Minn. man crafts X-wing starfighter

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MENAHGA, Minn. — A long time ago (last month, actually), in a galaxy far, far away (called Menahga), a noble science-fiction fan designed and constructed an X-wing starfighter, made famous in the "Star Wars" films.

Greg Anderson utilized foam core board, plywood and barrels to craft the half-scale model. It stands 18 feet long, 10 feet high and 14 feet wide.

It all began with a raft he planned to build. He looked at 15-gallon barrels "and said, 'Those are the perfect size for a turbine for an X-wing,'" Anderson recalled.

Those barrels became his fixed reference for engineering the rest of the starfighter.

To be clear, Anderson is not a "Star Wars" fan.

Initially, he wanted to build a "Stargate," a circular, alien Einstein—Rosen bridge device that enables nearly instantaneous travel across the cosmos and was the focus of a 1994 film of the same name.

"I enjoy science fiction, but I've never been big on 'Star Wars,'" he said. "I was looking for a project to do, and I was thinking of a building a stargate, but the logistics of it was just way too much."

Anderson is no stranger to construction. He was a contractor for many years in the Twin Cities. A part-time mechanic at Menahga Farm and Home Lakes Area Cooperative, Anderson also manages the public TV access station for north-central Minnesota.

Calculating the dimensions and structure of the X-wing was the first challenge. It was "a lot of trial and error," Anderson said. He sketched blueprints on paper.

"This is actually a half-scale model. If you imagine the real one from the 'Star Wars' movie, it's twice this size," he said. "I wanted something big enough a person could sit in."

The wings needed to be strong enough to attach to the starfighter's main body without snapping in two, yet remain lightweight and removable. Anderson chose foam core board "so it's light enough to maneuver around."

Then it took a long time to figure out how to attach wings to the plywood body. Anderson's made the wings removable. They slide off so the starfighter can be transported by trailer.

"It turned out to be a pretty tedious project, in some ways," he said.

He cut out the wings last fall. They sat all winter.

"Over the course of spring and summer, I started building the fuselage. It's evenings and weekends," he said. "It wasn't until halfway through July I got paint on it. Then it started getting exciting again."

He borrowed graphics from "The Last Starfighter" for the main flight control panel. The rest he designed himself and printed on color paper.

"All along, I'm looking at pictures of the real deal," he said.

He found a cheap video gamer seat for the cockpit. The only thing that's missing is a control stick.

"I'm looking for an old game controller. They used to have one with buttons on it, like a Sega or Atari. I haven't been able to find one," he said.

The cockpit canopy is glass-free for "photo opps."

The "astromech droid" that assists Rebel Alliance pilots in their battle against the Imperials — a.k.a. R2-D2 — is a white bowl from a dollar store painted with acrylics.

The "ion cannons" are half as long as the original. "I didn't want them sticking out," Anderson said.

The armament is, in fact, made with a broom stick handle, foam and plastic tubing. "It's pieces and parts," he said.

Lawn mower wheels attached to dock posts support the entire structure.

"I'm not disappointed in the outcome. It came out pretty good," he said. "It's not perfect, but it's not meant to be."

It has attracted the attention of neighbors. "They'll stop and look," he said.

Anderson's grandkids "love this. They love sitting in it."

Anderson said an online search revealed "there are very, very few of these."

He found a full-scale model, worth roughly $250,000, sitting in London. "A guy in China has got one that actually flies. There's a few million dollars," Anderson said.

He hasn't counted the piles of receipts, but estimates he's put $1,800 in building materials into his project.

"Every little nut and bolt, it all adds up. I went over my budget," Anderson said.

He dreads to think about the number of hours spent. "I really do," he said.

"To find one in this part of the country is, I'm sure, a little odd," he said. "Look at what people spend on a boat. This has been a year's worth of entertainment. Think of it that way."

Anderson plans to sell the starfighter on eBay. He hopes to recoup his construction costs.

"The fun has been building it, more than anything else," he said. "I didn't do it for the money. I did it because I wanted to do it."

In 2014, he built a traveling memorial for Iraq and Afghanistan vets. It's currently at the All Veterans Memorial in Wadena. The sculpture is a replica of a blown out wall.

"My kids are both vets, and there's really nothing out there for Iraq and Afghanistan," he explained.

Anderson is currently writing a series of four original science-fiction novels. He self-published the first two ("Panther and Giraffe: Alien First Contact" and "Mars Declares") and is finishing the third book ("Earth Relents").