USS Coral Sea CV-43
Scratchbuilt in 1/700 scale by Frank Ilse
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Photo's by Klaus Bodig
The ship:

The USS Coral Sea was the third so called Aircraft Carrier Large (CVB) that was constructed taking into account the experiences of WW II. She was ordered from the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company on 14 June 1943 and her keel laid down on 10 July 1944. Launched on 2 April 1946, she was commissioned as CVB-43 on 1 October 1947. The other two ships of the class were USS Franklin D. Roosevelt and - giving the name to the whole class of three ships - USS Midway. Aside of the huge dimensions with 968 feet length, a flight deck beam of 113 feet and a draft of 35 feet the class featured an armored flight deck and had a capacity of 125 aircraft, not to mention the 18 five-inch-guns Coral Sea carried as primary antiaircraft battery. Coral Sea spent her early years as part of the Atlantic fleet with frequent deployments to the Mediterranean.

In 1957 the carrier was sent to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to undergo a 33 month conversion and modernization. This SCB 110A included incorporation of an angled flight deck, hurricane bow, three new steam catapults and the replacement of her two centerline elevators with three large deck edge elevators. After that conversion Coral Sea had the dimensions and appearance she remained until her decommissioning in spring 1990: 978 feet length, flight deck beam 236 feet and an aircraft capacity of about 80 modern jets. She was now classified as CV 43.

She was ready to see combat in Vietnam - and she saw a lot of it. Coral Sea deployed to Vietnam seven times and stayed on Yankee station for 875 days. That was one tenth of the total number of days spent in the war zone by the twenty-one attack and antisubmarine carriers ever deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin. After Vietnam Coral Sea remained part of the Pacific fleet with home ports in Alameda and Bremerton until she changed fleets in 1983. New home port was Norfolk. Over the years she underwent several modernization's and upgrades, concerning her electronic equipment and anti-aircraft armament. She even carried the F-18 “Hornet” as her major aircraft but never hat any “Tomcats” operational. Coral Sea had her last fight in April 1986 when her aircraft were part of the strike against Libya. After that the “maru” got her final nickname: “The ageless warrior”. She is no longer, as in contrary to her sister “Midway”, that will become a museum in San Diego, Coral Sea was scrapped in the 90's.

The Idea:

Coral Sea is an aircraft carrier almost everyone runs into when you start modeling jet fighters. She was home for the Sundowners, the Screaming Eagles and the Greyghosts when they were equipped with Phantoms and had some of the most colorful markings. In love warships from the 60's and 70's. Those were the years with a lot of different classes, conversions from old WW II ships and experiments. Coral Sea is a good example for it. Moreover I was impressed by her service record. I had to have her and as there is no model on the market, I had to do it on my own. My first scratchbuilt.

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The Model:

Basically you need the  five “P”s to do this ship: Pictures, Plan, Patience, Putty and Paint. Sometimes I added Pain as No. Six. Concerning pictures there are several books listed below that provide pictures. And there is the excellent Coral Sea tribute page also listed below. That home page has hundreds of pictures of every period in the ships life that show her from every side above and even below.

Concerning plans I had an old plan lying around from the time I still did RC model ships that shows FDR and has the line drawings I needed. As the basic hull form is the same, it was good enough for me. For details and further construction I used the excellent drawings in Stefan Terzibaschitsch, Aircraft carriers of the US navy. So I dug out my old slide ruler and made plan drawings for the hull in 1:700, including the very prominent gun sponsons.

a) Hull:

Having done the drawings I started with the ships hull. I decided to use balsa wood. It worked, but in case I ever do it again I will switch to basswood for instance. It certainly will make handling easier. So there I was with a block of wood in one hand and a knife in the other. It really was that way. I carved out the bow section and the stern first. Then I added the sponsons, also made from balsa wood and fixed them with white glue. After all had set an almost endless period of filling and sanding began. It started with a special filler for balsa wood then went on to putty to fight the seams. Shots of primer were sprayed over and over again to see, where more work was necessary. After what seemed eternity to me, I finally had a smooth hull. Next came the deck sponson and all the other sponsons and panels around the hull. Enter Evergreen. These sponsons are made from 0,5 mm styrene sheet. After hours of measuring, cutting, measuring again, correction and - of course - sanding it started to look like an aircraft carrier.

