Posts Tagged ‘models’


The Princess Cecile build continues…

October 10, 2012

Off and on, off and on. In bits and pieces I have a few other items finished. Designing this ship while I build it is pretty interesting!

In my previous post, I decided I needed to add some kind of “pods,” for lack of a better term, to provide more living space. I also decided the missile tubes would be located there.

After cutting the acrylic tube in half, I cut curves into the ends. Then after a lot of sanding I primed them and started to figure out how to attach them.

I hit on making some curved bulkheads. The tube halves, as they were cut, gained a bit of a twist, so I knew I couldn’t just epoxy the edges and hope. I started making bulkheads out of styrene, but that didn’t work very well unless they were very thin. I hit upon using some balsa foam I had around. It is pretty delicate stuff but it sands fast.

The “pod” half-round acrylic piece with the ends curved. Also, various bulkhead types I experimented with.


Each individual bulkhead was cut using the first one as a master, then sanded to fit.

A balsa foam bulkhead.

Then I made some more of the sheet styrene copies so I could cover the balsa foam, hiding it from view. I also put together a short piece of Plastruct girder, sanded down, and a piece of plastic tube (the missile tube):

Bad iPhone shot of the completed pod. The original bulkheads were sliced in two and spread out more.

It looks pretty bare, with no putty, paint or greeblies. And the forward end cap isn’t on yet!

A lot of the “personality” of the ship will be in finish details – little greeblies on the bulkheads, hoses, etc. Since the plan is to display the ship in the water, floating on the outriggers, I will need to cut some small openings all over the ship and add some hatches. Those will come later.

Before I can attach the other pod I need to cut a hole in it to continue the cargo hold opening that I originally placed in the side of the hull. I’m going to do that before I epoxy the pod in!

Then a little epoxy and the first pod was on the side of the ship:


Closet cleanout – model kits for sale!

October 2, 2012

I’m cleaning out the closet (well, the storage unit) and I have some unbuilt kits I’d like to sell. Buyer pays shipping. (I am in Illinois.) I can take Paypal or a money order. UPDATE: I’ve removed the kits than have been purchased.

1 – AMT/Ertl Klingon Bird of Prey B’rel Class #38389 sealed, $ 25

1 – Polar Lights Klingon D7 snap kit #4202 sealed, $ 12

2 – Polar Lights USS Enterprise 1:1000 original series snap kit #4200 sealed, $ 12/ea

2 – Airfix Orion 2001 #06171 not sealed, $ 15/ea

2 – Heller Ariane 5 1:125 launch vehicle #71263, 1 not sealed but complete, $ 20/ea


Please respond to jwaggoner AT for inquiries.



The continuing adventures of the Princess Cecile…

August 23, 2012

Off and on. Fits ‘n starts. An hour here, an hour there. I got a couple of ideas that sort of took me in another direction. (To catch up, just use the search function over on the right using the keywords Princess Cecile.)

I originally thought of the Sissy as a simple with rounded ends…sort of like a modern submarine. But a sub uses that shape to equally distribute water pressure, and while the Princess Cecile has to withstand a vacuum, it probably encounters more stress from manuevers during battle than from any other source. (Drake notes that the ship rarely accelerates at more than 2 g’s.) Then I saw a set of 3D graphic images from someone on Flickr named xriz00 who did some beautiful renderings of the ship. (‘ve emailed him about posting one of his images here – no answer yet. Go onto Flickr and search for Princess Cecile and you will find his images as well as those from a gentleman named Marcelo Glenadel. His are more “realistic” renderings, if that’s the word…not as futuristic-looking, but more like I envision the ship should look.

Mine won’t look so slick, I’m afraid, but it’s beginning to take shape. Here’s the  taped-up mockup so far:


The other outrigger isn’t placed – I just put that one there to get a feel for it. The knobby thing in front is the prototype High Drive motor – behind it is the Mark I prototype HD motor that I ultimately rejected. The barbell-shaped thing behind it is not attached to the outrigger – it’s just there to get a sense of proportion. It’s a prototype oleo strut for the outrigger. The big knobby end would be embedded in the main hull, and the small one in the outrigger. I don’t think it’s too long…maybe. . I want to try casting it in resin to see how it looks. Patterns made of a bunch of dissimilar materials always look a little weird to me.

