Tag Archives: Sikorsky Skycrane

Space: 1999’s Eagle Transporter flies again

Round 2 Models has just announced an upcoming injection kit of the venerable Eagle Transporter, the iconic spacecraft from Space: 1999. The 1:72 model will be approximately 36cm (14”) in length, making it slightly larger than the 30cm (12”) versions which have been released over the years by companies such as MPC, Warp, and Product Enterprise. Pre-production renderings show that Round 2 has taken care to faithfully reproduce the correct proportions of the Eagle.

It’s been 44 years since the debut of Space: 1999, and the fact that new tools of the Eagle are still being produced is testament to the staying power of this timeless spacecraft. Given that Round 2 just released a 1:48 Eagle Transporter a few years ago, the demand for Eagle kits is evidently stronger than ever. For a subject to be offered in multiple scales by the same company, it has to be extremely popular. 

Some fictional spaceships become famous because they’re associated with a hit show or movie. Star Trek’s USS Enterprise is a good example. Regardless of its own merits, it’s always going to have a fan base due to Trek’s immense popularity. This isn’t the case with the Eagle. Both seasons of Space: 1999 generated mixed reviews, and for many, Brian Johnson’s special effects were the most impressive thing about it. The Eagle stands on its own merits. 

A big part of the Eagle’s enduring appeal is its clever blend of the mechanical and the organic. On the surface, the ship is all machine: modular sections bolted to a tubular frame ‘backbone’ which runs the length of the ship. A straightforward, utilitarian design with no superfluous design flourishes.

But on a subconscious level, we perceive something organic. In designing the Eagle, Brian Johnson wanted to give the ship an insect-like appearance, and he succeeded. Its tubular frame  gives the impression of an exoskeleton. The landing gear struts flex like the legs of a grasshopper. And the command module’s two viewports at the front of the ship look like eyes. These organic design elements lift the design of the Eagle above the ordinary.

The Eagle is a practical spacecraft. The design is based on recognizable, real world technology. It uses nuclear propulsion, something which already exists today. Unlike the Enterprise or Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t travel faster than light. It doesn’t attempt to stretch the laws of physics. 

The landing gear are set wide apart to provide stability on take off and landing. The vertical thrusters are where you expect them to be to provide lift. A bit of poetic license has been taken with the fuel tanks, which are too small to provide enough liquid propellant for all but the shortest journeys, but this is a minor quibble. The interchangeable pod amidships allows the Eagle to perform a variety of roles, transporting both passengers and freight. I wonder if Brian Johnson took inspiration from the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter of the 1960s, which accommodates interchangeable payloads. 

Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane

The sound designers of Space: 1999 decided to give the Eagle a recognizeable jet turbine sound. So when it’s flying, it sounds like any jet aircraft you might see at the airport. This again constitutes poetic licence, since the Eagle is rocket powered, but it helps establish a sense of familiarity. 

The ultimate test for any fictional spacecraft is how good it looks when it’s flying. The Eagle takes to the air in a flurry of moondust as its vertical thrusters power up. This is much more visually interesting than the anti-gravity drives common to science fiction vehicles, which give no visible indication as to when they’re operating. 

The Eagle banks and rolls like an ordinary aircraft, even in space. Although not technically accurate, this is a convention which most science fiction shows and movies have adopted, simply because audiences are used to seeing aircraft flying in the earth’s atmosphere. However, the Eagle’s lack of anything resembling wings gives it a unique look when in flight. 

One thing the writers of Space: 1999 got right was coming up with plenty of stories in which Eagles ran into trouble and crashed. These sequences were done entirely in camera with models flown on wires through elaborate miniature sets, and still stand today as some of the finest crash landings ever filmed. Few computer generated effects can match the visceral thrill of an Eagle crack-up. The most spectacular sequences occurred in Season Two, where Eagles could be seen careening into dense forests with flashes of pyrotechnics. My Eagle Crash diorama was inspired by these scenes.    

In many ways, the Eagle has always been the true star of Space: 1999. It successfully melds present day aerospace concepts with an optimistic look towards the not too distant future. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.