First, however, there's a trend you should be aware of. The site Starship Modeler periodically hosts an online scale modeling contest. I've endeavored to enter these contests several times over the years, however the fixed contest schedule, and untimely interruptions such as the birth of my firstborn* normally conspire to keep me from finishing my entries. Contest 20: Starfighters, for which this model was conceived, was no exception.
Having missed the deadline for the Starship Modeler contest, I buckled down for the next few months in an attempt to finish the model as an entry into the annual "Amazing Model Contest" at WonderFest. Sadly, complications at the very last stage (clear-coating over the decal application) resulted in a disastrous blemish from which I felt the model could not be recovered.
I brought it to WonderFest nonetheless, inspired some fun conversations and got some tips on how to fix the problem. I may tackle this subject again in the future, perhaps at a larger scale. For the mean-time, this article will have to do for a debut.
Space on any spacecraft is precious. If you've got a ship carrying lots of fighters, the last thing you want is a big carrier deck with fighters spread out all over. You want them to stack—to fill space as efficiently as possible. This, combined with the utter uselessness of swoopy, streamlined shapes in space dictates a hull in the shape of a rectangular solid.
To be nimble in space, you want your attitude thrust to occur at the end of a moment-arm—as far as possible from the center-of-mass of the ship. One way to accomplish this is embodied by the Babylon 5 Starfury, which puts each of four main engines on long wing-shaped pylons.
What I don't like about this approach is:
- The ship occupies much more volume that it actually consists of (see the storage issue above)
- Maintaining flight stability when you want it will require continuous burn of your primary engines
The design I settled on was to keep the main drive thrust as close as possible to center-of-mass, and achieve attitude control by extending a lightweight boom with a small attitude thruster pod during maneuvering. This approach is similar to that observed in Battlestar Galactica's Viper, without all the affordances for atmospheric flight.
Finally, in determining the proportions of the ship, I wanted to account for a realistic mass and volume. As I laid out the structural configuration, I reserved roughly two-thirds of the ship's volume for engines, fuel, and reaction mass. The final third was further subdivided, with most of the remaining mass going to weapon-systems (a laser and a small missile/mine magazine and launcher) and computers and sensors. A very small amount of the ship's volume is dedicated to the flight-pod, which may or may not contain an actual pilot (still haven't decided on that).
Because my design required a solid external mass with few projections at rest, I knew I wanted to have some panels, hatches, and covers open in the model to depict the subject in flight. To do this, I needed the internal structure to be detailed and believable where it was exposed. The most expedient approach, I thought, was to build the ship from it's structural frame up.
This is a somewhat unusual approach, but if you ever find yourself scratchbuilding a "realistic" model, I highly recommend this approach... It really makes you consider the problems of internal volume and mechanics.
In areas where I knew there would be openings, I made sure to apply a double-hull technique, to enhance the illusion of depth and structure.
The Finished Model
And here's the fighter in all it's clunky mass-produced glory. The markings on this fighter include a "tail number" of 11024, and a flight-line assignment to the IAS Shi Lang.
For the markings, I printed up custom decals using Illustrator and clear laser-printer water-slide decal sheets. My sister-in-law helped with some of the Chinese translations for some of the more obscure markings.
↑↑ Just kidding, T. Love you!