The clear plastic half-tube taped to the hull is the new addition. I decided the straight cylinder looked too plain, and i still can’t see how you can stuff the drive systems, environmental, stores, missiles and living space for over a hundred people in that small a ship. So I added a bit of living room. Inspired a bit by the images I spoke of above, I decided the missile tubes should run the long way in the ship. I don’t recall Drake mentioning their orientation. The hole in the top of the hull was originally going to be a missile tube, paired with another that launched down. It will be some kind of access port now, I guess.

The turrets for the plasma cannons got a little dressing up with some plastic tube and some milliput. I’m sort of making them look more like tank turrets, I hope.

I like the idea of using spheres as a primary shape a lot…it’s a shape not often used today on science fiction spacecraft, many of which are made to look really sleek and aerodynamic  even if they are not atmosphere-capable. (That was the cool thing about the original series Enterprise – it sort of look airworthy, but you could tell it was really only designed to fly in space. Then they supposedly brought it into the lower atmosphere in the episode where they went back to the 1960s. Subsequent versions of the Big E got sleeker and sleeker, but I would hate to try to bring the Enterprise-D into an atmosphere. Oh, wait…they did, and crashed it. I forgot!) Of course, the ships designed by Fred Ordway and Harry Lange for 2001 had spheres, but they were based on real science and utility as much as possible…not art. Sort of like a VW Bug vs. a 1959 Chevy Impala.

Cool lookin’ car, but really, did all the streamlining make any difference? (My dad had a brown one. Even in brown, it was cool.)

So anyway, I cut a 2 inch diameter acrylic tube in half and I will attach half to each side of the hull. Not sure how the ends will look. Maybe scalloped, maybe quarter spheres…I’ll have to see.

Of course, now I have to cut another door for the main hatch. The styrene tube of the hull cut a lot nicer than the acrylic, which tends to melt on the Dremel.

Go check out Flickr. These guys did some truly beautiful work! More later, when I get the sides attached and get some resin outrigger struts and HD motors made. Oh, and I have to redesign the plasma thrusters…and figure out the sail rigging…


More Princess Cecile work

August 5, 2012

I’ve cast and assembled a whole bunch of thruster quads for the Princess Cecile build:

I really only need six, tops, but I don’t know which ones will look best painted. Since they were resin cast by me, they are “somewhat inconsistent.” Here’s a closeup of a couple of them – they are about 3/4″ across:

And here’s the next idea for the High Drive motor:

It’s a little over an inch long. I need a bunch of them, also. About half the resin I mix is wasted because I’ve been casting such small parts and I need to mix at least a half-ounce so I can get the amounts equal using my little plastic mixing cups. I figure once it’s ready, I’ll make one mold, then cast one, then make another mold. At least that way I can get two out of one pour. I don’t know what else I will need multiple copies of. It would make more sense to make more stuff at once, but I also hate to burn too much rubber making more molds. I have to think about that a bit.

I’ve been too busy to do much on the build. I have to tackle the masts next. I can’t figure out something that looks cool for the struts for the outriggers yet. Hmm.



More on building the Princess Cecile

July 16, 2012

Those of you who have followed my ramblings as I slowly work on a (mostly) scratchbuilt model of the starship Princess Cecile from David Drake’s Lt. Leary science fiction book series – here’s your next little bit:

The thruster quads I was trying to cast in resin turned out to be a challenge. I tried several different molds, trying to make one as a one-piece casting with the mold in two halves, and as two separate halves poured, sanded flat, and glued together.

In both cases I had problems with air bubbles or voids. Splitting it vertically in two helped a bit, but that still required getting the halves exactly flat and so they would line up when I glued them together. I learned a lot about the behavior of resin and moulding rubber, though!

The more time I spent with these parts, the more I was convinced the quads were just too big. They would scale out to 10 to 12 feet across, nozzle to nozzle. Granted, a warship has to maneuver quickly and so they would need to be larger, most likely, than on a commercial spaceship.

The trend today is that such thrusters would be mainly contained inside the hull of a spacecraft, I guess, if there is such a trend. The thrusters on the SpaceX Dragon vehicle only show the openings of the rocket nozzles.

