Midway to Another Obsession, III

Here in my final installment of my series on building the USS Midway, we will get to the finishing touches of the model.  So far we’ve researched the history of the ship and its various rebuilding phases, and had a go at identifying and installing the important modifications.  This time we put on all the stuff that makes the ship come to life (in 1/800 scale, more or less).

When we last spoke, I was saying how it was time to have a thought about the air wing components before we attach the deck to the hull. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back and build the ship.  Sounds reasonable? I thought so too.

So you’ve decided on your phase of the ship.  Assemble the hull per instructions, with the following considerations:

  • The flight deck and up, and the hull below the flight deck, can be considered separate sub-assemblies and you can build in either order. Last time I talked a lot about modifications to the island. If you build those first and attach the island to the deck before building the hull, that’s OK– but I would install all the deckside catwalk assemblies first.
  • Omit the outboard rudders. The Midway was built with only two, and always had only two. They were enlarged during one of the later rebuilds, but the number remained the same. File off the mounts for the extra rudders.  (Yeah, I didn’t discover this until it was too late.)
  • If you’re modeling anything post-1977, omit the three 5″ guns.
  • Build platforms for the Sparrow launchers and (post-1985) the Phalanx units. The Sparrow boxes are simply squares of .040 styrene with some notches cut in them to represent the launch tubes; the Phalanxes were carved from bits of sprue to shape.
  • Don’t install the deck-edge radio antennas.  See comments below.
  • Refer back to my instructions for installing the hangar deck.

Once the hull is done, see my remarks about paint colors. Those apply to everything above the waterline.  Paint that area first.  Everything below it is an anti-fouling red, with a black waterline stripe. Here my model railroading materials came in handy. Southern Pacific Scarlet is a pretty good shade for the red.  I masked at the waterline and sprayed the red. Once it was good and dry I applied some fat black railroad stripes along the waterline, then overcoated everything with a semi-gloss clear spray.


Now, onward to the air group research!  Thanks to the interwebs, I came across a website that has that exact information.  Since I have chosen to model the ship as she appeared in Desert Storm, I had a look at the page and came up with the following squadron list for the ship:

  • VFA-151 Vigilantes (F/A-18A)
  • VFA-195 Dambusters  (F/A-18A)
  • VFA-192 Golden Dragons (F/A-18A)
  • VA-185 Nighthawks (A-6E)
  • VA-115 Eagles  (A-6E)
  • VAW-115 Liberty Bells (E-2C)
  • VAQ-136 Gauntlets (EA-6B)
  • HS-12 Wyverns (SH-3H)

To distill that down for you, for 1991 you need the following aircraft types:  F/A-18, A-6E, EA-6B, E-2C, and SH-3H.  Fortunately, the stock sprue with the kit includes all of these.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough.  Fortunately, I had some leftover F/A-18s from helping my friend model the Kitty Hawk, so I managed a convincing-enough deckload of aircraft for my purposes.  Feel free to source these from other places– in fact, one can buy aftermarket planes (such as the 1/700 ones by Trumpeter) that are of much better detail than the ones included in the kit.  I didn’t bother.  Incidentally, refer to the prior discussion about the fuzzy scale of this ship– I think the 1/700 planes would look just fine here.

Now, a word about the Navy’s aircraft tactical paint standards.  As it turns out, 1991 was a transitional period.  A new, darker gray tactical protocol had been in  place for a couple of years, but if you look at photos of 1991 not all aircraft had been repainted.  I decided to mix the schemes in my air group.  I can’t tell you which squadrons were still in the old paint, so I just arbitrarily picked some for each scheme.  The leftover F/A-18’s from the Kitty Hawk were already in light gray anyway, so I simply painted the ones that came in my kit into the darker tactical scheme.  My A-6’s are about a half-and-half mix; the EA-6’s all got the dark tactical scheme.

The next thing to consider is that each squadron is allowed one “show bird”, typically flown by the Squadron commander or the CAG, with a flashy colorful paint scheme (the rest of the birds in the squadron will have a shades-of-gray rendering of the design).  Now, painting a show bird in 1/800 is a challenging exercise!  I decided to do the CO’s plane for the VFA-195 Dambusters (F/A-18A, green/yellow), the VFA-192 Golden Dragons (F/A-18A navy/yellow), and the VAW-115 Liberty Bells (E-2C).  I also painted the two SH-3H choppers differently: one in the 1980’s light gray and the other in the later tactical gray.  Now, finding what these “show bird” schemes looked like in 1991 is challenging, but I made my best guess again on this.

