Retro Future – Futuristic Flyer (31086)

Due to the lack of certain types of slopes and panels for flaps, rudders, wing edges and the like LEGO certainly isn’t the best way to pursue an aviation model hobby, but of course that doesn’t stop the company from trying just as it doesn’t stop me from almost instinctively buying every reasonably looking set of that type, especially since they are still relatively rare (not counting the many City helicopter and airplane sets here). The Futuristic Flyer (31086) set is no exception.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Box

Admittedly this model wasn’t particularly high on my list. It has a distinct appeal, but at the same time there are some glaring shortcomings that were clear to me even just by looking at the package and marketing photos. I was quite a bit hesitant and only committed to the model after Jangbricks did a review on his YouTube channel that alleviated some of my concerns as well as showing some of the interesting technical details.

Naturally, the most stand-out feature are the forward-inclined wings. As a longtime  aviation aficionado I could chew your ears off explaining the pros and cons of such a configuration, but suffice it to say that there are reasons we don’t see more aircraft of this type and it was and is more or less relegated to experimental planes like the old X-29 or as Jang mentions, the Sukhoij S-37 Berkut. On the model this is implemented quite ingeniously by locking the wings into place between some angled place using those small ball joints. The added benefit here is that the wings can be easily taken off for transport and clicked into place again when needed, allowing to use a smaller storage box.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Overview

The extra pieces depicted in the above photo are meant for the secondary and tertiary build, a sort of generic space fighter and a small Gundam-like mech. I haven’t really bothered with either, but at least the space vehicle seems on par with the jet in terms of complexity and quality while the robot really feels like a throwaway idea they just crammed in to get three overall models at all. It really doesn’t look that attractive and feels a bit out of place here.

Speaking of quality – that’s of course a relative term for a set with barely 150 pieces. That’s also why this set wasn’t a top priority initially. Unfortunately once you move on from the cleverly constructed middle section holding the wings, the rest of the model doesn’t really live up to that standard. To say it has been grossly simplified would be an understatement as it really feels like the nose and aft were just lumped on after the fact without much consideration. The nose is particularly disappointing as you just can feel how simple it potentially might have been to shape a gently sloped tip from a few different wedge plates and curved slopes.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Left Side View

The same can be said for the engine exhaust using the old plastic wheel. It completely ruins the otherwise sleek appearance. You know, it’s not like this hollow cone doesn’t exist, not to speak of even better solutions like dual exhaust pipes. Keen observers will also have noticed that the model sits terribly low. It’s simply propped up on some standard small wheel plates as commonly used for three-wheeler vehicles in City and Friends. It’s acceptable when you see this as a play item as it’s at least a stable solution, but of course could be improved.

LEGO Creator, Futuristic Flyer (31086), Right Aft View

My main takeaway from this set is that it offers some good ideas and inspiration, but the technical execution could have been done better in places. It’s once more a matter of 150 pieces vs. perhaps 200 pieces where those 50 extra parts could have made a huge difference for the better. Don’t misunderstand me: I understand this this is aimed at kids for playing first and foremost, but the missed opportunity of making this also a better displayable showcase model is still highly regrettable.

Stubby Flyer – Race Plane (31094)

I’ve been a (military) aviation buff all my life, so one would think I latch on to every LEGO model that is a halfway decent rendition of an aircraft, but not so fast. Indeed the Race Plane (31094) from the Creator 3in1 line wasn’t even on my radar until an unexpected opportunity changed that.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Box

Said opportunity came when I was browsing eBay searching for something else and they were offering a 10 Euro voucher for every purchase above 20 Euro within a specific (very short) time frame. I wasn’t planning on buying any LEGO stuff that day, but then I figured “What the heck.” and did it, anyway. The real trick of course would be to find a suitable set that would meet the minimum purchase value to be entitled for the voucher, yet not be overly expensive to make it worthwhile.

