Late last year, around November, I got involved with a little project with some, now, good friends. Greg wanted to build a 1:1 scale Jedi Starfighter to be used at the Book People Clone Wars Literary Camp. On the first day I visited the shop to lend a hand I immediately saw a problem.
Greg had laid out the basic shape and was beginning to build the initial frame. Ths issue was the wingspan was over 10 feet wide. My first question to him was, “So, how are you planning on moving this thing?” After a little discussion we decided to take a break while I did some research and put together a plan, as vague as it would turn out to be. I went back the next day with a drawing, measurements, and a plan to make the wings removable for transport. From there we proceded to cut the frame appropriately and the build was truely started.
The original goal was to have the ship in the Chuy’s Christmas Parade in Austin that December. Oh how we were fooling ourselve that that was even remotely possible. Fortunately for everyone (especially my back) we learned it was too late to get it in the parade. Our first deadline missed we slowed down production to make sure we got things “right”. Since none of us had any real skill in this regard we did the best we could. I think it’s important to point out the entire thing was being built using scrap and scavanged material, the majority of it coming from a former shed Greg tore down from his Mother’s backyard and hauled to the shop. A lot of the material was good, some not so much, and some so rotted it was useless. But, there was a lot of 3/4″ plywood which worked out nicely.
Over the course of the next few months we worked away at building the framing, the wings, support structures, all of the internals as much as possible. Maria and a lot of folks came up from San Antonio to help out on scheduled build weekends. Randi and locals were at the shop with us as often as possible. It was a real community effort. At times it felt we really weren’y getting anything done, especially once we had the skin on. At that point it was all about detail; figuring out how we were going to sheet over the curves, cover the gaps in the seams, and build the canopy.
We had help from others; Jamie wired up and animated the astromech dome and Michael built the landing gear and supports. Some things worked, some didn’t.
One of the challenges we had and are still facing is the canopy cover. This is a large, clear oval dome which covers the cockpit. The challenge, getting a piece of plexiglass to take that shape. After a little research I came across a method using gravity and vacuum pressure in a large hot box. So, we built a large hot box. Thurns out this method is not as easy as it looks. First, plexiglass has a pretty high melting temperature. This is great considering the ship will spend a lot of time in the hot Texas sun, not so great when shaping. The heaters we had in the hot box just weren’t getting it hot enough. We added a third and we were finally able to get over the tipping point in terms of heat. Now the plexi was softening and we could shape it. Next challenge… shaping it. Gravity alone wasn’t going to do it, the surface tension on the plexi is just too high. Applying vacuum would be ideal, but due to a material limitation (the plywood is riddled with nail holes) this was impractical. We tried manually shaping it with limited success. Next we tried water… functional, but difficult to control. In the end we had to give it up and focus on other areas. To take its place I built a solid dome from stacked foam carved to shape and painted (horribly I might add, there’s just oo much texture on the foam). But, this foam blank will serve as the form to shape the plexi on our next attempt… maybe this week.
The landing gear proved another challenge. Though the work Michael did for us was fantastic, it didn’t really meat the aesthetics we were going for. And, once weight was put on them, we had collapse issues. A little modification later and the rear was able to support the wright… of the ship, and the ship alone. As soon as I got on it as a test, more collapse issues. So, the ship remains on jack stands until we work that one out. The brackets he built for us are great and I’m pretty sure they will remain the connecting points for the gear. But at this point we’re pretty much looking at 1″ to 1 1/2″ square steel tube to do the job. Now I need to learn to weld.
In the final week before our planned debut at Dragon’s Lair in Austin, Texas for Free Comic Book Day there was a lot of activity. We got missing panels on to shore up the exterior, got the rear curved areas closed up, at least temporarily, and after a long day and epic effort on the parts of Ben and Topher, we were able to ge the ship painted and weathered the night before its debut… which we missed.
The morning of the big debut day we had difficulties getting the ship onto the borrowed trailer. The wheels we built to move it failed, the wood on the ramp we put together was so rotted the rear of the ship fell through. I had to make several trips to Harbor Freight to get a winch to pull the ship onto the trailer (at this point it was just me out there trying to get this done). In the end, after replacing the wheels with solid 8″ casters and help arrived from Brandi’s Facebook post for help, it got loaded. Not in time for Dragon’s Lair, but we were able to get it to the Mini Maker Fair downtown Austin. And that is another story.
At this point there is still work to do, but the ship is presentable and we are getting requests for its appearance at events around the state.
Now all I have to do is figureout how I’m going to get it to Dragon Con.