Thunderbirds Fireflash art

The Fabulous Vehicles of Thunderbirds

F.A.B.! If you grew up watching Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s marionette science-fiction show, you’ll remember that among the greatest things about it were the futuristic vehicles. In addition to the Thunderbirds machines, there were supersonic airplanes, nuclear-powered ships and spacecraft.

For the uninitiated: the 1960s franchise, set in the 2060s, is about a wealthy family that runs the life-saving International Rescue organization from an island in the South Pacific. Each episode features a disaster, typically involving a futuristic vehicle, to which the Thunderbirds respond with their unique capabilities.

Here is a look at some of the most fabulous vehicles of the week.

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Project Habakkuk artwork

Unsinkable British Aircraft Carrier — On Ice!

In 1942, the War in the Atlantic was not going well for the Allies. German submarines, operating in “wolf packs” just out of aircraft range, wrecked havoc on Allied supply lines. In the first half of the year, the Allies managed to sink just one U-boat for every forty merchant ships lost. At that rate, Britain would soon run out of matériel to sustain the war.

Atlantic Ocean map
Map of the military situation in the Atlantic in mid-1941, from Life magazine (July 21, 1941)

Lord Louis Mountbatten, as chief of Combined Operations, was responsible for coming up with a solution. He encouraged his department to explore every possibility, no matter how outlandish. One of the ideas, which originated with the inventor Geoffrey Pyke, was to built an aircraft carrier out of ice, which would allow the Allies to attack German U-boats no matter how far they sailed from the coast. The reason Pyke settled on ice was that aluminum and steel were in such short supply.

Mountbatten and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were enthusiastic.

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Red Alert 3 concept art

Weapons of Red Alert

In Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996), Albert Einstein travels back in time and kills Adolf Hitler. He prevents the emergence of Nazi Germany, but this clears the way for a Soviet invasion of Europe in 1946.

The Soviets are defeated, but they get their revenge three decades later in Red Alert 2 (2000) by attacking the continental United States.

In the third game (2008), it are the Soviets who travel back in time to prevent their defeat at the hand of the Allies. Their trip has unforeseen consequences as well: they inadvertently create a more powerful Japan and trigger a three-way world war.

Throughout these games we get to play with some crazy diesel- and atompunk weapons, from the Soviets’ mighty Apocalypse Tank to Tesla Troopers.

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Schwerer Gustav German railway gun

Wonder Weapons of the Third Reich

As the Allies closed in on Hitler’s Germany in late 1944 and early 1945, a desperate Nazi regime turned to “wonder weapons” in a final effort to turn the tide in the war.

The best-known as the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which rained down on London by the hundreds but failed to demoralize the British. Others, such as the V-3 cannon and Schwerer Gustav railway gun, were barely used. Others yet, like the German atomic bomb and Die Glocke, either barely advanced beyond the drawing board or never existed at all.

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Horten Ho IX German flying wing artwork

Strange Aircraft of the Third Reich: Real and Imagined

Did you know many of the strange German warplanes we see in dieselpunk are based on real designs?

As World War II drew to a close in Europe, Nazi Germany rushed the development of advanced bombers and fighter jets in a final effort to stop the Allies. From the world’s first operational turbojet fighter to a flying wing, some of these technologies were so far ahead of their time that Allied commanders speculated the Germans could have turned the tide of the war if only they had managed to prolong it by a few months.

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Airliner Number 4

Norman Bel Geddes’ Fantastical Airliner

Norman Bel Geddes was an American industrial designer and futurist who had a major influence on the streamlined Art Deco design of the 1930s and 40s.

Few of Geddes’ designs came to fruition. A notable exception was the General Motors Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, called Futurama.

One of his unrealized designs was “Airliner Number 4,” a nine-deck amphibian airliner that he sketched in 1929.

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