Friday, April 7, 2017

The TransRim MB-1210 Starshuttle

All good space games need space ships to get folks on and off planets and from one star system to another. To that end, I've found myself contemplating what to do to give myself some usable models. This is one possible solution.

It's probably not a huge shock that I'm an aviation enthusiast in my off time. (By which I mean time not spent gaming or pursuing other oddball hobbies. It's all off time from one perspective or another.) So I wanted something that could combine this . . .

with something more like this . . .

(Credit to NASA both for the ship and the shot.)

Of course, "bathtubbing" something for a 28mm table means you end up with something more along the lines of a Learjet than an L-1011, but hopefully I've managed to suggest most of that. Honestly, I'd set out to build a sort of Learjet shuttle, but as the thing shaped up in my head it started to look a little beefier and more businesslike and somewhat less luxe. 

I started out with a transformers toy I picked up on clearance for a few dollars. Can't even quite tell you what it was, but you can see some of the pieces below. It was a short, stocky thing: all nose and tail and no body. The wings were originally forward swept in a way that was popular in 70s experiments and 90s sci-fi, so one of my first surgerizings was pulling them off and reversing them. The intake grills became . .  . acceptable if odd exhaust nozzles. (Honestly, it was a weird dang little "aircraft." It also had two giant arms and legs that paired up to become a sort of jet fan disk and exhaust section. I left those on the cutting room floor for a future project.) 

Next I took a plastic tube that had originally contained some concentrated fruit juice and test fit it to the newly divorced bits of transformer. The fit wasn't great, but the size was about right. So I (mostly) sliced the ends off the tube and cut out a part of one side so I could give it a flat  bottom. And then I drilled a bunch of holes into the front of the tail and back of the nose and inserted some brass rod pins to form my juice fuselage around. I've lost the pictures of that process, but you can see the results below as I hold the tube in place to dry.

A couple of pieces of cardstock became the belly and part of the underside of the tail. All of this was coated with spackle a few times and sanded smooth. I also filled the odd waffle texture of the bottom of the wings with spackle. Who ever heard of waffle wings? It gives the bottom of the shuttle a suitably ceramic texture, perhaps suggestive of an ablative heat shield. (All those bricks on the bottom of the space shuttle were, after all, made from good Missouri clay of the sort mined from quite near my house at one time. Still mined a little further west, in fact. You want some refractory brick? We got it for you.)

The landing gear was a bit of a kludge, in the end. I couldn't really convince myself that a shuttle would ever have spats or fixed gear, so I'm sort of pretending that somehow those gear pivot horizontal right at the wheel and then telescope back into the wings. Goofy, but mostly I'm just ignoring it. It was a practical modeling problem I couldn't solve quickly or easily enough for my taste.

Of course, that left the top of the shuttle an undifferentiated cylinder. Which had seemed fine nitially, but I decided it wouldn't do. I pulled a bunch of drop tanks and radiator cowlings out of the bits box (I have dozens from an assortment of WWII models) and found a couple that seemed suitable. I figure the drop tank covers some coms antennas and the radiator cowling protects a sensor array containing the spacey equivalent of pitot tubes and the like.

The reinforcing strip for the portholes was the plastic guide from a brand of fastener called a "toggler." The toggle attaches to the plastic. You push it into the wall, where it pivots vertical. You then pull it back and snug it up to the inside of the wall and break the plastic strips off at a little collar that snugs to the outside of the wall and guides your bolt in. So I had these odd curvey bits of plastic handy. (I save all manner of odd stuff if it looks cool and structural. Coworkers used to make jokes about this calling things "robot parts" and "bunkers.")  Anyway . . . after setting up an improvised jig and drilling some small regular holes into the things with my handy drill press I ended up with what you see below.

A piece of cardstock provided a crude door. Should really have engraved that into the tube somehow, but at least it has a door.

