The 1970s TV series Space: 1999 is fondly remembered for its outstanding special effects, which were well ahead of its time. One of the iconic visuals of the show was the launch pad used by Moonbase Alpha’s Eagle transporters. (The venerable Eagle is one of the great sci-fi spacecraft designs of all time, and the subject of a diorama I discussed here.)
Sixteen 12, which specializes in limited edition replicas of Gerry Anderson subjects, has announced that pre-orders for their new electronic Space: 1999 launch pad are now open. The company decided to scale the launch pad for a 13cm (5”) Eagle to keep it down to a practical size. This necessitated launching an entire line of compatibly scaled Eagles, which are available separately. The vast majority of Eagle replicas have averaged 30cm (12”) in length over the years, but at this size, the launch pad would be impractically large. The pad features working landing lights as well as a motorized extending boarding tube, and comes with an Eagle and moonbuggy. It would make a great start to an Eagle diorama.
The launch pad is a striking design, featuring a bold orange cross centered on a circular platform. The perimeter of the cross is punctuated by landing lights. The pad is an elevator. It descends to Moonbase Alpha’s underground hangar, where the Eagles are kept. An Eagle is placed on the pad using a crane. The pad then rises to the surface, and crew members board the Eagle using a telescoping boarding tube.
The few episodes of Space: 1999 where we see the Eagle hangar reveal an interesting anomaly. Keen eyed viewers may have noticed that exterior moon surface shots show most of the orange part of the pad (three legs of the cross) emerging from the hangar, but interior hangar shots show only a rectangular section of the pad in motion. So on its way from the hangar to the surface, the pad mysteriously changes from a rectangle to a cross. This is one of the biggest continuity errors of the show, leaving us to wonder how it escaped the watchful eye of special effects director Brian Johnson.
Putting this minor quibble aside, the launch pad remains one of the visual trademarks of Space: 1999. Thanks to Sixteen 12, fans of the show are finally able to get an accurate replica of the pad that won’t take up too much space on the bookshelf.
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.
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.
Love it or hate it, Space: 1999 has stood the test of time. Itsfan base is still going strong nearly half a century after the show’s cancellation. This has created demand for countless model kits and diecast replicas of the show’s wonderful hardware over the years. Which brings us to Round 2’s latest offering.
The Nuclear Waste Area 2 Diorama Set recalls “Breakaway,” the pilot episode of Space: 1999. In a last minute attempt to avert disaster, Eagle Transporters are dispatched to disperse nuclear waste canisters from the waste area before they can detonate. The attempt is unsuccessful and a massive explosion throws the moon out of earth’s orbit, setting the scene for two seasons of sci-fi adventures.
The kit includes the following:
8x Lamp Posts with plug & play LED lights (requires 4 AA batteries – not included)
2x Lamp Post Bases
10x Figures in mix-and-match poses
2x Moon buggies with cargo
2x Nuclear Waste Control Cones
2x Waste Containment Platforms
8x Hexagonal Storage Boxes
These components can be used alone or in conjunction with Round 2’s 1:48 Eagle kit to create any number of scenes. All that’s missing is a lunar terrain base, which the resourceful diorama artist can tackle on his own. The really ambitious modeller could add a launch pad and crane to complete the scene. Round 2’s choice of 1:48 scale means that the diorama will have a very big footprint, especially if an Eagle is added.
The initial release of the kit also includes a 1:24 scale moon buggy. This is a curious addition given that it obviously won’t work in the same diorama as the other items. The upside is that the moon buggy could be a precursor to other 1:24 scale kits to come. The laser tanks from “The Infernal Machine” (Season 1, Episode 21) would be an excellent choice. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
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 new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.
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.
While completing my Eagle Crash diorama, I decided to show the passenger pod door of the crashed Eagle ajar, suggesting that the door had been forced open due to electrical failure. This required buying a second MPC Eagle kit to obtain a “spare” door, after carving away the original door (the door is molded into the side of the passenger pod). The timing was right, since MPC had just re-released their Eagle kit with a much improved decal sheet which I was also able to put to use.
Having updated the crashed Eagle to show the door ajar, I was left with a box full of spare parts (almost enough to build another Eagle). I decided to try my hand at a new design. And so began the design and construction of the Eagle Gunship. But first, a bit of background on the Eagle.
The Eagle is the all-purpose workhorse of Moonbase Alpha, carrying passengers as well as freight. The producers of Space: 1999 never made its military capabilities very clear. In Season 1 of the series, Eagles were occasionally shown firing lasers from a point on the underside of the Command Module. And in Season 2, at least one Eagle was fitted with a retractable laser turret housed in the forward Service Module. These enhancements were obviously added as afterthoughts to facilitate specific storylines writers had come up with. Space: 1999 suffered from a notorious lack of consistency in terms of the technical features and capabilities of Moonbase Alpha and its associated hardware. The series would have benefitted from a technical guidebook similar to the one shared by Star Trek writers to ensure consistency.
