Project "Bruce"
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You're gonna do what?!

A couple of years ago, I was watching a TV show where competitors entered robots in a sort of robot Olympic Games.  There were various different events, invariably including one for swimming robots.  The robots, be they swimmers or runners, had to move in a lifelike manner, and naturally most of them tried to emulate various fish... including a large hammerhead shark!

The shark won its heat, but unfortunately didn't win the competition outright.  Having looked up "Predator" (as the model was named) on the internet, I realised that the mechanism for moving the shark would be extremely complicated, so if I wanted to build my own, how could it be done?

The answer was very simple - build the shark the same way you'd build a model submarine!  Fit a propeller (hidden discreetly beneath the body), use the tail as a rudder, and have the pectoral (side) fins control the model's up and down movement in the water. 

Whilst a radio-controlled shark would no doubt look cool, I wanted to do something extra with it; something that would really turn heads.  What could turn heads more than a model of THE killer shark, Bruce from the movie "Jaws"??

Introducing the star of our show: Bruce, the mechanical great white shark

The cinematic icon that is Bruce the shark.  For the movie, special effects designer Bob Mattey and his team designed and built three mechanical Great White Sharks - one full-bodied version, a left-to-right shark and a right-to-left shark. 

During production, Bruce proved particularly troublesome to operate, as the sea kept ravaging the shark's internal systems, rendering them inoperable for a considerable duration of the production schedule.  However, this technical nightmare became part of the enduring Jaws legend, heightening the tension by NOT showing you what was lurking beneath the surface of the water, and ultimately scaring you half to death when the beast first emerges...

(Photo: Eddie McCormack -

First things first...

Research.  How can I build a model shark like a submarine without resorting to using fibreglass moulding techniques, which I know nothing about??

Although you can't see it in this photo, this German U-boat (foreground) holds the answer to my building question.  It is built by simply gluing together, flat, lengths of balsa-wood, then sanding to shape and sealing with something suitable to keep the water out of it.  The space cut out of the planks of wood is for the radio gear - this is done prior to gluing all the wood together, naturally!!

If one wanted, one could modify the shape of the sub to obtain a pretty good-looking shark shape!

(Thanks to Andrew Gray for allowing me to view his model submarines, and to partake of his time and knowledge!)

A cunning plan...

Right then - put pencil to paper and get something down!!

This drawing shows the shark as originally envisaged - a generic Great White Shark.  Length is approximately 36" long, width approx. 6" (the mouth will be about 5" across). 

You can just make out the pencil lines for the location of the various electronics (battery, motors, servos, receiver etc), plus the propeller which just out rather inconspicuously (at least when viewed from above) ahead of the tail. 

You can also just make out the outline of the lower jaw which, with any luck, will open and close!

The rubber shark at the bottom of the pic is approximately 29" long and, unfortunately, is only a bath toy...

Bruce on paper...

Here you can see the drawing of the Great White Shark, with the Bruce fin and head overlaid on top. 

Although it looks complicated, the head was easier to get right than the dorsal fin!!  (Admittedly, this isn't a working drawing, but it serves the purpose of showing how the final result should look...)

It was only after drawing the shark, and standing back to admire it, that I remembered I had to sketch the model with its mouth CLOSED as well....!!

First wood cut...

Using the photograph supplied to me by Jaws fanatic Patrick Delaney, I made a couple of rough sketches before attacking my pile of balsa wood!!  As you can see in the photo above, this is the shape and size I arrived at: almost an inch taller, and a good inch wider than the original dorsal fin.

I set to a piece of 6mm balsa and first measured the fin's height against it and cut two pieces off the end of the plank, before carefully drawing the fin's shape onto them.  They were then cut out and glued together, and the whole thing left overnight to cure (the tab at the base is for securing into the shark's back during assembly).

The fin isn't quite finished - it needs sanding, a little shaping and some final detail before applying dope and paint...

Almost finished...

Here's the fin after sanding and doping, and application of detailing to the trailing edge.  On Pat's advice, I'm going to see if I have anything that's a sort of "dolphin grey" for the base coat, with a darker grey around the edges...


The finished article!

Here's Bruce's main dorsal fin after painting and detailing.  The first step on a long road...!!

Painting was done with an ordinary handbrush, then with a little application of a darker grey on top, I dabbed at the wet paint with a piece of tissue to blend the two greys together.  Who needs an airbrush, eh?!  (Well, I will when doing the rest of it!)