Scratchbuilding the USS Coral Sea by Frank Ilse
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.

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. As the only carrier of her class she now had three steam catapults and had almost the capacity of a Forrestal-Class carrier. 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 modernizations and upgrades, concerning her electronic equipment and anti-aircraft armament. She carried the F-18 “Hornet” as her major aircraft but never had 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: Coral Sea was scrapped in the 90's.

The build
USS Coral Sea is my favorite ship.

There is no modelkit available, so if you want to have her in your collection, there is only one way: scratchbuilding. I gave it a first try in 2002 in 1:700 scale.
Five years ago I finally wanted to give it a try in 350 scale, showing Coral Sea in her famous outfit during Westpac 1971-72 with Airwing 15.

The model is built in an old school way. I used different types of styrene sheets from 4 mm down to 0,3 mm. A 4 mm styrene sheet cut to shape serves as ground plate on which I erected the bulkheads. The space in between the bulkheads is filled out with pieces of 2 mm sheet, overlapping according to the form of the bulkheads. The center of the hull is build in a solid constuction of 2 and 1 mm sheet to give stabilty to the hull. Bow and stern then where sanded to shape using a Dremel tool and sanding paper. Filling and sanding is all there is to it, and a lot of it.

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The very prominent sponsons that carry the three remaining 5in guns and their directors are made from balsa wood cut and sanded to shape and covered with 0,5 mm styrene sheet. The large deck sponsons are made from different pieces of sheet, cut and sanded to shape.The hangar deck ist fully detailed and illuminated with LED lights. I would like to express my thanks to modelling friend Torben Keitel for helping me with his electrical and electronical skills. Without his help there would be no light in the hangar deck. coral32
For detailing I used quite a lot of different strips, tubes and other stuff from Evergreen plus brass rods and wires of different diameter. For details like oxygene bottles, doors, vents, fire hoses etc. I used a lot of aftermarket detail sets from different providers, there is a list further below. The same is true for photoetch parts, the main basics coming from a set WEM once produced for the Nimitz class model from Trumpeter and a custom made set for angled deck Essex carriers I got from Torben Keitel, now SSN models. coral13
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The Island is made from different small parts of sheet styrene and Evergreen stuff, I do not know how many parts in all, but the pryfly alone has about 85 parts. All this was cut and sanded to shape.

While this project developed, the 3-D-printing market did as well and provided parts, I thought I would have to do from scratch when it all started. Who would have thought that there would be an SPS 30 when I came to need one?

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The Airwing
For the airwing – two squadrons F-4 B Phantom II, two squadrons A-7 B Corsair II, one squadron A-6 A and B Intruder, RF-8 Recce-Crusader, EA-3 Skywarrior electronic countermeasure, E-1 B Tracer early warning birds, a Grumman Trader and Seaking and Seasprite helos – I used Trumpeter kits, modified Crusaders from L’Arsenal and completely scratchbuilt Tracers and Traders. I did mastermodels and SSN Modellbau did the casting (thanks!!!!). Except the national insignia all decals are drawn and printed by me with help of Coral Draw and my laser printer, Samsung CLP 350W. Every aircraft has between 22 and 30 decals on it. That makes around 1300 tiny pieces of decals for airwing, hangar and tractors. The tractors are from Black Dog Models, the Tilly-crane is from BaconFist with a fotoetched boom from the WEM-Nimitz sheet. There are around 400 people on deck, provided by Goffy, who now firms as Black Dog I suppose. The decals for the flight deck are from the excellent SSN sheet for the Intrepid in 350 scale. As Intrepid and Coral Sea were on Yankee station I was able to use a lot of stuff from the aftermarket dedicated to enhance the Merit Intrepid. coral38
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For this project I used products from:
  • White Ensign Models
  • Gold Medal Models
  • L’Arsenal
  • Evergreen
  • SSN Modellbau
  • Northstar
  • Veteran Models
  • Black Dog (Goffy)
  • Shapeways, i.e. Model Monkey and BaconFist
Five years of building time

More of Frank Ilse's work.
Updated 4/28/2020