Thunderbirds machines

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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.

Thunderbird fleet[edit]

International Rescue's fleet consists of 5 principal craft; the Thunderbirds:

Thunderbird 1[edit]

Thunderbird 1
Thunderbird 1.jpg
Affiliation International Rescue
References [1]
General characteristics
Maximum speed 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h)
Armaments Machine cannon
Propulsion 4 variable-cycle gas turbine engines
4 booster rockets
1 variable mode for launch or boost
1 vertical take off variable engine or hovering
Power Atomic fusion reactor
Length 115 ft (35 m)
Width 80 ft (24 m)
Height 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.

Thunderbird 2[edit]

Thunderbird 2
Affiliation International Rescue
References [2]
General characteristics
Maximum speed 6,200 mph (10,000 km/h)
Armaments Missile launcher
Propulsion 2 variable-cycle gas turbine engines
12 variable cycle cruise jets in tail plane
4 vertical take off variable engines also for hovering
4 vertical take off chemical rockets in legs
Power Atomic fusion reactor
Length 250 ft (76 m)
Width 180 ft (55 m)
Height 60 ft (18 m)
Pilot: Virgil Tracy
Co-pilot: Gordon Tracy

Thunderbird 2 is International Rescue's heavy-duty transporter aircraft which carries rescue equipment to the danger zone in one of 6 pods (including Thunderbird 4 in pod 4). Thunderbird 2 is a large, green VTOL aircraft that is used in most earth-based rescue missions. It is normally piloted by Virgil Tracy, who is often accompanied by either Scott Tracy, Alan Tracy, Gordon Tracy, Brains or sometimes Tin-Tin. Thunderbird 2 is 250 feet (76 m) long with a wingspan of 180 feet (55 m) and a height of 60 feet (18 m). A long-range craft, it is capable reaching anywhere in the world without refuelling and has a maximum speed of 5,000 mph (8,000 km/h) (but cruises at 2,000 mph (3,200 km/h)). It therefore arrives at the danger zone later than Thunderbird 1.

The launch sequence begins with Thunderbird 2 taxiing through a steel hangar door disguised as a cliff face onto a runway flanked with palm trees that fall back to accommodate the large wingspan. The aircraft is then raised on a platform until it is at the correct angle for take-off. A blast shield rises at the rear of the launch ramp, channelling the exhaust of the rear engines through a series of tunnels to the other side of the island. The need for Thunderbird 2 to launch from Tracy Island using a ramp is unclear, because at all other times it takes off using its VTOL thrusters.

In "Terror in New York City", Thunderbird 2 was fired upon and crippled by the USS Sentinel, and remained out of operation for the rest of the episode. The vehicle was subsequently repaired using parts sourced from several different aircraft companies in order to protect the secrets of the aircraft's design.

Thunderbird 2 holds the distinction of being the most frequently seen of all the Thunderbirds, appearing in all but one episode of the TV series ("The Impostors") and also appearing in all three films.

Thunderbird 3[edit]

Thunderbird 3
Affiliation International Rescue
References [3]
General characteristics
Maximum speed 6g[clarification needed]
Propulsion 3 chemical rockets for launch
3 ion-drive particle accelerators for deep space
Pitch and yaw rockets; 12 in middle ring, 20 in nose, 24 at rear
Power Atomic fusion reactor
Length 287 ft (87 m)
Width 80 ft (24 m)
Height 287 ft (87 m)
Astronaut: Alan Tracy

A reusable, vertically launched SSTO (Single Stage To Orbit) spaceship used for space rescue and maintenance of Thunderbird 5. Thunderbird 3 is 287 feet (87 m) long, with a 23 feet (7 m) wide body and a 79 feet (24 m) span (including engines). Thunderbird 3 is unique among the Thunderbird craft in having its dimensions quoted in an episode of the series: in "Give or Take a Million" Jeff Tracy states that the spacecraft stands 287 feet (87 m) high. However, Brains, the designer of Thunderbird 3, said in a videotaped interview,[4] that Thunderbird 3 was "200 feet [61 m] in height. " Another problem with the stated size is evident in the Thunderbird 3 launch scenes. For the craft to be over 200 feet, the ceiling of the roundhouse it passes through on take-off would need to be in excess of 50 feet (15 m) high and the balcony rail 25 feet (7.6 m) high.[original research?] The Saturn V is 111 metres (364 ft) high at launch, adding validity[citation needed] to the 200-foot height theory.