A quick search turned up this set being sold at 27 Euro with the original MSRP being 30 Euro and given that shipping was free, anyway, the math worked out quite favorably and I took the plunge. At 17 Euro effectively you couldn’t ask for a better price. Typically you can find this set for around 21 Euro, but given the bulk for once I would say that even paying 25 Euro would be fair. In fact, depending on your inclinations even the full price could be considered okay as this set really feels massive.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Overview

In typical 3in1 fashion the bulk of the parts goes into the plane itself, but this set has at least a pilot figure and two racing pylons. The latter feel a bit out of place in that in order to set up a real racing circuit you would simply need a lot more, ideally with different color coding as it’s used to indicate where the plane needs to take specific turns and loops or fly at different heights as in real aerial racing. It also stands to note that the cones aren’t used in any of the secondary builds for this set. I’m not complaining to have them, but it feels a bit inconsequential and redundant in either direction.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Left View

The plane itself is based on the old school premise of racing planes derived from old wartime planes like the P-47 Thunderbolt and/ or classic designs like the Gee Bee Racer that ultimately also drew a lot of inspiration from military planes of the 1930’s and on. As such the model represents a quite wild mix of different ideas, borrowing bits here and there. In addition to the already mentioned examples of course the one thing that stands out is the shape of the wings, very apparently based on the F4U Corsair‘s unique inverted gull wing design.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Right View

The main fuselage is built a round a pretty massive core made up of different types of bricks and plates, including ones with pin holes to which later the wings will be attached. This provides a pretty robust basis for the rest of the parts. The aft part of the cockpit is constructed from stacked wedges of the integrally molded symmetrical type. This also provides a lot of stability. Personally, though, I would have preferred separate pieces using sideways construction methods in the interest of better re-usability of the parts for later projects.

The vertical rudder could be a bit of a weak spot do to it being put together from slope bricks without much interlocking/ overlap and also being fixed to the body using 2 x 1 jumper plates. Mind you, it doesn’t fall off under normal conditions, but you have to handle it with care. There is also no moving parts, though i feel that would have been easy enough to do using some hinges and building the part from perpendicular plates plugged to the fuselage with pins or such. The blocky appearance is also a reminder that LEGO seriously need more thin slopes and narrow curved bricks to allow for smooth aerodynamic edges.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Top View

To me personally the wings feel a bit short, as a Corsair has quite an impressive wingspan. Inserting one more row of 2 x wide slopes/ bricks at the wing root and the same on the outer part might have improved this. I’m fully aware that wings on race planes are often clipped to increase maneuverability, but I can’t help but feel that they are simply not large enough to provide enough lift. I also think the “depth” (front to back width) would need to be increased on a real plane, no matter what. in relation to the rest of the aircraft the proportions fit, though, and look just fine.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Folded Wings

Like on many naval airplanes the wings can be folded up. I don’t think this is necessarily an intended thing, however, more a side effect of using the ratcheted hinge plates to create the angled attachment points in the first place. The downside to this is also that there are no stoppers on the underside, so the wings can actually have negative inclination, which not only looks odd, but just wouldn’t work on the real plane. Given that the wings are connected to the fuselage using Technic axles and connectors and the wheels are also attached this way this seems like an oversight. It shouldn’t have been that difficult to add a “stopper” pin or whatever somewhere to prevent pushing the hinges into negative angles.

The motor section is perhaps the weakest part. Not so much for how it’s done, but once again how illogical and inconsistently it is done. It’s like the designers had a ton of ideas and then couldn’t decide what kind of motor to emulate, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. Or they just don’t understand how this stuff works. In any case, for this reason this section feels massively overstuffed and a good chunk of it could probably have been left out.

For instance you wouldn’t want a carburetor intake/ air scoop to obstruct your view. Doing so might also have offered a chance to simply add proper fairings and access hatches for this area, possibly also allowing an alternate build without the interior engine parts and just a smooth surface. The same goes for the coiling, which I would have preferred to be build from curved slopes around a square core, similar to how you build Brickheadz.

LEGO Creator, Race Plane (31094), Front View

Finally I also think they could have done better on the propeller. In terms of length and width the small Technic rotor blades would have been a perfect fit here and I’m sure they could have produced them in black with yellow tips plus a new four- or five-fingered axle hub to hold them. This would incidentally be quite useful, anyway, not just for this set, so totally worth the investment in my view.

