Goodbye, Paul Alexander Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Sad to learn that Paul Alexander passed away last month. Mr. Alexander was a prolific science fiction artist who was responsible for, among many things, the four wonderful cover paintings for Baen’s initial package of Wing Commander novels.
Artist Paul Alexander, 83, died June 14, 2021 at the Brethren Retirement Community in Greenville OH. Paul R. Alexander was born September 3, 1937, in Richmond IN, the son of the late Fred and Ora Olive Alexander. After graduation from Wittenberg University in 1959, and then the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, he found work in the art field with architectural firms, and then moved into advertising, concentrating mostly on still-life and “men and machines” subject matter.

In 1976 he began working with an art representative in New York who brought his work to the attention of Ace Books. Impressed by his command of hardware and machinery illustration, Ace gave Alexander some assignments. His first published cover was for Ace’s Best from F&SF anthology (1977). He also created the cover for the first issue of Asimov’s magazine in 1978. Although Alexander became as proficient at illustrating people as he did machines, he is still best known for his high-tech illustrations — “one of the top ‘gadget’ artists currently working in the American paperback market” wrote Vincent Di Fate in his entry on Alexander in Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art (1997). His covers for David Drake’s The General series and Keith Laumer’s Bolos series, both for Baen in the 1990s, were particularly memorable, and examples from both series were chosen for Spectrum anthologies.

Alexander worked in gouache on illustration board, airbrush and handbrush. He was one of those rare illustrators who prepared concept sketches only after reading the complete manuscript. An “old school” artist, he always preferred to submit his own ideas for covers rather than having an art director select the scene. While still doing some corporate and advertising art in the 1980s, and SF art into the 1990s, by 1998 he had largely retired from the field and turned his attention to his long-time hobbies of model trains and photography, and to painting for his own enjoyment and occasionally for local church, civic, and charitable organizations. He was a long-time member of St. Paul Episcopal Church.

In addition to his entry in Di Fate’s Infinite Worlds, Alexander was featured early in his career in Ian Summers’s Tomorrow and Beyond: Masterpieces of Science Fiction Art (1978), as well as having entries in Robert Weinberg’s Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (1988) and Jane Frank’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of The Twentieth Century (2009)

—Jane Frank

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Onward to Victory Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Mac's Lore has an exciting new video in their series on Wing Commander history. Their latest clip covers covers the exploits of the TCS Victory with an emphasis on the events that concluded the Kilrathi War in Wing Commander 3. The clip is broken down into several sections: service history, technical details, the crew and conclusion. In addition to his own narrative, Mac was able to source his high quality visuals from the WC Saga engine and ODVS' high quality video among other fan resources. The result is a tight package that's a fun run through the ship's noteworthy accomplishments!
Backed up against the wall, the Confederation fleet begins hauling out rustbuckets to the front lines to battle the Kilrathi. In one spectacular case, one of those buckets helps to win the war.

On another note, when I was working on this, I initially kept getting bogged down in the details of what happened in 2669, until I just starting glossing over anything the Victory wasn't directly involved in. Long story short, there might be enough to work with to have the details of 2669 in it's own video in the future. Possibly.

GOG Weekly Sale Discounts Wing Commander Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter is having a special weekly sale this week, and the theme seems to be '90s classics. In addition to series like Warcraft, Myst and System Shock, both the Wing Commander and Ultima franchises have been included. Sometimes it seems like GOG sales come along pretty frequently, but I always hear about Wingnuts (like Zeether!) who finally take the digital plunge whenever there's a big discount like this. The whole DOS/Windows series under $12. If there's a game you're missing, now's your chance to add it to the collection!

Krant Joins the Fight Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

We've got some more Krant updates for Howard Day's Wing Leader project today. First up is a short and sweet video of the Kilrathi medium fighter biting the dust in a hail of laser fire. The next clip shows the perspective from the Hornet cockpit with the targeting VDU now fully updated to reflect damage on the ship's frame. Finally, there are full sprite sheets of all the different angles that come together to show the craft in flight!
Quick clip - Hornet blows up a Krant
Got the MFD icon for the Krant in there

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Rapiers All in One Place Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

ChrisReid: While looking up links associated with the Rapier for a couple of news posts this past week, I notice we'd never taken LOAF's massive research on the ship and turned it into a singular article. It's a huge amount of info, so buckle your seatbelts and hang on! Here's LOAF with everything you ever wanted to know about the Rapier:

LOAF: The Rapier fighters in the Wing Commander movie were constructed from the cockpits of eight F.53 English Electric Lightning jets. I decided to read up on their history and it turns out they're part of a group of 34 ordered by the Saudi Royal Air Force in 1965!

