Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Zeppelin Construction: or How I Built the Empire Star

The past few months have been filled with projects in preparation for Origins 2009. One of this years themed tracks is Pulp, and since Crimson Eagles is certainly a pulp game I definitely felt that I needed to register to run a game. While the basic game is ready to run I thought that to make it even more pulpy I need to finish the zeppelin rules, and of course I would need a zeppelin miniature. Even if I can't get the rules to work, a zeppelin mini on the table will be a great attention getter. So after Christmas I began work on the model.
The first step was to decide the size and general look. In the original Crimson Skies the zeppelins are nine hexes long. When I adapted the rules to Crimson Eagles I made them eight hexes long and changed the hex orientation (I'll cover zep rules later when I'm happy with them.) Since my board hexes are 4" it would need to be about 32" long. The model is actually 37" long - I thought it looked better. That makes it about 1/260 scale based on a zeppelin around the size of the Akron or Macon. The scale of the Crimson Skies planes are around 1/180 (they aren't real consistent), so yes, it is a bit small scale-wise but playability is a bigger factor than realism. The look is inspired by the later zeppelins rather than those of WWI though I did make the center section more cylindrical than curved for ease of construction. There are a number of pictures of zeppelin miniature on the internet, some even show some construction pictures. Those plus my experience with building lots of paper model zeps really helped in the design process.
After I had a design I liked I printed it out full scale and took measurements of the various sectional diameters. Then I cut out circular sections from 1/4" foamboard. For the ends I figured disks at every 1" length to get as good curvature, while I made the center in three sections. Before I began putting the disks together I made a template to mark the disk edges. I decided on a 16 sided shape for the zeppelin a a good compromise between buildability and looks. By marking the edges of the disks I would be able to make sure that the stripes of the outer skin lined up. I built up the ends first by stacking them with pieces of 1/2" foam. The center section was built with three 1/4" dowels around the the center to provide a rigid frame. The center section is also supported by 1" strip of 1/4" foamboard on edge for a strong frame and a base for the skin. When the sections were dry I lined them up on a 3/8" dowel.
The next step was to put the skin on the center section. The skin is made from strips of 110 pound card stock glued to the foamboard. The seams are covered with 3/8" artist masking tape. I left an open section on the bottom for the hanger entrance. Once the skin was finished I epoxy glued brass tubing at both ends to fit the ends of the telescoping stands I use to mount the zeppelin on the
board. The ends take a little more work, but aren't hard. I began by gluing down strips of card stock, making sure to line them up the the marks I had put on the disks. On the bow end I put half a Styrofoam ball to make a nice rounded end. On the aft I used a Styrofoam cone (though I don't show it in the pictures since the strips didn't go over it.) After the inner strips where dry I put the outer skin on and taped them down.
That finishes the body of the zeppelin. The rest is decorative. Let's start with the engines. In Crimson Skies the zeps are mostly filled with helium like the real U.S. navy ones. So their engines would probably be inside the skin with only the propellers mounted on the outside. Visually a little boring for the game. I therefore decided to go with the German look, which is also how they appear in the game. The real zeppelins of the 30's had four or five engine, but I thought eight looked better and is more in keeping with the game. The look for placement and numbers is up to you. First I built the mounts which was done by inserting brass rods through the skin into the foam disks with epoxy glue. The engines are made from wooden robins eggs (1 3/16"). I sanded flat both ends, drilled a hole in the front end for a radiator, drilled a hole in the aft end for an axle and made a prop disk of overhead transparency. To make the engine mount look better I used a combination of paper and plastic rods built around the brass rod which does the structural support.
The fins are made from layers of cellfoam 88 cut out and shaped by sanding. The hinges and markings where made by gluing paper shapes to them.
The gun turrets are 1" Styrofoam balls. Guns are made of pieces of plastic rod. The windows are made by printing out a design on paper, cutting them out and gluing them to the ball. This will give you a uniform design and something to paint. Be sure to use some form of template for the gun and window placement. The forward and lower turrets are mounted on pieces of Styrofoam cones.
The hanger was simply made by leaving an opening in the skin. I made the recovery hook from pieces of plastic rod. A magnet is glued to the nose of the plane and the tip of the recovery hook.
The control car is just some scrape Styrofoam that has been shaped.
The nose cone is made out of card stock to cover the end where all the tape strips meet.
The entire model is painted with a gray spray paint. The zeppelins of the time were silver, but I find that a silver miniature looks unreal, or as unreal as a fictitious zeppelin can look. The silver paint accents the imperfections.
You can find copies of the insignia by search the Crimson Skies official sites and copying the images.
I made the base from 3/8" plywood painted to match the felt playing surface. The layout was made from the original zeppelin silhouette that I used to figure the miniature. I placed markers for the various target areas such as engines and the control car in their respective hexes as well as the gas cell divisions to make it easier to figure the targeting. The telescoping poles are made from cheap telescoping auto mirrors I purchased at Harbor Freight with the mirrors cut off. The are sturdy enough to support the miniature and show altitude changes.
So that is it for now. I still need to make decals for the windows and put on its name (maybe I'll have a christening ceremony.) There is one last detail to share, but I'm not quite finished with it, so if you are planning to make your own zep you might want to wait a bit until I'm finished.

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