Driftin’ Along

Tony F builds a shuttle craft…

Inspired by the imminent arrival of Osprey’s new Stargrave rulebook, Marcus suggested that we have a shuttle scratchbuilding contest (this was several months ago, the book is of course out now). Although the rules are aimed at 28mm figures, this very loose ‘contest’ was for 15mm models.

A while ago I saw a 15mm scale spaceship made from a Nerf rifle on Facebook – it was probably the size of a corvette or small frigate. While I had no desire to make anything that big, the idea still seemed sound for a much smaller vessel made from a pistol or similar. So I picked up an X-Shot branded gun from a supermarket for a fiver … which then sat untouched in its box for over a year. The shuttle building competition seemed like the ideal time to dig it out and make something of it.

I started by dismantling it (it was held together by screws) and removing the trigger, grip and the spring mechanism that propelled the rubber projectiles. This left me with just three pieces – the triple barrel and the two body halves, which I superglued back together. The screw holes were filled with green stuff which I tried to hide as best I could by sculpting in detail to match the surrounding area. The plan was to turn the pistol round so that the gun barrels became the engines and the cockpit would somehow be grafted onto the trigger end. This was all a very vague concept, since I had no idea of the details and what I was going to use to make it all (this make-it-up-as-I-went-along theme ran through the whole build…).

I had to tidy up a couple of bits – I took a razor saw to what would be the nose and removed a protruding bit of plastic, which I covered with a hatch from a Games Workshop vehicle. The hole where the grip came out was boxed in with plasticard with a view to becoming a well for the nose landing gear.

After hunting through my spares box for a suitable aircraft cockpit I came up blank, so in the end I built a simple frame around a curved protrusion which should look like a cockpit when painted up.

Engines were my next issue. Try as I might, in my extensive pile of half-built kits I could not find three identical engines to cover the three muzzles of the original gun. I did find two Mirage-III engines which I used for the lower two. For the upper, central engine I found a rather odd finned one which came from a Japanese spaceship kit. I rationalised the different designs by designating the lower two as the sublight drives, while the upper one is the ship’s FTL or Jump drive.

The final major subassembly that I had to work out was the landing gear – it would have to be robust enough to hold the weight of the ship and stand up to the rigours of gameplay. I’d originally planned to scratchbuild something with skids or feet along the lines of the Millennium Falcon, but during my various delves through my kit pile I came across the landing gear of a 1/48th Rafale which looked like it would work. Having wheels rather than skids also made sense as it would make the shuttle easier to manoeuvre in the tight confines of a carrier bay or hangar. The nose wheel fitted perfectly into the well I’d made earlier – I just superglued it solidly to the back of the well. I drilled holes in the fuselage sides to secure the two larger rear wheel struts and added some extra supports to make them even more secure.

The forward hull had a circular recess on each side – on the left I put the main hatch, originally from a GW Rhino. I gave it some hinges and a grab rail from various kits, and an entry keypad which is the only 3D printed piece on the ship. On the right is the ship’s main armament – when the shuttle was originally built this would have been a second hatch, but now it’s in private service the captain has added a twin heavy cannon mounting, which came from a GW dreadnought. I’ve never played Warhammer 40k, but once upon a time I worked on a video game project for Games Workshop and ended up with number of WH40K sprues in my bits box, which have finally proved to be very handy.

Then I was into full-scale greeblie mode, covering much of the surface of the vessel with all manner of bits and pieces – there are aircraft weapon pylons, bits of superstructure from 1/1200th battleships, a metal radome, some windows and shutters from model railway buildings, helicopter rocket pods and many other unidentifiable bits. There’s also a small defensive gun turret under the main hatch. The engine body got lots of pipes and valves made from plastic rod and strip, and a couple of lengths of old bass guitar strings.

Eventually I called a halt and declared the build finished, and moved onto painting. The overall colour scheme reversed the original colours of the plastic gun, with the main body in white and the nose in orange, and the engines bare metal. I sprayed it overall with Halfords’ white car primer and then washed it with light grey acrylic paint thinned with Johnson’s floor polish (I had planned to use Citadel Apothecary White contrast paint but I’d run out and had to improvise…). This was then heavily drybrushed with pure white with some edge highlights thrown in. The nose was painted with Gryph Hound Orange (another contrast paint) and drybrushed up, and then the engines painted with Citadel Leadbelcher before washing black and drybrushing silver. Contrast paints can be a bit patchy on large flat areas, which just what I was after – this is meant to be an well used, battered vessel that has seen plenty of use.

I painted the gun housing in dark blue-grey, along with the numbers etched into the sides of the fuselage, the cockpit glass in a variety of blues to give a graduated shade and the undercarriage in silver. I then picked out lots of details in different spot colours – a red and white striped probe, yellow emergency gas tanks, grey sensors, a green radome and orange and blue dorsal fins. I even had a go at a rainbow-like heat distortion effect on the engine using washes.

Finally I raided my collection of decals to finish things off – a mixed selection of aircraft markings and GW Tau symbols.

So that’s it – the Empyrean Drifter takes to the spacelanes. Of course it needs a crew, which I’m currently pulling together from various sources. And I’ve now started to think that they need a base to operate the Drifter from, which is a whole new rabbit hole…

Author: Brigadier Tony

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