Introduction: A Flying Saucer Has Landed in My Yard!
Finalist in the
Halloween Decorations Challenge
This is Instructable is a step-by-step description of how I made my long-awaited traditional 'flying saucer' Halloween prop! I've wanted to build one for a long time, and had decided this is the year to do it! My concept was to take a couple of old 10 foot satellite dishes and slap them together to make the stereotypical saucer shape, then decorate it accordingly. As you will see in this Instructable, the path took a few unexpected turns before the quite satisfactory end result was realized.
Step 1: So Many Supplies, So Little Time...
Here is a partial list of the many items I either bought for the project or had already in my possession:
Nuts and screws
Double-sided mounting tape
Ceiling fan light globe
Solar yard lights
Various strobe lights
Inflatable alien toys
Step 2: The Concept
The idea for this project had been milling around in my brain for awhile... I had visualized taking two satellite dishes, preferably 2 of the fiberglass type and slap them together like 2 pie plates to form a traditional saucer shape. The first task I had was to find suitable dishes to salvage for the project. I drove around whenever I had time to watch out for candidates, and I watched Craigslist and other sources of ads on the Internet. I live just outside the city limits, and had plenty of countryside to travel around. I also kept my mind open to the possibility of using the metal mesh dishes as well, thereby doubling my chances of finding what I needed.
Eventually, I placed an ad on Craigslist asking for a dish, and voila! I got a bite! It turned out to be a mesh dish in the city but just a few minutes away. I went over on a Sunday afternoon and it took an hour and some elbow grease to dismantle the dish and load it into the back of my pickup. I should mention that even if I couldn't use the mesh dish, I could always take it to the recycling center and get some cash out of it! Ironically, I found a fiberglass dish about a mile from home, and after a couple of tries, I finally met the home owner, who said his wife had been asking and asking and asking him to remove the dish. Sounded like I arrived just in time! This one took about TWO hours to take off the mount and take it down to 2 halves and strap them down to my utility trailer. Note: It helps if you have some assistance to dismantle these things, they are HEAVY as all get out! After bringing them home and laying them out in the back yard, I pondered what to do about the situation, as time was marching on and I was tired of looking for dishes.
One Sunday, a friend of mine came to visit, and we were chatting about how I can build this contraption. He suggested we place the mesh dish onto the top of the fiberglass dish. I had thought of it, but wasn't that keen on the idea at first. We went out back and lifted the mesh dish squarely onto the fiberglass dish, and stepped back. My mind was turned immediately as I saw it before me. And our wives came out and quickly agreed this was the best way of using both of the dishes! You can see below what we saw that day. The hardest part was over, whew! Then, the real fun began.
Step 3: Bolting the Dishes Together
Before I attached the two dishes together, I replaced alot of the original screws that kept the mesh dish together, as they were rusted and broke as I was dismantling the dish. The same was true with the other one. Be sure to prepare for this eventuality, since these dishes sit in back yards for decades. I used 1/4" x 20-2" hex head screws, nuts and washers to bolt the mesh dish down to the fiberglass dish, centered of course. The fiberglass dish was divided into four sections, so I placed the mounting screw right by each of the seams.
Step 4: Adding Lighting Effects: Part I
I knew that the flying saucer was going to need some lighting to be seen at night, so the first thing I thought it needed was some rope lighting around the perimeter to define its shape. I mounted some cup hooks about every three feet to hang the rope light onto. I used two sections of 18' purple colored rope light, which circled the outside perimeter of the saucer almost perfectly! I had maybe a foot left over, which just overlapped at the "back". The light had a tendency to droop a bit between hooks, so I added some sections of double-sided mounting tape in between to keep the light in a straight line.
Step 5: Making Landing Gears
What flying saucer is able to land on the surface of an alien world without landing gears? Don't answer that, cos someone probably knows! lol Anyways, to perform this step, I dug into my reserves of saved scraps of materials. At my work, we use a metal piece called an 'upright'. It's a slotted channel of metal used for mounting shelves to a gondola in stores. We usually end up cutting them to size, which leaves a good portion left that's just too short to use. So, I paired up two pieces about 24" in length for each leg, along with a 15" piece of door track from a dismantled storage shed and a corner angle from the 'Depot'.I used the track piece as a spacer between the uprights, which placed them apart the right amount to be attached to the flanges underneath the fiberglass dish. I cut a slot in the bottom edge of the track with my angle grinder to allow the corner angle to slide up in there a bit. I drilled holes through the uprights near the bottom to attach the corner angle between them. See the end result in the second photo. At first, I used scrap pieces of 2x4s for the pads, but I replaced them later with some salvaged channel from the shed.
Step 6: Loading the Saucer and Painting the Body
I realized at this point that this thing was going to be a bear to move around, so with some help I managed to get the saucer onto my utility trailer and moved the whole lot as close to the house as I could. Not only did I not have to go way out into the yard to work on it, but I was also able to keep my project from the eyes of anyone just passing by on the street. Once the saucer was up off the ground, it was much easier to gain access underneath to mount some boards as a kind of base. This is a good thing to have, as the saucer otherwise has a tendency to tip over anytime one tries to work on an upper surface off to the side. So, I cut some 2x10" scrap boards to size to mount between the flanges under the fiberglass dish. I only did three sides because I wanted to have full access on one section. You will see soon enough why. I then started painting the body of the saucer, starting with the top side. I bought a gallon of aluminized metal paint from the Depot, which makes the surface look like aluminum. How ironic, huh? The paint costs about $27 a gallon, but I only used about half of it altogether. And that was painting the upper AND lower parts of the saucer! I used a roller to slather it on quickly, and a foam brush to paint the square tube sections and for touch-ups. I then used black paint on the base boards to "hide" their presence.
