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.

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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).

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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

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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…

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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 the 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 early 1970s.  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.

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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