All my niggles aside (which are simply due to being involved in the subject so much) this is a very nice set. It hits all the right beats and most importantly is fun. It’s not super simplistic to build, but also not too complicated, so assembling it is enjoyable and a good way to idle away an evening. It’s also a very stable and massive model that can withstand a bit of mistreatment by children without falling apart at every turn. I was quite surprised how much I actually like this set, never having seriously considered it beforehand. I might even build the Alpha Jet like third alternative model one day just for fun. I definitely can recommend this.

Final Surprise – 42057 MOC – finished

It took me much longer than I anticipated, but I never lost sight of finishing up my custom version of the small gyrocopter (42057) I was so pleasantly surprised with back then.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Overview

After I had built a better-looking engine imitation (at least to my eyes), I started by recoloring my model, so after the issues with the black liftarms in my last article the photos I would take eventually would allow to discern the details better. I also used this opportunity to re-arrange a few pins in preparation for the additional steps I had in mind.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Left Aft View

The large rotor seemed easy enough and I stumbled upon this more or less accidentally when I realized I actually had those 12 x 1 plates in my inventory. That would provide enough stability and the curved slopes could easily be plugged on. Admittedly, it still looks somewhat bulky, but that probably can’t be helped. Those blades in reality are quite thin, but very wide and after I scrapped my idea of using standard helicopter rotor blades from the City line (which only would look okay if there were at least three of them, anyway) this is as good as it gets.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Bottom View

The other thing I so wanted to do was add some sort of damping on the landing gear. Those small vehicles often land on rough terrain, so something would need to be done to not only make this more bearable for the pilot but also protect the equipment from heavy impacts and vibrations. This doesn’t necessarily mean there would be explicit shock absorbers, though. The gear could be mounted to elastic connectors, the airframe could allow for some twist and torque with semi-rigid connections, the struts could be made of carbon fiber or another flexible material. There would be many ways this could be implemented.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Detail

Of course you don’t have these options with LEGO, so right from the start I had to think of somethings else. Due to the lack of space on such a small model using genuine shock absorbers with springs was out of the question, so I opted for the 2L rubber axle joiners as the elements to take the forces. The real trick then became to fit them in a way they could

  • serve their function as a damping element
  • keep the landing gear overall relatively stable and robust
  • not exert too much force on the plastic parts so they don’t crack or block pins by too much tension and friction
  • be mounted at reasonably perpendicular angles so as to not destroy the rubber itself by too much force.

This was further complicated by the fact that I wanted to retain the overall proportions of the vehicle and make it look halfway elegant by using only 0.5 thick liftarms. As a result of course some connections are a bit flimsy and other Technic aficionados might scoff at “not doing it correctly”, but for such a small model I find it perfectly acceptable.

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Detail

Since all this long-winded hubbub of mine is not going to be much use, I have once again created a full instruction for you to follow along and build the model yourselves. I’m almost getting good at this…

Before you begin I would recommend you study the original LEGO instructions, especially if you don’t own the actual model. This will give you a better idea about the parts used and what elements you would have at hand if you were to buy the box:

LEGO Technic, Helicopter (42057) (LEGO website)

Keep in mind that, while you can make good use of the white panels and other elements in the original box, you are still going to need a ton of extra parts, so my pimped version will require to do a little shopping or resorting to your existing back-catalog of Technic parts from other sets as well as some stud-based LEGO. Some prior experience would certainly be helpful.

The colors I used in my model are of course only recommendations for a consistent, unobtrusive color scheme. As long as everything works, you can use whatever you want. Conversely, feel free to implement your own alternative solutions if you don’t have the parts. As they say, there’s many ways to skin a cat and before I settled on my final design, I tried out a lot of alternatives.

Click on the link or the image to download the building instructions!

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC

LEGO Technic, Gyrocopter (42057), MOC, Instructions Cover

A better Surprise – 42057 MOC

A few weeks ago I was quite surprised by a random lucky find after having padded out an Amazon order without much further thought beforehand and ever since it has been on my mind to improve on some of the quirks the model also had. I dabbled around on and off on some evenings and tried many things until I arrived at something that satisfied me.