And finally: carrier aircraft have folding wings in nearly all cases; definitely all cases for my timeframe. But the tiny little planes provided in the kit do NOT have folded wings.  Considering that wings are nearly always folded except when in the take-off cycle or when landing, this means that the modeler gets to spend a lot of effort chopping and re-attaching tiny little wings onto tiny little aircraft.  Rather than get specific, I’ll merely counsel you to do your photographic research on where to cut them and how to install them properly.  And if you believe that you’re a real badass modeler, fold the rotors on the choppers, correctly.  It took me one try…

USS Midway Deck Activity
The busy deck of a carrier must be run like a well-oiled machine. In this shot, we see the Golden Dragons’ CO ship being directed towards the catapult. Other planes are moving into position under the watchful eyes of aircraft directors. To the right, the catapult crew are stepping away as the Dambusters’ CO readies to shoot.

OK.  Now that you’ve decided your era and sorted out the appropriate aircraft, process a couple of them by folding their wings and painting them, and cement them to the hangar deck just inside the elevator door.  I put a drop of gel superglue on each landing gear and then position them.  I really don’t recommend using the MEK for this; too much can go wrong.  For one thing, if it comes loose inside the ship, then what do you do?


OK, let’s assume that the modified island has been installed, along with the crane and all the superstructures; you’ve attached the deck; you’ve mounted the Sparrows and Phalanxes; you’ve installed all the other hull details in the instructions; you’ve cemented the deck onto the hull.  Now is a good time to do the rotable deck-edge antennae.  Last time I suggested waiting till later to install them, recall?  OK, now is the time.  But do this: trim off all the antennas from the mounts, and throw them far away.  Keep one for reference.  After seeing how chunky the stock antennas looked in my test photos, I replaced them with styrene .022 X .022″ posts. Even this is a little heavy, but the styrene attaches more securely than using steel wire so I chose to go that way.  For the double antennas, cut a small rectangle of .010 sheet and cement the posts to that, then install the mounting tab under the catwalks, then cement the antenna assembly to the tab at an angle parallel to the horizon.  Consult photos. Paint these light-medium gray.

USS Midway
USS Midway, bow view. Note the folded antennae.

Oh, a funny thing about the Midway’s paint. As she appeared in 1991, her deck was a typical dark gray shade (mine is too light, but oh well); her hull was actually a lighter shade than most other carriers in the fleet, and her island was actually a darker shade of gray than most other ships. I ended up using Model Master Medium Gray for the island, and mixing my own lighter shade for the hull.  Also notice how the front end of the island is painted black, as is the port side below the catwalks, and all superstructure above the level of the stacks.

USS Midway, stern
USS Midway, stern view. Note the landing signal array and the supporting hanging gallery.

There’s one detail that I initially was going to omit, mostly because of the work involved, and that is the little gallery under the flight deck astern.  The vertical optical landing assist array (not sure the exact nomenclature here, but it’s the 2-piece orange assembly that hangs down behind the landing deck centerline) is attached to this.  But after I had basically completed the ship, the omission kept bugging me and I finally caved in.  It’s basically a square box that hangs down, with equal openings on each side.  A catwalk connects to the fantail, supported by a couple of struts.  Refer to the photos.  I installed that, then fabricated some strips with bumps on them, and installed all of that.  The gallery gets the light hull color, and the strips a yellow/orange shade.

Blast Deflector
Scratch-built blast deflector behind the port catapult.

Another detail I really wanted was the jet blast deflector(s).  To model one I cut a piece of .010 styrene in a suitable rectangle, figured out where it should be mounted (note: do NOT trust the markings on the Arii model’s deck), and cut four tiny pieces of .022 square strip to support it at the right angle.  Consult real photos, and mine here, to get the idea.  Since I was modeling a launch cycle with part of the foredeck cluttered with aircraft, only the port-side catapult is in use and I could get away with making just one. Incidentally, on the real ships the deflector drops into a recess on the deck, but I wasn’t going to carve that out.  Instead I just painted a lighter rectangle to represent the recess.

Elevator No. 2 Detail
View from starboard aft, showing Elevator No. 2 and adjacent details. Note the placement of the mobile crane and the tractors behind it. Also note the aircraft on the hangar deck, visible below.

