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.
Last year, after Brickfair Virginia 2017, over a few drinks Magnus Lauglo, Aleksander Stein and I had a discussion on what to bring for 2018. The three of us have been attending BrickFair for years and have often admired the large collaborative displays at the event, with builders creating something together. Because of this we figured it would be nice for us to collaborate too rather than bringing our own stand-alone models. We soon agreed to build scenes from the Vietnam War.
I suspect that most ideas that come out of conversations in bars lead nowhere and that is probably a good thing. However, earlier this year we found that we were still pretty excited about this idea and we found that more people wanted to get involved. Ultimately, eleven more builders contributed (in no particular order): Peter Dornbach, Stijn van der Laan, Matt Hacker, Dean Roberts, Eínon, Evan Melick, Casey Mungle, Corvin, Yasser Mohran, Bret Harris and Brian Carter. Corvin, Aleksander and I are the only builders who don’t live in the US or Canada to regularly attend the Virginia event, but our Vietnam group turned out to be a pretty international crowd. We had builders who live in six different countries: the US, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, Norway and the Netherlands.
We picked Vietnam as the subject because we all watched classic Vietnam War movies when growing up, it is largely novel for most of us and it is far less common for military builds than models from, say, WW2. We considered building a single collaborative battle diorama, but chose to build separate scenes instead. It is hard to find a single battle that is actually interesting to build, as there is usually just a lot of terrain involved and multiple copies of trees, bunkers or vehicles. Separate scenes have the advantage of allowing different builders to give the subject their own twist. I was excited to see what the other guys came up with. The Vietnam War offers a lot of scope for building interesting military hardware, but we could also show some of the history, including the aftermath. Given the wide range of different models on display, we nailed it.
In August 1946, the F8F-1 Bearcat led by Bob Clarke introduced the Diamond Formation, a formation of four or more aircraft where the elements of the group adopt the shape of a diamond, which is still considered the Blue Angels’ trademark formation today. Builder Greyson has a special place in his heart for the Angels after seeing them up close and wanted to honour and commemorate their historical significance.
This wonderfully 1/45 scale aircraft features a spinning propeller, a tailwheel, and folding wingtips. The blue elements used for the build are bright and stunning, and the clean shapes best represent the swift speed of the angles cutting right through the clouds.
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.
One of my favorite video game stories is told in Wolfenstein: The New Order and The New Colossus. It’s a powerful story set in an alternate history 1960 defined by Nazi world domination. The German tech in this game as as fascinating as the story, so I combined my love of the plot and tech with a bit of flair in my LEGO replica of a gold plated Pistole 1946, wielded by antagonist Frau Irene Engel.
This handgun takes clear motifs of a Luger P08 with some modifications. Building it entirely in pearl gold was quite challenging; if 2×2 plates and tiles weren’t made in pearl gold, this build would not have been structurally sound. I talk about some of the limitations I overcame and the resulting techniques created in this video (as well as demonstrate its removable magazine).
With this, I can check “gold weapon” off the list for my LEGO arsenal!
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.
Digital LEGO models can be a polarising topic — many people would say it’s not “real building”. Strictly-speaking, they’re correct, but occasionally a CGI image comes along which demands attention for its imaginative construction without being a wish-list model of unavailable pieces in rare colours. This stylish and minimalist vision of submarine warfare by Mark B. is a cracker, rendered or not. The microscale ship and submarine models are nicely put together, but it’s the colour choices that set the tone and make this look so cool. I’d love to have this hanging on my wall as an art piece.
The release of the new 21042 LEGO Statue of Liberty set has seen a whole bunch of parts become available in Sand Green for the first time. Peter Reid takes advantage of the new range to put together this cool futuristic tank. The shaping is excellent, and the level of detail and texture crammed into such a small creation is impressive. The backdrop is simple, but provides a nice setting for the central model, and the addition of track marks in the sand behind the vehicle is a lovely touch.
You can read more about the creation of this model over at parts-focused blog New Elementary here.
From the way pop culture depicts the war in Vietnam, one would think it was all about fighting guerillas, involving lots of helicopters, close combat in jungles or rice paddies and music by the Rolling Stones. However, the US was simultaneously fighting a high-tech war, with US combat aircraft bombing targets in the North and duelling with air defenses of ever-increasing sophistication. Peter Dorbach has expertly recreated some of the North’s main tools in their fight against the so-called “Yankee Air Pirates”: the “Fan Song” guidance radar and a matching missile with its launcher.
These missile systems were part of the Soviet-built S-75 “Dvina” / SA-2 “Guideline” surface-to-air system. The comparison with the minifigs shows the size of these missiles. They had two stages and flew at 3.5 times the speed of sound. They weren’t particularly agile and they could be evaded, but this required careful timing. Initiating the evasive manoeuvre too soon gave the missile time to compensate. Manoeuvre too late and its massive warhead, with a 75 m blast radius, would do its job. S-75 missiles shot down dozens of aircraft during the conflict, with many crew members being killed or captured.
The model is part of a Vietnam War collaboration that will be displayed at BrickFair Virginia this summer. A surface-to-air missile may be a slightly unusual choice of subject, but it is certainly historically significant. The introduction of these systems completely changed air warfare. The S-75 is famous for shooting down Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spyplane on a secret mission over Russia in 1960, and another over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It is a Cold War classic and amazingly is still in service in about two dozen countries almost 60 years later.
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.