Choppy Chop Chopper – Shuricopter (70673)

While funny enough Ninjago is easily LEGO‘s most successful original product line (next to City perhaps), I never quite hooked on it. I like some of the stylistic elements in the models, but even today struggle to keep the names of the protagonists straight for instance. So buying one of those sets remains the exception rather than the norm and the Shuricopter (70673) from the latest Forbidden Spinjitzu sub-series is and will likely be for a while one of the few sets I bought.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Box

Looking at the box art you might guess why I even bought it – yes, it’s a helicopter. Now that in and of itself is nothing unusual, as helos are a recurring theme in many of LEGO’s series, but this particular one attracted me for specific reasons.

First and foremost I was taken in by the somewhat aggressive stance and appearance that with its sharp angles and corners immediately reminded me of the first modern stealthy helicopter design from the 1990s, the Comanche, that never made it int series production. In particular the canted down tail section reinforces this impression. At least to me it seems pretty obvious where the LEGO designers were drawing inspiration from.

Second, and that’s always a good thing, the model would be reasonably large. I didn’t realize this at first, but after having a long hard look at the official marketing photos and the digital instructions before buying It dawned on me that this would be more around the 30 cm mark than the small variants that you typically find e.g. in Creator 3in1 sets. The 16 units long wedge panel used for the tail alone contributes to that length quite a bit.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Overview

The contents of the set are pretty rich, which is a pleasant, yet puzzling surprise. I’ll be the first to complain about LEGO‘s irrational and often outrageous pricing policy, but getting that much stuff for 17 Euro? This had me really stumped, given that there are three minifigures, several large pieces and a Spinjitzu top included. The cynical interpretation of this would be that indeed many sets out there are massively overpriced out of the gate, or in this case out of LEGO‘s factories.

Admittedly those 17 Euro aren’t the original price, but even those 30 Euro MSRP seem okay on some level if you only take 5 Euro discounts into account and were to get it for 25 Euro or bucks, respectively. At the same time I’m wondering, though, why exactly it is so cheap. Doesn’t it sell well? The eternal mysteries of the LEGO world… in any case, I’m not complaining.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Figures

Despite me not being an actual collector, the minifigures warrant a second look this time around. Not only do the overall designs for the main heroes and their evil counterparts appear generally modernized, but there is some interesting design work going on by ways of using dual molded parts with transparent sections. This is prevalent in all sets throughout this new series and offers some interesting visual clues to tie things to the themes of the respective protagonists such as fire and ice. That and of course it just looks cool to see different colors and patterns against light sources. Now LEGO only need to complement it with some parts using the same technology to put onto vehicles like ice-encrusted plates or icicles.

There’s a minor shadow looming over this in that the older style blend molding as it was used extensively in Bionicle for instance, meaning two colors are injected at the same time and mix directly to form gradated or swirly patterns, doesn’t always work reliably. So I ended up with my ice spear on General Vex not having an icy blue blade at all, but rather just a slightly more transparent Dark Pearl Grey tip. I wish they would find a way to use the newer two-step process where one color after another is applied in different sub-steps to get sharp demarcation lines also for the softer materials of the weapons to avoid such foul-ups. I haven’t ordered replacements, though, since it’s not that critical to me and likely I would have had to order not just a single piece but multiple ones to find one with a perfect blue blade.

The different elemental flags on the vinyl sheet are the same in every set, so if you buy multiple sets you can actually outfit more figures according to their factions. Of course they used transparent plastic to avoid alignment issues with double-sided printing, but I tend to think that printing on white or at least frosted transparency would have helped a lot with the colors looking more pristine.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Left Front View

From the outside the model very much is just a collection of larger panels and there’s not much of visible structure. The real magic happens on the inside using a bunch of Technic bricks, liftarms and pins. There are pros and cons to this approach with the main advantage being that this core is rock solid and makes for a very stable model. The downside is that unless you really extensively use every pin hole and outfit it with adapter pins your options for attaching conventional brick-based stuff are limited. Unfortunately this shows in several places with large gaps where the frame construction peeks through. Likewise, some panels are attached using just a single pin, which allows them way too much movement.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Left Aft View

Oddly enough there is a simple perpendicular gear mechanism that connects the main rotor rotation to the main exhaust tube. This makes little sense since you can’t actually discern much of a difference on the jet pipe, so it seems to me that somewhere along the way this was meant to be a propeller instead and they kept the mechanism, regardless, when they changed their minds. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s bad, just odd and a bit useless.

One of the biggest shortcomings is the absence of a genuine landing gear. The whole model basically just sits on its engine nacelles and the tip of the tail. My storage boxes are overflowing with those tiny rubber wheels and I don’t need more of them, but they could at least have included some struts and skids for the main gear and an inverted slope for the tail to have a hint of an undercarriage.

This would also very likely would have allowed to stabilize the outriggers with the Shuriken blades and wings. In their current form they are – you guessed it – only attached using single point connections and thus every thing tilts and swivels whenever you touch it. This also defeats one of the main play features – the Shurikens are on axle pins that have bushings with tires on them that are supposed to be perfectly level with the floor.

The idea here is of course that the tires touch the ground just enough to let the blades rotate by themselves as you push the model forward, plowing through hordes of enemies. Sadly with the flimsy connection this doesn’t really hold up as the outriggers bent out of contact way too easily. It would have been cool and given the word “Chopper” a whole different meaning, but it just doesn’t work as intended.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Right View

The front section has me torn as well. I like the idea of using the minifigure cleavers as some sort of grille/ wind splitters/ antenna array, but at the same time it frustrates me that they did not bother to create a “real” tip for the fuselage by including what maybe amounts to five or seven pieces more – some adapter bricks and a bunch of wedges/ slopes. This wouldn’t even have interfered with the rest of the cockpit design as apparently the canopy is opening towards the front. Merely using those flag elements as shim panels looks cheap.

LEGO Ninjago, Shuricopter (70673), Front View

All in all I’m kinda split in the middle on this set. The funny thing is that you can literally smell the good ideas everywhere and feel that the designers were considerate of some things, but then totally blew it with other stuff. In particular the flimsy attachments are a point of concern. Otherwise it would have made for a nice, large playable model for your kids. Naturally those issues are fixable, but will require some re-engineering and therefore this becomes a case of “Why should I even have to?”. It may be over some less experienced people’s heads, anyway. Be prepared to hear a lot of complaints from children when they manage to accidentally pull off parts! It’s really a pity! At its more than reasonable price this could have been a sleeper hit otherwise…

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.