Marc J. Frattasio
Thunderbird 1 is a hypersonic VTOL nuclear powered ramjet aircraft. Flown by
the oldest Tracy brother, Thunderbird 1 is always first to arrive at the 'danger zone', permitting a survey of the situation to be conducted before the slower Thunderbird 2 arrives with the heavy rescue equipment.
At least two different sized versions of Thunderbird 1 were constructed for use in the Thunderbirds television series. A 15½" model was used for Tracy Island
and in flying and landing shots. In some landing shots this model was equipped with skid landing gear. In others, it had wheeled landing gear. A much larger and more highly detailed 2"6' Thunderbird 1 was built for use in close-up shots. There were a number of large scale sections built for various purposes such as a 1/24 scale wing and landing leg built to be filmed next to modified AMT and other maker's plastic automobile kits and several large nose sections which were used in scenes where Thunderbird 1 fires its gun, releases the robot camera, shoots harpoons, etc. Additionally, there was a puppet sized nose section constructed for the scene in which Scott Tracy enters the craft.
All of the Thunderbird 1 studio models were made from a combination of cast fiberglass fuselages (pulled from plaster molds made from hand carved wooden masters) with wooden wings and tail sections. Automotive paints, striping tapes, and Letraset brand dry transfer lettering and numbers were used to finish the models.
All of the Thunderbird 1 studio models were built by Space Models Limited.
Thunderbird 2 is a large vtol
nuclear powered ramjet transport aircraft. Flown by
Thunderbird 2 carries the heavy rescue equipment and the mini-sub Thunderbird 4 to the 'danger zone'. This gear is carried in a large pod in the center of the fuselage which can be lowered or completely dropped from the aircraft to release its cargo. It is interesting to note that the wings of Thunderbird 2 were swept forward for no reason other than that Derek Meddings
Several different models of Thunderbird 2 were constructed along with a number of cargo pods. The smallest model was about 20" long. It was used for long shots and for scenes in which Thunderbird 2 was positioned next to other aircraft models. A 3 foot model was used for close up shots and during the Tracy Island Base
A second 3 foot model was built sometime after the series was in production to permit miniature effects shots to be filmed on two different stages at the same time. The second 3 foot model's contour and finish were visibly different from the first model, something which
Derek Meddings very much. A large nose section about 3 feet long and a similarly sized cargo pod (with cut-away port side) was built for use with the 1/24 scale rescue vehicle models.
All of the Thunderbird 2 studio models were made from a combination of cast fiberglass fuselages (pulled from plaster molds made from hand carved wooden masters) with wooden wings and tail sections. The landing legs on the larger models were made from telescoping brass tubing. It is interesting to note that the pyrotechnic charges used to simulate vertical takeoffs and landings were actually placed in the landing leg holes instead of the vtol rocket ports! Automotive paints, striping tapes, Letraset brand dry transfer lettering and numbers, and a few small model aircraft decals were used to finish the models.
The Thunderbird 2 models were all built by Space Models Limited. The Thunderbird 2 models were frequently sent back to Space Models for repairs because the heavy models had a habit of breaking in two when 'flown' on wires without the added structural support of the cargo pod in place!
Thunderbird 3 is the International Rescue organization's nuclear powered spacecraft. Piloted by the youngest Tracy brother,
Thunderbird 3 is used for outer space rescues and to service the Thunderbird 5 space station.
At least three different models of Thunderbird 3 were constructed. The smallest model, about 12" long, was built for use in long shots. A 24" model was used for the majority of the flying sequences against the rolling space backdrop as well as in shots with Thunderbird 5 and in the shots where Thunderbird 3
from the center of the 'Round House'. The biggest Thunderbird 3 model was about 5 feet 6 inches tall. This monster model, which was very highly detailed, was used in hangar interior shots and in other close up scenes.
All of the Thunderbird 3 studio models were made from a combination of cast fiberglass (pulled from plaster molds made from hand carved wooden masters), wooden, and metal parts. Automotive paints, striping tapes, Letraset brand dry transfer lettering and numbers, and a few small model aircraft decals were used to finish the models.
All the Thunderbird 3 models were built by Space Models Limited.
Thunderbird 4 is a small submarine, piloted by
and used for underwater rescue operations. Thunderbird 4 is a relatively short ranged and low speed vehicle. Because of this, it is
carried into action
by Thunderbird 2 in Pod #4.
Several different sized models of Thunderbird 4 were constructed and all of them varied in contour and finish. There appear to have been at least 3", 13", and 20" versions of Thunderbird 4 built. Additionally, there was a puppet sized cockpit area constructed for use in scenes where Gordon Tracy or other puppet characters swim out of or into the sub's airlock and at least one large nose section was built for use whenever the laser torch, torpedoes, grabs, or other such rescue gear were filmed.
Although surface scenes were filmed in a real water tank, all of the underwater scenes were filmed dry using the thin fish tank between the camera and set technique pioneered during the production of Stingray. [actually, this technique was invented late 19th century by special effects pioneer Georges Méliès — JLN2nd]
All of the Thunderbird 4 studio models were made from a combination of cast fiberglass hulls (pulled from plaster molds made from hand carved wooden masters) with wooden fins and other parts. Each model had a small plasticine pilot figure and working lights. Automotive paints, striping tapes, Letraset brand dry transfer lettering and numbers, and a few small model aircraft decals (such as the tail numbers from the old Aurora F-5 kit on the 'boosters') were used to finish the models.
All of the Thunderbird 4 models were built by Space Models Limited.
Thunderbird 5 is a space station positioned in geostationary orbit above the Earth. Manned by
with occasional help from his brother Alan, Thunderbird 5 constantly monitors the radio waves for distress signals.
It would appear that only one model of Thunderbird 5, about 36" long and 22½" in diameter, was ever constructed. This model was extensively reworked and redetailed at some point during the production of Thunderbirds.
Thunderbird 5 was constructed mainly out of sheet styrene plastic with kit parts and other things added for detail. The large ring around Thunderbird 5 was apparently constructed from a metal heating element. The domes above the cabin were made from plastic fishing bobbers. Plastic model kits used in the construction of Thunderbird 5 included the Airfix Girder Bridge, the Airfix Travelling Crane, the Airfix Windmill, the Revell Jupiter C, and the Revell Nike Ajax. Automotive paints and Letraset brand dry transfer lettering and numbers were used to finish the model.
Thunderbird 5 was the only Thunderbird actually built by the studio. It was made by model maker Eric Backman.
This page published originally at
the Supermarionation sfx WebSite
Marc J. Frattasio;
not for reproduction for profit without his express permission