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1/72 USN Carrier hangar deck diorama

James G

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Hi All. I'm back with another project, indulging my 'other' modelling passion: US Naval aviation. I had the idea a while back to do a carrier hangar deck diorama, with the initial stumbling block being the lack of photographic reference material. Some time after that I came across the website Alamy, which has thousands of high quality images of activities taking place 'below decks' on US carriers. I had some time earlier this year between finishing one job and starting the next, so I started planning. I liked the look of a parked F/A-18C Hornet, in the corner of the hangar bay, undergoing maintenance with some other pieces of gear nearby. I came up with some scale drawings, mapping out the elements I wanted to include, using some real-world measurements that I had found, plus a fair bit of 'relative scaling', based on the scale drawings I have of the Hornet and a 1/72 figure (see below):




I already had the very nice Academy Hornet kit:




And I went a little crazy buying aftermarket sets for it, we have: Aires cockpit, radar and gear bays; Squadron wheels; Eduard painting masks; Wolfpack jet nozzles/exhausts and additional PE details from Fine Molds.




The quality of moulding, particularly the Aires sets is absolutely stunning. I think I will need a magnifying visor to paint them. I also got some aftermarket decals, depicting the CAG aircraft (Bu No 164682) from a 2005 cruise of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) (despite, confusingly, a tail decals saying 'USS John C Stennis'). I will use some of the kits stencils, etc. too. I plan to model CVN-76 as I have the best reference pictures for that ship, more on that below.




And, I got some reference material. I had not heard of the Duke Hawkins series before, but I highly recommend them, not overly expensive and with great walkaround detail shots.




And.... more aftermarket stuff (couldn't help myself)! We have an A/S32A-32 'Spotting Dolly' and US Navy Nitrogen Cart (not Oxygen Cart as it says on the bag!). Both superb little kits from Brengun. I got the Flightpath carrier deck diorama set (has lots of useful items), and purchased some extra fine chain. The Verlinden deck tractor I will probably keep for another diorama, and the Brengun tie-down points are extras, you get some in the Flighpath set but I will no doubt need more in future! Last but not least I have a couple of the stunning Reedoak 3D printed resin figures, 100% the best model figures I have seen. Everything else for the dio will come from the spares box.




I also got this lighting kit as the diorama will have a bit of 'ceiling' with lights hanging down, they are quite prominent in pictures. I am in no way handy or experienced with electronics but the seller assured me that the set below was pretty much 'plug and play'...we will see!





Work has started in a limited way, I have made the basic superstructure from spare mdf we had lying around, with plastic 'skin' on the outside. Annoyingly, I could not get the parts precision cut so I had to do it by hand with a tenon saw...not too bad but not as straight as I would have liked. This will be the least fun bit I think, trying to get everything to line up and square off. You can see top left where I have screwed and glued the side and end walls together, the mdf has split a bit. Here's where I asked the BM hive mind - what is the best tool for squaring off the outside edges? I was thinking something like an orbital sander, ideally I don't want to buy a new tool if I can help it, and would rather hire one to do the job. Any suggestions welcomed. Also, I have bought a piece of perspex for the deck upper layer (the piece on which the tie-down points are marked). What is the best combination of drill and bit for perspex please? I believe it is easy to crack if you use the wrong one. 





If anyone has the Wolfpack resin wingfold set for the Academy kit, and can bear to part with it PM me, it is the last piece of aftermarket I would like to track down...otherwise it will get done by hand. If anyone has any reference pics to share, please feel free I would be most grateful.

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love this idea, you should make it minimart so you can eventually do the whole hanger deck :) ( you have to dream )


I’d be more inclined to use an electric planer to line up the outside, the orbital sander would be inclined to round off the edges.