A test firing of the Draco thruster for the SpaceX Dragon

You can see the thruster openings on the SpaceX Dragon – the four ovals below and to the left of the hatch.

No doubt about it, the Dragon is a well-designed little ship. But she’s not a fighter, and (hopefully) she will never have to take battle damage. The ships of the RCN routinely are repaired during battle by the riggers, who wear armored spacesuits because there’s stuff flying around out there. Drake usually refers to the riggers as needing to repair the rigging and sails so the ship can re-enter the Matrix. The design of the RCN ships was predicated on making them as similar to sailing vessels as possible for narrative purposes, I think.

One other point is that the RCN ships are built on steel hulls and are an interesting combination of high tech and low tech. In one of the books a ship is radically rebuilt on the ground on a mostly uninhabited planet. Just like the sailing ships of Aubrey or Hornblower, sometimes the crew finds it must effect major repairs without the benefit of a shipyard.

So…external thruster quads just sounded like a good idea to me. Here is the Apollo command and service module combo, showing the thruster quads:

See the thruster quads?

Closeup of the Apollo Service Module thruster quad

So…I still wanted them on the exterior of the hull, so they could be repaired or replaced without quite as much danger of explosion. It didn’t make sense to me to have them located inside the hull placing a bunch of small (relatively)  rocket engines where they could be dangerous to the crew, with openings through the hull for the exhaust.

So I made a couple of sort-of tetrahedrons about 3/8 of an inch on a side out of balsa foam. It’s a little too porous, but once I cast some I could sand the sides smooth. I also made a few small rocket engine bells based on the FP von Braun ferry rocket engines. I glued one set together. Here it is, next to the old master:

Test version of the new quad.

The whole thing is less than  3/4 of an inch across. That still makes it about 12 scale feet across, but I think they will look more in-scale and they are about as small as I can make them. I may try making one with the “shoulder” on the engine bells removed. That would make it smaller, but it would also make it far more delicate – the nozzle throat is about 1/16 of an inch!

I’ve not drilled out the engine bells. I should have done that first, with a pin vise. I’ll have to do that on the next set before I attach them.

I think these will give the ship a bit of a “retro” look, which is what I’m going for, anyway. I don’t see the ship as a beautiful, streamlined aerodynamic vehicle – in fact, Drake notes than when entering the atmosphere too fast it is far too easy to tear the rigging right off the hull. This is a ship that does not enter an atmosphere ballistically. It is under power at all times.

So, slow going. One other thought it to somehow create even smaller engine bells that would look more like the Apollo bells. I just don’t know how I would hold them on!


Scratchbuilding the “Princess Cecile” – the perils of resin casting

July 3, 2012

If you read the previous post on my scratchbuilding project, the Princess Cecile from David Drake’s Lt. Leary/RCN novels, you know that I have been working with resin casting a bit, trying to duplicate my master for the “thruster clusters.”  I have a couple of issues with the design of the thruster clusters yet, including the fact that they are big – not big on the model, but in the 1:200 scale of the model they would be about 15-20 feet across! Each rocket nozzle would be about 5 feet tall. However, the ship is supposed to be 230 feet long and it should displace about 1300 tons, so moving such a massy object would take some pretty big thrusters. In particular, the thrusters on a warship should be oversized compared to a commercial vessel so that they can maneuver quickly in a battle situation. The Sissy must be nimble!

So, I’ve been trying to get better results making resin castings of the master. The first mold I made yielded only far results, with some bubbles in the surface because I was overzealous in using mold release. I also used the wrong mold release agent – stupid! I used the aerosol kind intended for making resin castings, not the liquid stuff used to keep the master from adhering to the master.

I decided I needed to make new masters. I tried making them in the other orientation – with one nozzle pointing down – and making it in two halves that would be poured without putting them together. The problem there was that two thrusters would be made in halves, and the downward-facing one would be hard to pull from the mold. The technical term is undercut, meaning that the bottom of the nozzle has a larger diameter than the throat above it. That would require me to pull the resin copy out by forcing it through the rubber.

I actually tried a couple of these and they, frankly, sucked. I decided that I would just make a better version of the first two-part mold.

The master, sitting in clay, for the mold that didn’t work.

The master that didn’t work, both parts.

