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A modeling odyssey

Theo Stefanski shares how he built his Orion spaceliner
RELATED TOPICS: SCI-FI / FANTASY | SPACECRAFT
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In the December 2017 FineScale Modeler’s “Final Details,” we featured Atomic City Models’ 1/48 scale Orion spaceliner from 2001: A Space Odyssey, as built by Theo Stefanski of Cambria, Calif.

No doubt those of you who read the magazine and followed the story to this point are looking forward to seeing more of how the model was built — and you have come to the right place!

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Theo says, “I determined this Orion kit was about 1/48-1/50 scale, about the scale of the Aurora/Moebius Moon Bus. I also found the new MPC Eagle kit to be in this scale as well. So the Orion and Eagle are not 1/48 scale, strictly speaking. Putting these three kits together shows how small the Moon Bus really is.

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Theo’s modeling odyssey began with a trip east. He says, “As with past models, this journey began with a trip to scenic Hanford, Calif., to take delivery of the Orion kit from Atomic City Models. There wasn’t much debriefing on this one. The fuselage consists of three pieces under which is a lower wing plus flaps. There are not many small parts, such as engine turbine blades, tail spars, or small scoops. Luckily, the tail spars are cast with spring wires inside them. If not, they would meet a quick demise. The wall thickness is relatively dense, making it very heavy as a completed model.”

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Theo cut out the ends to make access to the main body parts easier and reduce the weight.

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“I looked into the newly cut out windows and decided a model of this size should have an interior with lighting,” Theo says. “It needed only to be a basic interior, not blueprint perfect. Of course, this made things overly complicated for me.” Having judged the scale was close enough, Theo used the Moon Bus interior, casting resin copies for additional seats in the cabin. He also converted 1/48 scale figures for a passenger and crew, “the most drastic being the stewardess,” he says.

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And, of course, now that he had raised the interior issue, Theo thought he might as well add a cockpit — but he knew the rabbit hole was getting deeper. “The flight deck was built with consoles and pilots, but I had to restrain myself from going too far,” he says.

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“Rather than clear styrene I used microscope slides and covers, some of which had to be broken to fit,” Theo says. “It is odd that the window frames have sharp corners, the lesson of the de Havilland Comet airliner having not been learned,” he adds, referring to studies that showed the Comet’s squarish windows were to blame for metal fatigue that led to fatal crashes.

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Having painted the interior and figures and installed the cabin windows, Theo glued LED panels in overhead positions inside the cabin. He tested everything thoroughly before joining the fuselage halves — they would not be coming apart again. He says, “Windows were masked for painting and were not uncovered until months later. This was done very carefully, as the glass is near scale thickness — and it’s not safety glass.” But Theo was successful, and everything held together for a convincing effect.

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“The flaps were put in place and were pinned to the fuselage for added security,” Theo says. “The entire ship was sprayed with Tamiya primer and wet-sanded. Painting began in earnest with a coat of flat white which was allowed to cure for a few days.”

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“The only removable part was a panel under the tail for the battery,” Theo says. “In retrospect, I should have made a removable bottom scoop triangle to cover a mounting point. Well, maybe next time.”

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Painting a model this big in detail does get a bit cumbersome. Theo says, “I found it difficult to handle the model for the rest of the painting process due to it being in one piece and so heavy. I had seen pictures of another Orion model with multicolored panels, purported to be based on confidential photos which I was not privy to. I chose, however, to go with the warmer and cooler grays to be closer to what is seen in the film. I used Testors brand colors — radome tan, light gull gray, ghost gray, and aircraft gray. Once paneling was completed, everything was misted with Humbrol flat white to bring the contrast to an acceptable level.”

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“There are two triangular black shapes behind the passenger windows,” Theo says. “I had always assumed these were indentations for a vent of some sort. However, I was told by a good source that these are simply black markings. Therefore, I simply cut two triangular shapes out of black decal sheet and applied them.”

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Et voila! Theo’s Orion was ready to go into business for Pan Am. He says, “It is yet another large scale 2001 ship from Atomic City which commands attention and generous display space.”
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