The end of WW2 and the beginning of the Cold War fueled rapid development of naval aviation in ground tactical support roles. US war experience with amphibious assaults on hostile beaches brought about the combination of the traditional landing craft transports and the auxiliary carrier into a single vessel, designated Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH). The idea was to combine the strike capability of new aircraft types like the helicopter and the landing forces using landing craft and ground troops.
Early LPH vessels were converted from World War 2 medium and light carriers. However, these ships did not have the capacity to hold large numbers of Marines and lacked launching facilities for amphibious vehicles. The Iwo Jima class was the first purpose-built vessel dedicated to the amphibious assault role, the lead ship being launched in 1960. She represented the Navy’s “mailed fist” with the ability to provide air and ground elements in a single thrust.
The USS Iwo Jima had a long career between 1960 to 1993, serving in Vietnam, the Apollo 13 recovery, Lebanon and Desert Storm. Her motto was “Do It Right The First Time” and as the lead ship of her class, she certainly embodied that ideal.
At this time, none of the main plastic model manufacturers make the Iwo Jima LPH2 assault ship in any of the scales. This is not to be confused with the current USS Iwo Jima LHD-7, a Wasp Class assault ship which was launched in 2000. The only kit I could find was a limited-run resin kit made by Pitroads Japan which I had pre-ordered for a customer who had served on board the previous USS Iwo Jima in the 1980′s. The instructions provided are pretty sketchy and entirely in Japanese.
The kit required a substantial amount of scratch-building and does not include photo-etched parts for the necessary detailing. This kit is suitable only for the most experienced modelers. I added the metal details from the excellent Gold Medal Saipan/Tarawa class photo-etch kit and all kinds of bits and pieces from other previous US Navy kit parts that I had collected in my plastic spare parts box. For the aircraft and flight deck vehicles, I added parts from an old 1980′s Dragon Marines Amphibious Assault kit set.
The hull itself is a single resin cast with the flight deck details molded on. It is a pretty simple affair on its own, and most of the work involved is in adding the platforms and decks around the edge of the flight deck. The kit comes with a 0.3mm plastic card stock. The builder has to trace out 22 pieces of deck sections to fit. To do so, I made a 1/700 scale copy of the plan view and side elevation drawings and carefully traced out the sections using a pencil before cutting them out.
The next major task was to build the main mast out of brass wires and plastic card stock, again referring to the instruction plan. However the plan in the kit is inaccurate, and it is a confused mixture of features from different periods of the ship’s career. The impact of this will be seen later in this project. Once I had the main mast and the SPS-40 radar platform unit built, I tested their fit on the island superstructure.
Next, I started working on detailing some of the main platforms found around the island superstructure itself, like the 2 rear antenna platforms and their supporting struts made out of 0.3mm brass wire. By this time, I managed to find an archival photograph of the superstructure from 1987 that helped immensely.
There were some important details around the hull that needed fixing. For example,I scribed some shutter door lines onto the two huge hangar deck doors for the elevators to make them “look right”. This was done carefully with a sharp scribing tool and a steel rule.
After some careful alignment and dry-fitting, the elevator details and guides were installed on both sides of the hull (there are two separate aircraft elevators in the Iwo Jima class). I decide to position the port side one lowered to the hangar doors while the starboard side.
Then the deck sections that were cut out from card stock earlier were carefully attached to the main resin hull. As a limited-run kit, there are no locating features for assembly and I had to compare the deck pieces against the drawings of the USS Iwo Jima.
I started my paint job by applying Gunship Gray FS36118 on the main deck, and then going back and applying patches of darker tones and some lighter tones of that color to simulate the wear-and-tear of the flight deck. It is common for flight decks to show many different shades of gray as the re-surfacing will add a patchwork effect that can be seen from the air. Then I masked the flight deck and applied Medium Grey FS35237 lightened with flat white (3:1) for scaling effect to the entire hull and island superstructure.
While waiting for the main hull to dry, I painted the aircraft elevator sections. I decided to mount the port side elevator lowered to the hangar deck doors while the starboard elevator was fully raised flush with the flight deck.
Once the flight deck and hull have dried, I hand painted the flight deck markings with the aid of the cast surface details, and also using post-it notes to guide the lanes on this warship. The latter required calm, quiet nights and steady hands with the 000-sized brushes.
At this point, I realized that I had the main mast built wrongly and proceeded to re-work it. I re-sized the 2nd tier platform and replaced the 3rd tier section with a larger platform to house a larger radar unit facing aft, the latter being scratch-built. The TACAN unit was also relocated to the antenna tower above the main mast. it was major work but the appearance looked much closer to the actual photograph.
With the mast correction out of the way, work can continue with the superstructure. The mast is painted matt black and attached to the island superstructure. Then the whole sub-assembly is carefully glued to the flight deck.
Another retrofit done here was to add a small extension at the aft of the island as shown in period photographs. This section was clearly extending beyond the huge radar dome but the kit part was made too short. I added this using plastic stock and additional photo-etched doors.
The crane, deck weapons (twin 76mm guns, missile launchers), deck railing and davits are added to the superstructure.
Deck railing are then installed around the entire flight deck perimeter and the life raft capsules added around the the railings. Flight deck safety nets are also installed across the fantail section and forward bow section.
Then the rigging were added to the superstructure and the ensign glued to the main mast. The ship proper has been completed. Now for the “passengers”.
A total of 7 CH-53 Super Stallions, 7 CH-46 Sea Knights and 2 AH-1 Super Cobras (the Terrible Twins) make up the aircraft for this project. Together with the customer, we decided to paint them Marine Field Green FS34097. The 2 AH-1′s were painted in the Marines 3-tone camouflage (Light Ghost Grey, Field Green, NATO Black). All the rotor blades were replaced with photo-etched parts.
Initially I arranged the aircraft as shown on the left hand picture. Upon examining file pictures, the CH-46′s in the forward section of the flight deck were arranged facing back towards the island. The right picture shows the final arrangement.
Lastly, I added these charming little fellas to tend to the flight deck. These were deck tractors, forklifts and a mobile crane unit. These are being compared to an US 1 cent coin (8mm diameter)!
Finally, the whole ship is carefully mounted onto the display platform with the sea “added on” around her. I decided to show a CH53 in mid-flight hovering off the port side of the ship. This kit was very challenging but a joy to put together once we got over the problematic bits.
Update 5-15-12: After checking the superstructure pictures, I found that the identifying numbers on the sides of the funnel were large metal sheets. i made these out of plastic card stock and they look a lot more like the original.
Enjoy the pictures!