Real-life Gerry Anderson Vehicles Part 6


I can’t decide if this would fit better in “Thunderbirds” or “Captain Scarlet”. Either road it is a most impressive aircraft. Built up out of two Boeing 747 airliners, the Stratolaunch looks like it could be Starship One’s bigger brother…and it is. Both are designed by Burt Rutan, maverick aircraft guru that gave us a series of great home-built designs before going on to develop planes that could fly around the world without stopping or huck a smaller ship up into space.

(I always got the impression that Rutan and Gene Rodenberry were twins separated at birth. Maybe it was the fact that they both spent the 1970s sporting mutton-chop sideburns while battling entrenched interests in their respective fields. )

With both men it was their earlier work that appealed to me. I will continue to pick episodes of the original Star Trek series over the movies and later TV works – and my preferences for Rutan aircraft always comes back to the Vari-viggen – one of his earlier kit design.


It gives me the same technodork-vibe that I get from the Hawker Hurricane….

Cardboard Interceptor

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One of the benefits of having the MoonDog as your papa is having access to the biggest toys ever, to include my latest cardboard creation. Jayden has recently developed interest in “Aaah-panes” – or “airplanes” as the rest of us call them. He goes through a toy airplane about once a week, literally loving/playing the wings right off them, so I decided to make a kid-sized “aah-pane” he could climb into and imagine flying.

It’s been kind of interesting – he loves it, but he can only play with it for about three or four minutes at a time. That’s because he insists on picking it up and flying it around the room like he would do with this regular small airplane toys. At not-quite-three his imagination hasn’t developed to the point where he can envision being in the airplane.  The plane trip home from Virginia at Christmas 2014 has been his only exposure to actual aircraft and if it was anything like my first train ride he figures that it was a matter of sitting in a noisy cramped room for an hour. He kept trying to get his mom to sit in plane while he walked around it.

It was a lot of fun to make – and to me this sort of thing is the true essence of art, using my talents to bring a smile to another person’s face. Knowing that Jayden will eventually “play the wings off” this one as well meant I could forego my usual OCD finish job, which kept the process immediate and casual.


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Westland Wyvern Model

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A few weeks ago I posted a sketchbook drawing of the Westland Wyvern, an early ’50s torpedo/attack plane used by the Fleet Air Arm in the early 1950s. Today I’m posting a photo of a model of that A/C – a model I just finished. I have just one favor to ask as you look at it though – don’t look too close.

Oh, he model itself it great – a 1/48 scale kit by Trumpeter Models. It’s just not the most precise assembly I’ve ever made. Somehow the kit sprues had ended up in my parts box, and were almost thrown out when we moved last May. I salvaged the sprues and those parts that had been assembled, but there was some damage and the kit instructions were lost in the process.

I got it cobbled together but it has been painted in what I refer to as “stage make-up” a style that is not too terribly precise but looks great at a distance. I really wanted to have the finished model but I didn’t have a whole lot of time…and to be honest at (almost) 63 my skills aren’t what they used to be.

It’s also the first kit other than something gaming related that I have finished in almost 20 years so I am pretty rusty. Thankfully three of the half-dozen unfinished kits I have stashed away are  in 1/24 scale which should make them twice as easy as this one to finish.


Westland Wyvern sketch

Westland WyvernWestland Wyvern – Fleet Air Arm attack fighter from the early 1950s. Turbo-prop with contra-rotating propellers and one of the most wonderful clunky examples of technodork ever. It’s interesting to take this aircraft and compare it to the Fairey Swordfish, a biplane torpedo bomber that the British were using just ten years before this time of this plane.

This is out of my sketchbook,  rarity of sorts as I don’t work in my sketchbook nearly as much as I did ten years ago. Age continues to creep up on me and sometimes it is all I can do just to hold a pencil. It is interesting though – over the course of my career as an illustrator I have had to resort to light tables, projectors and photographs more than once, but now that I am older I find that tracing a photograph never yields a product anywhere close to the quality that comes from me sitting down with just drawing tools and paper.

This is more of a caricature of a Wyvern than an exact depiction, but I think it conveys the feeling of the aircraft better than something more realistic. That’s why I have students draw a caricature of themselves for information cards rather than falling back on photos. The drawings always convey more information than the lens.


Done…for now.


Not the best photo – but it’s raining so I had to shoot this indoors.

I think this is as far as I want to take this model. I really like seeing the construction so I papered just enough of the model to make it not so confusing to look at. I also have to be brutally frank in that if I were to finish it and try to fly it I would have a disaster on my hands. The center-of-gravity is out of limits and the wings and empennage are not aligned properly.

When launched this “eh-pane” (as Jayden calls it) would do a nose-dive while making a tight roll to the right.