Don’t forget about the mobile crane and the two donkeys. The real ship had a swarm of these low plane-handling tractors, but the kit only includes two. Paint them in the same safety yellow shade as the landing array– I used Accuflex D&RGW Yellow, a railroad color that’s basically School Bus Yellow.

Also- let’s chat about the decals. The Arii kit has raised marks that correspond with the decals (for the most part). There are a couple of things to note, before you apply them.

  • The landing deck center stripe was far too orange on my decal sheet– it should be closer to yellow. However, I just gritted my teeth and used it anyway.
  • Post-1986 the Navy omitted that long arrowed line that starts across from the island and goes to the bow. This is a guideline for Harrier jets. The deck has it molded in; again, grit your teeth, or sand it off before painting.
  • The “foul lines” on the forward deck are molded on but no decals are provided.  I used a fine brush and some white calligraphy ink to spot in each stripe for these lines.  Painstaking but not as hard as it sounds.
  • The large “41” deck numerals are the wrong style for my period. Correct ones are available from aftermarket vendors. I just gritted my teeth.  The molded ones on the deck are not a perfect match, either.
  • The raised numerals on the sides of the island: whiskey tango foxtrot?!?  I’m wearing my teeth down to stumps now.

I use Microscale Micro-Sol to set the decals into place.  This dissolves most of the film leaving the graphics behind.  Just be really careful and don’t touch these while processing; they look dry when they are NOT.

After all of your decals are in place, overspray the deck and island with matte or flat finish. Mine’s a little too shiny but I’ll just pretend it’s raining…


At this stage of construction, the ship itself is essentially complete. Now it’s time to bring it to life.  We do this with the aircraft, and– yes– with people.  Tiny, tiny little people.

Having decided on our era, and having identified the composition of the air group, it’s time to decide what they are doing right now.  This gives you a lot of latitude.  For instance, the ship could be just cruising right now, with planes stowed all over the deck. Or it could be running limited patrols.  Or it could be in port (go back and cut off all those horizontal antennas and mount them vertically!).  Or it could be in a launch cycle.  Or a landing cycle.  Or the second or third launch cycle of a major raid.  Or the second or third landing cycle.  Each situation can be depicted by how the planes are spotted, and by what the deck crew are doing.

(I’m assuming that, like me, you will permanently mount your planes so that they don’t get lost or anything.  If not, ignore the bits about glue that follow.)

Overhead view
USS Midway, view of a launch cycle just underway.

Since my era is Desert Storm, I decided to set things up during a launch cycle, probably a second or third one, where a followup strike is being sent into Iraq. Some of the planes landed from earlier strikes have been stashed forward, so only the port catapult is available right now.  An A-6 is being fueled near the No. 3 elevator, and another is being armed across the deck from it.  One of the choppers is preparing to take off for plane guard duty.  The Dambuster CO is on the catapult, engines at full military power, while other aircraft queue up to launch. A pair of E2-C’s and a second chopper are parked by the island.

Jet Fuelers
Aircraft fuel crew in action. Purple shirts are the oilers, and the safety observer is in white.

What brings this scene to life is the presence of the appropriately-colored and appropriately-sized crewmembers around the deck.  These I discovered online, and just had to have them.  They’re made by Eduard, a Czech company, and are 1/800 scale etched metal. Each one is painted in one of the correct deck uniforms for a modern US carrier.  I paid about $13, which seems a lot, but there are plenty of pieces provided to outfit several ships.  I mounted around 45 of them and there are many more remaining.

Port View
Center of ship from portside. The island details show up well here, as well as the crowded deck action. Note the starboard comms tower just forward of the No. 1 elevator. This I scratchbuilt.

A note about painting the aircraft: these were all done by hand. Some were airbrushed while on the sprue for the overall color, but I had to hand-paint the canopies (navy blue) and any other details that required it, especially on the show birds. Note the EA-6B above in the center– I tried very hard to get the multiple windows right.  Given the tiny size, the shakiness of 56-year-old hands, and the magnification involved, I thought they turned out pretty well.  Same thing on the crane and the tractors.  Aircraft national emblem decals came with the kit and they are helpful, but not very accurate for the later tactical schemes since they are too prominent. I used them anyway.

