Friday, 29 August 2014


 Ah, "Thunderbirds" - the television series just refuses to die. First broadcast here in Australia way back around 1965, it was Gerry Anderson's signature show, a thrilling combination of Supermarionation puppetry and realistic miniature sets and models. Oh, and lots of explosions as well. What more could a ten year old boy ask for? Other shows such as, "Captain Scarlet", "Joe 90" and "UFO" developed even more audacious and bigger special effects and vehicle designs, thanks to Derek Meddings and his talented team and the puppets became more proportional and lifelike, however Gerry will always be remembered for introducing us to the exciting and dangerous world of International Rescue.
Before the advent of "Star Wars" and the merchandising phenomenon which swept the globe like a tidal wave, Gerry Anderson had already been there and done that with his hit TV series. As far as model kits of the various craft were concerned, a plethora were produced during the 60s and are still be designed, distributed even today, 50 years after "Thunderbirds" was first screened. Take a look at any SF modelling website and somewhere, someone will be creating models from the show. Not too bad for a children's show that's half a century old! Even as you read this article, a re-imagining of the classic show is being produced at Weta Studios in New Zealand. Will it become a bona fide hit, as its parent was? Will the craft designs be faithful to the originals? One thing is for certain - lots of people will watch it when it hits the screens in 2015, myself included.

Quite a few years ago, a good friend and fellow modeller, Michael Daczynski, created a resin kit of Thunderbird 1, which I promptly purchased from him. It sat in a box in my shed for about five years, the parts all cleaned up and ready to assemble. Well, the time finally arrived when I needed a break from building models for my short films and I hauled it out for another look. Apart from having to cut out the recessed wing area on either side of the main fuselage, the removal of a few "gnarly bits" in between the vanes on the lower engine section, as well as filling some pinholes in the resin, the model was just begging to be assembled. 

Michael had done a stirling job in creating the original sections in plastic and timber and then casting them in Fast Cast resin. I know how particular he can be when it comes to references and getting the model accurate, so I had absolutely no qualms about the model looking exactly like what it was supposed to represent. Of course, in the original show, many different models of Thunderbird 1 were produced in order to fulfil particular requirements and to replace damaged models during the months of rigorous filming. All of these models differed from each other, less so with Thunderbird 1 than with some of the other Thunderbird craft. TB1 markings differed from model to model, landing gear was changed. shapes of nosecones too, not to mention the many colour differences displayed. (None of this had concerned a ten year old boy enthralled with the show in 1965 however.) Nevertheless, minor variations occurred on a regular basis. Michael had closely studied all the versions of TB1 and decided to pick the one he liked the best and to replicate that one.
The kit came in a total of fifteen sections - three hollow cast pieces (the lower engine area and the two pieces for the main fuselage), four angled fins, two wings, four "corner pieces" for the engine area and a nosecone with a separate ribbed piece to fit to it. If Michael had cast the model as solid sections, then it would have weighed a couple of kilograms. The completed model would be 487 millimetres (19 inches) in length - quite a decent size and, as far as I can work out, at about 1:72, to studio scale with the largest complete version of Thunderbird 1 used in the show.
 After removing those annoying "gnarly bits" with a sharp scalpel and filling the remaining resin pinholes, I glued the upper ribbed piece to the nosecone. Two epoxy Araldite was used throughout the build. To add strength to the nosecone, I drilled a small hole and inserted a 3mm section of brass tube. Eight millimetre brass tube was also inserted through the largest of the main jets on the very bottom of the engine section and this protruded enough to add the main fuselage cylinder for strength and alignment. The idea for displaying the model was to have it in launching position above a thick wooden base that just happened to be lying around from a previous model. The base had been painted grey, lines drawn on and weathering applied, so it seemed silly not to use it just as it was. I drilled three holes into the base to accept a trio of brass tubes, the middle one being longer so it would telescope into the tube secreted within the main body. The intakes on the upper cross-shaped engine section were detailed with eight circles of fine wire mesh.
The wings could be positioned in either flight or landing mode and I opted for the former. Because of a lack of fixing points within the hollow cast shell, having the wings swung out just seemed a little difficult to achieve. A Dremel made short work of the areas where the wings would slot into the fuselage and a drill was used to make the rectangular holes in the ends of the cross-shaped engine section where the angled fins would be glued.
 As far as colours go, there was a lot of guesswork involved. I emailed Michael and another friend for information and on their advice I chose the best reference photographs I had and took a trip to my local car accessory shop for some acrylic spray cans. For the main body and wings I selected Champagne Glow Metallic (co-incidentally the very same colour as a previous car of mine), while Centre Red was picked for the nosecone. I already had a Sky Blue for the lower body, stripes and wingtips. Although the colours were fairly light in tint, I reasoned that, with subtle weathering applied to the finished model, they would appear more like the ones in my reference photos. After priming all the pieces in acrylic, I gave a final once over with fine steel wool and applied the various colours to the sections, three light coats in all. So far, so good. When completely dry, Tamiya tape was used to mask the wingtips and tips of the angled fins at the rear. These were then sprayed with the Sky Blue. Black pinstriping tape created the lines on the fuselage near the nosecone.
The various sections needed to be permanently glued together at this point. I had delayed this part up until now in order to mask and spray the colour differences with relative ease. How to affix the wings inside the one piece main fuselage caused me a few concerns as there weren't any interior sections to actually glue them onto. Michael sent me some drawings he had made in order to position the wings, however I was unable to make heads nor tails of them. At this point in time, the wings are temporarily fixed inside the fuselage until I can find a more permanent solution. And yes, they are not positioned correctly, I know.
  Many of the original Thunderbird 1 models differed markedly in the lettering applied to the fuselage, probably moreso than with any body shape differences. Some had TB1 vertically, while others had the same letters horizontally. Some models had lines in certain areas, others left them off. Michael had provided an A4 sheet with the various lettering for the model he had created, so I scanned this at 100% and printed it onto a white sticky label sheet and cut all the individual letters out carefully. After application, a couple of coats of flat clear sealed them permanently, after which the weathering was added using a lead pencil and business cards to achieve the straight-edged panelling effect I was after. An airbrush and dark grey mixture provided additional panelling over the entire model, after which numerous coats of flat clear were sprayed.


The model was lowered onto its display base and the brass tube inserted into the interior support tube. For the billowing smoke from three of the engines, I used pillow stuffing, carefully tying sections to the three support rods with white cotton to conceal them and adding teased out stuffing in a realistic pattern. All in all, an enjoyable and very pleasing build, thanks to Michael's dedication and modelling skills. It certainly looks impressive on its base. Now all I have to do is to talk Michael into creating that hollow kit of Thunderbird 2, studio scale, to go with the Thunderbird 1!