AMT Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser and U.F.O Mystery Ship

Leif Ericson kit & history
The AMT Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser (a.k.a. Leif Erikson and UFO Mystery Ship) first appeared in 1967 or 1968. It could be seen advertised on the side of AMT's 1960s line of Star Trek models, but it was never part of that TV show.

Mike Okuda, who's great work has been seen on several Star Trek series, has filled in some background info on the Leif Ericson design:
The Leif Ericson was designed by Matt Jefferies, designer of the original Star Trek Enterprise and many of the ships that appeared in that series. While the Leif Ericson never appeared in the original series, Mike mentioned that it did show up in a couple of places on Filmation's storyboards for the animated Star Trek series in the early 1970s, although the ship did not appear in any of the finished episodes of the animated series.

Mike was also kind enough to retouch the scanned boxtop image of the Leif Ericson; my box had some nasty creases and was too big for my scanner, so I had to patch together two scans to make a single image. Thanks Mike!

The late 1960s through early 1970s saw three versions of the Leif Ericson:

First was the original Leif Ericson, with a two piece hull molded in a light blue plastic, chrome plated parts, clear engines, a small scout, a lighting kit, a paper record of the "Sounds of Outer Space" and a two page short story that covers the history and adventures of the ship. I've converted the included short story to text.

Next release was the "U.F.O. Mystery Ship." This kit was molded in a light green glow in the dark plastic. The chrome and clear parts, as well as the lights and the paper record were not included in the kit.

Finally, AMT decided to make the Mystery Ship kit fit into a smaller box, so the mold was redone and the ship's neck was cut, shortening the ship length by about 3mm. This "split neck" version was only released as the "U.F.O. Mystery Ship."

The short story included with the Leif Ericson mentions that this kit was the first of several kits in AMT's "Strategic Space Command" series. This may have been an attempt by the 1960s AMT to start their own line of non-Star Trek spaceship models; in any case, only the Leif Ericson (and its alter ego, the UFO Mystery Ship) were produced.

Over the years, the ownership of AMT changed hands several times and the various owners lost track of the Leif Ericson molds. This ended when Round 2 bought AMT.
In late 2008 Jaime Hood, the Art Director of Round 2 LLC contacted me about a mold that they believed was the Leif Ericson. It was clear to me that this was the mold for the split neck version of the Leif Ericson/U.F.O. Mystery Ship. Oddly, the mold included the chrome parts that had been missing from the original "U.F.O. Mystery Ship", but not for the clear engine parts.
Jaime has pictures of the mold at the Round 2 blog, Collector Model.
The new version of the "U.F.O. Mystery Ship" was released in 2009. This kit has a split neck, but all of the originally chromed parts are included (but not chromed). The new kit also includes an extensive decal sheet as well as a new short story. Like the original Mystery Ship, it's molded in Glow in the Dark plastic.

Since the clear engine molds were missing, I decided to use the opportunity to make a copy of the original engines in Rhino 3D, a 3D CAD program. I had the engines printed in clear blue resin and showed Jaime the results. A few months later he contacted me; Round 2 wanted to re-release the original "Leif Ericson", but the mold for the clear engine parts was missing. They used my 3D files for the engines to make a new mold for the engine parts, as well as a scan from my Leif Ericson boxtop to make the new box artwork.
Here's a picture of the old and new clear engine parts. The old parts are on top and a lighter red in color. Click to enlarge:



The mold for the new Leif Ericson is the same as the mold for the split neck version of the U.F.O. Mystery ship, except that the neck has been reconnected. The reconnect does not replace the approximately 3mm missing from the neck. Also, the engine placement slots are slightly different from the original Leif Ericson kit.
Due to the difficulty in obtaining the rights to the various bits of music used in the original "Sounds of Outer Space" record, the record is not included in the kit. The Leif Ericson was re-released in late 2011.

I digitized the "Sounds of Outer Space" record in 2004. I want to thank my friend David White for doing the conversion for me. The sound quality isn't great, but better than I had expected from a 36 year old paper record. I also want to thank Jack Urso for cleaning up the audio. The version below sounds much better than the version that I had here originally.

You can listen to a few seconds in this mp3 file
- if you dare.

David Penn and Scott Snell did an amazing job of identifying both the source of the music and the spoken words in the record. The lyrics are from a 1967 psychedelic rock record called "Cosmic Sounds" by The Zodiac. The music was originally used in "The Twilight Zone" and was released in "The Twilight Zone: 40th Anniversary Collection" set."

Most people probably remember the Leif Ericson as the inspiration for the INSS McArthur from The Mote in God's Eye. which was written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. My copy of the paperback even had an LE inspired design on the cover! Jerry Pournelle has a page with pictures of a built up LE model.

