Scratchbuilding Spacehawk from Gerry Anderson & Christopher Burr's Terrahawks

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In the 1980s television series 'Terrahawks' the Earth comes under attack from the evil alien Zelda and her oddball collection of minions.

The Terrahawks first line of defence against this threat was the mighty spacecraft called Spacehawk, which was in constant orbit over the planet watching out for the first signs of trouble.

Over the years I’ve been in the process of building studio-sized reproductions of the models featured in this television series, and even restoring some of the original models to boot. The plan was to have most of the key hero models - but to get the ‘set’ would involve building a copy of the large Spacehawk, but that was something that I had chosen not to do.

My reasons were simple, firstly my friend Phil Rae (who had designed and built the original SFX model. see - LINK) still had the prop in his collection and that took away a large part of the desire to ‘recreate’ this vehicle, as I had seen it so many times over the years. The other main reason was the knowledge that kit-bashed models involve a lot of work… And parts!

25 years ago I had built a studio-sized model of the MKIX Hawk from Space: 1999. I thought it would be easy because I had looked at photos of the original model in magazines and recognised many of the cannibalised kit parts. I thought ‘This is just a collection of Airfix Saturn V’s, 1b’s, Lunar Modules, and a few other bits …. so it will be simple'. Unfortunately several years later I had the opportunity to closely inspect the original studio model and realised that I had missed off at least a third of the detail, which meant building a new replica.
Having seen the original Spacehawk model, and the amount of detail it contained, I realised that it would be close to impossible to build an accurate copy from photographic reference material, no matter how good the pictures were – it would be like the Hawk all over again but ten times worse!

Another problem was the old, rare, and unknown parts that were used in its construction, could I really find vintage coffee jar lids, yoghurt pots, disposable razors and alike? All very doubtful. In order to build this craft I would need complete access to the original model for a reasonably long duration, and a duplicate set of vintage parts, and there's not much chance of that ever happening is there……. Then again it just did!

When Phil Rae first built the model he only rented it out to the TV production always planning to get it back after the show had ended. However on the off-chance that this might not happen he decided to try and assemble a spare set of parts in order to possibly create a replacement if required. When he managed to get the original model back those spares were no longer needed and were eventually sold off, ending up in the possession of Mr Paul Feagan after he bought them at an auction. After several years he realised that he would never do anything with them so offered to sell them to me. At the same time the original Spacehawk had sustained some damage and required a fair bit of repair work….. So I wonder who could do that?

The box of spare parts was rather large and came with several other bags of spares, including the many disposable plastic razors that are required. I had suspected from the start that it would not actually be 'complete', and that some of the parts would need replacing for better examples - the most obvious being that the Pegasus engines from the Airfix 1/24th scale Harrier kit were only represented by a set of vac-form shapes. Obviously buying three Harrier kits would be expensive but as a long-time model maker I had those items in my spares collection, together with all the Airfix Saturn V parts too.
Luckily all the really important stuff was there, such as the three weird Y-shaped plastic forms that are apparently from a shop display for holding sunglasses. Also all the plastic grating that details the underneath, perforated plastic detail strips, and a collection of random kit-parts that I would never have been able to source.
To begin with I spent some time separating out all of these parts and placed them in organised boxes so that I could actually see what I had got - and what was not in the box. The first missing kit was the Airfix Esso Tank Wagon, six are required but that was not a problem as they are still available. The Dapol company market them these days but there was also plenty of cheap old Airfix ones on ebay, so I went for the old stock ones.
The next kit was more of an educated guess, as I had never bought one before. Spacehawk has a number of small girder frames on its side pods but they weren't from the normal Airfix railway kits. The only other kit I could think of was the RAF Recovery set and it proved to be the correct one - and I needed another six of those too. That was all a little bit expensive, but luckily they contained far more of my required parts than I realised, so money well spent.

I could now begin construction, but first there was a small problem to address - just which Spacehawk was I going to build?

Usually with SFX models we are often faced with the fact that there might have been several studio models built to different sizes, and which featured different details or shapes. Luckily with Spacehawk there was only one model built and filmed so this classic modelling problem should not really exist - but unfortunately this model did change from time to time - and alter shape!