Note: I was oblivious to the limited capabilities of my old photo camera and for aesthetical reasons used a lot of elements in black, so things may be difficult to recognize. You should be able to determine the types of pins and axles used based on their colors and I’ve added call-outs for some critical elements to make things a bit easier, but if you have specific questions just fire away in the comments. I’m also considering building a model in LEGO Digital Designer and generate a building instruction, but this is still way off in the more distant future.

Objectives

First and foremost of course I wanted to get rid of the ugly motor and that shall be the primary focus of this article. Other things like replacing/ improving the rotor blades are left for a later date, as I haven’t yet really looked into alternatives, which presumably are going to be some sort of the City line stub-based helicopter rotor blades.

To make things not too complicated my goal was too retain as much of the original model as possible. This in particular meant to keep the overall proportions and appearance by re-using sub-assemblies that already exist. Thankfully, since the model out of the box is already designed to resemble a lightweight helicopter/ gyrocopter many sections are already constructed in a way to simply plug on to a central body like you would on the real thing.

E.g. for transportation purposes the aft tail would indeed be just a simple tube or scaffolding structure that can be transported side-by-side with the main fuselage in the same car trailer and then easily be bolted on at the airstrip’s preflight pad. Same for the main rotor or the various covers.

With that in mind I kept the overall logic of the groupings intact. You just have to be careful then to always move the entire group like for instance the seat assembly to retain functionality. On occasion it means however that you may have to move a few pins around or change their type so they plug into different holes and connectors.

Additionally I wanted to avoid the use of too many extra parts. I knew I would need some parts from my own inventory simply because they are not contained in the set and I also knew that I would need quite some pieces to create a custom engine rendition, but otherwise I tried to restrain myself and not go overboard. This is an affordable set, after all, an there seems no point in making it too difficult and too expensive for other people to customize it.

The clunky motor being the big stinker, it represented a few challenges to get rid of. Because it is used as a structural element, once it would be gone the model would lose a lot of its stability, so I had to come up with a way to compensate. On a similar note I also wanted to free the cockpit parts from their use as anchors for the elements that stabilize the main rotor’s bearing and shaft. This may seem unnecessary, but if I ever decided to customize the model ever further, it would facilitate things like replacing the panels

With all this it only seems natural that one would also want to improve other details also while at it. One simple thing is for instance adding all sorts of little lights to make things more lively and at least retain the illusion of the air vehicle complying with FAA regulations. 😉

Lego 42057 MOC, Overview

Basic Idea

To achieve what I wanted I knew I was going to need a lot more room or more specifically longer arms and more pin holes. Initially I thought it would be as simple as replacing the small L-shaped liftarm with the bigger version and then plug everything else onto it, so this acts as some kind of central girder/ bulkhead, but no such luck.

To even come close to that I first had to extend the length of the model while at the same time not actually making it longer. This contradictory requirement stems from the fact that in order to keep the functionality of the rotor gear you have to keep it as a compact unit, but at the same time sneak in those two or three extra pin holes. The bottom view illustrates this best.

Lego 42057 MOC, Bottom

The front beams are 11L instead of the kit’s 9L and likewise the original 5L side rocker bars made from two 0.5L thick elements have been superseded by a conventional 7L arm. To account for the increased length, the front wheel was moved one hole aft and the 7L liftarm equally has one more hole of overlap. The large L-shaped elements now fit in-between the rest without a gap. You just need a lot more pins and also move the connectors on the cockpit side panels.

Onto the top of the large L liftarms the smaller ones were attached horizontally and pointing forward, which would later serve to hold the gear shaft for the main rotor. With that in place, we can start thinking about the actual motor.

Motor Design

In the process of coming up with an alternate engine I must have tried  at least ten different designs. Ultimately I wanted this to be more representative of a small V-shaped four or six cylinder dual row engine as it very likely would be on a real aircraft of this kind – small, not too powerful, high rev engines that make a lot of noise, but run smoothly and reliably, avoiding vibrations and providing some safety margin in case of emergencies.