The spacecraft uses chemical rockets for lift-off and boost, and an ion drive for propulsion while in space. Thunderbird 3 is hangared beneath the "Round House" on Tracy Island, and is primarily piloted by Alan or John Tracy, although Scott often co-pilots. Since John is usually seen in Thunderbird 5, he is rarely seen piloting the spacecraft (only in "The Mighty Atom" and "Danger at Ocean Deep" and "The Uninvited", and never in a rescue situation). In "Ricochet" Virgil is seen piloting Thunderbird 3. This craft was used for space rescues in "Sun Probe", "Ricochet", "The Impostors" as well as escorting Zero X briefly in Thunderbirds Are Go.

Thunderbird 4[edit]

Thunderbird 4
Affiliation International Rescue
References [5]
General characteristics
Maximum speed Underwater 160 knots (300 km/h; 180 mph)
Surface 40 knots (74 km/h; 46 mph)
Armaments Missile tube launcher
Propulsion 6 electrically driven reversible axial-flow turbine impellers
2 axial-flow turbines providing forward thrust
Emergency launch jets; 4 vertical thrust jets and 2 x 25 liquid fuel mini-rockets
Power Atomic fusion reactor
Length 30 ft (9.1 m)
Width 11 ft (3.4 m)
Aquanaut: Gordon Tracy

A small utility submersible for underwater rescue, Thunderbird 4 is carried aboard Thunderbird 2, nearly always in Pod 4, although it was once transported in Pod 6 ("Attack of the Alligators"). In the episode "Terror in New York City", Gordon launches the craft by emergency procedure, from the Thunderbird 2 hangar and sliding along the island runway, with the runway's overhang automatically dropping into the sea as Thunderbird 4 approaches it. However, the submarine's slow speed renders it impractical for Thunderbird 4 to travel on its own; when Thunderbird 2 was temporarily out of action and Thunderbird 4 required, Jeff Tracy contacted the navy vessel Sentinel - the fastest ship in the fleet and unintentionally responsible for incapacitating Thunderbird 2 in the first place - to give Thunderbird 4 a lift to the danger zone. Thunderbird 4 is 9 metres (30 ft) long and 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide, this makes it the smallest of the Thunderbirds vehicles, but not the smallest of the pod vehicles. It is fitted with an adjustable searchlight which can be raised or lowered to reveal a variety of rescue instruments, such as cutting lasers, electromagnets, demolition rockets and battering rams, which can be extended from the nose section. Thunderbird 4 is piloted by aquanaut Gordon Tracy.

Thunderbird 4 does not play an active role in the films Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. It does however appear in the opening title sequence of Thunderbirds Are Go. In Thunderbird 6, Jeff Tracy gives a "run down" on each of the Thunderbirds machines, where Thunderbird 4 makes a brief appearance. It also appears in the 2004 live action film with an updated design. However, it is handled by Alan Tracy instead of Gordon because Gordon is unavailable.

Thunderbird 5[edit]

Thunderbird 5
Affiliation International Rescue
References [6]
General characteristics
Defences 6 electromagnetic cloaking baffles
Plasma cored meteor deflector
Propulsion geosynchronous orbit 22,400 miles (36,000 km) above the pacific ocean
Power Atomic batteries
Length 400 ft (120 m)
Space Monitor: John Tracy

The largest rescue vehicle of the Thunderbirds inventory, Thunderbird 5 is an Earth-orbiting space station which monitors all broadcasts around the globe for calls for help and also manages communications within International Rescue. Measuring 122 metres (400 ft) long, 90 metres (300 ft) wide, and 83 metres (272 ft) tall, Thunderbird 5 is equipped with almost completely automated onboard systems, allowing the entire station to be run by a single crew member. Thunderbird 5 is primarily commanded by John Tracy, although he is periodically relieved by Alan (according to the storyline, John and Alan swap roles once a month, one piloting Thunderbird 3 and the other monitoring Thunderbird 5, but such was writer Gerry Anderson's dislike for the character of John, that he was usually exiled to the space station). Derek Meddings designed Thunderbird 5 after the other machines and apparently based the design on the Tracy Island Roundhouse model (through which Thunderbird 3 launches).[7]

Thunderbird 5 is in a geosynchronous orbit, 22,400 miles (36,000 km) above the Pacific Ocean, and believed to be above Tracy Island. Thunderbird 5 is electronically cloaked to avoid detection from ground based radar or other spacecrafts’ sensor systems.

Other International Rescue machines[edit]

Pod vehicles[edit]

Thunderbird 6[edit]

Main article: Thunderbird 6

FAB 1[edit]

Main article: FAB 1

A six-wheeled Rolls-Royce motor car used by Lady Penelope and her chauffeur, Parker. The car has an aircraft-style canopy and is fitted with many gadgets including an air-cooled machine-gun located behind the Rolls-Royce grille.