Nevertheless, the Brian Johnson-designed Eagle remains a classic in the annals of science fiction, and the real star of Space: 1999. Fictional spacecraft often forego realism for visual appeal, but the Eagle succeeds on both counts. The design is practical as well as aesthetically pleasing, with a modular approach which invites customization. So, leveraging the strong DNA of this classic design, I decided to create an Eagle variant designed specifically for warfare.
The Eagle Gunship is armed with two forward mounted laser guns and two guided missiles. It features main and auxiliary forward propulsion engines, vertical jets for liftoff, and fixed landing skids set wide apart for stability. Access is via a door at the rear of the Command Module. The Gunship’s compact size optimizes the thrust to weight ratio and makes the ship difficult for the enemy to locate and track.
In addition to parts and decals from the MPC kit and landing skids taken from MPC’s Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter kit, the Eagle Gunship build utilized sheet styrene, sheet acrylic, Apoxie Sculpt, aftermarket resin missiles, and various odds and ends from the parts bin. The decals didn’t behave like regular decals. The film was thicker than normal and didn’t respond well to Solvaset. However they came out okay and were quicker than painting.
I had to make some changes to the design during construction. The two spars behind the Command Module were originally conceived as being much slimmer, but more surface area was needed to support the engines, fuel tanks, vertical jets, and maneuvering thrusters. So the spars ended up being wider than originally planned.
When the model was initially completed, it was front-heavy and leaned forward on the landing skids. Adding two auxiliary engines at the back of the ship (made of lead) made the model balance nicely.
After finishing the Eagle Gunship, I realized that it would make a great addition to the Eagle Crash diorama. It’s close enough visually to the other two Eagles to blend into the scene, and different enough to make viewers take a second look.
One of the great things about the science fiction diorama is the “fiction” part. This means that unlike the historical diorama artist, you’re less constrained by the bounds of realism and authenticity. You don’t have to worry about custom mixing the correct shade of PRU blue for a WWII reconnaissance Mosquito, or wondering how dirty a Panther tank would get after a 1944 tour in North Africa. (I’ve asked myself both these questions.)
When you set your science fiction diorama on another planet, no-one can accuse you of a lack of realism, because no-one has actually seen the planet. Freed from the constraints of verisimilitude, you can set your sci-fi figure/car/spaceship in a field of purple grass and trees that have three trunks and fuchsia coloured bark, if that’s what you want to do. You’re limited only by your imagination. The only extraterrestrial setting that wouldn’t afford you this creative freedom is the moon (in the unlikely event that the person giving the critique is one of the gentlemen pictured above). Barring this, your diorama can be a blank slate.
When designing my Eagle Crash diorama, I planned to set the scene on an earth-type planet. But rather than dressing the scene with oaks, conifers or other earth-type trees, I decided to create my own. Fans of Space: 1999 will recall that after the moon was torn out of earth’s orbit, the denizens of Moonbase Alpha never saw earth again. But they visited many interesting planets, some of which looked like earth and some of which didn’t. So I could dress my diorama however I wanted and still be true to the premise of the show.
This was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at creating a tree from scratch, using the “wound wire” method described in Advanced Terrain Modelling by Richard Windrow. What I ended up with looked like a tree, but not one that you’d find anywhere on earth. And it didn’t matter, because on this particular planet where the Eagle had crash landed, the trees just happen to look exactly like the one I made by winding wire together. And said tree is now an integral part of the finished scene, with no further explanation necessary.
I revisited the Eagle Crash diorama a few years later and added a third ship to the scene. I call it the Eagle Gunship, and in case you’re wondering, it didn’t appear in any episodes of Space: 1999. But I enjoy kitbashing models and had some extra Eagle parts in the spares box, so I decided to create my own variant of the Eagle. And again, I was able to do this because of the “fiction” in science fiction.
The iconic Eagle from Space: 1999 is one of my favourite spaceships, and Brian Johnson’s masterfully orchestrated crash sequences were the inspiration for this diorama.
The crashed Eagle is a modified MPC kit (rebuilt spine and passenger pod, drilled out and reshaped thrusters on command module, accurized main engines). The Lab Pod Eagle is a Warp resin kit (built out of the box). The Gunship Eagle is my own design, a kitbash using MPC Eagle parts, aftermarket resin missiles, landing gear from the MPC Darth Vader Tie Fighter kit, and various other pieces from the spares box.
The repainted HO scale figures from Preiser fit the MPC Eagle perfectly, suggesting that the kit’s true scale is closer to 1:87 than 1:72.