One of these Lightnings crashed during its test flight; to replace it, BAC produced an extra plane using end-of-line parts. It was the last Lightning ever constructed and it became the Rapier flown by Freddie Prinze Jr's Lieutenant Blair! The Lightnings flew ground attack missions against Yemen in 1970. In 1985, BAC bought back the 18 remaining flyable planes as part of a deal to sell Saudi Arabia the Lightning. They returned to England and were offered for sale used to other countries; there was little interest. BAC eventually made the unwanted Lightnings available cheaply as museum displays and gate guardians. Seven of them eventually went on display around the UK (sometimes repainted as an RAF F.6 Lightning.). An aviation enthusiast named Wensley Haydon-Baillie saved the remaining eleven from the scrapyard. He had become wealthy running a drug company which seemed to be on the verge of a cure for Herpes.. Unfortunately, the drug didn't work out and Mr. Haydon-Baillie was forced to sell his aircraft collection. The Lightnings went to a salvage company in Portsmouth in the mid-1990s. Luckily, the operator couldn't bring himself to destroy these classic aircraft! Meanwhile, Wing Commander IV was wrapping up and Origin Systems was finally talking at making the long-talked-about Wing Commander movie a reality. Chris and his team started to put together a short demo to show how it would work. While the project was still at Origin (and the ships were still called Sabres) a series of painted storyboards for this test was put together. The first plan was to do completely CGI spacecraft, which was a tall order for 1996. When Chris Roberts left to start Digital Anvil, Electronic Arts granted him the Wing Commander movie rights and work on the pitch continued at the new company. The demo premiered at SXSW in 1997 using a game-inspired Rapier built by artist Dean McCall: FOX was impressed enough to finance the movie with a comparatively small budget. The first pass at the Rapier was done by Ron Cobb, probably best known for Alien's Nostromo. The Cobb design was discarded as the original plan (building a full practical spacecraft like the X-Wing in a New Hope) for non-CGI shots ran into limitations of budget and technology. But what the production lacked in budget it made up for in talent behind the camera! Production designer Peter Lamont, fresh off of an Academy Award win for Titanic, created a lived-in, industrial world using salvaged equipment. And that's where our stories meet! The production purchased eight of the ex-Saudi Lightnings' cockpits from Marine Salvage (plus a Canberra bomber nose for the Broadsword cockpit) and flew them to Luxembourg. Contrary to popular belief, the production didn't cut aircraft to pieces (with one exception); the Rapiers are built on top of the cockpits which were designed to detach from the fuselage and wings. Not all eight cockpits were modified. Some became full Rapiers for flight deck shots, some were mounted on motion rigs for spaceflight and one (ZF587) WAS cut in half down the windscreen for closeup shots of the pilots. The team measured and photographed the physical spacecraft carefully to create 3D models for the VFX shots. Compare two shots of the physical Rapier with two using 3D models. To my mind, that's pretty darned impressive for 1998! (Think of watching Wing Commander today versus The Phantom Menace, which was released six weeks later with ten times the budget.) My next question was: what happened to the eight Wing Commander Lightnings? After principal photography finished, several were moved to Pinewood Studios in London for pickup shots. These were later returned to Marine Salvage to be resold, some still kitted out as Rapiers. Three most likely remained 'abandoned in place' in the Luxembourg warehouse that was the Tiger Claw flight deck. They and a number of other Wing Commander props appear in the 2004 Dolph Lundgren movie "Retrograde" which was shot in the same space! In 2009, an urban explorer named Spako sneaked into the warehouse and took a beautiful HDR photo of one of the planes. She reported there were two others, one of which was not a full conversion. Of the Rapiers that went back to England: Lightning ZF579 was only slightly modified for the film and was purchased by Gatwick Aviation Museum, where it was reunited with its fuselage and wings. It's on display there today! ZF587, the plane that was sliced in half, was restored and is now on display at the Lashenden Air Warfare Museum! You can still see the scar: Several suffered a more ignominious fate. ZF589 (Blair's Rapier) spent a short time in a Scottish science fiction museum and was then sold to a paintball arena! Where it spent several years as a target/spaceship. It was recently rescued and is currently being painstakingly restored (as a Lightning.) You can follow that process on Facebook!: Lightning