FAB 2[edit]

Lady Penelope's yacht which featured in the episode "The Man From MI.5". Parker seemingly lost the vessel after using it as currency in a game of poker.

Hover bikes[edit]

Small personal transports that hover above the ground, used by all members of IR. These vehicles were also seen in Anderson's earlier series Fireball XL5. They were used to get around the fact that the puppeteers could not make the marionettes walk realistically.

Mobile Control[edit]

A mobile command center carried aboard Thunderbird 1, usually manned by Scott Tracy once Thunderbird 1 is on-scene at a rescue operation.

Remote camera[edit]

A remotely operated flying camera designed to withstand extreme heat. Also carried aboard Thunderbird 1.

Other machines[edit]


A gleaming, blue, futuristic airliner rests on top of three orange support vehicles (one underneath the fuselage and two underneath the wings) as it speeds out of control along a runway against a grassy backdrop, the sky bright with clouds.
Fireflash as seen in "Trapped in the Sky"

The Fireflash, a hypersonic airliner, appeared in the episodes "Trapped in the Sky", "Operation Crash-Dive", "The Impostors", "The Man From MI.5" and "The Duchess Assignment", as well as in a flashback sequence in "Security Hazard". It has six atomic motors that enable it to stay in the air for a maximum of six months; however, their radiation shielding must be maintained frequently, or the passengers will only be able to spend a maximum of three hours in the aircraft before succumbing to radiation sickness. Its maximum speed is Mach 6 (approximately 4,500 mph or 7,200 km/h), and it can fly at heights above 250,000 feet (76,000 m). A novel feature is that the flight deck is built into the tail fin. Like the real-world Airbus A380 the aircraft has two decks, but also features luxury facilities such as a cocktail lounge housed within glazed sections of the wings' leading edges. Fireflash was commissioned by Air Terrainean (a.k.a.: Terrainean Airways).[8]


Multi-purpose jet-powered VTOL aircraft, Helijets appear in numerous episodes and are widely used by civilian and military organisations. A variety of different designs are seen over the course of the series and were also seen in Anderson's next series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Some versions seem to be based on the fuselage design of the Kaman HH-43 Huskie helicopter of the early 1960s. It is assumed that the production team modellers modified commercial plastic models (probably the 1/32 scale Hawk kit) of the helicopter for use in the series.


Used to replace trains and the London Underground and New York City Subways. The monorail cars travel along overhead railings magnetically. The trains can be seen in "The Perils of Penelope", "Brink of Disaster" and another version of them are seen in "The Mighty Atom".


This huge yellow tree-felling machine featured in the episode "Path of Destruction". Powered by an atomic reactor, but with a wood processing plant dependent on the chemical fuel 'Superon', the Crablogger was designed by Jim Lucas of Robotics International in England. The machine was equipped with two large arms with a giant central chainsaw which would cut a tree at the base before passing it through an opening at the front. Inside the Crablogger, the tree was reduced to wood pulp which was regularly collected by automated tankers. Designed to clear areas of forestation to make way for road developments, much of the Crablogger's systems were automated, although a crew was required to monitor these systems. In the episode "Path of Destruction", the crew were incapacitated, resulting in the machine going out of control.[9]


The Roadlayer was a giant mobile machine that acted as the command centre and primary construction unit of the Road Construction Company. The giant machine ground up rocks and trees as it moved over them, and flattened the ground before laying a six lane motorway behind it. Astonishingly, the motorway is complete to the inclusion of roadway markings, as well as road-side fences. Moving on a series of caterpillar tracks, the Roadlayer was equipped with a Helijet pad, and a cannon for clearing obstacles. The machine also carried tracked demolition trucks for clearing larger obstacles with nuclear charges. Roadlayers appeared in the episodes "End of the Road" and "Atlantic Inferno".

U.S. Navy Sentinel[edit]

A next-generation United States Navy strike vessel that appeared in the episode "Terror in New York City". Apart from its top speed of 200 knots (370 km/h; 230 mph), which Virgil described as "phenomenal" when he detected it, its statistics are unknown. Unfortunately, the Sentinel also detected Thunderbird 2 and launched a missile attack, having erroneously identified Thunderbird 2 as an enemy aircraft since it was too slow to be a missile, too fast to be a civilian aircraft and did not match any U.S. military aircraft. Although the Sentinel was prevented from fully destroying Thunderbird 2 when an identification signal was transmitted at the last minute, the damage sustained to the ship's engines crippled it for the rest of the episode. Subsequently, the Sentinel helped International Rescue to save some reporters from drowning in an underwater river in New York by taking Thunderbird 4 aboard and carrying it near the city, as Sentinel was the only available craft capable of transporting Thunderbird 4 that was fast enough to take it to the city in time to make a difference.[10]