To attach planes and people, I use gel superglue, applied sparingly to the the contact points (the landing gear for the planes, the legs for the crew).  I had to use high-powered magnifiers to do the crew successfully, as well as a fine set of tweezers.  I also had to be super careful to not knock down previously-added crewmembers when putting on more tiny little dudes. Occasionally I had to prop them up while the glue set.  Even with that I had a couple of instances of “man overboard” (yet another reason I was glad the Eduard set had many extras).

USS Midway
Aerial view from port. The finished ship, showing off her unique lines and her ability to project power from the sea and air in the defense of freedom.

And there you have it.  The project that kept growing and growing has been finalized at last.  Enormously satisfying, after four years of wanting to reach this point.

Done.  Right?  Well, what’s a carrier without its battle group?  Destroyers and cruisers and frigates and even subs…

Stay tuned as I build the cruiser USS Bunker Hill in 1/700-ish!   actionroadlogobang

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Midway to Another Obsession, II

In my previous post I described the lead-up to my shipbuilding project, the USS Midway in 1/800 scale. This time we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of the project.

So, as mentioned, my starting point was to use an Arii 1/800-scale model kit.  And also as mentioned, I soon discovered a few issues and challenges.  Not surprising when your target is in constant motion.  My original goal was to build the model in the post-1986 configuration, but the kit is much closer to 1971.  Once I figured that out, it became a matter of ferreting out which features were added, changed, or removed– and when.  Oh, and there’s that other minor matter: I had to decide when enough was enough.  Just how picky did I want to get with the accuracy?

For the first, the ferreting of features, I figured that photos were far and away the finest and fastest way to find diFFerences (couldn’t think of any synonyms that started with F, sorry).  But it turns out that there are official US Navy drawings on the interwebs that shows the whole 1986 project in fine detail.  Just a simple matter of comparing photos and drawings to the out-of-the-box model, right?  Well, sorta.  I’ll explain in a bit.  But  that’s the basic idea.

For the second, deciding on the level of accuracy and detail, that’s driven by the following factors:

  • Difficulty, i.e. just how many lifetimes would it take to execute the change?  Did I want to widen the hull?  Did I want to get every single bump on every single catwalk correct?
  • Cost.  Do I want to buy frets of aftermarket brass railings, additional aircraft and such?
  • Size.  How fine can you model with styrene in 1/800?

I have lots of styrene structural shapes and in varying thickness of sheet material, so I felt confident I could fabricate most things I needed to do.

Midway’s island as it comes in the kit, starboard side. Here’s where most of the major modifications take place.

Basically, I ended up deciding to focus on the island modifications.  There are major things going on there, as compared with the as-built version– and the 1971 version is not all that different from the 1945 appearance, really.  I also decided to do a few things with the weapons on the sponsons, as mentioned in the previous post.

So: a simple matter of determining the conversion factor between the drawings and the model so I could build the add-ons, right?  WRONG.  I carefully calculated the ratio and measured out parts, painstakingly assembled them to the island, and… and… they just looked wrong.  Something wrong with my arithmetic?  I started measuring stuff again.  Then I’d measure in a different place.  Then I’d reference the empirical measurements on the blueprint.  Nothing added up.  So I started measuring different dimensions on the model and comparing to the blueprint, calculating the scale.  And, guess what?  Depending on the measurement, I got scales ranging between about 1/710 through 1/790.  Um, that’s a 10% variance in some cases!  Guess what, people?  This model is far from being a 1/800 model, or really any scale at all!  Basically it’s too tall for its length.  And that’s being generous in a generalized way. If one were to draw a line down the middle of the points on the graph, best guess is somewhere around 1/755 in average, give or take.

Well, heck.

What this means is: basically build stuff so it looks more-or-less right, and adjust it so that it fits in the available space.

If that’s not enough to make you throw your hard-won eBay prize in the ashcan, we’ll keep going.  Actually knowing that took some of the pressure off, because one of the things I do best is carving and filing.  Okay, that’s two things.

Here’s what you need to add to the island structure, taking the large view:

  • The radar room and platform (as originally built), on the starboard side of the funnel. (There’s one included in the kit, but it’s not right.)
  • The comms room just ahead of this.
  • The upper comms room that sits on the island just forward of the funnel.
  • The radar room / deckhouse structure aft of the island, including its legs and cross-bracing.
  • The radar tower itself (bwahahaha!)

