(Editor's Note - Yes I know, Yorktown is CV-5 not CV-6. Sorry but I was not going back and redit and download all of the photos a second time because I was off by a digit on my label.)

I’m one of those modelers who just can’t resist cutting a perfectly good model apart. In the past, I cut up a Trumpeter 1/350 scale Hornet, and front-dated it to a 1944 Enterprise, survived that exercise, and sat back to wait for Trumpeter to issue a pre-war Yorktown. I waited and waited…hmmm….OK, enough waiting. I acquired another Hornet kit at a local model show, a stack of Trumpeter’s new pre-war aircraft, a pile of leftover photo-etch, and got to work. While late-war Enterprise was positively crawling with AA guns and radar, Yorktown in 1940 was a study in Navy Standard Gray simplicity and grace. She had only a handful of .50 caliber machine guns to augment her 5"/38’s and the "Chicago Piano" 1.1" guns, and in late 1940 received the CXAM radar system, with its huge bedspring-looking radar array. This was the exact period I chose to depict.

Anyone who has done the Hornet kit knows that the first thing one does with it is to stare at the hopelessly bulbous bow…it looks more like the front end of a Liberty ship than the sharp-pointed end of a Yorktown-class flattop….and wonder what to do with it. The choices are simple:

  1. Ignore it…and wait for the show judges to torpedo you
  2. Fill it and sand until your right arm is four sizes larger than the left (if you’re right-handed)
  3. Wait for a resin company to come out with a simple conversion for only $499.95 plus S & H.
  4. Disguise it

I chose the last….because I am both sneaky and cheap….more on that later. 

On to the kit. The major changes involved are the island, the shape, number, and location of gun platforms, the shape of the flight deck, and the air group. I chose not to use the pricey but good-quality Nautilus Models conversion set, because I felt I could reproduce the island with proper references and plenty of trial and error. Turned out to be more of the latter, as there are plenty of surplus pieces left over. I used Roger Chesneau’s excellent book , Building the Yorktown Class Carriers, the indispensable Classic Warships Publishing Warship Pictorial #9, as well as the many photos available on the Internet and elsewhere covering Yorktown and her sisters. The fighting top was primarily scratch-built, as was the entire bridge and pri-fly area. Note that Yorktown did not carry the gallery on the aft end of her island that Enterprise did (despite a published photo identifying Enterprise’s island as Yorktown). The early-style gun directors were carved from scrap resin, and the searchlight platform and aft main platform were cut from thin Evergreen styrene sheet. I replaced most of the plastic yards and masts with thin brass rod of various diameters. The large black identifying "Y" on each side of the island is a combination of decal strip from the spares box, and black paint. 1 lb. fly fishing line was used for rigging, and the ensign and signal flags were produced by me in AutoCAD software and printed on a high-speed color printer (don’t tell my boss!). Tom’s Modelworks Hornet photo-etch set provided the final details. The island was then set aside to await the rest of the boat. The flight deck requires two major changes…the bow end should taper smoothly at an unbroken angle, unlike Hornet, which angles and then re-straightens, and the aft round-down should not have the large notches on the sides which Hornet had for anti-aircraft guns. The bow was quickly dealt with, using a razor saw, and following the Hornet kit angle, while the aft end was simply sheeted over with thin Evergreen sheet. Other areas were sanded and re-worked to match the A.D. Baker drawings in Chesneau’s book (VERY useful!). 

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I shot the entire deck with Testors Acrylic #4707 Earth Red to replicate the mahogany stain of the period, then used Tamiya Tape to mask off the markings, which were shot with Testors rattlecan Daytona Yellow lacquer. The various elevators, wind deflector pits, and deck edges were masked off and shot with Testors Acrylic Scale Black, really a dark gray, to replicate pre-war Standard Navy Deck Gray. The letters "Y K T N" on each end were decals from the spares box. Now to the biggest problem with the kit. I decided to hide the nasty bow by sinking, oops, wrong word, ...er, placing Yorktown in an artificial sea of clear acrylic caulk, over a deep blue-painted piece of foam board, with a large bow wave as if she were tooling along at 30 knots. When the caulk cures, it turns clear, and I touch up the whitecaps with craft paint and a #0000 brush. Simple and idiot-proof water. From the waterline to the bottom of the flight deck, Yorktown was quite similar to Hornet, but it was NOT IDENTICAL. Numerous tiny changes were necessary according to the Baker drawings, mostly dealing with the location and size of platforms. Almost all of the splinter shields come off, and are replaced by photo-etch railing (Crew protection? What’s that?) I replaced the Hornet kit 1.1" guns with similar but better-molded units from the Trumpeter Lexington, as well as .50 calibers from the same source. I scratch-built the boat booms from styrene rod, and rigged them with fly line. The kit’s ship’s boats are lousy…no way to say it otherwise. I am really surprised that the fine folks at Nautilus or L’Arsenal, or White Ensign haven’t come up with a good resin replacement Captain’s gig. I’d use a bunch of them (hint, hint). I stacked bits of plastic on top of the existing boats to approximate shape, and then tarped the boats over (foul weather, you know) with tissue paper and cyanoacrylate to hide the shortcut. The boat crane on the starboard side of the island was scratch-built from scrap, and detailed with photo-etch bits and fly line cables.

The one development that made this whole project possible was Trumpeter’s release of a pre-war Saratoga and all those lovely yellow-wing aircraft. One slight problem…the planes are molded in CLEAR plastic. I scratched my head and wondered how to assemble the fuselages without crazing or fogging the canopies with normal glues. The answer came from Hobby Lobby, specifically in the jewelry-making aisle….clear Watch Crystal Cement. It works like old-fashioned Testors tube glue, but dries absolutely clear. I outfitted Yorktown’s air group with TBD’s , SBC Helldiver biplanes, Vought Vindicators, and F2A Buffaloes, with 14 aircraft on the hangar deck, and 34 more on the flight deck. Trumpeter supplies the early-style stars, and color section stripes, but no numbers and letters. These were scrounged from the spares box. Each individual aircraft has its own unique number and squadron code. The photo-etch sailors came from Gold Medal Models. The remainder of the ship’s photo-etched details are from the Tom’s Modelworks Hornet set. I kept the weathering to a minimum….I wanted her to look like a well-maintained ship returning from a long training cruise…needing a good scrub down, but by no means rusty or unmaintained in any way. I used various watercolor washes over her custom-mixed Standard Navy Gray, finishing with a couple of coats of Testors Acrylic Clear Flat. There she is….the lead ship of her class in the last days of peace… not a terribly difficult conversion…just time-consuming. But, then isn’t consuming time in a fun way the whole point? 

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Rick Cotton

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