Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The best laid schemes of mice and men (or my year in review).

Those of you who were hoping for regular updates on this blog may have been disappointed by our lack of activity this year, but unfortunately all of the contributors to this blog have had very busy years in our private lives -moving from one end of my country to the other for a new job in my case. Even though we have plenty of ideas and plans for things that might be interesting for the blog, none of us have had the time.

However, I'm on leave and have a bit of time on my hand. I've been thinking about models that I might like to build and have been looking back at the year that's gone by. In a thread in the discussion on the military models group on flickr about a year ago, some of us discussed our future plans.

Here's the list I came up with back in January.

  • a large 1/36 aircraft (most likely a B-52)

  • a minifig scale WW-II bomber (most likely a B-17)

  • a 1/22 scale jet fighter (most likely an F-16)

  • a 1/22 scale helicopter (most likely an AH-64)

  • a 1/22 scale infantry fighting vehicle (most likely an M2 Bradley)

My list shows that my plans for writing for the blog aren't the only ones that I didn't see through. I did none of the above.

So, what have I been up to in terms of military building? Despite my sometimes hectic schedule, I have built a number of new models this year. Some of them were things that I put on the back burner years ago, but that I still wanted to do. Others were prompted by shows that I attended or activities for the Lego Military Model group on flickr. I'll go over them one-by-one.

The first one was prompted by this year's flickr military build contest. It had a category for Warsaw-Pact aircraft and even though I couldn't participate (being one of the organisers/ judges) I did feel I wanted to build something for it. I looked at a number of different options, wanting to build a jet that hadn't been done by many people before. I narrowed my choices to either the Su-24 Fencer or the Su-25 Frogfoot. Because I feared that the camouflage on the latter would pose too many problems, I settled on the former.

Su-24M Fencer-D (5)
Su-24M Fencer-D

The real aircraft is somewhat boxy and at a first glance doesn't look all that interesting, but when studying photographs and scale models (on-line) I came to realise that there were certain subtleties to the shape that would make it challenging. There's a slight taper to the aft fuselage. It has a complicated undercarriage and the gentle outward flare of the intakes gave me some trouble. I had a hard time choosing armament for it. Fencers can carry a bewildering array of weapons, but most operational ones seem to carry unguided bombs. Somehow, I didn't fancy those. I ultimately settled on two AS-17 'Krypton' ant-radiation missiles with their associated 'phantasmagoria' ESM pod and two AA-8 'Aphid' air-to-air missiles. I think it's actually the armament that makes the model stand out. Looking back at it, I think it would have been nicer if I'd have chosen a purist solution for the cockpit canopy (more about that later), but this was a fun build that turned out allright.

After the fun I had building the Fencer, I decided to turn to building a Frogfoot after all, and as expected, the camouflage indeed did turn out to be complicated. The problem is that the number of different parts that LEGO make in suitable colours is very limited. I would have loved to build the underside in medium blue, but there are no hinges in that colour, so I was forced to use medium stone grey instead -fortunately not a bad match for the real colour. For the top I wanted to use dark green, reddish brown and dark tan. However, dark green and dark tan have very limited parts palettes. I saw no way of using both. Since there really is no suitable substitute for the dark green, I decided to use regular tan instead of dark tan.

Su-25 Frogfoot (2)
Su-25 Frogfoot-A

I still would love to replace the tan with dark tan at some point in the future, as more parts become available, but overall, I like it.

The next thing I did, in terms of military building, was because I decided to attend Brickfair in the US in August. Magnus Lauglo had invited me to come over the previous two years and this year I finally decided to take him up on his offer. I finally got to meet him, as well as Chandler Parker, Aleksander Stein and Evan Melick. It's great fun to meet people that you've more-or-less known for years through the internet in real life. I definitely intend to go back next year.

BrickFair 2011 - Military Builders
Military builders at Brickfair 2011, by Legosim

I didn't build anything new to bring to the event. Instead I decided to take a few of my older but reasonably well-known models. I did give them a small update, however, with brick-built numbers on the Abrams, improvements to the camouflage and added details on the HumVee and a brand-new brick-built canopy and new stickers on the Su-27 Flanker.