ZF590 is exactly the same story: it spent years as a paintball target and was purchased and restored by a private citizen. It's privately owned today and is visible in storage at Bruntingthorpe Airfield in Leicestershire. That's where the trail goes a little colder! Three are MIA. One pops up at a possibly-now-defunct lasertag arena outside London. It was last seen still in Rapier form in 2015, current whereabouts unknown! One more was last seen across the pond: it was the centerpiece of a Planet Hollywood in Columbus, Ohio until it closed in 2001. I've reached out to Planet Hollywood to see if they know what became of it! Ooh, and here's the final version's concept art I forgot to include earlier. You can see how they initially expected the additional superstructure to be more apparent! Let me add a little about the fictional ship! Here's the Joan's Fighting Ships entry from The Confederation Handbook, which is kind of like the manual for the movie! Star Citizen fans may recognize the Rapier's designation :) You can see that in-fiction, the huge cannon is supposed to be a neutron gun. Kind of an odd choice! The rotary slug thrower aesthetic carried over into Chris Roberts' next game, StarLancer... and you can still see it on ships in Star Citizen today! Jumping back in time a little, I mentioned earlier the Rapier was originally the SABRE. You can read that first draft of the script here. The Sabre was the Confederation's heavy attack fighter in Wing Commander II. It's the ship you fly for the final missions of the game. It had a crew of two, with a rear turret gunner (that you could also switch to control.) As an aside, I only just learned [back in 2018] that one of the background ships in Wing Commander Academy (the Saturday morning cartoon) was intended to be the Sabre! Thanks to this storyboard: Chris Roberts did the first rewrite of the script for Wing Commander and in the process changed SABRE to RAPIER. You can find that script here. The original Rapier was the 'hero' ship in Wing Commander I. It's the Confederation's brand new badass dogfighter that you finish the game in. The 2D concept art was by Glen Johnson and the 3D model by outsourcer Mary Bellis working on an Amiga. The Rapier shows up again in Wing Commander II as a neat narrative trick to show the passage of time (intended to be ten years.) Now it's the 'average' fighter, missing the bells and whistles of the others! It's said to be the G model. The original F-44A Rapier got a super sexy reboot look for Super Wing Commander. The design was used heavily in the new cutscenes (including the intro.) We should also be honest with ourselves and give the 1982 Clint Eastwood movie Firefox a... little... credit for the design (another reason not to stick closely to it for the move to the big screen!) The Rapier and (the Sabre) figure prominently in most of the Baen Wing Commander novels. Author William Forstchen was a military historian who liked to spin gems into the lore; thus was born things like the Sabre-D model intended for the shorter runways on escort carriers! The last Baen novel, False Colors, even follows a squadron from a smaller country flying the export model Rapier just after the Kilrathi war. Just like the export model Lightnings that would eventually become Rapiers! Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade brought back the Rapier in three flavors! The artists referenced the original and the Super Wing Commander designs. Embarrassing background: I chose the eight ship types used in Wing Commander Arena. I was asked what the four best known ships were for each faction... if I'd known we would go on to set the game in 2701 I'd have lied! (Arena was a very weird time in Wing Commander history, but I don't regret it!) I accidentally boned one other piece of Rapier-related Wing Commander lore, too, the story of which I will now share to end this thread! In lore, the Rapiers in the Wing Commander movie (which is set in March 2654) are very old. The ships are clearly beat to death and you can see in the Joan's entry above the design is said to be a century old. But in Wing Commander I, which starts in April 2654, the Rapier is BRAND NEW. There is a mission where you literally fly the prototype on its first combat test (historically the mission is flown by Spirit and Angel.). Superfans explain this by referencing the Kilrathi Saga manual which for whatever reason renames the Rapier-G from Wing Commander II the "Rapier II." Wing Commander uses USAF-style designations where a trailing Roman numeral indicates an entirely different design. P-47 vs. A-10. Ergo, in the future WC universe the two Rapiers must be totally different ship designs. The CF-117 Rapier retires and is immediately replaced by the F-44 Rapier. Clunky as heck, but it lets you sleep at night when you're a crazy fanboy (I'm talking about me and no one else.)

