Scratchbuilding a carrier deck from the 60's in 1/72

Naval aviation is a branch of aviation where everything is mostly unique. Besides the aircraft carriers themselves, there are the catapults, the arrestor hooks, the deck crew, and so on. Because of that, I’m convinced any naval aircraft model should be displayed with a piece of the deck, no matter it is landing, on the ’cat or just parked – that’s the aircraft natural habitat. But you don’t have to go into the tiny bits of a complete diorama. You will be impressed how a simple display base can enhance the presentation of your models.

Necessity is the mother of invention, goes the old saying. I failed to find an aftermarket deck base section representing American carriers during early 60’s. At that time, most USN carriers had been overhauled, and the old wood planking decks were replaced by steel, angled decks. During the final stages of my 1/72 Tamiya F4D, I started to think about a suitable display for it, and I came up with this.

As usual, a bit of planning is necessary. I didn't have close up pictures of the CVA-42 (the carrier I was interested in), circa 1960-62. So I had to improvise a bit, using the photos I had, and prepared a drawing with the main traffic markings as well as the catapult line (fig.2) around the launch area. I then cut a piece of 0.75 mm thick plate to fit my standard wood bases, and printed the drawing to fit.

The work started by scratchbuilding the metal planking of the catapult track:

The catapult track was the first item built, using plastic strips glued according to my drawing. I riveted them using my home made riveter (made of clock gears) to simulate the zillions of bolts I saw in the photos. Parallel to the catapult main track, there was a steel plate that I made using a thinner plastic strip. This time I riveted one side, and glued it inverted so that the rivets are raised instead of embossed. I also scribed the joints between the plates:

Next came the planking phase. I drew the steel planking pattern on the printed drawing and reproduced it mirrored on the back of a 400-grit sandpaper sheet. The sandpaper would simulate the anti-slip coat, typical of carriers from that timeframe. Then it would be just a matter of cutting the plates and gluing them to the base.

Before attaching each plank section to the base, I had to take care of the tie-downs. Having grabbed the last of a short-run photoetched tie-downs set by Hobbycraft (the official Brazilian SquadronSignal Publ. dealer, not the Canadian plastic model co.) years ago, I finally have found a use for it. The positions of the tie-downs were marked on each plate and I then punched a disk slightly smaller than the PE tie-downs:

The idea was to leave an empty space under the tie-down, just like the real thing. Next, I applied contact glue to the back of each plate. I used the wonderful Microscale foil adhesive. Then I could start to re-assemble the puzzle

Once finished, the excess was trimmed along the perimeter of the background plastic sheet

The last item was the catapult bridle. It was carved from a solid chunk of styrene:

Having gone this far - and taking into account that I generally screw something up near the end - I decided to copy it in resin to preserve the original. After all, I still have the Skyraider and the Banshee in my stash. I first  primed the master and readied it to have silicon rubber poured on. After three unsuccessful attempts I got a decent polyester copy, and the tie-downs were glued to their corresponding spots.

Carrier crews also use tar (or something similar) to seal large gaps on the deck, just like in tarmacs. Based on what I saw in photos of the real thing, I hand painted Mr.Surfacer around each tie-down and some other selected spots. They look like glue smears at first, but their random aspect adds interest and fidelity to something initially way too perfect. The whole part was then airbrushed with Gunze's H-54 Navy Blue, highlighted with H-56 Intermediate Blue, and post-shaded with a darker shade of H-54.

The reference lines (yellow markings) were masked and airbrushed with Gunze's H-34 Cream Yellow following my drawings. The steel area of the catapult track was painted after a tip from a friend. I started with a coat of Model Master Burnt Iron (buffable) which was not polished. Once dry, I airbrushed Humbrol flat coat on the panel and rivet lines, trying to avoid the areas where the aircraft wheels would run (and therefore wouldn't oxidize). Only then I polished the Burnt Iron. The areas affected by the flat coat don't benefit from the polishing, keeping a darker hue, and beautifully simulating oxidized areas. You may argue that this area was painted as the rest of the deck. Well, that's not what I saw in the photos, and besides, paint wouldn't stick there under such heavy traffic anyway...

I then masked the catapult area and applied an overall coat of Testors Dullcote. The final step was to dirt to deck, simulating stain and rubber marks. I used Iron oxide powder applied with an old brush, scrubbed where I thought it would make more sense (fig.17). The catapult bridle was painted with yellow enamel and decorated with black decal strips.

And there you have it. I've spent one afternoon to make the master. I'm pretty satisfied with the result, and it added a lot to my F4D on cruise in Mediterranean Sea, 1962:.

This article made the cover of Fine Scale Modeler magazine, issue May/2009:

Rato Marczak 2009  (revised March/2023)