My models for Brickfair
My models for Brickfair

After I came back from Brickfair, I also decided that I was going to attend the Great Western LEGO Show in the UK in August, for the fifth time. Ever since I moved bavk to the Netherlands from the UK, this has been the opportunity for me to stay in touch with the friends I made in the British AFOL community through Brickish. I knew that I wasn't going to top last year's event, when Ed Diment revealed his USS Intrepid model, with my aircraft models aboard. This year I was going to do something small. I decided to take my minifig scale WW-2 aircraft and to add a new one, a P-61 Black Widow. It's an aircraft that I'd been thinking about building for years -one more plan that took a few years to reach fruition.

P-61 Black Widow with air- and ground crew
P-61 Black Widow with air- and ground crew

While I was at it, I decided that I should make the most of the benefit that minifig scale offers, by building a ground crew and some vehicles to go with the P-61 and with the other aircraft. I built a US tanker truck, gave my old Jeep an upgrade and built an RAF refueller and a German Kettenkraftrad to go with my Mosquito and He 219, respectively. With plenty of minifigs added, it made for a nice display.

My display at GWLS 2011 (3)
Display at the Great Western LEGO Show

The next military build I did was also part of a plan I've had for years. Back in 2007 I started building aircraft that were part of Carrier Air Wing 8 that served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise back in 2001. The collection has grown over the years, but what was lacking until now, was a model of one of the Sea Hawk helicopters that was part of the air wing. I did have a Sea Hawk model, but it represented an all-black version as flown by one of the US Navy's adversary units. Back in October, shortly after returning from STEAM, I finally got around to rebuilding it in the proper colours. While I was at it, I also made a few changes, replacing the non-LEGO cockpit windows with a purist solution.

HS-3 'Tridents' SH-60F Seahawk (2)
SH-60F Sea Hawk

Obviously, since it was rebuild of an existing model, there wasn't much design work that needed to be done. Most of the parts I used for the black version are available in light blueish grey and old light grey. The only exception are 2x4 wedge bricks that I used for the tapering of the fuselage towards the tail. On this version I replaced them by mounting 1x4 curved slopes sideways.

Not long after I finished the Seahawk, we had a build challenge on the Lego Military Models group, with 'military innovation' as the theme.

MV-22B Osprey (1)
MV-22B Osprey

For this I decided to build yet another model that I've been planning to do for years but never started: the MV-22B Osprey. Part of the reason why I didn't start earlier was because for a long time I couldn't work out how to build the wings. They have anhedral, are (slightly) forward swept, have heavy engines at the wing tips and rotate to lie flat on top of the fuselage. For a long time it was all a bit much. However, for this challenge, I decided it was time to give it another try.

MV-22B Osprey (4)
MV-22B Osprey wing fold

I fully expect to take it to Brickfair in 2012.

Because the new brick-built canopy on my Flanker turned out far nicer than I imagined, I also came up with a new plan: retrofitting my existing models with brick-built canopies and windows as well. It's going to be a long process, but I've already made a start, spending a fair few weekends rebuilding some of my favourite models.

Aircraft of the 366th Wing 'Gunfighters'
Aircraft of the 366th Wing 'Gunfighters'

190th FS 'Skullbangers' A-10A Warthog (1)
190th FS 'Skullbangers' A-10A Warthog

Aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 8  (1)
Aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 8

I intend to give more of my aircraft the same treatment, but expect it to take a while.

I may not have stuck to the specific plans I had for 2011, but as you may have gathered, a lot of the things that I did do had been in the works for a long time prior. So, what is up for next year? I'm not making any promises on blog posts, but you can be sure that there'll be plenty of new military models, perhaps even including some from my 2011 list. I do get around to building most of my plans eventually.

Have an excellent 2012 and happy building.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Lynx MOC being auctioned

I've been asked a few times if I'd consider selling MOCs, but I've never done so until now. I guess there is a first time for everything. If you're interested in helping out a good cause, and you think this might look good on a shelf somewhere in your home check it out! The auction seems to be ending around the end of this week.


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Stalin's organ

Ralph and I have been busy helping organize the annual LEGO military contest, so that's probably one reason why we haven't updated this blog much lately. But just to remind our readers that we're still alive, here's an excellent diorama by pepik_ that features a Katyusha rocket launcher mounted on a Studebacker US6 truck:

Dubbed Stalin's organ by German troops during WWII because of its resemblance to a musical organ, the Katyusha still sees service today.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Achtung, Spitfire!