Spacehawk version 1 - This would be the first incarnation of Spacehawk, which never actually made it to screen. The model was designed and built offsite and delivered to the studio in a finished condition, which included numerous antenna/probes and a front section that could rotate. SFX Director Ian Scoones removed the probes but not before the Japanese backers had seen it, which is why there is a Spacehawk toy with antenna. I know that Phil likes this version but its not one for me to build.

The model when first built, and sitting in the office at Bray Studios awaiting inspection.
Note that the front half is in a different orientation to the blueprint, apparently rotated 180 degrees.

Spacehawk version 2 - The model was modified by adding pieces of front projection material to the hull to reflect light and give the impression of internal illumination. Further additional flashing light bulbs were added to various places on the outer hull as navigation beacons. This model, now minus the probes, was filmed at the start of the series and many of these shots ended up as stock footage which could be used for the rest of the production. However it still had a loose front end that would rotate between shots, meaning that the general shape and look of the model changed from scene to scene. So one minute the three wings on the nose line up with the rear Y-shaped sections, then they don't.

Spacehawk version 3 - For some reason the model had some major reworking, probably caused by being damaged. As model maker John Lee commented 'The bloody Spacehawk was always breaking on set... Every time it was moved bits fell off.... During my time on Terrahawks everyone in the workshop took turns in fixing it.'
The original build featured a plastic tube core, and it's possible that this snapped as they ended up inserting a heavy metal rod through the model to strengthen it up. But visually the main change was that the central area, just where the outriggers begin, changed. The hull section made by the often mentioned 'yoghurt pot' was replaced by a similar shaped item, but this time made by gluing together layers of Perspex circles into a strong solid mass. Also the three arms that extend out from here to the Y-shaped sections were also replaced. Originally (as above) they were simple 'Wilkinson' plastic disposable razors but now became brass pieces, with outer plastic dressing - some of which was the detailed flat sides of the leftover razors.
The other main change was that the front end got shorter! For some reason a two-inch tube section in the 'neck' (just behind the Saturn V section where the three 'Bic' razors converge) just disappears from the model?
This slightly shorter Spacehawk is then filmed for the rest of the series, although to begin with it still appears to have a rotating front end.

Spacehawk Version 4 - The Official Blueprint. I don't normally give much credence to 'official documents' of TV shows but the plan was drawn by Phil Rae, who was the designer/builder of Spacehawk. This does give a clear view of how he thinks everything should line up, and of course answers the other big Spacehawk question 'What is Up & Down?
In space there is no up or down, so its actually quite realistic to film a spacecraft at any angle - but we humans do like to see things the 'right-way-up'. The repetitive design of the model does not lend itself to obviously answering this question and as a result it was filmed at different angles in most episodes - and further confusion was added by the variable positioned front end.
Even if you decide (like me) that the correct view would have two Y-sections up at angles and one vertically downwards you could still rotate the model to get three different orientations. Which tends to leave the more minor design details to argue over, like the position of the communications array on the front section, does that hang low, or up high on one side like it often did on the show?

Phil's plan clearly shows that the three Hercules pieces in the front section are arranged with two up and one down, with the antenna hanging low. The small 'wings' in the next section should be horizontal, and the Y-sections are also two up and one down.
The tail section is also of some note with the two large holes in the engine cone nicely vertical, and the arrangement of Saturn V base sections also perfectly level - these days they are all over the place!
This general layout tends to resemble Spacehawk as it appeared in the last 13 episodes, when the front section finally comes to rest in a permanent position after what must have been further repair work.
I do like this plan and decided to build my replica along these lines, but minus the removed section.

Key parts. A - Airfix 1/24th scale Harrier B - Airfix Saturn V C - Airfix RAF Recovery Set D - Airfix Hercules E - Airfix Bismark F - Airfix Eagle Transporter
G - Airfix/Dapol Esso tank wagon H - Airfix Skyray J - Airfix Lunar Module K - Airfix Space Shuttle L - Airfix Matilda 1/76 M - Airfix SNR4 Hovercraft N - Revell Scissor Bridge O - Revell 1/24th Gemini capsule P - Darth Vader Tie Fighter Q - Caddymatic Tea dispensor R - Vintage coffee jar lid (Maxwell House?) S - Vintage coffee jar lids (Nestles) T - Plastic vents/grating U - shop window sunglasse's display stands V - Bic Razors W - Wilkinson razors X - Wedding cake plastic stands/pillers Y - 120mm film spools Z - 35mm slide holders.

