Blue Jet or what? – LEGO Creator 3in1, Supersonic Jet (31126)

I used to do a lot of plastic scale modeling in my youth and while I eventually gave up the hobby in favor of other things, I retained that interest in (military) aviation and try to keep up with latest developments as well as discovering new pieces of info about older aircraft types, their development and operational use. That’s also of course one of the reasons why I love it when LEGO come out of the woods and release sets that at least somewhat resemble contemporary fighter jets, even if disguised as something else. It’s been a while since they had such a model in their range, but now here we are, talking about another one after almost two and a half years by ways of the simply titled Supersonic Jet (31126)

LEGO Creator, Supersonic Jet (31126), Box

Contents and Pricing

The set officially comes with 215 pieces and is supposed to retail for 20 Euro which is within the normal range of what you would expect for a Creator 3in1 set. Here it could be considered a good deal already based on the fact that the package contains several rather sizable parts such as the four Orange fins and the large wedge plates used for the wings. On top of that you get a good number of the triangle tiles along with other notable Dark Blue pieces plus even bits for a stand and overall the model is reasonably large. This gets even better once you consider the discounts out there in the wild and you can’t go wrong buying it for the 14 Euro that now have pretty much become the standard price. This is really good value, even if admittedly a few things could have been done differently.

LEGO Creator, Supersonic Jet (31126), Takeoff, Front Right View

The Model

Much has been made of the shape of the plane and which exact type it is meant to represent, but that’s a discussion that can be had better elsewhere and even then it’s slightly pointless. Given how similar modern combat jets have become in appearance simply due to identical mission requirements resulting in nearly the same technical solutions, this could indeed be an endless, yet unproductive debate. From an old F-16 to an Eurofighter to modern stealth types like the F-22 you can see anything here if only you wanted to and squint your eyes hard enough, yet you’ll never be able to pin it on an exact model simply because LEGO don’t want you to and keep the illusion alive of not doing actual military stuff.

That being the case here, it’s also the single biggest issue I have with this set: The color combination is just a bit weird. Usually Dark Blue elements are very desirable as they can be used nicely for many custom builds, but here things just don’t click in combination of Orange and White. The model feels drab and ultimately the color scheme poorly designed. Things just don’t “pop”. Now of course LEGO never would give us a plain Light Bluish Grey/ Dark Bluish Grey/ White combo, cool as it would have looked here, but at least using some different colors would have helped a lot. Using for instance Coral instead of the plain Orange would have made things more vibrant and lively. Likewise, using Bright Light Orange for the fuselage while retaining the other colors would have looked better. there’s a number of ways this could have turned out, but I feel the option they went with is not the best choice.

The assembly is pretty straightforward with the fuselage being built around a central core of a few long Technic bricks and layers of plates onto which a slew of tiles and curved slopes are shimmed over. On the sides this is apparently done with brackets, but this follows the recent trend of not covering every gap with a stud, so a few areas will only mutually stabilize once everything is complete. I can see why they are doing it this way to minimize stress on some of the angled areas and to keep the walls of the air intake as thin as possible, but occasionally it feels odd and really only begins to make sense when a certain step in the building process is finished. On that note, another serious oddity is the nose cone based on a square roof slope piece. While it contributes to the stealthy appearance and is simply plugged on in one of the final steps, I really would have preferred a more elaborate construction e.g. based on a few of these wedge pieces.

The landing gear is serviceable in that it’s robust enough to hold the model, but due to the thick Technic beams used still feels rather inelegant. In the end I’d gladly have sacrificed stability in favor of a slicker construction using the wheel elements from City airplanes, bars and minifigure android arms, especially if you leave the model perched on its stand and there are no forces on the struts. Another such thing that bugs me is the lack of wheel well covers. For the sake of argument those wouldn’t even have needed to be functional with hinges. Simple slot-in replacements like some pre-built blocks that could be plugged into the pin holes instead of the gear elements would have been fine. Even if they’d gotten in the way of the ratcheted hinge construction for the wings (you can actually make them droop down with anhedral), this would have been better than staring into those somewhat crude openings.

LEGO Creator, Supersonic Jet (31126), StandAs a bit of a novelty this set contains an actual stand for the plane so it can be displayed in an airborne position. It’s the simplest possible solution using a few Technic connectors and a large dish, but it works and looks acceptable if you’re not looking too closely. Somehow I think using the new tail piece would have looked awesome and much more dynamic, though.

 

Alternate models – Are they worth it?

As you can see from the absence of some photos I haven’t actually built the alternate models, but allow me to share my thoughts, regardless. One of my reservations that also factors in here is of course the color scheme. It’s acceptable for the helicopter, but a Dark Blue racing catamaran? I don’t think so, for the simple reason that this would just not provide enough contrast for these ocean racers and the ship kind of disappear against the water. Also, judging from the promotional photos and the instructions the build process is very similar and I’d probably be bored out of my skull repeating nearly the same steps as I did on the jet.