I really, really enjoyed this model. The process alone was a lot of fun.

Junior Birdmen 3.75

baby steps

I’ve started general assembly of the Sparrowhawk model, attaching the rudder, elevator, and landing gear. I got as far as covering the empennage area with tissue but I want to think this through further before continuing. I really like the model without the covering; its fascinating to see how all these spindly components can come together to make such a strong whole.

Granted, the model will have to be covered in order to fly and tissue adds strength when it is doped and shrinks….but I don’t think this is going to be very good at flying anyway.  Nothing has gone together as square and plumb as I would like. The landing gear looks good enough at first glance but upon close inspection you’ll find the struts are of different lengths on the two sides.

…and as for the covering: It wasn’t obvious before it was covered, but after I got the tissue on the tail and shrunk it to fit I found that there were some warps that will …well, lets say that when launched this plane will most likely do a tight roll to the right as it immediately augers into the ground.

I am still amazed at the bravery of pilots that would fly these spindly contraptions.

2015 Up In The Air, Junior Birdmen (Part 3)


Photo – Courtesy  Dumas Aircraft Kits

I love model kits – particularly aircraft. The hobby developed in my youth along with a general interest in aviation and has helped me vicariously pursue that interest through the years. Between my medical grounding* from flight school in 1980 and (forgive the pun) the  soaring  cost for dual instruction in private-pilot training  I have logged exactly 0 hours as pilot in command in the last thirty years…so building kits has been my way of ‘staying current’.  Unfortunately the cost of kits, tools and other related products has steadily increased and quite often I find myself priced right out of the hobby…

(…but that will be covered in Junior Birdmen part 1)

As a change of pace I have been working on a balsa wood kit of a Curtis F9C-2 Sparrowhawk, a small biplane designed to be carried on the Navy’s airship USS Los Angeles as a parasite fighter.  It’s been a while since my last  balsa kit so the model has been a challenge as I reacquaint myself with older tools and techniques.

…but mostly it has reinforced the respect and awe with which I hold pioneering aviators from the first years of heavier-than-air flight. Balsa kits use the same techniques with which all pre-World War Ii aircraft were made; Stringers and formers are assembled together around a spar or two and maybe some metal tubing to form the overall shape of the plane, then the assemblage is covered with cloth (or in the case of the kit: paper) then coated with a kind of paint (“dope”) that shrinks, stiffens and seals the covering.

These things are little more than kites and you can’t help but marvel at the people who flew them. We’re  spoiled by modern air travel as we zoom around in large constructs of metal, plastics and composites that provide better protection than most residential apartments.  An aircraft made with frame-and stringer construction – even a relatively modern plane like a Piper Super Cub – is really just a tent with an engine running at one end.

There was a time when I wanted an actual plane of my own but reality quickly put a stake in that plan’s heart.  From there I decided to build a plane of my own design but reality swooped in a second time and I revised my plan to assembling a commercial kit.  Unfortunately finances and health issues have caused me to drop my sights even further so here I am with my scale model kits…though I occasionally get a little day-dreamy about that full-sized, homebuilt version

But building this balsa kit…it has been a serious wake-up call.  Even though I understand that the design is stronger than it looks I can hardly believe it could hold together under  its own weight. Then I think about the “real deal” – the actual airplanes using the same construction techniques and I start to hyperventilate.  I don’t know if I could bring myself to careen around the sky with only pieces of spruce covered with painted cloth between my fat fourth-point-of-contact and a thousand feet of empty space.

That anxiety has extended to the kit as well.  As I said the model looks so fragile that I have been substituting stronger basswood pieces in place of balsa in some places . As I was doing so the other night three things came to mind:

  • Basswood is stronger and bends without breaking better than balsa – but it’s also a bit heavier. Will the center of gravity still work out correctly with the added weight of the basswood or will the plane stall or dive like a rock?
  • As I was adding on a basswood stringer the other night it occurred to me that I was behaving like the children of Israel as they steadied the Ark of the Covenant. Distrust in the design and materials may have prompted me to create a problem had if I’d avoided had I showed a bit more faith.
  • Would I have made the same mistake building that full-sized flyable kit ?

At that point I remember that because of the arthritic issues I deal with I no longer have the range of movement or strength in my hands to build or fly that coveted commercial homebuilt aircraft kit…and realize that this is probably the one time when my disabilities are an asset and not a liability.

*Vision problems that weren’t detected during the application process but an issue during flight under night and instrument conditions……and unfortunately army regulations severely limit the use of seeing-eye dogs in the cock-pit.

balsa 1   balsa 2

My own kit in progress – I will be ecstatic if I get within 75% of the company kit at the beginning of this post.