Ed Diment built a wonderful rendition of the Supermarine Spitfire for the Flickr LEGO military build contest two years ago. So, how do you top that? By building a Spitfire twice as large!
Lego Spitfire Mk IX (little and large)
Damn, I wish I had time to build!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Land Rover Wolf

A little over two years ago, I built a model of the Land Rover Wolf, a militarized version of the Land Rover Defender that's used extensively by the British Army:

As you can see, it was pretty rough, but then again, it was my first model of a real-life vehicle. After the apparently arbitrary deletion of the LEGO 16+ group on flickr recently (which has since been replaced by a new group, AFOL 16+, but I'm getting off topic), I thought that it'd be a good idea to back up the photos in the flickr photostream. While doing so, it occurred to me that it might be fun if I rebuilt some of my old creations, seeing as my building skills have improved quite a bit over the years. The Land Rover Wolf seemed like as good a place to start as any, and within a couple of days, I had built a new model:

After posting it on flickr, Tim Ltd and Aleksander Stein pointed out that the cab was disproportionately big, and that it'd look much better if it was shortened by one stud. I at first wasn't sure that it could be done, but after having another look at Aleks's Wolfhound family of vehicles, I realized that the technique that he used to build the doors on them could be adapted to fit my Landy. After making a few other changes, I posted the revised version:

Meanwhile, Aleks had decided to build his own version of my Landy, which he dubbed the Radio Wolf, a communications version of the Land Rover Wolf, which, among other changes, he built in the camo scheme of his faction, the Nordic Defense Council, and a used a technique for the canvas that he had previously used on one of his Wolfhounds:

Tim (the aforementioned Tim Ltd) has also said that he might try his hand at building his own version of my Landy as well. I hope I haven't bored you all (our readers, that is) too much, but I thought that some of you might it find it interesting that simply building something can turn into a community project of sorts.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Tinkering with Tomcats

A new cat on the block
Ever since I moved my pictures to flickr at the expense of my account on MOCPages, I haven't looked at the latter site much. This morning I did visit MOCPages and came across a very interesting model of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat built by Joshua Ciesielski. He has some very flattering things to say about my Tomcats (much more about those later), but I first want to take a closer look at his model. The overall shape is reasonably accurate, but most impressive about the model in my opinion are the working features.

F-14D Tomcat model by Joshua Ciesielski.

The Tomcat was designed in the late nineteen-sixties as a replacement for the classic F-4 Phantom. The conflicting requirements of low landing speeds and a high top speed were met by Grumman by giving their design variable geometry wings. For low speeds and for long range cruise the wings were swept out, while for high speed flight (and storage aboard carriers) the wings were swept aft. Several aircraft that appeared around this time had this feature, including the F-111, MiG-23, Panavia Tornado and the B-1B. Among these the Tomcat stood out for being the only one where the wing position was computer controlled and the actuators were strong enough to move the wings whilst the aircraft was maneuvering, optimising the sweepback angle of the wing for the Mach-number (the ratio between the airspeed of the jet and the local speed of sound). This not the easiest thing in the world to get right on a LEGO model.

F-14D Variable geometry wings by Joshua Ciesielski.

The speed of sound plays a big role in the aerodynamics of jet fighters. Conventional jet engines require vast amounts of air in their intakes, but the flow at the front face of the engine should be should be below the speed of sound (the Mach number should be less than 1). If the plane itself is flying at supersonic speeds, this means that the air in the inlet needs to be slowed down, which is done by designing the inlet such that one or more shock waves occur in the flow.
Many modern planes have fixed intakes, but aircraft designed for high supersonic speeds such as the F-15 and the Tomcat the inlet performance is optimised for each Mach number (as well as a few other parameters such as the throttle setting and the air temperature) by changing the angle of a series of ramps built into the inlet. Much to my amazement, Joshua managed to fit moveable ramps in the inlets of his Tomcat.

F-14D Tomcat variable geometry inlet by Joshua Ciesielski.

In addition to these working features, the model has a retractable undercarriage covered by doors when retracted, working flaps, slats, rudders and tailerons (control surfaces), moveable air brakes, and an opening cockpit (although it doesn't quite open the way it should due to limitations of the canopies LEGO makes).

Tomcat evolution
I'm no stranger to Tomcats myself, so I can appreciate how much work went into Joshua's model. One of the first models of mine to appear on-line was my F-14D Tomcat model 'Vandy One', which I posted on brickshelf and MOCpages way back in 2005. It was also featured in an article in issue 2 of Brickjournal.