Unfortunately this turned out to be more complicated than I had anticipated. Since there are basically no wedge type/ angled lift arms that can be plugged together directly it all ends up being a mess. Any connector that you insert to produce a specifically add to the width, which has the potential of making things look way too bulky, even more so on a model that for a large part is only 5L wide or even narrower. Also the angled constructs lacked stability and it was difficult to add the axles for the transmission gear.

Lego 42057 MOC, Detail Aft

In the end I settled on something a lot simpler. I used an H shaped 5 x 3 liftarm (or “bone”, as I like to call them) as the base. At the bottom I added two pins with holes that would later act as the bearings for the big cog’s axle. On the sides I added two 5L liftarms onto which I built the “cylinders” using lots of grey bushings, axle pins, and 3L and 4L axles to fill in the open spaces. Two of the cylinder heads are again connectors with holes for the propeller axle. This is a straightforward construction that is robust and stable.

Lego 42057 MOC, Detail Engine, Top

The engine block then was fixated with a short T-type connector that is anchored between the two smaller L shapes on the main frame with a simple 3D axle. This has the advantage that as long as the bottom part is not locked down, you can swivel up the whole affair, which makes working on the lower parts easier. With this you also get an exchangeable modular platform onto which you can build other drive units like a small gas turbine or other engine variants. I fancied up mine by also adding exhaust pipes, which e.g. could be found in another small set like the speed racing boat (42045) and the red top light on a black pin, the latter of which plugs into the remaining free hole of the hinge mechanism.

Lego 42057 MOC, Detail Engine, Bottom

To properly work the bottom of the engine needs to be pinned down as well. I re-used the lower section of the original engine holder yellow axle, but modified things to make use of the now elsewhere redundant 0.5L thick liftarms. This made sure the delicate overall appearance was retained and provided just enough room to accommodate all those little axles and pins. So in essence the engine at the bottom is held up by a 3L pin going through one element affixed on the engine itself and the other two connectors on the frame clamping it in, as it were.

Lego 42057 MOC, Engine

Offsetting the connector for the aft beam by one unit also made for a more realistic look with the small propeller having a little more room. Sadly enough there’s no rivet-like pin with a flat or hemispheric stopper head, so I used the freed up ball-headed pins. This looks a bit odd, though. An alternative might be using stud adaptor pins and cover them with a red and green transparency, so this could double as board/ starboard formation lights.

Main Rotor

On the original model the main rotor is held by a somewhat awkward, yet at the same time almost ingenious construction that involves the two white sidewall panels. It plays on the tension of the two tubes used for the canopy frames and is built as a self-stabilizing block that really only works once you have flipped up the two connectors (page 46 of the building instructions). As I wrote in the first paragraph I wanted to come up with something simpler that would allow to remove the panels without affecting the rest, so I had to turn this on its head.

Lego 42057 MOC, Detail Left

Here’s where we revisit our two small L-shaped elements from earlier, as there’s still three empty holes to cover. In goes another connector, which is locked in place with a 3L axle in the front and a black axle pin in the rear. The protruding pin (and its matching counterpart ordinary black pin on the opposite side) then serve as a holder for two connectors in-between which a no. 2 axle-to-axle connector with pin hole is placed. Said pin hole is then occupied by yet another pin with hole and once you add the rotor axle into the mix – voilà, you get a pretty stable construct that holds the rotor firmly straight in place. Don’t worry! It sounds more complicated than it is and you’ll figure it out.

Lego 42057 MOC, Detail Engine

Details

After all the trouble all that is left is taking care of some details. I added yet more connectors to re-attach the small shields that cover the engine. Depending on what your preference in the matter is, you could leave them out or with a bit of creativity leave out the exhaust pipes and use just the shields.

Another considerable change/ improvement I made with the steering linkages for the rudder. Say what you will, not even the aft section running parallel to the beam looks just sloppy plus using the clunky 3L 40th anniversary white liftarm annoyed me. With the 4L lever type liftarm from the original motor holder no longer used anywhere, it came in handy here. The only caveat is that the direction is inverted and the freedom of movement is not as large, but I consider this a minor thing.