And one other thing: if you think I’m giving you all the dimensions, think again.  Download the drawing and go through the agony yourself!  You’re no better than me.

 

 

Modified island, starboard side. In this image, the forward leg of the aft radar structure and the adjoining boxy addition are not yet installed. Note the hole in the deck for installing the crane; this will be plugged when the crane is moved outboard.

So, refer to the photos above and below.  The white stuff is the stuff I added.

Island, port side (i.e. facing the flight deck). Note the bracing on the bottom side of the radar room, and the struts on the back side of the large radar antenna.

 

Island, view from forward. Note the overhang of the comms rooms to starboard (to the left in this view).

Here’s where I will stop and point out the one single thing I’m most unhappy about: those two projecting comms rooms on the starboard side of the island.  They’re definitely oversize, especially the aft room.  I couldn’t decide whether it was enough of an overage to cut them off and start over, and eventually decided just to keep them.  Oh well.  Once all the other details are added to the superstructure, they’re lost in the clutter somewhat anyway, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

I originally started to rough-in some railings, using trimmings from .010 styrene, but I jumped the gun.  Should have done all of that last.  A lot of them got knocked off with handling.  If you want to spend a couple dozen dollars you can get brass railing material in 1/800; I didn’t bother.  It’s that choice we all have to make about what is good enough for us.

So here’s a few comments about the construction.  I used sheet .020 styrene for all the flat surfaces, which is a great material because you can cut it with scissors.  The legs under the radar house are H-column trimmed to fit.  The radar tower (a challenging sub-assembly) is four legs of thin styrene rod, I believe 1/16″.  Crossmembers are HO-scale 2X2, which is .022 X .022″. The three decks on the tower are .010″ styrene.  The front-right deckhouse leg consists of two laminated strips of .020; the inboard piece extends flush to the deck whereas the outboard layer overlaps the deck edge.  The radar antenna was scored with my Exacto in a crosshatch pattern to simulate the gridwork.

DSC_0525
Island add-ons, from port quarter.

I added most of the stock details from the kit; a few are excluded due to later mods.  For instance, after the guns were removed there was no need for a gun director and so it was also uninstalled. There is a section of starboard catwalk that must be trimmed off to make room for the passage at front right of the radar room/deckhouse.  I replaced the radar on the mainmast with the one that would have gone on the lateral radar platform (trimmed slightly on each end to fit).

DSC_0521
Completed island, starboard.

There are a couple of relocations that become necessary.  First, the secondary (aft) mast does not get installed in its original location but is shifted to the left and is attached to the port wall of the Radio & ECM Room just forward of the funnel.  Second, the main crane must be shifted outboard to clear the new superstructure elements.  When I did this, I carefully trimmed off the mounting post and used it to fill the hole in the deck, then just cemented the crane to the new location.  I strongly suspect that this was moved on the real ship in the 1966 rebuild as well. A truly great modeler would have taken the time to ream out the spaces in the crane girder, but I lean slightly to the impatient, lazy end of the spectrum (my family would disagree) and I did not go to that trouble.

Side note: my styrene cement of choice is methyl-ethyl ketone (MEK).  Plastruct sells it in a bottle with a brush applicator, but I refill my bottle from a can that I bought at Ace Hardware at a fantastically-reduced price per ounce.  Just be careful that you don’t overdo it or you can ruin delicate parts– and especially paint.

But First!  (Don’t you hate it when you hear that?)  Don’t attach the deck just yet.  The kit comes with an option of installing the No. 2 (starboard side aft) aircraft elevator in the up or the down position.  I decided to go with down, which meant having the hangar doors open (i.e. omit the kit part), which meant, having to install the hangar deck.  I installed some supporting members and cut a piece of .040 styrene for the hangar deck.  Since not much of it’s visible I only did a portion of it.  This also means that you should prepare a couple of aircraft now so you can install them inside the elevator opening.  At this point you want to skip ahead to the discussion of eras and the appropriate air groups for your chosen era. That discussion occurs in a future blog entry which hasn’t been written yet, so I suggest you either wait a bit, or become clairvoyant.

