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Bear Hunt!

Advanced electronics and modeling animate an exciting 1/72 scale display
Site of the 2008 International Plastic Modelers Society/USA Nationals, the Virginia Beach Convention Center is a massively spacious venue that dwarfs even the largest displays. But in a cavernous hall filled with more than a thousand contest entries, one project drew the attention of nearly all conventioneers: “Bear Hunt,” a 1/72 scale composition of modeling, motion, light, and sound.

The project’s triumvirate of creators — Charles Heyer, Konstantin Degtyarev, and Tory Mucaro — combined impressive skills in electronics, mechanics, and modeling in a multimedia presentation that placed third in the “group entry” category but was nevertheless the crowd favorite, winning Popular Best of Show from as critical an audience as a modeler could find anywhere. Of course, the audience was well-entertained by simply pushing a button to watch the Tupolev’s contra-rotating propellers start in proper order while recordings of radio transmissions (in both Russian and English) help narrate the scene.

Even the judges were drawn into the display. Recalling a story he heard at the awards ceremony, Tory says, “During the judging on Friday night, the lights in the hall, which were on an automatic timer, went out, leaving the judges in the dark. One of the judges ran over to “Bear Hunt” and pressed the button to see how it would look in the dark. And after the ceremony, as we were about to disassemble it, the chief judge raced over to request one more performance.”

The display depicts a Cold War aerial encounter in the mid-1980s featuring aircraft at opposite ends of their careers; the Convair F-106 Delta Dart went out of service in 1988, while the Tupolev Tu-95MS (NATO reporting name Bear-H), based on the Tu-142, had only emerged as a cruise-missile carrier in the early 1980s. The F-106 in “Bear Hunt” wears the markings of the New Jersey Air National Guard 119th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, the last to fly the Dart. (All three builders live in New Jersey.)

It all started with Konstantin, an electronics engineer from Belarus who at one time served in the former Soviet Union as a MiG-31 avionics engineer. He solicited the help of Charles and Tory to realize his concept of an animated scale-model interception.

Two years and hundreds of man-hours later, the delegation of labor had become clear. On the display base, Konstantin designed the electronics, using microprocessors to synchronize the display’s motion with the audio. Charles, a professional prototype model maker, built the mechanism and housing for a turntable that rotates the two aircraft. Tory, a professional scale modeler, designed the front-panel graphics and gave the “story” continuity.

For the Tu-95, Charles designed and built the mechanism that starts the contra-rotating propellers in their actual sequence. Konstantin used microprocessors to control four motors plus lighting for the aircraft, writing code to coordinate individual sequences for audio, engine start-up, and the aircraft’s lights. Tory took care of the scale modeling, building and painting Trumpeter’s Tu-95 and installing LED lighting.

Tory also built and lighted the F-106, a Hasegawa kit, with advice, paint, and decals from longtime FSM author Pat Hawkey. Again, Konstantin’s microprocessor designs controlled the sequence of events; his code runs about 90 seconds of audio as well as the navigation lights and a tricolor LED for different phases of the afterburner.

Nine C batteries power the action; with hundreds of performances during the show, batteries were changed twice a day.

For anyone who wonders whether these three modelers can top this tour de force, “A trip to the 2012 Nationals might provide the answer,” Tory says coyly. Can they do it? Only August in Orlando will tell — at next year’s Nationals in Florida.

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