By Kelly Quirk
BRIEF HISTORY (Excerpts taken from Scale Aircraft Modeling, March 1996)
In the early 1960's, it was clear that replacements were needed for heavy lift helicopters such as the CH-34 Choctaw and the CH-37 Mojave. The Army opted for the CH-47 Chinook, the Marines looked to Sikorsky for their heavy lift/assault requirements. Drawing on Sikorsky's experience with the Sea King and the Sky Crane, they came out with the CH-53A. The aircraft was powered by two externally mounted General Electric turboshaft engines driving a six blade main rotor just over 72 feet in diameter, and a four blade tail rotor.
Despite the rear ramp, the fuselage of the CH-53 was a watertight design. The large sponsons on the fuselage sides provide stability for on-water operations. As well as the folding rotor blades, stowage on board ship was aided by the entire tail unit being hinged, allowing it to fold back alongside the rear fuselage.
In February 1968, upgrades and modifications were made to the powerplant, resulting in the CH-53D. In October, a series of loops and rolls were made during tests, a feat of agility unprecedented by such a large helicopter.
The CH-53D entered service the US Marines in March 1969. A total of 126 CH-53Ds were built, and were quickly sent to Vietnam.
I have to chosen to model a CH-53D in service right before retirement, when the Marines were switching over to the CH-53E Super Stallion. The current gray on gray paint scheme was applied to these aircraft. At this time, the Corps' entire CH-53D Sea Stallion fleet was based at Kaneohe Bay, MCB Hawaii.
Revell's kit has been out of production for many years, but it didn't take me too long to find one by asking around hobby shops and on the net. I had planned all along on adding a complete interior to the kit, and as I progressed I decided to go really crazy and fold the rotors. For the cockpit itself, I purchased a resin replacement from Cutting Edge, which included seats, new floor, overhead console, instrument panel, and center console. Let's get started!
I began by sanding the inside of the fuselage smooth. Revell did add some detail to very rear of the fuselage, but for uniformity I sanded all of it off, too. I then took strip styrene and started adding all the ribbing and bracing to the side walls. I used the floor provided in the kit, adding small details and access doors. I bent sheet styrene in the proper shape for the ceiling, and added vents, hoses, lights, etc. The kit came with a jeep and I briefly thought about putting it in the cargo bay, but instead opted for building troop seats. These were made by first building the frames from styrene rod, then covering the frames in tissue paper soaked with white glue. Seatbelts from lead foil were added to every position. A radio operator's seat was scrounged from the parts box, and added just behind the cockpit wall, along with a radio system and wires. Many wires were strung throughout the cabin, made by taking 3 or 4 copper wires, twisting them together, and gluing to the proper location. Many other items, such as fire extinguishers, safety straps, toolboxes, steps, and a bunch of photoetched doodads were added were I thought they would look good. Small stencil and warning decals from the scrap pile were added here and there. I was happy with the busy look of the interior, and forged ahead.
I glued the fuselage halves together, and was immediately disappointed in the fit. When I added the side sponsons, I was really let down. Oh well, this is why we call it modeling. Out came the superglue, and after many applications of glue and sanding, glue and sanding, I achieved a (almost) seamless fit. I had to be very careful not to sand away any of the raised detail, replicating all those rivets would have been darn near impossible.
While scrounging through my parts box, I found an old engine from a 1/35 Cobra helicopter I didn't use. That would almost fit right in that engine pod, I thought to myself. So, out came the razor saw, and I opened up the starboard pod. With minor modification, the engine squeezed in perfectly. I added a few boxes and wires to the engine, put some internal bracing on the access door, and thought for a 1/35 scale Cobra engine it looked pretty accurate from the few pictures I had.
I also decided to cut open the crew access door, to afford a better view of all my work on the interior. The steps were scratchbuilt from sheet styrene, with a photoetched handle. Support cables are made from stretched sprue.
The rest of the kit was pretty much straight forward. I added a line to the refueling probe, some grab handles made from brass wire, and detailed the winch with a scratchbuilt hook and wires. Antennas were made from sheet styrene to match photos of the aircraft I was modeling. On to the most daunting part of the whole project, the rotor folds....
I kept playing with the idea of how I could actually do this, and when it came down to it I decided I couldn't. When I informed my wife of my decision, she basically called me a wimp! All she had heard me say for the last 2 months was how I was going to do this great rotor fold, and here I was chickening out. So, I plodded off to the workshop with my head hung low. Well, thank goodness she shamed me in to it, it really wasn't that hard, and the effort really paid off. I took a page from Derek Brown's great Sea King, and went to a watch repair store. For $2.00, I bought a container holding thousands of tiny watch parts. Digging through it, I found gears that were the perfect size for my project. First I detailed the rotor head with photoetched bolt heads and a couple spare rings from the parts box. Every rotor had to be separated from the hub, even the back two had to be folded slightly. I began by taking my razor saw, and carved a small notch in the top and bottom of every rotor, then doing the same to the rotor hub. These notches allowed me to slip a gear in, and gave a little play so I could adjust them and get a good fit. For strength, I had to run a thin yet very strong wire from the hub to the rotor. I drilled in to each of these as far as I dared, and bent the wire to the proper angle, then superglued them in place. Sandwiched between the gears, they are hardly noticeable. As I said, this really wasn't very hard or complicated. The main trick to it was to go very slow, repeatedly measure and dry fit as you go along. Hydraulic lines made from fine solder were added to the rotor head on the top and bottom.
The tail rotor was also rebuilt. The kit detail was removed from the hub (Revell provided a solid piece) and a more realistic hub was rebuilt from wire and scrap plastic, detailed with a couple Grandt Line bolts.
I added lines to the wheel wells and landing gear. I placed to complete model on a flat piece of sandpaper, and carefully slid it back and forth until all tires touched the ground evenly, and gave the helicopter that "heavy" look.
I used Model Master enamels throughout. A Black Magic window mask set was used. One note here, when gluing the interior windows in, make sure they are very secure. Poking one out after the fuselage is together and trying to get it back in place is just about impossible (trust me, I know). All the decals came from the spares pile. I could not find a set for the paint scheme I chose. Weathering was achieved with a dark wash, and black and gray pastels. For those of you who think it is too dirty, do a little research. The aircraft I chose to model from a picture in Combat Aircraft looked brand new, almost white, in the front half, and from the engine on back was completely black from exhaust stains. I decided to use a slightly lighter hand on mine!
Last step was to add the ramp at the rear. I added the struts that open and close the large ramp, connecting them to a small box inside the fuselage wall.
For an older Revell kit, I am very pleased with the results. It looks great sitting next to my Sea King and Sea Sprite models, though it sure takes up a chunk of space in the display case! Special thanks to Dave Roof, who supplied me with a bunch of great detail photos that proved invaluable!