It looks like this year is the year of SPACE for LEGO. They are pumping out some lovely sets in multiple themes, including Technic. The latest wave appear to be some heavy hitters, especially with LEGO Technic 42181 VTOL Heavy Cargo Spaceship LT81. Space nerds a mile away did a double take when pictures started to surface. Plus, a marriage with Technic functions could be an epic pairing. So let’s take a deeper look at this beauty to see if the build is as fun as it looks. The set, which contains 1365 pieces, will be available March 1st and retail for US $109.99 | CAN $139.99 | UK £89.99.

The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews

Unboxing the parts, instructions, and sticker sheet

The box appears to be of medium size at first glance, but it’s actually quite thick and heavy! The front features the new SPACE banner with the retro logo. The back has a rad-looking shot of the tail as well as inlayed examples of the play features.

Inside are ten bags numbered 1-10 and an unnumbered bag with larger parts.

The box doesn’t display the accessories very prominently, but they are more visible on the front of the thick instruction book.

Both the instruction manual and stickers come in a cardboard sleeve to keep them safe from getting crumpled. There are a shocking number of stickers in the set, taking up a rather larger sheet (bigger than a piece of printer paper) and a smaller sheet for the little rover and cargo crate.

The build

We begin the build process with the central core of the spaceship, which is actually a giant handle. At the tail end we start work on the middle landing gear, while on the middle-front we add some gears for the mechanisms.

From there, we add more framework, including two large girders on either side. These have only been seen a few times in large sets, and only once in black in the John Deere 948L -II Skidder. In addition to the framework, a long Technic link connects the mechanism at the front to the back landing gear.

When the black gears are rolled, the landing gear extends, as seen in the GIF below.

Next up are the large turbines that sit at the back of the spaceship. Their internals look really awesome! However, they are about to get covered up by the paneling that goes around them.

It’s not difficult to take off the panels to see inside, at least at this stage, but it’s interesting that there are even stickered elements inside that you do not see unless you look for them by dismantling things. I’m not complaining though! It’s definitely a fun part of the build process.

Up next we add the side landing gears and some bracing. I love the technique on the arms of the landing gear, and how white bars are used in addition to the Technic liftarms. They give depth and detail to the whole thing. As far as the bracing goes, we’re seeing that great new reddish-orange for the first time in this model.

We’ll keep revisiting the landing gear, just because it’s so cool. It’s great that you can hold the handle at the center and with a flick of your thumb, can raise and lower the landing gear with a satisfying “shunk” sound.

Next, we bring in a whole lot more of that reddish-orange. Axles strung together with both a universal joint and a CV joint allow the mechanism for the wing turbines to come out and have them mounted at an angle.

As you can see below, they turn smoothly, with just the right amount of tension.

The turbines themselves are very similar to the ones at the back, though with some key differences, such as the small panels used as vents. Fortunately in this case, the panels that cover them are specifically built to be easily removed to look inside.

We’re almost done! Some additional panels fill out the back, as well as giant rotor blades for that cool dovetail. On one hand it’s a bit odd to have the gaping hole at the center. But the ability to put your hand there and swoosh it around makes it worth it!

Oh, and the whole “cargo” part of this spaceship? I forgot to snap a pic before moving on to the turbines, but before that, we add some scissor linkages on the underside.

The red “button” on top (which is really a ellipse-rounded Technic liftarm) controls the hooks. They can be locked into place in the closed position or open and closed to pick up cargo. It looks like the designers slipped in a little cheeky bit with the eye-like printed 1×1 round tile. It gives the appearance of a Muppet monster opening its mouth.

One of the final components of the whole thing is the cockpit. The seats look the same as those from the Mars Crew Exploration Rover. In fact, these say “03” and “04” while those say “01” and “02” in the center. Oddly, seat #03 has a white 2×2 tile in front of it that seems like it desperately needs something on it. There are so many stickers in this set, it’s shocking that they didn’t add one more. But I guess if you look at the sticker sheet, it’s pretty packed as-is. Still, why was this not printed with a re-usable decal? Or somehow have the same “screen” seen in the rover? Weird.

A couple of bubble windscreens fit around the seats and other detail bits are added to finish the cockpit. The perpendicular (AKA flip-flop) liftarm that connects it all to the body of the spaceship is fitted with frictionless pins, give the cockpit a gimbal effect when the ship is tilted.

Finally, the build wraps up with a tiny rover and cargo crate. These items are almost like a totally separate set was thrown in with the spaceship – a lovely bonus.

The rover has a couple of knob gears at its center, making for a fun, worm-like, steering mechanism.

And now, let’s take a step back and look at our handiwork…

The completed model

Boy, does the ship look fabulous! This model is slick! The lines, and especially the dovetail, give it a viper-like flair. Very cool!

With the added weight, the turbines aren’t really meant to be turned by directly rotating them. Therefore they don’t totally move together if you do it that way. But their weight does help to make them move smoothly when you use the gears at the center.

Again, just look at that! Head on, and coming front straight behind, this model oozes cool.

And here you can see both the turbine and landing gear mechanism. Single-handed. Easy. Smooth.

Conclusions and recommendations

As you have probably picked up by now, I love this model! Plain and simple. I’m currently reviewing the entire March 1st wave of the Technic line, and it might be my favorite of the whole bunch. It looks awesome, has great play features, and is soooo swooshable. It’s everything you want in a good spaceship. Plus, the price isn’t insane. It’s within a reasonable price-per-piece and even includes a few of the more expensive parts. Whether you’re into Technic or Space, or just like cool things, I would highly recommend this set.

As mentioned, I’m covering the entire Technic wave. Stay tuned for more reviews by watching our main page, or our Technic, Space, and Review archives!

LEGO Technic 42181 VTOL Heavy Cargo Spaceship LT81 will be available March 1st and retail for US $109.99 | CAN $139.99 | UK £89.99.

The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews

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