How did I mess this up even further? As part of the movie's licensing deal, a series of 'movie books' were written by author Peter Telep (better known today as the co-writer of several Tom Clancey books!) These started with an adaptation of the film.

When you write a movie adaptation, it has to be published the same time the movie comes out. So you can't actually watch anything, you have to work in parallel from the script and possibly some early production concepts. As a result, novelizations of movies (or things like Star Trek pilots!) can vary wildly from what you see on the screen. That surely happened with Wing Commander, which includes all the traitor and Merlin scenes dropped when the film was in post.

Mr. Telep is a wonderful man and he does very thorough research, even for a video game movie adaptation. He reached out to me through my fan site at the time and asked if I could provide him with background about the WC universe. I was fifteen or so at the time and thought I'd handed responsibility for the fate of the universe. I sent him copies of the games and he sent me a list of proper nouns. He couldn't share the script, but could I provide background on these things referenced in it? So I happily wrote up every single fact I could think of about RAPIERS, DRALTHI, KRANT, ANGEL, the TIGER'S CLAW and so on. I made him exhaustive lists of ships and Kilrathi language references and maps of how known space was laid out. But all I knew was the game, I had no idea what they were doing with the movie. I didn't know the Rapier was old and neither did Peter... so instead of the CF-117b, the book features the brand new F-44A described just as it is in Wing Commander I (straight from my notes.)

The first sequel novel, Pilgrim Stars, includes an explanation that just adds another layer of trouble: "[Blair] surveyed his instruments, noting a few differences between his present fighter, the CF-117b Rapier, and the old F44-A he had flown only three days prior..." "The new model had increased missile capacity to ten guided or dumbfire missiles and packed a second generation nose-mounted rotary-barrel neutron gun that allowed for longer continuous neutron fire."

If you're still here, thank you very much and I'm very sorry about inadvertently making starfighter lore a little bit more confusing.

Unfortunately, HarperCollins killed the line before the third, already-finished novel was published. But if you'd like you can read the uncorrected galley here (a longtime grail of mine!). One more fun one -- a comparison of four Rapier cockpit designs! Wing Commander (1990), Wing Commander II (1991), Super Wing Commander (1994) and Wing Commander (1999): MORE NEAT STUFF! The Rapier props in the movie have some incredible details that you barely get to see. Many of the markings are based on World War II carrier planes. Look for grids of kill markings based on the Japanese flags you would see on a Hellcat or Corsair ace's plane. Each one also has a name and rank like a modern jet fighter, an identification number, a small piece of nose art and various warning signs. That's the Terran Confederation Space Force logo on the left, too! And here's a Flight School variation on Blair's pilot evaluation (the text quietly includes the events of the first episode of Wing Commander Academy!) The ID numbers are also based on vintage USN carrier planes. The Rapiers do lack the tail markings which identify which aircraft carrier a particular plane belongs to. (Maybe the Tiger Claw works alone!) What numbers do we see? Bossman/Blair is 18, Rosie is 59, Maniac is 64 and Angel is 69 (hah?) The numbers were simple stickers and could be swapped easily. We also see 13, 21, 65 and 72 in various places (and maybe others.) Here's a closeup of the kill markers! The shooting script makes a bigger deal of the kill markings. Blair specifically notes that Bossman and Angel both have 26 at various points. You can read the shooting script here. Closeup of the TCSF wings, thanks to AD. One little mistake: this shot is used twice during the big scramble in act two, mirrored the second time! I guess that's Rapier टმ. :) Wow, those look cool lined up. Here's a page showing the different nose art for the different characters (Knight flew a Broadsword.) Bossman's art is the squadron logo with his name over it. And who knew Rosie's callsign was SASSY?! Rarely noticed: the Rapier control surfaces are LUXURIOUS. They're so good you assume they're just stock Lightning controls. They aren't! Chris smartly had a second unit shoot lots of footage of just the controls in use which appear throughout the film. And that's the end of our story for now! I'm passionate about aircraft preservation but I do hope one of these somehow remains a Rapier. Here's a spreadsheet I made as I was trying to track them all.

I just thought of another kinda silly Rapier story! There was a toy line for the Wing Commander movie, with eight different Star Wars-scale action figures (including the traitor who was fully cut from the film.) The package also advertised Rapier and Dralthi vehicles coming soon.

The movie was not a hit and the vehicles never went into production. But some years ago, Joe Garrity of the Origin Museum tracked down the man in charge of the company and asked if he would be willing to sell the prototypes. Joe asked if I wanted to go in for half, and I dug up every penny I had to my name at the time and we went to meet the president of the toy company. The company was named X-TOYS, which was a terrible thing to name something people would want to Alta Vista for in 1999. For their first toy lines they licensed WING COMMANDER and WILD WILD WEST. I don't know if they were late to the the licensing expo or just liked Ws.

We had lunch with the guy and he told us his sad story. They followed the Ws up with a series of Saturday Night Live toys that also didn't sell. He talked all about what else he'd wanted to do for Wing Commander! C'est la vie. He also mentioned he was onto the next big thing (tiny skateboards that rolled) and in fact he was about to meet a big name skater about licensing. "Tony Hawk?!" Joe and I said in unison. "No!" he replied angrily, "why does everyone keep asking that?!" Poor X-Toys.