The helo on the other hand would be just fine in this regard, but it’s a tiny build by comparison and doesn’t use a major chunk of the pieces. I feel that this would have been better relegated to its own little set and instead a more complex build be included in this one. In light of these things there would apparently also be little motivation to buy a second or third package to build all models – that is, unless you really also want the leftover parts for your other projects.


Concluding Thoughts

This is an odd set that unfortunately wastes its potential with a few rather dumb decisions. The color scheme is a bit of a turn-off and in fact this isn’t helped by the atrocious package design with its all too apparent fake stadium in a very unattractive toxic green. On the shelf this looks very unappealing. The jet plane itself could be interesting, but is apparently falling short in a few areas where fixes would have been easy to implement. The consolation here is the very acceptable pricing for this set, though it’s not enough to warrant multiple purchases, at least in my opinion, since the alternate models don’t hold up. Perhaps it’s really one of those sets where you would emphasize the play aspect and at least that seems possible, given how sturdy the builds are…

Explorer-ing… Aviation – LEGO Explorer Magazine, February 2022

Due to the unfavorable timing of last year’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays has messed a bit with the publishing dates of some magazines and I don’t know whether these changes will be permanent, but at least for the LEGO Explorer magazine a fourteen day delay feels unusual.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2022, Cover

The February 2022 issue is all about aviation and as someone who was heavily into military aircraft scale modeling up to a certain point I definitely have something to say about the matter. As you likely would have expected, I find that there’s way too much content crammed onto way too few pages. For an issue that ultimately ends up showing helicopters and contemporary passenger and cargo jets going back to the first attempts with hot air balloons feels unnecessary. It could be its own issue as could pretty much any of the other sub-topics.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2022, Info Page

I know I’m boring people to tears with this, but again most of the content is based on archival materials from LEGO and stock image libraries, making for a very inconsistent experience. The comic is okay in that it is bright and colorful, but I don’t get much out of the story. It’s just trying too hard to be funny without real substance.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2022, Comic

The poster depicts a very random selection or airplanes and choppers with the only discernible commonality for some of them being that they are the largest types in their class. Not a stringent logic here, either, though and it feels very thrown together.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2022, Poster

There’s a crafting page explaining the two most common folding patterns for paper planes, something which our grandparents taught us in kindergarten. It would probably have been more useful if they had focused on a more advanced type and explained it a cross two pages. Those two basic variants are okay, but don’t have the best flight behavior. A more glider-friendly pattern might have made kids happier.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, February 2022, Crafting Page

The extra is one of those “dime a dozen” helicopters you find in commercial LEGO City polybags or small police and fire patrol sets. It’s a formula they have been using for ages with only minor variations and enhancements added every now and then as needed. One could probably do a line-up of them all and you would see this even more. For getting it free with a magazine it’s not that terrible, but not particularly exciting, either. And not too point out the obvious, but the absence of a minifigure really makes the empty cockpit stick out even more.

This is an okay issue, but quite removed from some of the better ones from last year. It’s very average and somehow feels like LEGO Explorer already has lost all its momentum and is caught in a repeat loop where everything feels the same after a few months. From what it looks like, the next issues isn’t going to be that great, either, so one can only hope there’s something more imaginative coming down the line this year… 

Dino Chopper – LEGO Jurassic World Magazine, May 2021

With the world still under the veil of the pandemic, little moments of joy become ever more important and so I’m always marking the dates on my calendar when a new LEGO magazine is supposed to come out. This week has the Jurassic World issue for May on the menu.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, May 2021, Cover

The comic is a bit lackluster in that the usual chase story (What else could it be?) is missing a few exciting twists and progresses rather predictably. It’s also visually rather boring with large swaths of blue – a blue dinosaur, a blue helicopter, blue sky, blue water. It just doesn’t really jibe with me as it feels rather sterile and many panels are quite empty even.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, May 2021, Comic

There’s very little else to do, with nary any puzzles and quizzes. I’ve already noticed this across most of Blue Ocean‘s mags recently. One can’t help the impression that under the current conditions they can’t quite pull their editorial staff together and are living of existing material and what little new stuff they can produce, stretching it extremely thin. At least the poster is okay and aligns with similarly styled ones in previous editions, so here’s one more for your gallery wall.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, May 2021, Poster

I’ll freely admit it, but the extra, a small baby chopper, made me go “Whuuuttttt?” already when I saw it in the preview in the last issue. Similar items in the City magazine have been pretty low-brow efforts, but this one is just plain ugly. It doesn’t even pretend to be anything else but a lump of bricks slapped together with whatever minimum energy they could muster. And yeah, there’s Owen and the “wrong” Blue again. As if anyone already owning a dozen of these figures would have asked for another one…. *sigh*

This is not a good issue and for all intents and purposes you can safely gloss over it without missing anything. If i wasn’t regularly reviewing it, I would really only buy this mag if there’s nothing else around to satisfy your LEGO fix. Otherwise it’s just disappointing on pretty much every level…

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…