By Rob Caswell - Copyright © 1999
The face of the scale modeling hobby has dramatically changed since the last time the (ex-MPC) Eagle Transporter kit was on shelves. We're now in an age where the cottage industry is able offer alternatives and add-ons to the mass market styrene kits. This situation has opened up some exciting opportunities for Space:1999 modelers, as we've seen a steady stream of aftermarket accurizing and detailing parts for this classic '70's lunar workhorse.
While only seen in one episode (Metamorph) of Space:1999, the spinal mounted auxiliary booster has always been a fan fave. Maybe this is because of the beefy air it lends the otherwise utilitarian Eagle Transporter. The original booster was lost sometime after filming, but noted Space:1999 modeler, Chris Trice, painstakingly recreated this prop using parts from the original wherever possible and making best-guess approximations. In gauging the accuracy of any booster kit, Chris' model is the best benchmark currently available.
Given the spine booster's "most favored accessory" status, it's not surprising that someone came out with a resin accessory kit to add this booster to the reissued AMT/ERTL Eagle. It is a little surprising that two companies have offered the same subject! Let's take a look at these two kits and see how they compare. Both are produced by Canadian firms: Scale Model Technologies ($27.00 USD PPD) and Small Art Works ($25.00 USD PPD).
^ The professional packaging of the kit was a nice surprise.
^ The kit is made up of six resin parts. Casting quality is good, even without any advanced airbubble elimination techniques
^ The central frame and tanks are cast as one (complex) piece.
^ Small's engine bells have a cool looking insert.
^ The only way to secure the Small booster to the Eagle is to glue it in position. Alternatively may also simply rest it atop the spine, for display.
Small Art Works
Small Art Works is the label used by Jim Small, a craftsman well-known for his Space:1999 efforts. The Eagle Spine Booster (as well the simultaneously released "Eagle Side Boosters" and "Moonbase Alpha Eagle Hanger Parts") are the second wave of 1999 commercial products from Jim (the first being his modified Moonbase Alpha).
The first thing you'll notice about the Small kit is the packaging. All parts come in a handy ziplock bag with a cardboard header. The reverse of the header includes notes such as a listing of all paint colors required for the kit. Overall this looks like a product that could easily thrive in a retail store environment.
Breaking into the bag, you'll find six resin parts and a well-rendered, one-sheet construction and painting guide. The parts are cast in a durable off-while resin (Por-a-cast Mark 3). They were poured carefully by hand, without mechanical aid to eliminate airbubbles. The result is a pretty clean cast. The only parts with noticeable airbubbles were the engine bells.
With only six parts, the construction of this kit is pretty straight forward. The main body and tanks are one piece. This mandates some simplification of detail, such as the blocky, solid connection points where the larger six tanks meet the main booster frame. In addition the detailing on the booster frame is reminiscent of Trice's detail, but fails to correctly capture all the greeblie shapes. Also the six main tanks are devoid of the surface detail seen in Trice's model (though the decals mentioned below will supposedly simulate this detail).
The engine bells appear to be recast from those of the AMT/ERTL kit. As a result they share the same inaccuracies in profile (the original used a smoother parabolic shape). Jim did make some modifications to the kit parts, thought. Each bell has a "thrust vane insert" (I think he used hubcaps from another kit) which looks pretty cool, even if this detail is not supported by the existing reference. It lends a nice feel of functionality and detail.
A couple of minor plumbing details (pipes connecting the small, orange side tanks) are missing from the booster. Using online reference, the dedicated modeler can easily add these missing bits.
While my kit did not come with decals, Jim has just created a set of self-adhesive ones which will be shipping will all kits, now.
Scale Modeling Technologies (SMT)
With 19 parts (15 resin and 4 clear plastic 'U'-end rods), the SMT kit is more detailed than Small's product. It too comes in a ziplock bag, helpful for keeping all the parts together. All resin parts were casting using the vacuum draw process to minimize air bubble problems, resulting in some very attractive final castings (though not without fault - see below). The resin itself is a light tan colored material that seems a little more brittle than Small's parts. The upside is that it seems to provide slightly crisper detail.
The instruction sheet's illustrations are a little unpolished, but serve their function. The instructions also provide color photos of the Trice model to serve as reference. No decals are provided.
All the fuel tanks are molded as separate pieces and replicate the surface plates seen on the Trice miniature. Unfortunately the inside (hard to see, but still visible) surfaces of the tanks were the area most prone to voids and airbubbles, both in the resin and mold.
The detail on the booster frame seems quite accurate to Trice's features. The pieces that connect the frame with the engine bells are beautifully detailed! As with Small's kit, the SMT booster's engine bells seem to be cast from the AMT/ERTL kit's. They lack any interior detail, which is true to the available reference.
From my examination of the available reference, it looks like the two lozenge-shaped tanks that straddle the booster's center are incorrectly shaped. SMT models them with a flat bottom, while the pictures I've seen seem to show these tanks as having an elliptical profile.
As with Small's kit, there's a bit of missing plumbing. However the SMT kit acknowledges this and gives instructions on what to add and where, using your own scrap parts. The 'U'-end rod, mentioned earlier, is used to create four attachment clips that allow you to easily attach or remove the booster assembly.
Overall, the SMT kit has a clear edge on detail. However, I noticed the two kits varied in overall size. The SMT kit is almost a 1/4" longer than Small's. I immediately looked at pictures of the booster from the show. Using those photos, it looks as if Small squarely pegged the size, with the SMT kit a bit oversized.
^ With 19 parts, the SMT kit has a fine level of detail.
^ SMT's kit accurately recreates the finer details of Trice's recreated booster.
^ Even the texture on the fuel tanks is replicated.
^ While the overall casting is very good, there are a few problem areas where voids and bubbles appear. They seem fixable and easy to hide.
^ Some parts, like the ones that connect the boosters to the engine bells, exhibit fine detail.
So Which Is Better?
Sorry, but there's no clear winner, though both are quite good and are about the same price. The SMT kit takes the prize for accuracy, intricacy of detail, and slightly cleaner casting, but Small's seems correctly sized, has those cool-looking (albeit creatively embellished) engine inserts, and comes with decals. Both companies state they created simplified construction and detail to mesh well with a stock build of the ERTL kit. I guess it all comes down to where your priorities lie. Either option will let you build an attractive Eagle add-on. Hopefully the details above will help you decide which route best meets your needs and modeling standards.
This page copyright © 2000 Starship Modeler. Last updated on 30 January 2000.