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b) Deck

Now it was time for the flight deck. The basic framework is from 3,5 mm styrene strips, planked with 0,5 mm sheet. This was the first time when pain made itself felt. The sheet turned out to be too thin for a proper planking. The next day I had slight waves in my deck. But as they are hardly to be seen I left it that way. What turned out to be an ordeal were the catwalks. It was a mess to measure and cut all the curves and angles. Moreover I used the Gold Medal Models hose reels and catwalk ladders. They look great once finished but tend to twist your fingers first.
Now it was time to paint the deck. I sprayed a mixture of model masters gloss white and gloss black enamel first. As a carrier deck shows to all kind of grey shades once it is in use, you can start with whatever darker grey you like. Weathering later on does the rest. Now the deck was masked and hull and catwalks got a coat of dark ghost grey. After that the decals on the flight deck were applied. I used the lines from an older Italeri kit of the USS America, that is my carriers spare box. They are not top notch, but cut to size they are ok. I am looking forward to the Dunagain sheet!! Custom red and yellow line was applied around the elevators. The deck was sealed and weathered with a mixture of dullcote an some drops of model master gunship gray. The arresting wires are an old G-string high from my twelve string guitar. Dry brushing and pastel chalk care for the rest.
Having finished that part the hull was outfitted with guns, gun directors, boats and stuff from Skywave frets. Railing and deck netting's are from GMM sets as well as the LSO platform and safety net. I set aside the hull, now came the Island.

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c) Island
From my beloved 0,5 mm sheet I cut two side halves with the basic island outline, including the huge stack. The halves were connected with 3.5 mm strips and sanded to form. Then I moved on to the decks, starting with the navigation- and the flag bridge. Both were taken from my uncomplaining Italeri America, cut to size and glued into place. It was the same with the prifly. Then came the vultures rows and platforms. Doors, hatches, fire hoses, ladders and railing is from GMM. The mast is brass rod in a styrene base, cut and sanded to size. The yardarms are brass- and styrene rod with GMM railing and foot rails. The radar antennas come from the US super carrier fret, except the SPS 30 hieght finder. That's a leftover from my JAG “Albany”. Island and mast have about 160 parts in all. The few rig lines are fishing line and the flag is wrapped around a tiny piece of aluminum foil to make her fly in the wind. Not the only trick I have from the message board. (thanks to all of you)  The crane was rigged and everything was painted and set aside, because it was time for the air group.
d) Airgroup

I chose Coral Seas fifth Vietnam deployment in late 1969, because it gives you the rare opportunity to build a 1:700 carrier with a matching air group. It was air group xxx with VF-161, VF-151, VA-35, VA-86 and VA-82 as fighting squadrons. If you mix Skywave and Fujimi aircraft sets, you get the right decals. Fujimi provided the Phantoms and Crusaders. Skywave flew in the Corsairs and Intruders from the Sidewinders and Black Panthers, as well as the Hawkeye. The Skywarrior is from WEM and my Knox class frigate sent over her Seasprite as plane guard. I know, that one is a LAMPS, but I ran out of patience by that time. The planes were built, painted and put into place like the yellow stuff including the tilly with it's filigrane lattice work from the GMM fret. A final shot of dullcote - and there she was.

It took me six months to build my Coral Sea. OK, she is not perfect in every way. You can always be better next time. But she is unique and she is mine and - above all - it was great fun to build her. I think, that's what really counts in the end.

USS Coral Sea (CV 43), Turner Publishing, Paducah 1992, ISBN:1-56311-049-0

Rene J. Francillon, Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, Conway, London 1988, ISBN: 0-85177-484-9

Stefan Terzibaschitsch, Flugzeugträger der US Navy, Bernhard und Graefe, München 1978, ISBN: 3-7637-5180-7

Norman Friedman, US Aircraft Carriers, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1983, ISBN: 0-87021-739-9