Both halves of the new mold, which looks a lot like the first one. I used big toothpicks to create the air bubble release holes instead of wire.

And I was so excited that I forgot to spray the inside of the mold before I poured the resin, and got this:

Ugh! And the nozzle broke off trying to pull it out of the rubber.

I sprayed the mold and tried again. This time I got a better result:

It was easier to pull out of the rubber this time, but it was still dicey.

The problems pulling the copy out of the mold were reduced, but not eliminated. Those long slabs on the image above are the air bubble holes, filled up with resin. The resin flowed through the mold well, however, and there were no large bubbles. The other problem is that the very bottom of the mold is made of clay, not rubber. It helped hold the master upright when making the mold. A little comes loose with each pull, even after spraying it with mold release. This one looks a lot cleaner, though, and except for removing the plugs on the ends of the nozzles, this one will take much less time to clean up.

By the way, while this one was curing, I cleaned up the other one to see if it was salvageable.

I still have to find a way to glue that nozzle on.

It would need more precision sanding before I would be ready to prime it.

I’ve considered having a more complex shape made in CAD and then having it grown in a 3D printer. I just don’t have the chops with a 3D program to make that happen. I tried a couple of programs, but the free ones don’t seem to work very well and the cost of the higher-end versions – whew!

There is an advantage to using these big thrusters on the Sissy, though. In the books, the riggers sometimes had to remain out on the hull while the ship moves in real space, not just in the Matrix. In the Matrix the ship moves by adjusting the direction of the sails, but once the ship was out, it often jumped right into the thick of battle. One of Daniel Leary’s skills is being the best astrogator this side of his uncle Stacy Bergen, who plotted many of the routes from star to star still used in Leary’s time. Leary could drop out of the Matrix closer to a planet than almost any other captain. This advantage meant that often the ship dropped out of the Matrix and right into the fighting, without having the time for the riggers to come back inside. Often they stayed outside anyway to cast off broken rigging before it fouled the guns or the missile tubes.

So anyway, if the thrusters were smaller and closer to the hull a rigger could be in the way of the exhaust of the rocket engines. Bigger clusters put the nozzles higher, farther away from the hull, where they would be less danger to the riggers. At least, that’s my rationalization!

One other thing. I’m playing with this possible High Drive motor:

I don’t think I like it. And i’s too big.

This thing is about an inch and three-quarters tall. Since an average person is about 3/8″ in this scale, this motor would be almost 30 feet tall in scale! In one of the books – I think it’s “The Far Side of the Stars” – the crew has to install some High Drive motors on another ship while both are on land, not in the water. Adele had hacked into the other ship’s computer and re-routed the plasma thruster controls to the High Drive motors. Using High Drive motors anywhere other than in vacuum is very dangerous, because they operate by matter-antimatter annihilation. The result was that the ship was badly damaged, but the was repaired by the crew of the Sissy and sent back as a sort of Trojan Horse. Since the High Drive motors were destroyed when they were used on the ground, the crew pulled some motors off of a “country craft” that was abandoned in the jungle nearby.

The description doesn’t make it sound as if moving the motors was an insurmountable problem, just with the resources carried on the two ships. It is mentioned that each motor weighs about half a ton. This is about the same weight as a SpaceX Merlin first-stage rocket engine probably weighs. I could see the High Drive motors as about the same size as a Merlin as well. This puts them about the same size as one of the rocket nozzles on the thrusters.

Part of the problem of the prototype above, besides size, is that the wire winding (which is to represent that used to create the magnetic field required for an motor using antimatter) is too big and probably beyond my skills to make prettier. A High Drive motor should be a device that generates and manipulates magnetic fields to control the mix of matter and antimatter.

In the second book the High Drive motors are on the bottom of the main hull, all together. Later they are described as being on the outriggers, in case something bad happens. However, how do you send antimatter to the engines if they are on the outriggers? That’s almost a bigger problem than building the engines!

The motor may not even need a physical nozzle, since the antimatter can’t touch it. I think I have to look into antimatter engines more. Robert Forward described how to make ships operate using “mirror matter,” but not in detail for small motors like this. And most of his required just a little antimatter mixed with more regular matter, usually hydrogen, and superheats the un-annihilated hydrogen to use as reaction mass, as a sort of super-rocket engine.