Anyway, here is the prototype of the toy Rapier, which is safely in a box in my office! Joe Garrity kept the Dralthi in his museum.

Okay NOW I'm done, I promise. Have a great night, everybody!
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Emulated iPad Wing Commander Looks Slick Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

The iPhone/iPad app iDOS 2 has been in the news this week since it was announced that the program will be coming down soon per Apple's app store guidelines. The company has always been very leery of emulators and programs that can run other code or operating systems (like Windows 3.1!), and it's honestly surprising that the program has been allowed to exist on the platform for this long as it is. While it's still available at the time of this writing, it might not be around much longer. Nevertheless, there's been a surge of downloads, and people have been posting about different games that they've gotten to work. Here's a picture that Steve Makofsky took playing Wing Commander 1 on his iPad, which is pretty darn cool!
Kinda shocked it worked so easily - iDOS2 running vintage Wing Commander.
This is by no means the first app to enable this kind of activity, but most have been relatively short lived. In the future, there are promising methods in development to run emulators via browser, which would allow virtually seamless play of classic games on any system.

Rapier I Holds the Line Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

It's a good week for Rapier I art. We posted an uncommon 3D render of a fan model a few days ago, and now we've got a top down line art sketch of the CF-117. The rotary neutron gun is a bit long, but the ship portions are pretty good overall. This type of drawing was really big in the late '90s, so I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this over the years. bagera3005 is certainly a fan of this art style with thousands of Star Trek ships and other similar designs in his gallery. He's also made a Kilrathi-inspired ship, pictured below. It's kind of a funky cross between a Goran and a Sorthak by my eye.
My version of Wing Commander Rapier from the movie
If you'd like to see more cool WC line art, be sure to check out our prior updates.

Chess Blog Delivers a Reality Check Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

The Belgian Chess History website runs a remarkable blog where they analyze and dissect chess games in progress across a variety of film and television. They look at the chess board setups and discuss how the characters (often inexplicably) got into their situation. Wing Commander has been featured, and it got a characteristically brutal scrubbing. Not only do they hate the setup, they're not fond of the characters nor even the chess pieces! You can find the full Belgian Chess History article here.

LOAF actually researched and found the actual chess set used in the WC Movie a while back. He also put together a slightly more accurate placement of the pieces, pictured below.

LOAF: It's just not a situation anyone would reasonably get to. Unless Bishop, a man named after a chess piece with said piece painted on his Rapier, is particularly terrible at chess.
Belgian Chess History: The idiot on the table in the background is, unfortunately, one of our main characters. He is introducing himself and his companion to the crew of the spaceship they just entered. Since he has the brain of a hard-boiled shrimp, it doesn’t go very well. But it seems like the director knew that he should focus as little as possible on Matthew Lillard and show some chess players instead.

Let us follow this very wise piece of advice and look what’s happening on the board. Immediately, I get a hit of nostalgia: the board has been set up wrongly with a1 a white square and, believe it or not, that’s been a while. The next thing we note it that, in the future, people apparently use really inconvenient, stumpy pieces that all look alike. That makes our task a bit harder, but we get good enough camera angles to make a reasonably reliable reconstruction:

Lillard, who is watching the game, suggests: "You want to take his castle with your little horsie."

A brilliant piece of advice, eloquently delivered. He goes on to claim, quite wrongly, that it is checkmate. This claim is immediately accepted, since this is a very stupid flick.

Blue Origin Successfully Launches Bezos Flight Update ID Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

For the second time in as many weeks, a private space tour company has launched their first fully crewed vessel (and their billionaire founder) into space. This time they had the audacity to do it on a work day, so we've posted some nifty photos and video below for the people who couldn't watch live. Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket reached an altitude of about 66 miles and produced a similar brief period of weightlessness as the Virgin Galactic experience last week. Unlike Richard Branson's specialized type of jet plane, today's craft was a more traditional vertical rocket. It's been almost fifteen years since we first reported on their efforts, which once again highlights how challenging these milestones are to reach. In addition to space tourism, the company is also aiming to compete with SpaceX on moon missions in the future.
Much like I said last week, I won't really wade into the controversy around Bezos' wealth or what else he could be doing with the money. Whatever he's spent getting Blue Origin stood up, he still has plenty of money to do anything else you can possibly imagine if he were so inclined. All of the money spent on Blue Origin has paid for a large group of scientists, engineers and skilled technicians to further push the technological envelope, and that's awesome.

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