Due to using the longer liftarm on the base frame I also had a pin hole to spare to directly plug in the “stick”, allowing to omit the extra pins on the white panel. See the recurring theme here? with no obstructions in the way you can literally swap the panel for a different one in a minute and turn your little chopper into a police vehicle or fire surveillance plane using blue/ green or red panels, respectively.

Final Words

When building my models I do small changes all the time, but sitting down and making a dedicated effort to completely change someone else’s work is a whole different matter. It reveals that the logic applied to LEGO models is not necessarily in line with “how stuff works in the real world” and it also illustrates that different ways of thinking can result in completely different methods of approaching (engineering) problems in order to solve them. This isn’t always fun, but an interesting challenge no less.

With the engine part now being almost 100% foolproof I might indeed try and come up with some other methods of emulating drive units. There’s already ideas rummaging around in my head on how to do a jet turbine. Other things I’m contemplating is some work to build an elastic, damped and fully steerable undercarriage system and of course one could go crazy on detailing everything to your heart’s content. Even a bubble canopy now seems easy enough by just replacing the front section. and yes, that main rotor thing, too… 😉

A little Surprise – 42057

In our little family it falls onto me to act as the online ordering hub and so it happened that last week I once more scoured Amazon in search of something for my brother and ended up a few Euros short of free shipping. As an adult LEGO builder what do you do? Yepp, you throw in a small model just to avoid having to burn money. As they say: a penny saved is a penny earned and so spending 5 Euros extra to pad out the purchase on a set instead of letting the same amount go to waste seems only logical.

Lego 42057, Box

I opted for set 42057, the little gyrocopter. I didn’t plan to ever purchase it, but now that I have it, I’m actually quite positively surprised. I’ve been an aviation aficionado all my life and to boot, this vehicle is not quite unsimilar to several of the small helicopters/ autogyros seen in several of the James Bond movies. So what’s not to like?

Lego 42057, Left View

The set of course was a very quick and simple evening build, but a welcome and relaxing one, regardless. Many people tend to underestimate the value of these small sets, but in this case it actually has a lot going for it. One of the most important things for me is the varied selection of parts.

As someone who doesn’t have a lot of storage place I’m always carefully weighing the parts you get vs. how useful they may be for later custom builds without ending up with too many redundant or useless parts. No point in having the ump-teenth liftarm in a weird color that you can’t use for anything else but one specific model, if you get my drift. This isn’t the case here and in addition to the standard panels/ shields, connectors, axles, pins, gears and a few liftarms your get a dark grey corner panel (I don’t have one of those in this color yet), the prop blades, a small propeller, a tail fin and a “horns” type steering wheel. It also features two handlebars and, which is nice for me for some of my planned aircraft projects, small and narrow wheels of two types.

Lego 42057, Right View

Once assembled, the whole model is pretty sturdy, though during the build some things are a bit tricky to hold in place temporarily and occasionally one could use a third hand. With the model being a decent scale and not too heavy it offers some great play value to re-enact those scenes from the Bond movies. The second model looks somewhat similar and could represent a prop-driven experimental vehicle with a highly aerodynamic body from one of those “longest duration” contests for solar mobiles or whatever, but I’m probably not going to bother actually building it.

Lego 42057, Bottom View

While this was fun for the most part, there are some minor niggles. For one, I would have much preferred something different for the motor than LEGOs ever same, crappy-looking motor blocks. In reality most of these things run off small boxer motors or gas turbines and I’m sure it would have been possible to include parts for a rendition of one of those. The other thing are the blades of the main rotor. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be some suitable existing parts in the right size, so perhaps it would have been better to include stub-based bricks and tiles to cobble up an imitation.

Overall, though, this is good value for money. The box can be had for slightly over ten Euros and given the wide selection of parts and the good playability, this really is worth every penny. I’m going to come up with something that fixes the issues I criticized, so perhaps you’ll see something pop up around here soon.