The Build

Looking at the model I decided to start on what was probably the easiest bit, the three smaller side-pods. I began by gluing together the Saturn V hull halves (length ways) together with a sheet of 2mm Plasticard to form the basic shape, and then added the coffee jar end caps. All very easy so far and wrong!!
I had automatically cut the plastic sheeting to the diameter of the kit parts but that brought them in a millimetre or so narrower than required, leaving not enough room for girder work to be added later. So break everything apart and start again, this time forcing the Saturn hull halves out to a slightly wider position than normal. (Airfix kits haven't shrunk over the years have they?)

Of course this type of model making seems easier than my normal builds, which involve drawing out plans from photos with hundreds of calculations involved, then sculpting, carving, and moulding my own scratchbuilt parts. But this example proved that simply copying something sitting right in front of you is still problematic, with the first fault being that you assume that you know what you are doing!

The three side-pods were quite similar to each other with mostly kit bashed detailing. One pod does have a slight difference as it uses a gun turret from the Bismarck kit for no apparent reason. None kit parts are a shallow plastic box and some small plastic pyramids (that appear to be from a kids toy). The build was reasonably quick here and it was a joy to simply copy something next to me instead of peering over countless photos with a magnifying glass.
I did make two slight alterations though to fix what I considered to be a problem with the large Pegasus engine parts. These have open holes on the sides so I decided to place a length of Space Shuttle booster tube inside to block off any possibility of being able to see right through the gaps in the construction. Later on I went further and added some small detailed parts inside to block the holes up completely.

Final detail included a lot of additional panelling, much of which is added to the surface of the Saturn V hull parts. This is a series of random rectangular shapes cut from thin (15 thou) Plasticard, and it's a different pattern on each of the three pods.

The Y-shaped sections were also reasonably simple but involved a lot more work. The general plastic shape was made from a very brittle type of plastic, with a number of cracks that first needed to be glued, before carefully cutting away a series of locating support pegs. I then sanded down the plastic to make sure the surface was flat and to get rid of the glossy finish. Next problem to be addressed was that each piece only had one end plate, so I had to fabricate the other side from sheet Plasticard - and while I was at it I also added two more layers of plastic to strengthen up the weak central support column. I could now start adding all the detail starting with the orange plastic razor blade covers that run along the edge on each side. Here I used a Brass angle section to keep all the parts straight, and at the same distance from the edge, whilst I glued them all into position.

The next piece to go on was the rather recognisable model kit part from the Airfix/MPC Eagle Transporter, I'm sure many old-time modellers will spot that it's the bottom of the passenger pod. It is of course cut into two halves but I think you would need to cut it into many more to really disguise its origins. I needed six of these to complete the model but only had a few, so this was one of several kit parts to be moulded in silicone rubber allowing me to cast up resin duplicates. The plastic grating pieces were now trimmed to the correct width and glued into place, with the join between each pair being covered by another kit part, this time from Darth Vader's Tie Fighter - I didn't have this piece so it was also moulded, but on this occasion from the original Spacehawk.
Pic above centre: The strange vents are from 120mm film spools, you cut away the circular ends leaving a tube which is then split down the middle to create the final parts.

Every side is covered in various detailing, with some odd bits involved like disposable plastic clips used to seal old style bread bags.
One of my biggest worries with all these plastics was getting a good surface for the paint to adhere too, as I noticed that a fair bit of paint had (and was still) falling from sections of the original Spacehawk model. There was an awful lot of greasy feeling glossy surfaced parts involved in this build and so I decided to washed and scrubbed every part thoroughly, with many also being lightly rubbed down with fine Wet & Dry paper to roughen the surfaces - not to mention removing all the raised 'BIC' logos!

I could now turn my attention to the main hull and I began by tackling the nose section that is basically three Airfix Hercules aeroplane fuselages glued back to back. The front cabin sections had already been cut off, so I just had to do was glue the hull halves together with old paint cans inside. It was rather a tight fit that required a bit of fiddling about and I immediately got fed up with hearing the mixing balls rattling around inside the cans so I decided to remove them. I was a little bit concerned at drilling into a paint canister, but there was nothing left inside after all these years apart from some old paint dust - although I was surprised to discover just how big the metal balls were!

