Recreating the Zero-X spacecraft from Gerry Anderson's 'Thunderbirds Are Go'

Part 2

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LIFTING BODIES
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One of the reasons for the delay in completing this model was that I was unsure of how to construct the large wings; I was also worried that after building them they would both end up drooping!
My basic technical knowledge told me that several layers of materials glued together, in a composite, are stronger than one thick material as they act against each other. So I decided to build up the shape of each wing using layers of different materials starting with the basic outline cut from thin MDF.

This MDF sheet became the horizontal centre of the wing with sheets of Balsa added above and below to create the aerofoil shape. As the wing thickness also reduces towards the wing tip I glued plastic tapering strips into place behind the leading edge in order to act as guide markers for sanding down the Balsa to the desired angles. Weights were placed on the sheets of wood to keep them compressed while the glue set, after which I could then begin shaping the wings by firstly trimming off the obvious surplus wood with a knife. The pictures here show the front wing which was easier to work on as both wingtips were made separately. Later in the process I removed the rear protruding engine area and the two front inlets..

The next stage was to spend a great deal of time sanding the wings down to the correct shape - and then to take them down even further, as the wood needed to be given a fibreglass coating which would add to the overall thickness.
When they were ready I gave the wings a coat of SP113 laminating resin, this is a two-part epoxy resin (used by radio controlled model aircraft and boat builders) that depending on the mixture and temperature takes up to a day or more to set properly. This initial coating sinks into the wood and when set leaves a rough surface finish that needs cutting back with wet & dry abrasive paper. I then checked over the wing for any major imperfections that needed correcting with car filler before applying another coating of the resin. This next application also included fibreglass tissue, to give the wings extra strength, and it had to be applied very carefully to prevent any lumps appearing. Again it was all left for several days to thoroughly set before being sanded down and a final topcoat of resin to finish it all off. Then the wings were then treated with several coats of spray filler and sanding began again with any uneven areas and holes being fixed with car filler.
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Picture right; shows the rear wing, with the areas for the undercarriage being cut out. There isn't really enough room in the wing for the wheels to fit but I preferred to cut a semi-recess than just fix the undercarriage to the wing surface (which is often seen on models that appeared in Gerry Anderson TV shows).

A master pattern for the bullet shaped front end was sculpted, moulded in plaster and then two copies cast up in a resin/car filler mix. These were then secured to the MDF core of each wing, with the surrounding air-intake areas formed in plastic sheeting which was all blended into the wing with more filler..The rear triangular engine sections were made in a mixture of plastic and filler.

For the outer wing fairings I made a master pattern of only half the shape then cast up eight copies and paired them off.

See the Thunderbird 3 build for details on making this type of shape.

The areas for the undercarriage hatch covers were pencilled into position and drilled out. Slots were also drilled out to allow the fairings to be embedded onto the wingtips, superglue held them in position whilst car filler was smeared around the parts to securely lock everything together..

The vertical fins on the wings were formed from MDF. A centre line was drawn around the edges of each fin and then they were sanded down to an aerofoil shape, coated in resin and sanded smooth. Cardboard versions were used to test the final shape and position. The fins are one of the items that are very different on the two studio models.
Slots were cut into both the fins and wings allowing them the lock into each other. Then the parts were glued and filler used to blend them together.
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The next problem was building 16 engines!
Repetitive jobs are something that I hate doing, as I'm usually very bored by the time I've made the fifth identical part! Although the engines look like square boxy shapes they do have very round edges so making them from plastic sheeting would not only require a lot of pieces but then a lot of hard sanding.
The answer, again, was to cast the parts in a car filler/resin mixture using some sort of mould.

For speed I decided against making a rubber mould and opted for a solid plastic one that could be taken apart to release the castings. Here a centre core forms the main shape with the sides, strengthened with metal rods, simply held in place with elastic bands.
As the mixture dissolves styrene plastic I had to cover the parts in adhesive metal foil that I waxed to help prevent the filler from adhering.

