Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eagle Eyes

A few months ago, In Sci-Tech # 3, Alphan Edition, I offered a close-up look at the impressive production design of the 1970s TV series Space:1999 (1975 - 1977) and discussed some of the ideas underlying it. 

At the time, I remember feeling that I wanted to write more on the topic, especially about the Brian Johnson-designed Eagle spaceships, which have become, in so many ways, a veritable "trademark" of Space: 1999, even well into the 21st century.

Many viewers who didn't enjoy the series in terms of storytelling admired the look of the Eagles, and still do.  That's a testament to the quality of Brian Johnson's work back in 1974.

Indeed, I've often felt that the Eagle is to 1970s outer space television what the U.S.S. Enterprise was to 1960s outer space television; a kind of defining visual that reveals much about what was occurring in the culture at the time.  The Eagle was designed when NASA's Apollo Program was in full go mode, for instance, and it seemed like an abundantly believable extension of existing technology.

Like those real-life space crafts, the Eagle appeared utilitarian, not smooth-lined or elegant in the traditional "flying saucer" mode made famous in films such as This Island Earth (1951) or Forbidden Planet (1956). 

At the same time, the Eagles seemed remarkably versatile, and that was the intent, according to Brian Johnson:

"I was in my "modular" design mode in those days. I reasoned that it made sense to make Pods that were interchangeable. The command pod could serve as a lifeboat, Eagles could be "chained" together, etc.

I sketched the basic idea and got Michael Lamont (then a draughtsman/ art department) to draw up the full scale 44" plans. I then added sections and thickened tubes until it looked "right." The final cladding was added, and then the different scale versions were finished to match the 44" model. My basic ideas came from looking at dragonflies and insects of all sorts. I copied nature to some degree - I think it made the Eagle believable."

The Eagles and their design have also proven influential in film and television history.  They've appeared, without credit, I believe, in episodes of Wonder Woman, and in the film God Told Me To (1976).   Below, I've selected just a few images of vehicles/spaceships that were inspired by the Eagle to one degree or another.

An Eagle as a converted submarine. From Irwin Allen's Return of Captain Nemo (1978).

The Eagle as Wagon Train to the Stars in Donnie and Marie's "Cattlestar Galactica" spoof (1978).

The Visitor shuttle, from the original V miniseries (1984)

From Lego's Hero Factory, "Rise of the Rookies." (2010).


  1. Nice. You're forcing me to seriously consider opening my diecast ships and play with them.

    As a grown adult I'm not above doing so. : )

  2. Anonymous1:14 PM

    Brian Johnson's EAGLE design has been one of my favorite spaceships ever since, as an 11 y.o. boy, I first saw it in "Breakaway" the first episode of SPACE:1999 debut in September 1975. I have always been impressed by the production design of the ALPHA moonbase too by the late Keith Wilson.


  3. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Ah, so it wasn't my imagination back in the 70s when I thought I saw Eagle-like ships on other shows. For years I've chalked those memories up to pre-VCR/DVD childhood wishes to see my favorite show back on the air.


  4. Okay, I can understand the Captain Nemo screen grab, but where did you get the Donny and Marie still? As a kid I had the model, but I think I had to paint the red stripes myself. Not that it diminishes my appreciation of this vehicle, but has it been explained why they had weapons(lasers)? Thanks for the look back.

  5. This is incredible. Yes, I agree the Eagle ship is extremely iconic. It probably represents the series best.

    I love these stills you provided! Those are very cool! I would have laughed my butt off at the Cattlestar Galactica spoof, but might not have caught the fact it was an Eagle, nor the Irwin Allen sub.

    If you have time, in the future, I'd like to see a further installment of this feature.

    Gordon Long