The three hulls were glued to a central triangular post which has a tube running down the middle. This tube is smaller than the interior hole so the sides have to be bent inwards to glue on to it, making the sides slightly concave and a better fit for the curved hulls. Three cargo bays from the Airfix 'Space Shuttle' kit were then glued between the Hercules fuselages to detail and reinforce this structure. Parts of the Hercules kits then had to be trimmed away to allow a tubular section of Saturn V (3rd stage section) kit to be imbedded as the connecting neck piece, and with this section now formed the metal support tube could be inserted into place.

With this central support pipe in place the rest of the front hull could now be assembled onto it. This consisted of three plastic wedding cake pillar stands and more Saturn V kit parts, this time the 2nd stage rocket section being used with a short extension formed in Plasticard. Two disposable plastic razors are the most obvious details to be added here, but this section is also covered in more of the small and random shaped 15-thou thick Plasticard panels.

Further details were now added to the whole structure, including more kit parts from the Harrier - like the easily recognised ejector seats. More plastic bits from disposable razors are also in regular use here, and I was luckily to have almost all of them supplied in the box of spares that I had bought. Unfortunately after I had glued a few of them onto the model I realised that the manufacturer had modified one of the parts by adding an extra bit of plastic to the design. This meant that I had to remove the affected items and modify them all back to how they should look!
Picture above right: The three disposable razors used in the build. The one on the left is a BIC design, while the other two are Wilkinson brand items. I did end up needing a few more of the BIC versions but they are still available today, although slightly different in that they no longer have completely smooth handles. The small wings (wings from the Airfix Skyray) were now added. Being rather thin and fragile I inserted protruding metal rods inside, which would embed into the side of the main hull and give them a bit more structural support.

The rear Wasp-like engine section is made from an old plastic Caddymatic Tea dispenser, glued to an EMA hemispherical dome, which in turn is mated to the base section of the Saturn V 1st stage kit part. A slight problem was that this Caddymatic was slightly different to the one used on the original model, in that it had a longer dispensing section. To fix that problem I cut the end off, trimmed away several millimetres, and then fixed it back into place with some filler to remove the join line. The outside was then detailed up in kit parts from several Revell Gemini Capsules and strips of Plasticard.
A metal support tube was again set into the centre of this item, and then the rest of the hull could now be assembled piece-by-piece along its length.
This hull is basically made up of a selection of different shaped 'modules', made from either kit parts or household items.
For the kitparts we are talking about the Airfix Saturn V yet again, and also the Airfix Lunar Lander. For the household items its a mixture of coffee jar lids, a 'Ski' yoghurt pot, wedding cake stands, and various cylindrical lids and skin lotion plastic pots.

I didn't have those pots, but I would not have used them anyway as these parts of the model support the various sections that extend out from the hull - and as a result the ones on the original model had eventually shattered! So I built my sections from EMA tube with 3mm Plasticard end caps, sunk a series of steel screws half way into the outer surface, and then put fibreglass resin on the inside to strengthen everything up.
I also did a similar thing with the yoghurt pot, first putting a plastic tube in the centre to allow the metal support tube to pass through, and then filling up the rest with polyurethane resin to make it solid and strong. Also I only had one of the coffee jar lids so that was moulded in silicone rubber, and then I cast up the four that I needed in a mixture of car filler paste and resin.
Photos above right: As the finished Spacehawk model would be over 5-feet long and therefore really dreadful to move around the house, or transport in my car, I had decided from the start that it would be built in two halves. The steel tubes in each half can be joined together by simply adding another thinner tube down the centre; whilst a large screw head protruding from the rear half locates into a slot in the front part, allowing them to lock together with a simple twisting action.

Photo above: The original model was repaired at the same time as the replica was built up, partly because it seemed to make sense, and partly because I thought I would loose interest in one project if the other got finished first!
Now that the models were assembled to their full length they became a problem to handle, so I had to quickly make up some support stands to hold them securely - and which would also become their display stands later on.