Now, back to the ship.  There are a few other comments I need to make about the construction.  The kit’s instructions have you install the deck-edge whip antennae at a rather early stage of the construction.  If you want the ship rigged as if it is in port, then go ahead.  If you want to show it in operation, read on.  While at sea these antennae swivel out and are basically parallel to the ground… um, water.  This is for obvious reasons.  But the kit doesn’t mold them that way.  So you must cut them and reattach the whips at a 90-degree orientation. This makes them more delicate (ask me how I know).  If I had it to do over again, I’d just wait until nearly everything else is done before tackling that part of the assembly.  I also had to replace three with pieces of .018 wire since they mysteriously vanished. The wire antennae looks so much better than the chunky plastic ones that I wish I had just replaced all of them!  Oh well, maybe some other time.


And speaking of some other time, this blog post has become rather lengthy, so I will address the painting and finishing, and the aircraft complement, in a third installment yet to come.  I must go attend to a family matter (funeral of my mother) next week, so there may be some delay, but fear not.  actionroadlogobang

Midway to Another Obsession…

The USS Midway was a one-of-a-kind ship for her last two decades. Perfect for a modeling project!

As I have hinted at, my modeling endeavors do go beyond model railroading.  Going back as far as pre-adolescence, I’ve had a fascination with military models, including aircraft and especially navy ships.  However, I hadn’t built a model of one since I was a teenager.  And in fact, many of my models met rather dramatic ends.  (One involved a motorized version of the Franklin D. Roosevelt, which took its final cruise on Viele Lake in Boulder carrying a cargo of firecrackers and a slow-burning fuse.  A sudden loud bang and the ship was simply… not there. These days you’d be arrested for that.)

As an adult, there was an understanding in our marriage that I should limit the number of hobbies I allowed to dominate my time, with which terms I fully concurred. I tend to go off the deep end.  However, with time and more prosperity and fewer children in the home, these restrictions have been relaxed.  The first foray back into shipbuilding was initiated by a decision to do a solid for a buddy of mine.  His father had served on the USS Kitty Hawk during the late 1970s, and I decided to surprise him with a kit of said ship, and help him build it.  Since I wanted it to be a companionable enterprise (so to speak), I decided to build a ship of my own.  My own interests favor the WW2 era, and I scored a kit of the IJN Kaga from eBay.  For those who don’t remember, she was one of the six Japanese aircraft carriers taking part in the Pearl Harbor Raid, and one of the four that was sunk at the battle of Midway some six months later.  As things turned out, I couldn’t wait for schedules to align and actually built the Kaga before we ever started on the Kitty Hawk.  So, I got a kit of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and built that alongside its later, newer cousin when we finally got our timing worked out.  Those ships are for another post to come later.  (Not coincidentally, it was planes from the Enterprise that sank the Kaga.)

Meanwhile, I had gotten to take a tour of the actual USS Midway, now a museum ship in San Diego harbor.  Dude, if you ever get the chance to visit her, DO IT!  It’s a rather mind-blowing experience for those who haven’t served in the Navy.  In 2001 I had toured the USS Lexington at Corpus Christi, but the Midway was more impressive, mostly because of her larger size.  I also had a digital camera, and took a couple hundred photos.  From that time in 2013 I had vainly haunted the internet looking for a kit of her in her later configuration.  Finally in late 2016 I spotted one on eBay, a 1/800 scale model made by Arii, and basically paid whatever it took to win the auction.  Don’t ask me how much, that’s a closely-guarded secret, but your whole family could eat well at Olive Garden and leave a substantial tip for the lucky server, too…

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA
USS Midway Museum in San Diego.

Thus the background.  This spring I finally cleared the schedule and got out the kit of the Midway.  I had been plowing around the internet for images for quite a while, and I began studying them– as well as my own shots– and I slowly began to realize that this was going to be a bigger challenge than I had realized.  Because, as it turned out, the Midway was sort-of the Navy’s own 1:1 scale modeling project.  Not only had they completely rebuilt the ship twice, they never stopped twiddling and tweaking her.  Much like many railroad projects, a modeler must ultimately select an era or even a date and then build the model to match that timeframe.  This is either really frustrating, or really challenging and satisfying, depending on your commitment and personality.

USS_Midway_(CV-41)_deck_plans_1945,_1957_and_1970
USS Midway’s three major phases (left to right): As built in 1945; as modified in 1957; as modified in 1970.