F-14D Tomcat model as it appeared in 2005.

It was the result of a gradual process of improvement that took place over many years. The picture below shows the collection of LEGO jet fighters that I had in around 1995. The Tomcat model I had at the time is on the far right.

Fighters (ca. 1995)
Fighter collection by Mad Physicist in 1995.

Comparing it to Vandy One it's obvious that there are many similarities. Whole sections of the model are built exactly the same. The differences, however, are more interesting. Note, for instance, the almost complete lack of SNOT building on the glove vanes (the sections between the jet intakes and the wing roots) and how crude the nose radome looks. The colour scheme of the old model is also noteworthy. Operational Tomcats were usually grey all over, but I didn't have enough grey LEGO at the time to build it properly. One thing that I did already have was a mechanism for synchronising the wing sweep, which has since been copied by several builders -including Joshua- and is shown below exposed on the latest incarnation of Vandy One.

Swing wings
Mechanism for synchronising the wing sweep by Mad Physicist.

In the years since I posted Vandy One on-line I've kept tinkering with my Tomcats, improving Vandy One and making similar changes to my second Tomcat model -an F-14A in markings carried by jets aboard USS Nimitz in 1978.

F-14D Super Tomcat (10)
'Vandy One' after its latest rebuild.

Vandy One received new wings -built using 2-3 wedge plates - and using other new parts the shape of the nose was modified yet again. The tailfins were completely rebuilt, giving their leading edge a more accurate slope. It also received new exhausts, replacing the older ones built with bricks and slopes and more closely representing the large afterburner cans of the F110 engines that powered the F-14D, and some of the stickers were replaced. The model that represented the older F-14A from Nimitz received new markings and new exhaust nozzles as well, representing the engine nozzles of the TF30 engines that powered most Tomcats.

F-14A Tomcat of VF-84 Jolly Rogers by Mad Physicist.

Finally, last year I got around to building a Tomcat in the grey markings that were most common on operational Tomcats since the early 'eighties, choosing to model an F-14A of VF-14 'Tophatters' that was aboard USS Enterprise in 2001.

Tophatters F-14A Tomcat (1)
F-14A Tomcat model by Mad Physicist.

Tomcats by other builders
The Tomcat turned out to be as much as a classic as the F-4 Phantom that it replaced and it is no surprise to me that it is a popular model to build out of LEGO. One of the first LEGO Tomcats that I saw on-line was Bryce Rollins'. He doesn't seem to be as active as he used to be, but back in 2005 he was constantly posting new models he designed in L-Draw, including many different Tomcat models. When I first saw them I was struck by how similar they were to mine, even though Bryce could have never seen mine. Great minds and all that!

One of Bryce Rollins' L-Draw Tomcat models.

Another 'virtual' builder is J. Stan over on flickr. In my opinion, one of the outstanding features on his Tomcat model (designed in Lego Digital Designer) is the way he slanted the intakes. It's something I tried on my Tomcat model many yeara ago, but couldn't manage to look good.

LEGO F-14A tomcat 12
F-14A Tomcat model by J. Stan.

LEGO F-14A tomcat 14
F-14A Tomcat model by J. Stan.

Another nice Tomcat model is the one by Scott Behne, also on MOCpages. I remember seeing this back when I was still a member and liking it back then, apart from some weirdness going on at the nose. It's still one of the best out there, also with slightly tilted intakes.

F-14D Tomcat model by Scott Behne.

Last but not least, for the last few years Mechanized Bricks have been selling a custom set of the F-14. It's not cheap, but is rather nice. Their site doesn't allow me to hot-link to picture, but I managed to find pictures of a built model (without decals) on brickshelf.

F-14 Tomcat model from Mechanized Bricks, built by Brickshelf user 3e3e3e.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Achtung, Messerschmitt!

ME 109 - 01
Many of the military MOCs I've built in 2010 were WW-II military aircraft. In fact, most of the aircraft I've built in about two years time are WW-II military aircraft. So, it'll be obvious that they interest me. So, what gets me to write something for the first time in months? Of course, a WW-II military aircraft!

Legohaulic built a very nice rendition of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 a few years ago, but wasn't happy about the scale. So, he's had another go, with this very nice result.

ME 109 - 02

Note the subtle dihedral of the wings and the clever use of wedge plates to break up the camouflage!