I know, you can’t study this so close or the physics breaks down! How do they make antimatter, anyway? They even have missiles with small High Drive engines on them, so controlling the magnetic fields must be old hat for these crews. I know – just ignore some of this and read the damned stories!

But to build something that looks believable – well, I have to get my head into the RCN universe and extrapolate. A lot.

My next project after this is the Alliance Space Ship Vorpal Blade, from the John Ringo/Travis Taylor book. It was built from the former USS Nebraska, a ballistic missile submarine! And it has a gigantic – well, sword – on the front! Doc Travis gets the science as right as possible, within the limits of storytelling. Giant intelligent chinchillas on antigravity golden surfboards?

(I have to do this one because I was a “red shirt” in the book. Long story, but John Ringo put a bunch of folks in as red shirts and then of course got them killed off. My character, an intel geek who completely misses the evidence pointing to an incoming invasion of “demon” dog-like creatures, gets torn apart by one of said creatures. And hey, John, I wear glasses and I suppose I’m kinda geeky, but my ears do not stick out! :))


First Orion arrives at KSC

July 2, 2012

Last Thursday, when you were either deifying or damning Chief Justice John “The Dread Pirate” Roberts, Lockheed-Martin delivered the first flyable Orion to the Kennedy Space Center.

No, it’s not this Orion:

Fantastic Plastic’s kit of the Orion Nuclear-Powered Battleship, patterned by Scott Lowther ( and built by Allen Ury (see note below)

And it’s certainly not this Orion:

The original Robert McCall art for the posters for “2001: A Space Odyssey”

No, it’s this one:

Yeah. Kind of anticlimactic, isn’t it?

Of course, it’s not done. The plan at the moment is to launch it a year or so from now on a Delta, do two elliptical orbits to an apogee of 3600 miles, then drive it back into the atmosphere at about 20,000 mph to simulate the stress an Orion would take coming straight back from the Moon, Apollo-style. It would be unmanned. Then a year or two later the next one would be launched on the planned heavy lifter to do an Apollo 8-style circumlunar trip (I don’t know about lunar orbit, maybe more like Apollo 13, just swingin’ around and a free return) as an unmanned vehicle as well. Then finally, a year or so later, launch one with people on a lunar mission. That should make it about 2019 or so, I reckon, allowing for Congress to screw up the budget a couple more times.

Of course, when they get there they will have to decide if they are going to land near the Chinese colony or the privately-owned SpaceX lunar base.

Credits: Robert McCall, dean of the space artists; Fantastic Plastic; and Scott Lowther.


Scratchbuilding the “Princess Cecile’ – continued

June 28, 2012

My scratchbuilding project, the Princess Cecile corvette from David Drake’s “Lt. Leary” series of military science fiction novels, has been patiently sitting in a plastic box for two years while I dealt with other things. I haven’t forgotten it, and I did a little work in the meantime, but not enough to warrant a post. Finally, it’s moving again!

The first thing I did was work on the internal layout of the main cargo door opening on C deck. (The number of decks changed a bit throughout the novels; I had to assume the ship has five decks as fitting in the hull best. This door opens from the bottom and serves as a landing platform for small aircars and as the primary access for personnel and equipment into the ship. Cleverly, however, Drake never really gives much of a description of any of the decks and spaces in the ship! (I may be referring to this cargo door incorrectly…I don’t have the books at hand and I’ll have to look it up later!)

I sort of semi-arbitrarily decided on a length for the space and cut a hole in the hull with a drill and Dremel tool.

Cargo hold opening for deck C

Then I sort of roughed in some panels and the hatch going to the ramp to the other decks. (In military starships in the RCN series, spiral ramps take the place of ladders or stairways; the logic is that if the ship’s hull flexes due to damage incurred in combat, the ramps are still accessible even if they are bent.) I drew it on the Mac using a drawing program and printed the plans out on paper, then glued them to thin plastic sheet and trimmed them a bit to fit the opening I cut in the hull.

Deck C cargo hold mockup (attached to bulkhead section) and beginnings of a High Drive motor

This test version was more for fit and visibility than anything. I don’t know if I will use any printed pieces in the final version or not, yet.

