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The Gerry Anderson Supermarionation television series Thunderbirds and the subsequent feature films Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 (1965–68) featured a large variety of futuristic air, land and sea vehicles and machines, the majority of which were designed by special effects director Derek Meddings.
In the context of the series, most of the advanced machines appearing in the series belonged to the International Rescue organisation and were used during their rescues. These were known as the "Thunderbirds", of which there were five core machines and a variety of other rescue craft. It was after these that the series was named. In the series, all of the International Rescue vehicles were designed by the organisation's resident technical genius, Brains.
The use of these models in Anderson's Supermarionation productions beginning with Supercar was a significant advance in television production. Before Supermarionation, scale models had generally been limited to the cinema. Meddings's models introduced a new level of realism and quality; while most TV and motion picture aircraft and spacecraft of the time were clean and polished, the Thunderbirds machines (and most others in the series) show the effects of wear and tear. This dirt and wear was applied as a way of adding realism and countering the miniature models' toy-like appearance.
These effects were to be influential, and Century 21 modelmakers went on to work on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and the EON James Bond films. The relative scale of these vehicles is a matter of debate, especially the rocket-based designs. Many of the Thunderbirds machines have subsequently been made into toys, models, kits or other merchandising, although none of the original filming models survive.
||15,000 mph (24,000 km/h)
||4 variable-cycle gas turbine engines
4 booster rockets
1 variable mode for launch or boost
1 vertical take off variable engine or hovering
||Atomic fusion reactor
||115 ft (35 m)
||80 ft (24 m)
||115 ft (35 m)
- Pilot: Scott Tracy
A sleek, variable geometry (swing wing) hypersonic rocket plane used for fast response, rescue zone reconnaissance, and as a mobile control base. Thunderbird 1 is endowed with VTOL capabilities which are demonstrated in many episodes, and its take-off from Tracy Island is most often vertical.
The length of Thunderbird 1 is a matter of debate, with various sources giving values of 80, 100 and 115 feet (24, 30 and 35 m). However, the last figure is now generally accepted, placing the aircraft wingspan at 80 feet (24 m). With a maximum speed of 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 km/h) (Mach 22.6), it can reach anywhere on Earth within an hour's flight if a great circle route can be flown. Thunderbird 1 is hangared beneath the main house on Tracy Island, and launches vertically from a pad camouflaged by a swimming pool which slides aside. The aircraft is primarily piloted by Scott Tracy, with Alan taking his place when he is unavailable as Thunderbirds 1 and 3 are rarely ever required on the same mission (such as in the episode "Atlantic Inferno", where Scott, as the eldest Tracy brother, takes charge while Jeff is on holiday). Jeff described it as "sleek, first and fast" at the beginning of Thunderbird 6. As the reconnaissance craft, it featured in virtually every episode of the series as a means of assessing what vehicles would be required for a rescue.
One of the most popular gaffes noticed amongst Thunderbirds fans is the pilot's ability to control almost all of the many functions of the rocket by simply moving one of the two control levers forward or back. This is explained by other Thunderbirds fans as a precursor to the current system of electronic joystick controls that are backed up by sophisticated avionics computers.
Thunderbird 1 does not appear in the episodes "Sun Probe", "The Imposters", "Ricochet" and "Give or Take a Million". It appears in the 2004 live action film Thunderbirds, where it has an updated look similar to the original; coloured silver grey, with blue and yellow detailing and red nose cone.