At this point all that remained was slapping some paint on the thing. During most of my youth the local terminal was the main hub for a certain defunct airline, which meant about every plane you saw in town was the same color. And there were lots of them. (At its peak the airport saw around 40 million passengers annually.) Not too surprisingly, the first plane I ever rode belonged to that airline. (You can see it pictured above.) I was disappointed at the time that it was a "lowly" L-1011 and not a sexier 747. Now . . . I can't complain. How many other folks can say that the very first bird they ever boarded was a TWA L-1011? That would carry them a quarter of the way around the world to places exotic? (By way of a Minoru Yamasaki terminal from 1957 and Eero Saarinen's iconic JFK T5. And I hit Dulles on the way back, too. All the truly classic modernist terminals in one trip. And the return was aboard that 747, so I got my big bird experience as well. The only thing I really missed was a DC-10, and TWA never bought any of those.) Anyway . . . there was really only one possible inspiration for the livery. I simplified it, added the obligatory black belly for inter-atmo ops, and took the "world" and "airline" parts out, replacing them suitably and making my poor bird think it's a Tandy computer. But hey, we had those too! :)

Isn't that thing almost mean looking from the front? Yeah. I can live with that.

So it's an odd little bird, but I think I like it. :)

Thanks for coming along for the flight.

The Composer


  1. The nose looks like a combination of Storm Trooper Helmet and a "Bulldog" Gas mask
    That is a FINE combination

  2. Creative (love the nose!) and very nice job!

  3. ^Ranalcus,

    You know, I hadn't noticed that, but I see where you're coming from. That is a fine combination. Of course, it's just the nose off the transformer. Didn't really change that part, aside from the paint. The changes were mostly between nose and tail. In any case, thank you, and yes. :)


    Thanks man! There's no skool like the old skool. ;-)


    Thank you indeed, sir. It's fun finally getting back to chopping things up and putting them together in ways God never quite intended. :)

  4. Love it. Has exactly the look one would expect of a small short range hauler. One could easily imagine a few of these parked on the tarmac with different liveries, or in Olive Drab.

  5. It should even be possible to reproduce the thing, if I can find more copies of the little transformer. And if I want to drink more juice. :D Thank you Lasgunpacker.

  6. Very nice walk thru of your mental and physical processes to provide your characters with suitable aircraft by which to work out their important lives.

    "You the man, Mr. C.!"

  7. Thank you Jay! They needed transport. Honestly, they still need more. The MB-1210 is a lovely bird, but it doesn't haul much cargo. Something (or things) a little beefier will be needed. ;-)

  8. At midnite tonight go to the nearest cross street from where you live. Look up into the heavens and wait 'till you see the tail of a two falling stars--back to back--racing across the horizon. Turn the dial on your wrist watch up one hour. Close your eyes, stick your right hand out--palm up, (don't peek!), and wait. When you smell something similar to a wet Bogger and feel a warm soft fuzzy object being placed into your outstretched hand, say "Thank you!"

    Open your eyes. Then open the fuzzy little package that occupies the middle of your outstretched hand. There is enuff moolah on the credit chip to get you three MB-1377s! The ones with the new particle hyper-drive modulators.

    You're welcome.


  9. Cool project. Thanks for sharing the steps in your build process.

  10. ^Jay,

    You are a man of strange and powerful magic. The Zamazonian delivery service came through as promised. I look forward to seeing these MB-1377s. I bet they're pretty sweet! ;-)


    My pleasure. I truly enjoy telling these little stories, even if they're as simple as "glue stuff together and add paint." (Well, and maybe a little inspiration and some cursing and some bits of fingertip. I forgot that part.) Paint, inspiration, and perspiration. Anyway, my pleasure, I assure you. Thank you for reading it.

  11. Very cool! I enjoyed reading about the process of design/construction, and am quite impressed with the finished bird! Not your standard composer's product; which somehow makes it even cooler.

  12. I suppose I am an odd composer, but the thing is quite composed. I compose music, sure, but also photographs, word constructs, drawings, and indeed models. Thank you Aubergine Kat! It was fun little model. While it has its flaws it adds a lot to a gaming table, and it photographs well enough, which is a darn good thing under the circumstances. :) Glad you liked it!