Posts Tagged ‘models’


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.)


It’s a great idea – a flying model SpaceX rocket!

January 9, 2012

Falcon 9 flying model (with detachable clear fins needed for flying)

Back in the heyday of the Space Race in the 1960s, the major model kit manufacturers sold kits of the real space vehicles for Baby Boomer space fans. It was also the high-growth period for flying model rockets, with Estes Industries leading the industry, but with several other manufacturers developing interesting kits as well.

The major model kit manufacturers from around the world have produced kits of American and Russian space vehicles ever since. This piece isn’t about that, but about how SpaceX is trying to rekindle that kind of excitement with this generation by selling a flying model rocket kit of their flagship launcher/cargo capsule combo, the Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle. They were smart in marketing it on Amazon, and the box proudly proclaims, “Made in the USA.” The real SpaceX vehicle is all-US designed and built from the ground up. (Just as a comparison, the Japanese  H-1 launcher used a  licensed version of the US-designed Delta, and the US Atlas 5 uses the Russian-built RD-180 engine.)

SpaceX is combining its second and third orbital test flights of the Falcon 9/Dragon into one mission, scheduled to launch on February 7 of this year. If successful, the Dragon will rendezvous with the ISS and will be captured with the robotic arm, then docked with the ISS.

CGI image of the Dragon berthed at the ISS

If this flight is successful, commercial flights to the ISS could begin during 2012. The man-rated version of the Dragon is scheduled to be ready for flight in 2015.

I hope selling a flying model of the Falcon will help bring more interest in SpaceX in particular and commercial space in general. It’s not as “interesting looking” as the Mercury/Atlas or Saturn V models of yesteryear, but it’s real, and it’s flying. I hope a commercial model company will offer a plastic static-display kit of the Dragon…but unfortunately it will probably be made by a foreign company if at all. Revell/Monogram is the last of the big model companies in the US. (Although I wouldn’t discount Moebius Models or Polar Lights/Round 2 – both are smaller companies that have been very aggressive in science fiction subjects.

Boxtop art for the Revell Mercury-Atlas - it came with a full launcher as well!

The art from the 1960s Revell 1/96 Apollo/Saturn V kit - the completed model is over 3 feet tall!

By the way, the image above is from this site – check the price – $ 420!

Want to fly a 1/100 scale Apollo Saturn? Get the one below from this site.

Estes is still in the business of flying rockets and is the major manufacturer of model rocket engines.

I just received a copy of the Falcon/Dragon model. One of these days I’ll build it and post some pictures here! UPDATE 1-20-2012: I’ve received the kit and the quality of the kit and instructions is outstanding. The lower section of the body and the Dragon capsule are ABS plastic, and the clear fins are polycarbonate, so they should handle plenty of rough landings. The body tube is completely enclosed in a pre-printed self-adhesive paper wrap, which means there is no painting needed and it should strengthen the body tube besides. There is a wrap for the Dragon capsule as well. The instructions are great – someone 12-14 years old with no previous experience building a model rocket should have no problem with this, and assembly should only take a few hours. I’ll add some photos soon. I highly recommend this!


If you build it, they will come…

December 16, 2011

SpaceX flying model (1:288 scale) of the Falcon 9/Dragon

It would be interesting to know how many of the folks who work at SpaceX flew model rockets when they were kids. I did, but that was in the heyday of model rocketry, in the 1960s and early 1970s. My son did, with me, when he was in elementary and middle school.

However it worked back then, the folks at SpaceX have a 1:288 flying model of the Falcon 9/Dragon that will be available soon from Amazon. (The image above is of the prototype; the production model will have clear plastic fins that are removable for display. This is a brilliant move, if not in marketing, certainly for inspiration of America’s youth. They also understand the short attention span of kids today. No painting is required on the model and it looks like assembly should be quick. This is the time of short assembly flying models, and they understood that. (Today you can buy a remote-controlled airplane or helicopter for under $ 30 that is almost ready to fly right out of the box. Thanks to our Chinese overlords for that bit of manufacturing savvy.)

In February, should everything go well, there should be a flurry of news reports about the first commercial spacecraft to dock at the ISS. That will generate a lot of free publicity for SpaceX. The time is right for kids to be reminded that going into space isn’t just something from an old history book, or from an EFX-laden movie. Real people are building real hardware to go into space. Even Newt gets it – more on that in a later post!

Of course, if the Dragon flight to the ISS is a dismal failure, things could be different. I admire the courage and confidence of Elon Musk and the SpaceX team to roll two test flights into one and go for it. That’s something that NASA almost always did not do, even in the Gemini and Apollo days.

The real deal, getting ready for launch in February

So I applaud SpaceX for promoting space exploration with the flying model. I’ve not flown one in a decade, though I still have all mine and a stock of Estes rocket motors, which may or may not be good anymore. I may have to drag them out and see if I can still get one stuck in a tree as reliably as I used to do!


Some gorgeous fantasy aircraft and spacecraft art

November 13, 2011

X-wing repaint for the Navy

An artist going by the name of Clave has done twelve pages – over a hundred individual images – of beautiful profiles of aircraft and spacecraft, repainted in livery that they would never historically have, like an F-22 of the Soviet Air Force, etc. The majority are aircraft, mainly WWI and current jet aircraft, but some are TV/film spacecraft like the Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds ships and the Battlestar Galactica Viper. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this one example. Go to these pages to find the others. Even if you are not a fan of aircraft, science fiction, or alternate history, you will enjoy the sheer artistry in his work. He is an incredible craftsman. Rarely have I seen so much beautiful, exacting imagery of such high quality and with such interesting ideas!


For model builders: weird but funny…

August 25, 2011

If I saw it on the intertubes, it must be true...

Here it is, folks…Japanese model manufacturing company Tamiya is apparently creating a Moon Landing Conspiracy plastic model kit, as you can see above. (The image is larger; click to expand it. The detail is important!) Yes, in the lower right corner are two Nixon versions: happy Dick and sad Dick. I particularly like the steering wheel for the lunar rover.

That should be the tip-off. According to the web site The Inspiration Room, this image and the ones below were created by Tamiya’s ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather Vietnam, for a series of print ads the company is going to put out. Some of the others are in just plain poor taste. Here’s the Elvis set:

And the Roswell set:

(Note the pig on the bottom of the sprue above. Ick.)

Now it gets weird. Here’s the Marilyn Monroe set:

And the most tasteless of all, but one that couldn’t be missed, of course: the JFK set:

The pity is, I don’t know whether to deplore this or wish I had a set or two of each…