Let’s take a step back and answer the question: Why model the Midway?  Maybe some historical perspective would help.  There are many good references out there (e.g. Navsource Online), but here are the high points.  The Midway was designed as the lead ship of a new class of aircraft carrier, first laid down in 1943 and completed a week after the Japanese surrender. It was far larger than any existing carriers; indeed it was the largest ship in the world of any kind for a full decade.  When it was designed, the idea of the angled (“canted”) deck had not yet been floated, as it were, so Midway’s deck was straight– meaning, takeoff operations on the bow, landing operations on the stern, with one shot at landing.  Only in the 1950’s were some carriers retrofitted with an angled deck that allowed aircraft to touch-and-go in case they failed to snag an arresting cable with the tailhook.  This also allows plane-launching to carry on simultaneous with landing ops, something impossible on traditional carriers. Midway received that modification in 1957, which also included an enclosed “hurricane” bow, relocated elevators, and stronger catapults.  In this configuration she served during the early parts of the Vietnam war.  Meanwhile, newer classes of “super-carriers” were being developed that could outperform the Midway class and their older cousins, the modified Essex-class ships.  Midway was thought to be large enough for additional modifications, so she went back into the shipyard in February 1966.  When she emerged in January 1970, after massive cost overruns, her flight deck space had been increased to four acres, along with many other improvements.midway-1979-10-io

It is roughly this stage in her history that the Arii kit reproduces.  Unfortunately for us modelers, it was not long before more modifications cropped up.  In rough order, these were: removal of the three remaining 5-inch guns; addition of a radar sponson on the starboard side of the island structure; construction of a new radar room and tower abaft the funnel (and eventual removal of the radar array from the previously-mentioned addition); construction of new communications rooms atop and on starboard side of the island; addition of Sparrow missile batteries on starboard bow and portside aft sponsons.  Dating from 1970 her seakeeping was worse than before– too much weight and spread on that 1943 hull, even though it had been widened somewhat.  In 1986 the ship went back into the yard for wider hull blisters to try to correct the problem, but the engineering was faulty and the ship’s dramatic roll speed actually increased.  Studies were done to correct the issue, but funding and time ran out.  The grand old lady still served up through the Gulf War, where she was flagship in the Persian Gulf, and the following year she assisted in the Subic Bay evacuations after Mount Pinatubo exploded.  That was it; she was retired in 1992 after 47 years of service.  She was reborn as a museum ship in 2004.

The Midway was a one-of-a-kind ship for her last two decades.  The other two ships in her class never received the later upgrades.  She bears a distant resemblance to the larger “supercarriers” built from 1958 forward, but any close examination quickly reveals her unique characteristics.  Perfect for a modeling project!

So, you get an idea of the modeling challenge: one must basically pick a year and learn everything about that time that one can.


Taking the kit out of the box, I jumped in happily and started cementing things together.  I got as far as installing the 5″ guns when I happened to realize that I could not recall seeing these in any photos.  Research quickly revealed that they’d been removed in the late 1970s (summer of 1977, as it turns out).  I thought it over and decided to remove the guns, since I wanted to model the 1980’s configuration.  I cut them off and started to scratch-build Sparrow launchers, when I noticed that the aft sponsons (below the flight deck) didn’t seem to be shaped anything like the photos.  Back to the research.  This is where I discovered that nasty bit about the 10-foot-wide blisters installed on each side of the hull.  Widen the hull?  How was I supposed to do that? The more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed to do it right.  And thus was born a compromise: I would focus on the topside modifications and basically not worry about the hull.  It had other problems anyway, and it just wasn’t worth the extra man-hours to try to fix it.  So I installed the Sparrow launchers, and roughed up a couple of Phalanx batteries for the starboard and port quarter sponsons (I had to add platforms for these), and just called it good.  Sue me.

DN-ST-92-03733
Sailors form a message of farewell on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS MIDWAY (CV-41) as the ship heads out to sea after leaving U.S. Naval Station, Yokosuka, Japan, for the last time. The MIDWAY, which has been based in Japan since 1973, will be replaced by the aircraft carrier USS INDEPENDENCE (CV-62) as the Navy’s forward-based aircraft carrier.

All of this led me to put a halt to construction and spend a bunch more time researching the ship.  Google Images. Wikipedia. Air group histories.  Midway veterans websites.  And I realized that I needed to pick a date and stick to it.  Once confronted with that decision, I realized what I really wanted to do was capture the ship’s final blaze of glory, Desert Shield/Storm.  The Gulf War was the era I wanted. actionroadlogobang


NEXT UP: Building the USS Midway as she appeared in 1991