Thursday, September 13, 2007

The little spaceship that could.

The AMT Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser (a.k.a. the UFO Mystery Ship) first appeared in 1967. It had been advertised on the side of AMT's Star Trek line of models, but it was never part of that TV show. Mike Okuda, who's great work has been seen on several Star Trek series, has filled in some background info on the Leif Ericson design:

The Leif Ericson was designed by Matt Jefferies, designer of the original Star Trek Enterprise and many of the ships that appeared in that series. While the Leif Ericson never appeared in the original series, Mike mentioned that it did show up in a couple of places on Filmation's storyboards for the animated Star Trek series in the early 1970s, although the ship did not appear in any of the finished episodes of the animated series.

no need for a night light-the little scout ship glowed in the dark

The short story included with the Leif Ericson mentions that this kit was the first of several kits in AMT's "Strategic Space Command" series. This may have been an attempt by AMT to start their own line of non-Star Trek spaceship models; in any case, only the Leif Ericson was produced. The kit also came with a small glow-in-the-dark scoutship, a lighting kit, a record of the "Sounds of Outer Space" and a two page short story that covers the history and adventures of the ship.

"The LIEF ERICSON had been on a routine exploratory mission, carefully probing the five planets of a newly-discovered solar system. As usual, one of the four-man scout ships (this time it was the VEGA) had been sent on ahead of the LIEF ERICSON, for planetary scan. Now the mission was no longer a routine one. The VEGA had radioed that it was in trouble, and was preparing to crash land on the surface of the fourth planet. After sending a report of its intended landing position, radio contact had been suddenly lost, and the VEGA was presumed to have crashed. The fate of the crew was not known"

Just a cheap plastic model to sell to the Star Trek geeks?-No, just ask Hugo award winning author Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle From "Building the Mote in God's Eye"

"Long ago we acquired a commercial model called “The Explorer Ship Leif Ericsson,” a plastic spaceship of intriguing design. It is shaped something like a flattened pint whiskey bottle with a long neck. The “Leif Ericsson,” alas, was killed by general lack of interest in spacecraft by model buyers; a ghost of it is still marketed in hideous glow-in-the-dark color as some kind of flying saucer. It’s often easier to take a detailed construct and work within its limits than it is to have too much flexibility. For fun we tried to make the Leif Ericsson work as a model for an Empire naval vessel. The exercise proved instructive."
artwork (detail) of The Mote in Gods Eye by (yet another) Star Treck designer Rick Sternbach

It makes us wonder if any kids bought the kit, or only science fiction writers and cover artists (like Bob Larkin's Cover for "ROD SERLING'S OTHER WORLDS" 1978 ) grabbed them off the shelves.

The story continues: around 1975 Matt Jefferies (see above) was hired by George Pal to work on a TV series based on THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. "The Hyperspace Carrier Pegasus" is an outgrowth of the Leif Ericson. Perhaps getting a bit dry that day on ideas Jefferies actually had the ship upside down in order to make the connection less obvious. The TV series was never picked up...and the idea came full circle, only this time inverted.

Houston we might have a problem: the Pegasus

Thanks to the definitive Leif Ericson page.


Bryan Alexander said...

I had this when I was a kid!
I was so excited to read about it in Niven's essay.

Anonymous said...

I had this as well, in the "hideous glow-in-the-dark color" - if you painted it, then scraped the paint away from the windows to expose the luminescent paint, it made a cool effect. It also made a good sub, perhaps better than a spaceship.

I bought it (okay, my mom bought it for me) thinking it tied in to the series "U*F*O*" that I vaguely remembered from my early childhood, though there was really no such connection.

If I'd been asked to sketch this from memory, I wouldn't have done too well (except for that silly nose cone), but seeing it again starts bringing it all back. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ah, yeah, I had one of these - the glow in the dark thing - only I'm almost positive it came in different packaging, and I would have gotten it sometime in the 1970s. I was sure it was some sort of Star Trek thing, from one of the original series races whose own ships we never saw.

Percival said...

I know it's been seven years since anyone's commented, but...
Anyone else notice the resemblance between the aft third of this ship and the DS9 Defiant?