Background - How is it possible for a warship to be so ugly and yet still be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?  The Albany Class of guided missile cruisers makes the impossible come true with respect to this paradox.  The three Baltimore and Oregon City class conversions are probably the most ungainly warship designs in history.  They look to me like awkward teenage children, not quite fitting into their “bodies”.  During their major refits in the early 1960’s the ship’s superstructures were shaved off at the main deck level and replaced with two towering “macks” (mast/stack combination).  Furthermore, the bridge was raised some 10 levels off of the main deck.  It is no wonder that some in the USN referred to the Albany conversions as “The Tall Ladies”.  This nickname is fitting, because despite their clumsy appearance the ships have a certain grace and beauty to them.  Ok- in short, I think they look really cool! Recently, Commander Models has graced us with numerous 1/350 scale modern USN warships.  When I heard an Albany was in the works, I was very excited because I have always wanted to do a model of the USS Chicago as a PIRAZ ship during Vietnam .  I knew it would be highly unlikely that a 1/350 scale Albany class would ever be released in plastic so I jumped at the Commander’s offering.

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Hull/Superstructure: The hull measures approximately 23 inches in length, so make some room!  The hull I received was well cast with only a few tiny pinholes that needed filling.  I should mention that since I build exclusively waterline subjects (“half a ship” as some friends like to joke) Ted Paris at Commander Models cast me a half hull, which he will do on request.  Consequently, I cannot comment on the status of the lower hull for you full-hull builders.  However, the cleanliness and quality of the upper hull leads me to believe there would be no problems with a full hull.  The main components of the kit are the hull, forward mack/bridge piece and the aft mack.  There was a problem fitting the forward mack/bridge into its slot in the hull.  After conferring with Ted we determined that the piece had expanded after being pulled out of the mold and consequently had “flared” outward at the base.  The problem was corrected and the issue has since been remedied.  The aft mack fits into a small recess in the deck and goes together without any difficulty.  The bridge decks are in two levels and fit together well.  I had to replace some of the bridge window dividers with plastic strip as they had been damaged in shipping, but it was a simple fix.  The pieces were sanded and smoothed to clean up any pour plugs etc.

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Small Bits: Once the major hull/superstructure components were assembled, a myriad of small pieces were added.  There’s too much to list it all, but some of the parts include the following: 2 Talos launchers with missiles, 2 Terrier launchers with missiles, 2 5”38 cal DP guns, 4 SPG-49 directors, 4 SPG-51 directors, an ASROC launcher, 2 triple torpedo tube mounts, 2 Mk-51 GFCS directors, 2 towers for the SPG-2W directors, a bunch of boats/davits and 2 Talos cranes.  Quite a lot of stuff! In general, everything is well cast, although several of the directors and launchers had broken parts.  Not to worry- the guys at Commander Models usually includes several extra of each type and if you didn’t already know this, they do have the best customer service in the business.  You need extra parts?  Just call Ted and he’ll hook you up- no questions asked.  Of particular note are the RIM-8B Talos missiles cast in white metal.  They are really beautiful to behold!  Overall, the “small bits” take up a goodly amount of time and give the ship a cluttered and very real appearance.

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Radars and Masts: The masts provided are resin and are useable out of the box.  If you desire, I would recommend using brass rod as a replacement.  It’s really easy, and once you get the hang of it you’ll be making intricate brass masts in all of your models!  The radars are phenomenal and when you look at the SPS-30 I think you’ll be impressed by the craftsmanship.  For those of you unfamiliar, the SPS-30 was an odd dish antennae with a prominent side-slung feed horn.  Jon Warneke, master pattern builder for Commanders, did a really nice job with these babies.  They look neat when placed on the model.  The other radars include the SPS-43, which is the grill-type antenna on the aft mack (done nicely in photo-etch) and the SPS-48 square antenna on the forward mast.  Since I was trying to portray the USS Chicago in the late 60’s I chose to scratch-build an SPS-39 curved antenna for the mainmast (see photos).  The photo-etch for the SPS-43 is awesome and very well designed…it goes together very easily and looks quite cool!

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Photo-etch: The photo-etch set included in the kit is extensive with 3 frets and provides all the rails and extra bits necessary to accurately portray any of the three ships in the class. The photo-etch is very well designed and in my opinion, one of the strongest features of the kit. In particular, the SPS-43 antenna and the lattice structure for the aft SPS-30 radar are awesome. The rails for the main deck are (in my opinion) a little too thick to portray lifelines, but this has always been a personal gripe of mine. They still look great and one very nice touch is that nearly all the rail sections are custom fitted and lettered on the instructions. There is very little cutting of rail segments since they are meticulously measured out for you by Ted!

  Miscellaneous Stuff: A full set of markings, hull numbers, UNREP lines, missile warning circles, ship names for the class, etc., are included with the kit.  They are designed by Darren Scannell of Canada (eh!) and I must say, I think they are some of the best decals out there!  This guy does a fantastic job!  If you desire more markings, Commanders makes an extra USN decal set and a signal flag set- I used both.  The signal flag sheet contains DESRON/CRUDESGRU shields, flags (obviously) and perhaps most importantly, battle E’s and other decorations commonly found on USN ships.  The “extra” set has waterline markings for ship’s boats, Unrep/helo markings, refueling station markings and much more.

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Extra Stuff That I added to my model: Since I was going to compete with this model at the IPMS USA nationals, I added a number of scratch built and aftermarket details.  First off, I scratch built the two Talos cranes fore and aft as I felt I could do them a little more justice.  As I previously noted the curved SPS-39 on the mainmast was scratch built in order to portray the Chicago in 1968-69.  Note: with a minimal amount of work, the kit can be modified to represent Albany , Columbus or Chicago during any time period!  I added a number of photo-etch details from Gold Medal Models onto the bulkheads, such as liferings, fire hoses, oil vents.  Railings from White Ensign Models were used on the main deck because I like their “thinness” in portraying lifelines.  However, this was personal choice and isn’t really necessary since the kit rails look excellent. Perhaps I’m just obsessive.  I used stretched sprue for the signal lines, HF aerials and various antennae.  Finally, I ordered a set of L’Arsenal 5”38 cal brass barrels for the gun mounts.  The ultimate step for my Chicago was to place her in a dynamic seascape.  I use liquitex acrylic gel and artist’s acrylic paints.  Ordinary modeling clay was used to form the bow waves and the gel was applied in successive coats to get the right look.  I brushed future floor wax on the finished product to give it a “wet” look.  Anyway- I am very proud of her!  It is a great kit with a few flaws that can be easily overcome.  Highly recommended to anyone interested in the “Tall Ladies”!