Paul Lloyd has been kind enough to send me these outstanding renders of his INSS MacArthur. Click on the images below to see an enlarged version:

   

Leif Ericson kit box images. Click on the images below to see the box top, sides, ends and  a late 60's vintage AMT ad for the kit and details of the line drawings of the ship and scout. Some of these images are big, so you'll have to scroll to see them completely:

         
Leif Ericson kit parts images. Click on the images below to see the details of the kit's plastic parts, instruction sheet pages, details of the "Sounds of Space" record, and the kit decals. Some of these images are big, so you'll have to scroll to see them completely:

               

U.F.O. Mystery Ship
The AMT U.F.O. Mystery Ship was released in the early to mid 1970s. The Mystery Ship was the Leif Ericson molded in "glow in the dark" plastic, but it lacked the chrome plated and clear parts, the record, decals, short story and lighting kit.
The missing chrome parts include the scout ship's landing gear, the "phaser projector", the "sensor ray dome" and the "engine inter-adapters." The missing red clear parts include the engine ends and inter-coolers.
Because of the missing parts, the UFO (also known as the "GID LE" - Glow In the Dark Leif Ericson) has an unfinished look to it.
The model pictured below shows a built-up UFO Mystery Ship that I bought on the Internet, years ago. It had a thick coat of paint and some parts were broken off. Still, it was in good shape.
There are two versions of the U.F.O Mystery Ship - the original and a "short box" version, with the neck of the ship as a separate piece. This was done by modifying the molds.

The instruction sheets for the UFO kit are below. Some of these images are big, so you may have to scroll to see them completely.
Click on the images below to see an enlarged version.

     

The kit scale
The Leif Ericson kit never had a stated scale. Most people just assumed that the kit's scale was 1/650, the same scale often quoted for AMT's original Star Trek spaceship kits (The U.S.S. Enterprise, The Klingon Battle Cruiser and the Romulan Bird of Prey).
The Leif Ericson has several "human sized" airlocks along the neck. Since I have some 1/600-1/700 scale photoetched naval figures, I decided to see what they looked like next to the airlocks:



It's clear that the 1/600 - 1/700 figures are too small. Not only is the airlock door huge in comparison to the figures, the deck spacing is wrong. The windows on the same level are above the heads of the 1/700 figures! Clearly, the Leif Ericson is not in the 1/600 to 1/700 scale range.
I also have some Plastruct 1/400 scale architectural figures. The Plastruct figures have long "pegs" under their feet, which are used to jab the figures into foam to hold them in place. I taped the figure so that its feet would be at about the same level as the bottom of the "porch" on the airlock:



The 1/400 figure is probably too tall for the airlock, and the windows next to the airlock would only come up to the figure's shoulder and chest.
I have some Preiser 1/350 figures (Preiser 89350) and 1/500 figures (Preiser 89350) from Reynauld's Euro-Imports. Obviously, the 1/350 figures are going to be too big, but the 1/500 figures seem just right. When placed next to the airlock, it's clear that they would fit comfortably in the door:



1/500 figures are just about right!
Also note that the windows next to the airlock are just at the right height for the 1/500 figures - if they were standing behind one of the windows, their heads would be near the middle of the window.
The figures also seem to be in scale with the scout ship:



Compare the figures with the boxtop drawing of the scout.
The Leif Ericson "Command Tower" has some windows that are conveniently placed to determine the deck spacing. The first scan shows the command tower and our friends, the Preiser 1/500 figures:



The next is a scan with a metric ruler, for scale:



The last scan is a bottom view:



Using these scans, I get the following measurements for the command tower:

Length: 50mm (25m, 81.25ft)
Width (max): 13mm (6.5m, 21.13ft)
(min): 4mm (2m, 6.5ft)
Height (max): 16mm (8m, 26ft)
(min): 3mm (1.5m, 4.88ft)
Deck spacing: 7mm (3.5m, 11.4ft)

The deck spacing is just about right for 1/500 scale. Therefore, the Leif Ericson (and U.F.O. Mystery Ship) are in (about) 1/500 scale.
The model has some floor spacings that may be too tight at 1/500 and some doors (especially in the Scout bay) that seem to be too large for 1/500. You could argue that the kit scale is more towards 1/400-ish. Regardless, it isn't 1/650. Round2 now lists the scale as 1/500.

LE related Links
Cozmo (J.D Curtiss) has made and sells several add-on resin parts for the U.F.O Mystery ship or the Leif Ericson.
You can buy them on his web page: Cozmo Heavy Industries. The Upgrade kit for the Galactic Cruiser features an improved Scout landing bay, alternate rear fuselage panel, decals and several vehicles.

Paragraphix offers a wide range of photoetched and resin add-ons, including a couple for the UFO Mystery Ship and the Leif Ericson.

Jaime Hood, the Art Director of Round 2 LLC writes a blog at Collector Model.

Winchell Chung has greatly surpassed my efforts in documenting and expanding the SSC universe. Check out his Leif Ericson page, and also explore the rest of his excellent site.

John Gosling has a great page at War of the Worlds, including info on a TV version of War of the Worlds proposed in 1975 by George Pal, with help from Matt Jefferies. The artwork for the Pegasus "hyperspace carrier"looks like it's based on the Leif Ericson.

Robert Lee Merrill of Hungry Lizard Studios has made accurate and detailed line drawings of the Leif Ericson. His drawings and other SSC merchandise, including a cap, t-shirt and a mug are available at his online store.