Step 7: Making the Hatch and Painting the Interior
My next step was to make an opening to the inside of the saucer and paint it. This was what I saved the fourth section of the fiberglass dish for. I took some measurements within this section and marked off alongside the flanges about four inches in and about three feet long. Using a metal yardstick, I drew lines with a Sharpie along these marks, and cut the opening with my angle grinder. Yes, you would think using a jigsaw would be more appropriate, but I liked using the angle grinder because it cut quickly with much less chance of breaking a blade. It was like going through warm butter with a hot knife! Once the underneath was open, I was able to crawl inside with the roller and black paint to cover the interior "floor". To reattach the hatch to the body, I used a door hinge and some dome-headed screws. I then painted the lot, including the screw heads. There wasn't any need to add any kind of closing hardware, as I intended for the hatch to remain open at all times.
Step 8: Landing Gears, Part II
As I said earlier, I wasn't happy with using 2x4s for the pads of the landing gears, so I replaced them with metal channel from salvaged roof frame of a storage shed. Much better! I measured out so that the corner angle would set about centered in the channel, and used 1/4"x20 screws to mount them. I then attached the gears to the flanges underneath the saucer, placing them at a point about a third of the way from the outside, and removing the existing mounting screw to attach the gear. Note: It's very convenient that the fiberglass dishes have about 18 screws along each flange, so you can pick and choose any one of the corresponding holes for the purpose of attaching whatever accessory you want.
Step 9: Adding a Dome Light
I liked the fact that the mesh dish had a small opening in its center, because that gace me an opportunity to add a light for extra effect. I dug out a clamp light and a glass dome for a ceiling fan light. After carefully placing the dome into the about 7" opening and centering it, I used some Stuff-It expanding foam to "glue" it into place. Yeah, it looks like a mess, but no one will notice. You could still trim the foam back if you feel the need. I then placed the shield of the clamp light over the bottom side of the opening and screwed it on with a few small self-tapping screws I had in stock. I then ran the power cord along the "back" square tube down to the bottom and out the "back". As you can see, it gives a nice glow even with a 60 watt incandescent bulb. I then took a set of ground effects strobes and placed them around the hatch opening to add a flashing effect. It was nice that they were green in color and ran off 12 volts. I put a couple of old 12 volt scooter batteries inside and had alligator clips on the wire ends to switch quickly if it became necessary. And how about that little green man standing inside the saucer? You'll see more of that later.
Step 10: Prepare for Landing!
I took some time to get the display area ready for the flying saucer to be set up. My idea was to make it look like there was a landing strip all ready for the arrival of the space aliens, so I placed some solar-powered yard path lights along a line 30' long and 12' wide. At night this gives the illusion of a landing strip. I expected to place the flying saucer to the back, between the trees and near the house. That way I could run all the power cords I needed without them being so obvious.
Step 11: Houston, the Eagle Has Landed!
Probably the hardest step in this process physically is moving the saucer to the front yard and removing it from the utility trailer. I heartily recommend you get plenty of help with this, so you don't strain something. I myself am so hard-headed I will often try to do things all by myself, but I realized quickly that I would need some serious muscle to pull this off. So I asked my friend Fred to come over to assist with this step of the process. Now, the lower part of the saucer is a full 11' 4" wide and my gate is only barely 10' wide, so we had to find a way to get this monster through the gate. I measured the height of the saucer while on the trailer and compared that to the height of the gate posts, and found there was only a difference of about six inches, so we tilted one side of the saucer up enough to clear the post while pulled the trailer through with my riding lawn mower. A special note of thanks to my darling wife Ally, who kept me from cutting down a section of fence by suggesting the tilting idea! We brought the saucer around the front of the yard, straight up between the landing lights, and positioned the trailer to unload the saucer into position. To add some "life" to the display, I bought some inflatable alien toys from eBay, and placed the first one inside the flying saucer, with a strobe light behind it to backlight it at night. A real nice effect, I must say. The rest of them were scattered about the landing area, with one straying off to "abduct" a local cow for later study.
Step 12: Some Finishing Touches for the "Big Night"
As the final days and hours waned away before Halloween night, I tweaked several parts of the display to try to get the best effect I could. I especially struggled with lighting so that people could see the saucer yet also get the strobe effects. The first picture below shows what happens when you put a spotlight on the saucer... You can see it great, but the strobe effects are nullified. I would rather have a dim exterior light, so the strobes can take center stage. You can also see a small inflatable cow toy in the picture, although it wasn't set up properly yet. I used some cheap garden fencing to make that particular area look like a pasture. I wanted to get the effect of the cow being abducted by the aliens, so I took some floral wire and tied it to the cow's body and suspended it from the nearest tree. The other end of the wire was tied to a spike in the ground, which kept the cow in place even if the wind blew. In the end, I had an alien standing nearby, holding a glow stick up as if he was making the cow lift up in the air. A pretty cool effect, I think. I also cordoned off the entire area with some 4' wooden stakes and some Caution tape from the Depot. This not only gives the whole scene that official MIB business sort of look, but it also discouraged people from entering the area. in the video below, you will get a good idea of the final look, sound and feel of the yard display along with the more traditional porch decorations my wife was responsible for setting up.
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