first hours of the invasion, I messaged an old group-chat from my previous job saying, “Stay safe, my friends.” My former colleagues began waking up to air raid sirens, rocket attacks, and fighter jets roaring over their heads, and I watched their online status turn from yellow to green as they began sending brief replies saying they were safe so far.
Brickmania “Ghost of Kyiv” custom Mig-29 fighter jet kit
Through colleagues like these in Kharkiv, Odesa, and the capital Kyiv, as well as ex-pats here in the US, I’ve grown to love the Ukrainian people and their independent spirit. Ukrainians have been fighting for freedom and democracy ever since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. That fight became much more visceral in 2014, when a democratic “Revolution of Dignity” overthrew a corrupt, oligarchic and pro-Russian government. Russia’s Vladimir Putin immediately responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region and began a proxy war to take over the industrial Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. This led not just to atrocities like the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 that year, but an ongoing Russia-backed insurgency against the democratic government in Kiev — for many in Ukraine, the Russian invasion began in 2014, not on February 24, 2022. But since February, through the Russian army’s mass killings of civilians in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, and elsewhere; ethnic cleansing of over 2 million Ukrainians to Russia; and ongoing indiscriminate rocket attacks and air raids against civilian targets like schools and shopping centers throughout Ukraine today, the full-scale invasion this year has proven that Russia intends to commit terrorism and ultimately genocide against the nation of Ukraine and its people. In the 5 months since the Russian invasion, most of my old team relocated to western Ukraine, though nobody in the country is safe from Russian rocket attacks and bombing. Some staff from my old company chose to stay behind in Kharkiv, and at least one has even laid down his life defending his city and his nation.
Read more about how the LEGO fan community has stepped up to help Ukraine