 Might be too late but I do remember that if you bought a sheet of MDF at B&Q they would cut it to order, I made several pieces of furniture including a kids wardrobe that way.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi all, I've got most of the...shall we say...'less fun' parts of the build out of the way. By this I mean the screwing/gluing together of the mdf structure of the diorama (I decided to put the roof, back wall and end wall together, and attach the base much later on); and also hacking large bits off the Academy Hornet to make way for resin parts! I did add the first bits of detail on the small end wall as this was straightforward to do. I still need to add some detail to the door, a couple of first aid boxes and I somehow need to scratchbuild the two wireframe stretchers that are mounted on the wall (see my drawing in the pics below). This is before even starting the main back wall and the roof! The holes in the ceiling that you can see in the third picture are for the LED lights.

I formulated a plan for the base; drill out holes for the tie-down points and mounts in the 3mm thick perspex sheet overlying the white mdf, then coat the rest of the deck in Tamiya texture paint. I can knock it back a bit with some sandpaper if it looks over-scale.

The bottom pic should give an idea of what the resin gear bays should look like on the Hornet. I opened up one small hatch on the top which a 'white-shirt' (Squadron Plane Inspector?) will be looking into. I've also done a little on the resin cockpit but nothing interesting enough to post yet...I will shortly be able to set up a painting station in our under-stairs cupboard. Will post again when I have laid down some paint on a few bits.











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This is going to look amazing when it’s done. I’m very impressed with those wheel bays in the Hornet too, it clearly shows how much better detail the aftermarket parts have. 

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20 hours ago, Lord Riot said:

This is going to look amazing when it’s done. I’m very impressed with those wheel bays in the Hornet too, it clearly shows how much better detail the aftermarket parts have. 

I quite agree, the detail on them is stunning and looks really accurate, I genuinely don't know how Eduard do it!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi all, I've made a bit of progress on the Hornet. First up the nose gear, I added quite a lot of detail to the kit part so that it matched the 'business' of the Eduard gear bay, using lead and copper wires, watch parts, spare PE, green stuff and plastic strip stock. The cover for the strut is a resin part that came with the gear bay. The brass-coloured parts are tie-down rings for attaching the tie-down chains to later. All he delicate parts got smidges of 2-part epoxy glue to hold them securely. Lastly I used a short length of guitar string to replicate the oleo link spring.








Below are a couple of shots of the resin cockpit parts, the strap arrangement on the ejection seat took a few hours as it was incredibly fiddly. You can just about see the PE rudder pedals beneath the main instrument panel. These are going to the paint shop soon...






And lastly we have a couple of shots of the main fuselage pieces, I managed to shoe-horn the Eduard main gear bays into place, the huge gap at the front was filled with green stuff. Unless you are a masochist like me you will not want to add these to an Academy Hornet (they are for the Hasegawa kit). I might add a couple of details to these green bits, though it is hard to see this area behind the main gear legs in any case. Speaking of the main gear legs, these will need to be lengthened because the resin bays are much deeper (and presumably more accurate) than the kit ones. The last pic shows a tiny panel (2.5 x 8mm) on the model next to the reference photo from my Duke Hawkins book. In the final diorama I plan to have at least one maintenance crew person reaching in to the bay, fixing something!






Thanks for looking, will post some more when I have painted some bits up.

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2 hours ago, 2lefthands said:

Stunningly good work!

I paint some Reedoak Figures at the moment and i share your opinion: absolutely the best figures i`ve seen and not even visible printing lines (in 1/48 that is)

Even fewer printing lines in 1/72!

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  • 5 weeks later...

Hi All, hope everyone is well. I've done a bit more on the Hornet, got the nose gear, nose gear bay and cockpit painted now. I've just got a couple of tiny things to tweak but I'm pretty happy with how the painted bits look. I tried a trick that I saw on a Plasmo video on youtube, namely gluing some iridescent nail foil to the MFDs on the instrument panel. It looks purplish in some lights, and electric blue/green in others...perhaps not completely accurate but I think it looks cool! I will probably add some of the nail foil to the HUD as well to make it pop. I recommend giving this stuff a go, got enough for a lifetime on ebay for a few quid.