In the image above you can see the beginnings of a design for a “High Drive” motor on the left. In the universe of the RCN, the High Drive motors use matter-antimatter annihilation to power the ships in space. Except for one passing mention of “the lumps” of abandoned High Drive motors, I don’t recall any descriptions of the motors in the books. So…I get to make it up!

All I really need to know is (a) they are mounted on the outriggers, and (b) they mix matter and antimatter. I assume they use magnetic fields to manipulate the antimatter (anti-deuterium?) and manage the reaction, rather than just artistic license and good intentions. So I need something that looks like it has some big frackin’ magnets! We’ll see where this goes. The first design I came up with looked really stupid. Because the construction of the starships is such an odd mixture of low-tech and very high-tech – a steel hull, which can be patched and repaired by the crew on just about any planet, but a way to manufacture antimatter at need! – I’m going for a sort of low-tech, almost steampunk (“Teslapunk?”) look. So…more on these motors in another post.

Two years ago I made a “thruster cluster” – a set of four rocket engine nozzles on a spherical mount. It looks a bit oversized, but I assume the ship won’t have a lot of them. The ship takes off and lands vertically, with acceleration rarely over 1 G, so the ship isn’t very streamlined. If it passed through an atmosphere very fast it would tear the rigging right off the hull. It won’t have a bunch of reaction thrusters built into the hull, because it doesn’t need the streamlining and it makes more sense to put them where they can be worked on more easily.

Here’s the master, made from a wooden bead and rocket nozzles left over from building my Fantastic Plastic von Braun Ferry Rocket.

“Thruster cluster” master

It was time to see if the Micro-Mark resin and rubber were any good after sitting on the shelf for a few years. Turns out, both of them still worked! I built a box using Legos (hat tip FineScale Modeler magazine) and seated the master in a quarter-inch layer of clay, then poured the first layer of rubber. I was concerned that if I poured the resin in from the center it wouldn’t make it to the ends of the nozzles, so before I poured the top half of the mold I inserted little pieces of aluminum wire into the bottom half at the nozzle ends. The plan was for air bubbles to vent through the resulting holes.

The two-part mold for the thrusters

I hadn’t made a mold in over two years, and I don’t have a lot of mold-making experience, but this morning I poured the first copy and crossed my fingers.

Cluster – first attempt at a copy

You can see the pins on the ends of the nozzles. Before photographing this with my iPhone, I just cleaned off a little flash from around the edges. The thing will take some cleanup, but there is only one big bubble to fix, at the very end of one nozzle. I figure I need either four or six of these, so I will continue to pour some and see what I get. I was just happy the resin made it through the mold at all!

So…baby steps. I thin I will build this as a diorama, with the ship in refit before going back out into space on another adventure, sitting in the water in Harbor Three on Cinnabar. That way I can have some folks moving in and out, loading supplies and equipment, maybe loading a missile, and maybe even with one mast extended for sail repairs. It will be a challenge not only because of the scratchbuilding, but resin water, the quay, and a bunch of 1:200 scale figures to modify! (Adele Mundy is the one on the gangplank, looking like she’s going to fall off!)

UPDATE: I quickly scanned through two of the books – “Lt. Leary Commanding” and “The Far Side Of The Stars” – and the terms used for this particular opening in the ship was referred to as the “main hatch” or “entry compartment.” I’m sure that someplace there is more information, or the terminology changes from book to book. I’ll continue to dig, because now it bothers me!

I also found that in the second book in the series, “Lt. Leary Commanding,” the High Drive motor(s) are described as firing from a single point instead of from several separated locations. I think that’s the only place where the High Drive is said to be a single point. I seem to recall that in the others the High Drive motors are attached to the outriggers.

I’ve pondered the thruster clusters since I made the original post a couple of days ago, while I was out of town. I don’t recall thrusters really described in detail anywhere, but I recall they were mentioned a couple of times. I still don’t know if these are oversized. Each nozzle is almost as tall as a man! A warship has to maneuver quickly, however, so maybe the maneuvering thrusters would be oversized. Anyway, I think I will redo the molds. I may even try making two open-faced molds, casting the halves of the thrusters separately and then putting them together. I’d like to get a little cleaner castings if I could, and maybe that will help. The air-venting holes worked pretty well, but not flawlessly. I don’t know that I could get any better results with that mold at my current level of experience. Once I’ve tried the other mold, I’ll report on it.