A military walking vehicle that appeared in the episode "Pit of Peril". It resembles a giant lobster. Powered by an atomic reactor, the four-legged Sidewinder has two mechanical arms at the front which are used to uproot trees and move aside other obstructions. The vehicle is operated by a crew of three from the cabin at the front. At 50 metres (160 ft) long and weighing over 500 tonnes (490 long tons; 550 short tons), the Sidewinder is slow and lumbering, but is capable of crossing terrain inaccessible to other land vehicles. The vehicle was developed to prevent South African "brush fire" wars from escalating into larger conflicts and is equipped with a significant amount of weaponry. The prototype vehicle fell into an unmapped landfill pit during testing. Due to spontaneous combustion of the rubbish the inside of the pit was extremely hot.[11] Later versions of it were equipped with emergency anti-gravity generators for use in situations like that or if one of its legs has been removed.

Skyship One[edit]

Skyship One is a large technologically advanced airship which appeared in the second Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbird 6. Commissioned by the New World Aircraft Corporation, the airship was designed by Thunderbirds creator Brains under the pseudonym of "Mr X". The ship requires only a skeleton crew, as the systems are entirely automated, with destinations pre-programmed before take-off. Key to the airship's design are the gravity compensators which effectively reduce the craft's weight allowing it to become airborne. Inside, the ship's cabins and facilities are luxurious and include several themed rooms and bars.[12]


A large, supersonic passenger airliner designed by Brains (although he claims that he only designed some of its new experimental features) which featured in the episode "Alias Mr. Hackenbacker". It is considered the safest aircraft in service, largely due to its unique safety feature in the form of an ejectable fuel tank. In the event of a crash landing, the fuel tank separates from the main body of the aircraft, allowing the plane to land safely with minimal risk of fire or explosion. The fuel "rocket" is then guided to a safe altitude before self-destructing.[13]

Sun Probe[edit]

The Sun Probe is a rocket that was sent to collect a sample from the Sun for research purposes. However, the radiation from the Sun caused the retro-rockets to fail, resulting in it going on a collision course with the Sun until Thunderbird 3 was able to activate the rockets by remote. It first featured (briefly) in the episode "Perils of Penelope" and later the eponoymous "Sun Probe".


Main article: Zero-X

A metallic-blue spacecraft that made the first manned landing on Mars. Zero-X first appeared in the first Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbirds Are Go, and subsequently in the first episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.[14][15] It is assembled hours prior to launch and consists of 5 parts: The MEV (Martian Exploration Vehicle), the main fuselage, Lifting Body 1 and 2, two wing-like structures loaded with thruster packs and also incorporate landing gear at the ends, and the reflective Nose Cone, which is a large metallic nose which attaches to the MEV.


  1. ^ Bleathman. Supermarionation cross-sections. Carlton Books. pp. 18–19. ISBN 1 84222 411 5. 
  2. ^ Bleathman. Supermarionation cross-sections. Carlton Books. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1 84222 411 5. 
  3. ^ Bleathman. Supermarionation cross-sections. Carlton Books. pp. 22–23. ISBN 1 84222 411 5. 
  4. ^ The Brains Behind Thunderbirds (1965/2000), Carlton International Media Limited. Appears on Bonus Disc on Thunderbirds: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition.
  5. ^ Bleathman. Supermarionation cross-sections. Carlton Books. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1 84222 411 5. 
  6. ^ Bleathman. Supermarionation cross-sections. Carlton Books. pp. 26–27. ISBN 1 84222 411 5. 
  7. ^ Thunderbird 5 model
  8. ^ Thunderbirds (1965), Century 21 Television/ITC – various episodes.
  9. ^ Thunderbirds (1966), Century 21 Television/ITC – Series 2 Episode 2: "Path of Destruction".
  10. ^ Thunderbirds (1965), Century 21 Television/ITC – Series 1 Episode 4: "Terror in New York".
  11. ^ Thunderbirds (1965), Century 21 Television/ITC – Series 1 Episode 2: "Pit of Peril".
  12. ^ Thunderbird 6 (1968), Century 21 Cinema/United Artists.
  13. ^ Thunderbirds (1966), Century 21 Television/ITC – Series 2 Episode 3: "Alias Mr. Hackenbacker".
  14. ^ Thunderbirds are Go (1966), Century 21 Cinema/United Artists.
  15. ^ Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons (1967), Century 21 Television/ITC – Episode 1: "The Mysterons".

External links[edit]

  • Gerry Anderson's "Stars" – Overview of the miniature models of the Anderson series, including Thunderbirds (Archived 15 January 2008)