The resin detail in the nose gear bay came up nicely after careful washing and painting, and the nose gear itself is mostly there, just needs a landing light and I think I have some suitably sized 'little lenses' somewhere.

The painting of the equipment in the 'hell hole' behind the ejection seat is somewhat fictional as I could not find good photos of the area, but I think it looks OK. I made my own cover from fine mesh, to be added post-main painting, as most photos show the mesh cover left half-off, and I thought that would look more realistic.

Once the cockpit is in there is a more tedious phase coming up, test-fitting and filling the gaps I've made to accommodate the resin upgrades, there are quite big ones where the resin main gear bays meet the kit parts, and I will have to detail them up properly so they don't look conspicuously bare! After that it's cutting out and repositioning the flaps, slats and rudders, and the parts for the folded wings. Will update in due course.












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On 12/6/2021 at 7:04 PM, FZ6 said:

Hi James, this is looking really good. Loof forward to seeing how you get on with this.


By the way, have you seen these?







Thanks Mark, hope you are well? Thanks for the link - I was planning on making intake covers as the kit intakes are not very good! I think from photos they are mostly covered when aircraft are below decks to avoid any bits getting in.

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  • 1 month later...

Hi All. I've had some travails with this diorama, feels like a case of 'one step forward, two steps back'! The main stumbling block was the rectangles of mesh-textured panels on the upper part of the main hangar deck. I am on attempt number three for representing this feature now; the first one was fine mesh superglued to the plastic, which looked rubbish under a coat of paint, so off it came! Number 2 was stippling concrete texture paint between the masked dividing lines. Under a coat of Mr Surfacer the texture was mostly lost, so that required another re-set. Attempt no.3 is pictured below - I got some textured sheet from my LHS next. As I so often do, I decided to make my modelling life difficult by scribing lines between the existing ones on the textured sheet. I appreciate that the result is over-scale, but I am relatively happy that it looks neat and regular (and also can think of no feasible alternatives)! Two panels down, 46 to go....😬

There is not much progress worth showing on the Hornet, but I am relatively happy with how that looks after managing to shoe-horn the resin landing gears bays in. The main gear bays had a considerable gap to the outside edge, which I filled with smoothed epoxy putty, and added some wiring and rib detail from Tamiya 'pla-paper' to blend it in. It looks all right under a coat of paint. As a change of pace, I switched to building the US Navy nitrogen cart (bottom two pics), as I fancied doing some painting and weathering. The PE front panel is not depicted, and I have left off the main wheels and surrounds for now for ease of painting. This is a great little kit from Bren Gun, I am adding some wiring to the back of the panel so I can run some 0.4mm wire into the tiny holes pictured, to link up to the nitrogen bottle valves - will post some pics of the nitrogen cart when it is done.










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2 hours ago, GlueDad said:

The work you’re putting into the Hornet is great inspiration for my own efforts with the Academy FA-18E in mucking about with over on the group build. 

Many thanks! I will head over to the group build page to check our your super bug.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi all, here's an in-progress shot of the nitrogen cart. Forgive my shocking ignorance, but I only learned today that it is used for inflating aircraft tyres! The next steps on the model are an Alclad clear coat to seal in the decals, wash, weather and assemble. I've painted the main gear bays on the Hornet too, will post some more pics when all these bits are finished.




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Hi all, hope everyone is well. I've finished the nitrogen cart, great little kit and lots of fun. In most pics I saw of the real carts they are heavily worn, scuffed and dirty, and that is the effect I have gone for here. Also at the bottom is a pic of the finished main gear bays on the Hornet. Regarding the diorama, I had yet another re-think on the textured panelling, and removed the brown-coloured plasticard (luckily I had only added 4 panels!), and I will make the panels in plain plasticard. Then the plan is to print some fine mesh texture onto decal paper and add it that way. The current slight hitch in this plan is that we currently have no printer! I am deciding between using a local print shop or a specialist decal printing service. Any advice on this front would be appreciated! Hope you like the pics, any constructive feedback welcome.













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