The Mantis is a 1:12 scale VTOL aircraft I designed and built for a short film called Last Flight. The film was the final project for a filmmaking course I took several years ago.
Utilizing a sheet aluminum skin over a framework of copper tubing, the Mantis features spring-loaded landing struts and a vertically mounted fan to generate dust on touchdown. To stay within budget, found objects were used wherever possible. The engine bells are lighting shrouds from a camera supply store, and the main engines are hairspray cans. The one area where I spent a bit more money was the landing skids, which are solid milled steel.
Film models are vastly different from typical display models. They’re designed to fit the requirements of a specific scene, so the emphasis is on function. The main requirements for the Mantis were going with a large enough scale so that the camera would hold depth of field during filming, and making the fuselage big enough to accommodate an electric fan. Filmed with an overcranked 16mm Bolex camera, the fan did a good job of blowing dust (cinnamon from the kitchen cupboard) all over as it touched down on the landing pad, and the scene came out looking fairly realistic.
Given the tight project deadline, I didn’t have time to detail the model. But as special effects guru Brian Johnson once said, “with all that smoke swirling about, you can get away with murder!” I used cinnamon instead of smoke, but close enough.
There was of course a pilot figure seated in the cockpit for the filming of the scene. I upgraded the cockpit later using an Italeri kit so the Mantis would make a respectable display model. As for the design of the ship, I saw it in a dream. I don’t remember what the rest of the dream was about, but I sketched out the basic shape as soon as I woke up, and worked out the details later. The sharply angled nose looks a bit like a Praying Mantis, hence the name.
This is one of my first kitbashes. I was satisfied enough with the end result that I kept it in my collection and still have it after all these years. The front is the main hull section of the Rio Grande Runabout from Deep Space Nine, and the back consists of the service module and engines from Mattel’s Space: 1999 Eagle Transporter.
Mattel’s Eagle was impressive in size but hopelessly inaccurate. Despite my attempts to upgrade it from toy to scale replica, I was never able to get it to look like an actual Eagle. So I eventually ended up cannibalizing it for parts to create an original design.
The Runabout kit which was available at the time had the right shape to complement the parts I was going to use from the Eagle. (I was never a fan of Deep Space Nine; in fact, it was probably the least memorable of all the incarnations of Star Trek. It lacked the magic Star Trek ingredient, which is having a starship capable of zooming around the galaxy to a different destination each week.)
So by combining parts from two unremarkable products, I came up with something which I was much happier with. I didn’t prepare so much as a sketch before beginning the build, and wasn’t really sure how it would turn out. But everything blended together fairly well, helped by judicious detailing and a uniform coat of spray paint.
The most challenging part of the build was the rear landing gear. A fair amount of strength was needed to support the weight of the model. My solution was to form both the left and right gear from a single steel rod. I ran it width-wise through the aft section and bent it into shape on each side. The landing pads were taken from a Lunar Models Jupiter II kit (the old vacuform kit which preceded the injection molded Moebius kit by many years).
The hull section of the Runabout was given a new cockpit canopy: a single piece of clear plastic bent to shape and silvered on the inside, suggesting an optical shield to guard the crew from radiation (not to mention it saved me from having to scratch build a canopy interior!). I also carved out a front landing gear bay on the underside of the Runabout’s hull and added the gear along with a vertical thruster.
The Troop Transport’s lack of windows reflects its utilitarian function. It’s designed to carry a large complement of troops and is devoid of any of the luxuries you’d find on a passenger craft. Entry and exit is through a door at the rear of the ship. Essentially it’s a space-going V-22 Osprey.
Having assembled and painted the Troop Transport, I put it aside and called it a day. But after displaying it on the shelf for a while, I realized the overall white paint scheme was a bit bland. Some bright red decals and a touch of weathering would give it more visual punch. Having just picked up a bottle of Solvaset decal setting solution, I was eager to see what it could do. So I applied some spare decals over various nooks and crannies. To my amazement the decals conformed perfectly regardless of how irregular the surface was. Solvaset is one of the stronger decal setting solutions and not all decals perform equally well with it. But in this case everything turned out nicely.