(Inspired by) Last Exile +++ 1:48 Vanship Racer '#24' (Kitbash, Groupbuild 2015 "Phoxim GrandPrix" submission)
A vanship is a type of flying machine from the animated series Last Exile. It is often referred to as a "flying boat" in that it does not fly by means of aerodynamics like planes do, but rather by floating on the air and propelling itself through the use of a substance known as "Claudia" (see below).
Vanships in general were couriers prior to the events of Last Exile, traveling long distances to deliver cargoes (usually messages). Some Vanships thus include tools for towing solid objects.
The design of several vanships throughout the series bears great resemblance to various famed 1930s racecars than any aircraft, most notably the Anatoray millitary vanships which bear great resemblance to the 1933 Napier Railton. The resemblance is found in the grill shape of the cowl vents and the shape of the tail cone, as well as the aerodynamic bulges on the car which cover the valve covers and exaust on the car, which are also found on the Anatoray vanships.
Other Vanships bear striking design elements from Junkers aircraft in the pre-WWII era, e. g. from the A 35 monoplane.
"Spirit of Grand Stream" is a courier-type vanship (see below) owned by Claus Valca and Lavie Head, and its design is very similar to that of Hayao Miyazaki's gunship from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The matches are really focused on the two seated open cockpit, and the navigator section which has matching interface panels of small glass cylinders.
Courier vanships, also known as racing vanships, are one of the main types of vanship featured in Last Exile. Courier vanships are small and narrow with a single, high-powered thruster. Like any vanship intended to achieve high speeds, they have stub wings, far too small themselves to provide lift. They simply act as mounts for ailerons to provide better steering, as pivoting the thruster would put undue stress on the assembly at high speeds.
Over the course of Last Exile, Vanships were adapted for combat. The process resembles the evolving roles that aircraft held during WW1; originally developed for scouting and surveillance, but eventually equipped with bombs and machine guns to become potent fightercraft.
Claudia is a fluorescent blue ore mined on the floating world of Prester. It is the foundation of Prester's technology, fueling steam engines and is a key element of the claudia units that allow vanships to fly. Claudia is also the primary currency of Prester. It is well suited for the purpose, as it is constantly generated by Prester and is not possible to counterfeit.
Claudia, when dissolved in water, serves as the primary drive fluid in a claudia unit. When Claudia fluid is heated and compressed, it generates lift. A vanship engine has a distinctive claudia circulation pipe loop, where the supercritical fluid generates both lift and thrust.
Dissolving Claudia in alcohol dramatically increases the energy density of the fuel. This is why steam engines are the predominant technology of Last Exile, instead of the internal combustion engine. Technology design documents from the production of the show indicate that the steam engines of Last Exile have a power to weight ratio exceeding that of a modern gasoline fueled internal combustion engine.
All vanships in the series were rendered as 3D images, a hallmark of Japanese animation studio Gonzo, makers of such series as Vandread and Blue Submarine No. 6.
The kit and its assembly:
I love the Vanships from Last Exile - even though I have never seen the series.
While these vehicles appear as retro stuff, they are very original and unique in look and feel - a modeler's dream if you are into scratchbuilding and kitbashing. There's also a 1:72 Vanship kit available (actually, in two versions) from Hasegawa, but it is IMHO overpriced. And there are so many different Vanships in the series that it is a shame that not more of them have been kitted, scratched, or at least used as a source of modelling inspiration.
The latter's the case here. I had a scratched Vanship on the agenda for a long time and also a basic idea with what I'd start, but it took a SF racing GB at phoxim.de (a German SF model building forum) to make a move.
I wanted a small and fast single seater, and this evolved through the GB into a Racer with a more prominent engine unit and a rather purposeful livery instead of bright colors. But the basic concept was retained: originally, the plan was to use a 1:72 F4U as fuselage basis, and I had the idea to integrate some parts of a 1:43 Citroen 11CV from Heller, e. g. its grill and bonnet.
The F4U is the SMER kit, and it has the benefit of having separate wings for a folded display. The fin was cut off and the landing gear wells covered.
The cockpit opening was slightly enlarged in order to take a 1:48 Japanese WWII resin pilot and a seat from the 1:43 11CV - pretty cramped, but it worked and looks good. Only the wind screen of the OOB F4U canopy was used, as well as the original dashboard.
Most work was done on the outside, though. The first problem turned up when I realized that the 11CV bonnet could hardly be mated with the F4U. As a plan B I found a cover for the brush head of a Philipps electric toothbrush in my donor bank - a bit too high and narrow, but overall a unique addition and characteristic nose for my creation!
The landing gear comes from an Amodel Ju-87A - together with the drooped F4U inner wings the result looked a bit stalky at first, but the Vanship still needed its engines.
As a racer, I went for double power, and the long pods that carry the propulsion system were scratched from several non-model-kit parts:
- Front comes from a Revell 1:32 AH-64 Apache, its engines
- The intakes come from a Matchbox Gloster Meteor NF.14
- The "ring" consists of wheel parts from the Heller 11CV
- The conic isolators are ball pen grips, cut to size and closed with tank wheels on both ends
- The fins are plastic knives, primarily the blades and parts of the handles
In between these engine pods, which are only held under the wings and stabilized internally through steel wire, a generator pod from a 1:72 Matchbox EA-6B fills the void. It also holds a characteristic "knife" under the front grill - again carved from the handle of the plastic knives.
In order to blend the changes in fuselage shape and diameter and create a kind of Cord-style grill I added three styrene strips which were wrapped around the nose, the upper line reaching back to the cockpit - a kind of 3D rally stripe that also streches the shape.
Some air scoops and surface details were added, made from styrene, and stiff cable was used under the front fuselage to create hoses between the bonnet with the Claudia reactor and the engines.
I was frequently tempted to add more things and details or decoration, but found that a rather clean look would better suit a dedicated racer Vanship - the Stutz Blackhawk land speed record car was a vague benchmark.
Painting and markings:
I wanted to keep things simple and dry. Before this turned into a racer I considered several colors like pale blue, a greyish-green, British Racing Green or Crimson, with ivory trim. Anyway, I rejected this in favir of a pure, bare metal finish. I even did not add colorful stripes - the only "color" comes from the mechanical parts (ivory and dark brown on the engine pods, the idea was to add an isolator impression) and the small sponsor decals.
The kit initially received a basic coat of Revell's acrylic Aluminum, and onto that panels/field with several Metallizer tones (Steel, Magnesium, Titanium, polished Aluminum) were added. On top of that, the whole thing received a rubbing with grinded graphite - intensifying the metal shine and also weathering the vehicle.
The pilot received a rather conservatie outfit, with a brown leather jacket - matching the overall style of the Vanship. Some engine parts (e. g. the blades and the knife under the nose) were painted with a mix of Steel Metallizer and Gold. The cockpit interior was painted in RLM 02.
The markings were puzzled together. The start number '24' in that nice retro type comes from an 1:72 Airfix Il-2, the black disc below is from a slot car aftermarket sheet. The many sponsor stickers come mostly from an 1:72 Su-27 demonstrator aircraft sheet from Begemot - with their cyrillic typo they blend well into the Last Exile look and feel (where Greek/Cyrillic typo pops up).
Finally, the kit received a coat with acrylic gloss varnish, while the anti glare panel in front of the windscreen became matt.