Introduction: Aliens APC - Radio Controlled

About: Science Fiction. A precursor to science fact.

“Independently targetting particle-beam phalanx. Whap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart-missiles, phased-plasma pulse-rifles, RPG's. We got sonic eee-lectronic ballbreakers, we got nukes, we got sticks…”

You know the rest and everybody loves the scene where the top turret rotates and drops to the back. The APC from the film Aliens doesn't appear often enough and it's a shame we don't get to see the vehicle's weapons in action. This is a project I'd been trying to do for years and this was my second attempt. It was originally intended for a model in a month idea, but life had other ideas so I had to put it on hold.  It was built over 4 months in 2003, during which time I lost my workshop and had to settle for a kitchen instead!

Like most scratchbuilds certain parts dictate the scale of the model and for this it was the wheels, which I obtained whilst in a hardware store in Norway. The scale became roughly 1/11 and it really suits the vehicle, not too small and just right for turning into a radio-controlled toy. I'd already bought the 1/35 Halcyon version and used that as my template, along with drawings and photos obtained from the film and the internet.

The majority of the vehicle is made from scrap wood, but plenty of wall filler was also used. The covers on the wheels come from CDs and the grill mesh I found in a hobby store in the embroidery section! Virtually everything has been tailor-made, including the front Gatling guns and the muzzles of the main turret. It was surprisingly quick to build the main structure, but the fine detailing like the rivets on the door and windshield took a while.  Simon. 

Step 1: Research!

Most of my scratch-builds are bigger models based on smaller ones that you can buy in the shops.  The 1/35 Halcyon model was pretty accurate and served as a template to help me draw the floorplan and side views, which went through a number of modifications.  Years later I did buy a set of blueprints for the original film version and that would have saved a lot of time!  Once I was happy I cut the floorplan out of the flap of an old writing desk.

Step 2: Building the Shell

The shell was surprisingly easy to build, even with a fairly basic scroll saw (the ones used to make jigsaws etc) and was cut from MDF (medium density fibre board).  It's very easy to work with and seals well for painting purposes later on.  The 1/35 model gives you a nice scale comparison.

A rolling chassis was essential, even though at this stage it was a very crude one.

Step 3: Filling in the Blanks

Once the top surfaces had been cut, it was time to fill in the gaps as it was impossible to cut and bend any inserts to fit.  Although the Aliens APC looks like a simple flat surface, it has some complex areas to deal with and wall filler was used.  In hindsight it's much better to use car body filler, more on why later.

 More complex structures like the top turret can be made up using layers of MDF and once the basic shape is right, can be filled.

Step 4: Primed

A quick coat of primer will help to show any glaring mistakes and also helps to seal wood based material, which has a tendency to soak up paint and alter colour schemes.  The smaller front turret has been made out of circular wooden discs.

Step 5: Extras and CD Wheels

Extras like the armoured door, exhausts and meshes (from plastic embroidery guides) have been added, as well as the armoured wheel covers.  These were fairly tricky to make, but luckily old CDs were perfect and all I needed to add was some extra detailing and way of removing them easily (using velcro spots).

Step 6: Black Top, Green Top

I used a black base coat to save on paint costs, but it served another useful purpose.  For weathering or any future damage any chips would likely be red primer or black.  The final top coat was standard NATO olive drab, which has a slightly yellowy tinge and I luckily found somewhere that sold large sized cans in the UK.

The paint issues I mentioned in an earlier step were to do with the paint cracking and peeling up wherever it covered the wall filler I had used.  Once sanded back and resprayed it actually helped to make the vehicle look a bit more worn.

Step 7: Super Detailing

The following parts took a long time to make, but by breaking the problem down in to smaller parts weren't too fiddly to make.  The end results were certainly pleasing :-)

The clear missile canopies were made from CD cases, as was the windshield and the rivets were sewing pin heads.  The turrett carrier was a mix of MDF, CD cases and architectural plastics, while the muzzles were cut down plastic water pipes.

The camera surveillance system and guard rail were built from scratch using plastic and the tips of two felt tip pens - sacrificed for a good cause!

Step 8: Steering and Gear Boxes

One of my favourite parts of the build, ever since I discovered Lego Technic I've been fascinated by gears and suspension.  Naturally I had to build these in to my model and they built from scraps.  The front wheel setup was made from the legs of a flipchart and the shock absorbers were functioning key ring items.

The transmission was made up of a robust cordless 18v drill motor and a cut down hand drill.  It's not the most efficient system, but it's durable and works.  All of the wheel mounts were designed to be quick release, using split pins.

Step 9: Internals

Shots of the working front suspension in place along with the rear transmission.  The rear also had limited suspension travel, as it was placed on a long flat board and acted like a springboard.  The power supply came from the 18v cordless drill, which simplified charging too and the motor was controlled using an Electonize unit.

Step 10: The Finished Article

I have to admit that out of all of the models I've ever made, this is the one that makes me smile the most.  It came out really well and with a decent weathering job will look even better.  In the attached pics it does look a bit factory new!

I will add some video of it in action, but it is a heavy model and only really likes running on smooth surfaces.  The servo for the front wheels had to be substantially beefed up too.