You won’t believe this!

March 9, 2012

One of Willard Wigan's amazing micro-sculptures

Willard Wigan makes sculptures inside of the eyes of needles, or on the heads of pins. He apparently does this by hand but with the aid of a microscope. I can’t imagine how he does it. Apparently he was identified with a learning disability when he was young and he set out to prove them wrong…amazing!


Retro-space imagery of what might have been

January 15, 2012

The novel I wrote two years ago that takes place in the alternate universe of the Domination of the Draka will be available on the interweebs soon. It’s sort of an alternate-universe take on the early days of the US experimental jet and space vehicles that flew out of Edwards Air Force Base in the 1950s and 1960s – sort of an alternate “The Right Stuff.”

It needs a cover, like all novels. About a year ago I acquired a resin limited-run model kit from Fantastic Plastic that was a speculative look at what might have been if the X-15 rocket plane program had continued into the late 1960s. The kit of the X-15-D was mastered by Scott Lowther, editor/publisher and primary author of the Aerospace Projects Review and one of the authorities on concept aircraft and spacecraft. It was cast by BLAP Models and included decals by JBOT, both legends in the garage-kit space model kit business.

The kit was beautifully done, both in design and in execution. It was pretty a pretty simple build, especially because I didn’t want to include landing gear. Instead, I filled in the landing gear wells before painting.

I had in mind that the “real” concept spaceplane of 1967, the X-15-D, could become my X-14 Demon of 1953 in my book. The Demon was described as a single-seat suborbital spaceplane, sort of a super-X-15 with a scramjet chamber as well as rocket engines. The look of the X-15-D fit the description pretty well, even though I had originally envisioned the Demon about six or seven years ago without knowing about the design for an X-15 follow-on. (This is not that surprising. In The Stone Dogs, the third Draka novel, author S.M. Stirling sets forth a timeline of technological development and history that has the US and the Draka both getting men into orbit in the late 1950s – but using spaceplanes, not disintegrating totem poles.)

I had to make a couple of changes. First, the X-15 was covered in Iconel-X, a very temperature-resistant nickel-based alloy, and it was usually painted black. (On one flight it was coated in a heat-shedding ablative coating that was bright pink; the pilots refused to fly a pink airplane so white paint was applied over the coating before flight.) The Demon’s skin was made of a cermet, a ceramic-metallic composite material that had a rather unusual origin – you’ll have to read the book! Anyway, the cermet wouldn’t look purely metallic, or purely flat black, so I painted it black and dusted it with silver and blue shades to give it a hint of a different color.

I left off the NASA markings and a few of the others that I felt were out of scale with what I imagined the plane to be. (There is no NASA in the Drakaverse.) Otherwise, it’s Lowther’s airplane – I made no changes in the design. I ended up with this:

I hope I did Scott and the folks justice in building this model. It’s a cool design. I can’t just put the plane on the cover like this, though – I wanted to make it look realistic, as if it was in flight. I have very little of a real artistic hand, but I started fooling with a few tools and came up with a few possibilities. These are probably not what will eventually make the cover, but they are a start as I learn the software.  I used a masking plug-in for Photoshop called Topaz ReMask to clip the plane out of the image, then composited with various images taken from high-altitude aircraft and balloons. Then I used a nifty little tool called Neatberry PhotoStyler to create some “vintage” photos of the plane in flight.

Over California

At apogee

Black and white is stylish, right?

Over a certain place in Nevada that doesn't exist

I don’t quite have it to the point where the model doesn’t look like a model, yet. A couple of these backgrounds were shot from orbital altitude, and the Demon wasn’t supposed to be able to go into orbit…that wouldn’t be for a few years yet. I’m working on it, and it’s been great fun. I highly recommend these tools, along with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, as software even an untrained person like me can use.

You can say you saw the Demon first!

(And by the way, the Demon was flown in the book by Jack Ridley, a test pilot and engineer who was a real person and a great pilot. He’s the guy who gave Chuck Yeager the stick of Beeman’s gum (and the broom handle) before Yeager broke the sound barrier in the X-1 in real life! Check out Yeager’s autobiography for more information.)