This is my 1/144 scale Orion III Space plane produced by Airfix, based on the three foot long model as seen in the 1968 MGM film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The original kit came out 1969 and featured some lovely box artwork by Roy Cross. (Kit no.SK701)
I remember buying and making a kit like this around the same time I first saw the film during its first showing, so in spite of any inaccuracies of which there are quite few, it still gives me a nostalgic buzz.
The model as originally described in the box instructions:
“The Orion spacecraft, which is the subject of this kit, plays a starring role in the major motion picture, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’…The Orion is envisaged for use on a shuttle service between Earth and the Space Station, which is permanently revolving above the Equator and which serves as a launching base for the spacecraft used to travel to the distant plants…”
Out of interest I’ve done a little research into the kit and this is what I found. It was apparently re-boxed in 1978, with different artwork and different decals, labelled ‘2001’. A different colourful ‘bogus ‘paint scheme was also recommended. I’m making the assumption that Pan-Am had withdrawn their permission to use the official ‘meatball’ decals for some reason. (05171-6)
From what I can gather, around this time Airfix industries which had previously been the UK’s largest toy company during the seventies were going through difficult times financially. Cost cutting measures were met with industrial action and a strong pound meant they had difficulty with exports. In 1981 Airfix Industries went bankrupt. The company was eventually sold to American multinational company, General Mills, who owned kit maker MPC. At this point kit moulds were moved to France. Airfix kits were sold in the USA under the MPC label, and several MPC kits were sold in the UK under the Airfix name.
General Mills eventually re sold Airfix in 1986 to American company, Borden who owned UK Company, Humbrol and French company, Heller who moulded Airfix kits from 1986 until 2006. Borden in turn sold the company to an Irish Investment company, Allen and MaGuire who continued to sell under the Humbrol name.
Airfix is currently owed by UK Company Hornby plc who acquired Airfix in 2006. Under Hornby, Airfix have performed well, although manufacturing is now outsourced to India.
To get back to the Orion kit timeline, the kit was later updated with altered parts for a ‘snap- together’ version which came out in 1981. (05175-8)
The regular kit with slightly different graphics on the box appeared in 1982. (05171-6)
In 2000, the kit was reissued in a much larger box and with the same ‘2001’ box artwork, but this time with both the ‘meatball’ Pan-Am and bogus ‘2001’ decals. It came with a black display stand rather than the previous clear one. The detail on the kit parts however, is slightly less defined than the earlier kits. The model description and the box omit the full film title, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey, presumably for copyright reasons, and simply says ‘this spacecraft played a starring role in the film, 2001’. (kit no.06171)
Again, I’m making the assumption that the kit might possibly have ceased production at some point in 2006 when Hornby acquired Airfix and manufacturing moved from France to India.
Returning to 1969 for the moment, at the same time Airfix brought their original Orion kit out, U.S. kit maker Aurora also had plans to release kits based on models from 2001, and produced their own version of The Orion. This was considered by model kit makers a better, slightly more accurate example than the humble Airfix one.
Like a lot of Aurora’s sci-fi kits it had a removable section showing the ‘atomic’ engines. This has since been re-released by Moebius kits in more recent times but doesn’t feature the removable section, and to avoid copyright issues it’s simply described as a Space Clipper (Pan-Am’s call sign was ‘Clipper’) and apparently doesn’t mention 2001 on the box or come with Pan-Am decals. (Although, they are available separately from a another company)
Moebius have also re-released Aurora’s 2001 Moonbus model which I’ll take a look at a later date.
I’ve also read reports that Moebius have re-acquired the 2001 licence again and have plans to release an all new Orion III kit, along with a 1/144 scale Discovery model that proposes to be over a metre long.
Assembling the Airfix Orion model is fairly simple as there’s only 15 parts. The big problem is you need a bucket of filler to cover the joining seam which show different levels in places even if you position the locating pegs correctly.
Once I’d had my fill of the filling, smoothing and priming it was time to give the model its final look. Screen grabs of the Orion from the film don’t give much away, so I looked to see what other modellers had done. There are some good examples on line, and it looked to me like most people just had fun and let their imagination lead the way. So armed with a spray can of Ford Diamond White (for no other reason as it’s the same colour as the Space 1999 Eagle Transporter), and then a couple different shades of grey, I got to work.
Here’s more of the end result. Hopefully the random shading gives a little bit of detail without taking away the essentially stark white look of the model.
In part 2, I’ll examine the ‘real’ Orion III Spaceplane, with a few photos of my Airfix 2001 in ‘Space’.