The aerofoil shape of the wing was cut from the sides of each engine using two templates as a rough quick guide. Then each engine was carefully adjusted to its correct position and numbered so I didn't mix them up. To create a perfect join a small amount of filler was applied to each edge and then the engine bodies were pushed into place against the wings surface.
The surplus filler that squeezed out of the sides was trimmed off as it began to set, whilst the wings paint surface was protected during the process by temporarily covering it with clear adhesive tape.
Note - The tape is first applied to either my skin or trousers to kill off some of its adhesive strength and stop it from lifting the paint when it is removed. .

Because of the tape all 16 engine bodies could then be easily prised off, sanded smooth, painted, then reattached using clear 2-part epoxy glue.

More detailed multiple parts had to be produced using rubber moulds. These were all painted prior to being fixed in position.

There are no reference photos of the inside of the wheel housings so I just had to invent something that looked good. The hatch covers were vac-formed in 0.75mm plastic sheet over the master pattern.
The large inlet cones were temporarily glued into position whilst the series of small plastic vanes were applied around the base, each one having to be trimmed to perfectly match the gap, then the finished part could be snapped free and painted before being permanently attached.

The large numbers were spray painted on using masking tape outlines. Letraset numbers were enlarged to the right size and used as a guide to cut out the shape from the masking tape. These numbers were placed on the model and moved about until they were in the right position, then the surrounding tape was placed back over it and the number removed. The edges of the tape were carefully pressed down, to stop any paint from bleeding under it, and then the paint applied in a series of light coats, again to prevent bleed through and get a sharp edge..

More sets of wheels were now assembled. Luckily the front wing only has two sets but the rear wing features five, which includes a small steering unit. The two main centre sets were soldered to Brass plates that were glued into the wing recesses.

Left; In this unused SFX shot the front Lifting Body takes off to rendezvous with the Zero-X mainbody. Note that there are no wheels on the ends of the wings due to the folding design - so why does the rear wing need them?

The engine exhausts were the final details to be added to the wings. The two studio models seem to differ here, with the small model having large empty square outlets and the big version having round holes with rocket tubes protruding. I didn't fancy the empty space or tube look so I used a metal mesh to blank off the holes.

All the panel lines now had to be added using a black ballpoint pen. Weathering was applied just using black powder paint rubbed on by hand against masking tapes, whilst chipped paint highlights were added to the edges of the panels using silver enamel paint.

The large White band on the wings is in a different position on the two original models so I compromised and picked a position between the two, allowing it to just clear the outer engine.

Paint colour can always be a problem decision and the Zero-X was no exception here. While there's no question over it having a metallic Blue paint finish the puzzle is how Blue should it be?
The original studio models appear to have a rather pale colour at times, and if you watch the film they do look to have an almost 'washed-out' appearance in many scenes. But having looked at photographs of the models published in books, magazines and comics, together with toys and models made over the last 40 years they all tend to look very much darker! So we are again faced with the problem of making something the way it actually was - or how it is perceived to be!

I have spent much of the last 25 years attempting to be super-accurate in my model making, but now I'm trying to relax over certain issues and accept that somethings either can't be done to a 'totally' accurate level or they don't really want to be done that way.
As my viewpoint is from watching the programs I'm inclined to have the model look more like I expect it to be rather than perhaps how it originally was, and so with this in mind I felt free to go for a slightly darker/richer shade of Blue.
I should also mention that this view was heavily influenced by my 25-year-old memories of seeing a very large Zero-X replica that had a lighter colour scheme and I remember thinking that the ships design looked poorer for it, because without a strong colour the craft seemed to loose some of its presence!

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Again I used motorcar spray paints and I had to visit numerous shops before initially deciding to paint the Mainbody using a colour called Miami Blue. However after displaying this part of the model at the Fanderson 2004 Convention I decided that it was just too dark. So when I came to complete the wings I decided to repaint the whole model using a lighter colour called Cosmos Blue. (The colour has to be light enough for you to clearly see the drawn on panel lines.)

At the Fanderson 2006 Convention the completed model was displayed next to other versions including a Martin Bower MEV that I believe uses a colour called Kingfisher Blue. They were all very similar in appearance, but Mike Trim walked in took one look at them all and said - 'Wrong colour'!

And no I haven't made the chrome nosecone, as I don't really like it, especially as it covers the front of the MEV - which I think is one of the best features on the model. I'll probably end up making it at some point in the future but I'll probably be building another bigger version of the MEV before that, possibly the Mike Noble comic version.

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