Due to it's large size the model was painted and weathered whilst it was still in separate sections. The colour scheme caused me a little bit of concern because I couldn't quite decide what the original colour actually was - dirty White or Grey? To begin with I tried a couple of grey paints before deciding to go for an off white paint finish. I did this by spraying the parts in grey primer and then covering that with thin coats of matt white primer.
Pictures above: There are a series of repetitive panel effects on the model and I created these by applying masking tapes (cut with the use of templates) to the grey finished surface, then sprayed an initial coat of white, removed the tapes and then applied a second coat, thus creating the two different tones.
For the orange there was yet more confusion, as there are clearly two different colours on the original Spacehawk! Signal Orange is used on the middle section of the model, but a darker (more red) shade is used on the nose and tail areas? As I was using Signal Orange on all my other Terrahawk models I decided straight away to use this shade on my replica and maintain the continuity.

The side pods were the first items to be attached to the hull, using just a small length of EMA square tube. The struts at the front end are mostly decorative and consist of a cut down BIC razor and some unknown kit parts, which I again moulded off the original Spacehawk.
To attach the Y-sections I had to make the connecting base sections, which are plastic boxes (for 35mm film slides) covered in assorted kit parts. The three columns on the original are toy wheels but I made mine from plastic tubes with strips of Plasticard wrapped around them. I then ran metal rods down through the centre of the tubes and into the boxes, then filled up the insides with resin to make these units rock solid.

The 5-foot model painted in its clean White and Orange finish looked utterly toy-like and absolutely dreadful! After all these months of effort and expense it was looking like my efforts were going to result in a massive disappointment! To fix the problem and make this replica look like a decent model it needed to be weathered - but how could I weather a five-foot highly detailed model? The answer was to apply dry powder.... and lots of it!
I started by putting on black powder paint but it was just too dark, so I ordered some light grey powder off ebay and proceeded to mix the two in a box to get a grey shade that I liked. This mixture was then brushed onto the model, and worked into all the corners and recesses, until each section was completely covered. Then the excess powder was shaken off, and the model parts given a coating of a matt fixative to seal the dust into position.
Next I used fine wire wool to rub over the models surface and remove some of the powder leaving just the amount that I wanted to see, and again sprayed the model with matt fixative - then repeated the process until I was happy with the effect.
I applied masking tapes at each stage to create panel lines and weathering effects, both whilst I was applying the powder, and again when I was removing it with the wire wool. I have to say that weathering models with powder is far more effective than airbrushing with paint, and from now on I think my airbrush will be staying in its box for most of the time!

Final assemble took several days and a fair bit of effort to set everything straight and level. Each Y-Section was glued to the hull over the protruding screw heads to give a strong bond, with the BIC razors trimmed to fit into position and give additional support to the structure. Then the final pieces of Bic razor could be glued into place over the screw heads.

The last major piece to be built was the front radar/communications assembly. This section is just a mix of kit parts which creates quite a fragile structure, and if I had fixed it in place securely it would almost certainly have got damaged very quickly when I moved the model. As a result I just put a powerful magnet in the base and a piece of steel in the Spacehawk hull, so now I can remove or reposition the radar at will.

Final details were now added, consisting of panels lines drawn on with a black Biro, hand painted panels and markings, various Letraset transfers, and a series of reflective tapes. These tapes were supposed to represent the illuminated windows in the spaceship and were added all over the model. To make these I bought some highly reflective tape off ebay, the sort used to reflect car headlights at night so people can be seen in the dark. The tapes were cut into different sized sections and then I had to paint intricate patterns all over them to leave a series of miniature square and rectangle shapes, that would then create the illusion of tiny windows. This was a tiresome process, every time I thought I had finished I found some more that I hadn't done, but again having the original model to directly copy from made the job possible.

1800 separate pieces and an awful lot of glue later...

Although this project involved a great deal of work it was all done within a year - so that makes it a quick build for me. It is also one of my most accurate replicas, as I could not go too far wrong when I had the actual thing sitting next to me. Just think how easy this hobby would be if we could borrow all the original studio miniatures!

My thanks to Phil Rae and Paul Feagan; this project would not have been possible without their assistance.

Interview with Phil Rae - the builder of Spacehawk

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Scratchbuilding Spacehawk; Text and photographs copyright David Sisson 2015