Now THAT'S a Seawolf: Building Trumpeter's 1/144 SSN-21 Seawolf
By David Haas
I thank my friend Jim Werth, of IPMS Lakes Region Scale Modelers (Crystal Lake, IL), for allowing me to share with the modeling world his masterful build of Trumpeter's 1/144 scale USS Seawolf (SSN-21). Believe it or not, this is the first submarine he has ever built. His enthusiastic research, superb craftsmanship, and meticulous documentation of the project are exemplary and inspiring. Jim adds a modest disclaimer that he does not vouch for the final model's accuracy, pointing out that it is really a "snapshot" of the Seawolf very early in her career. He was inspired and challenged by Steve Lau of Lincoln, NE, whose build of the same kit won gold in its category at the 2011 IPMS Nationals at Omaha-by-the-sea (and by my pestering him to improve this or that as he progressed). The results speak for themselves.
Constructionhull were engraved into the top surface of the hull, but the engravings were incorrectly oriented, and were not raised above the top line of the hull. Jim made two new ones, scribed to point in the right direction and standing slightly proud of the hull as on the full-scale Seawolf: more on them later.
The next assembly to draw Jim's scrutiny was the sub's propulsor unit, the shrouded and stator-vaned propeller. The instructions direct the builder to place the two stator units adjacent to each other, with the propeller at the extreme stern, behind both stators. The photographic evidence (of which there isn't very much)suggests that the prop is actually between the stators, and Jim modified the parts accordingly. While he was at the back of the boat, he heated up the prop and added some twist (ie. pitch) to its blades, since a perfectly flat propeller--as provided--is perfectly useless in real life. Before the propeller sandwich was assembled, he painted the blades with Tamiya titanium, and polished them with gold polishing powder. The effect is stunningly realistic. Forward of the sail, there are six circles engraved on the foredeck. Again, research showed that the discs actually protrude slightly above the hull (retractable capstans, possibly?) and scratch-building again provided the remedy. hatch forward of the bridge cockpit and opening up the lookout's cockpit just aft of it. The bridge received a scratch-built removable windshield and a mast which we decided is a removable navigation "lightpole." [It is my favorite of Jim's scratch-built doo-dads: just beautiful!] Jim also opened up the foghorn's hatch and scratch-built the very cute horn therein.
His next upgrade was a tough one: the port and starboard running lights on the sides of the sail. These were again represented in the kit by engraved markings; however, the lights are actually housed in slightly raised fairings, and each contains 3(!) lights behind a long clear window. Jim's scratch-built light assemblies faithfully replicate that fact, and I'm still amazed at his virtuosity on that one.
Paint and Decalslines" were produced with a lighter, thinner mix of the main color, then covered with a 1/5 flat and clear mix. Unfortunately, the earlier 1/3 mix used on the red undersides produced a milky finish over the black topside--a true case of learning by trial and error. Be aware that the walkways on the upper surface of the real item's hull are coated with a very tough, rough-textured non-skid mix, so make sure that they have less sheen than the rest of the hull, as Jim did. The kit's decals were applied over Future before final topcoating, but Jim noticed that the "21" numbers for the sail were an incorrect font, so he replaced them with old Scale Master decals of the correct configuration--old Air Force markings(!) The escape hatch markings were a bit tougher: Jim sprayed the hatch areas white overall, then masked the circles and bars and overpainted with his black mix. The dashed lines are composed of white decal paper cut into individual squares and applied with beautiful precision before final topcoating. I remain awe-struck... As the model represents a very new Seawolf, Jim declined to weather the model; and the final look is very much like a traditional shipyard presentation model, except that it is 1/144 rather than the 1/96 scale that shipbuilders usually employ.
The finished submarine is displayed on a handsome stand that Jim made from a pre-cut wooden plaque available from numerous hobby retailers. He finished and polished it, and mounted the "boat" on brass rods. As an aside, submariners traditionally call their immensely powerful and dangerous warships "boats," presumably because the first submarines were so small that they really were boats. The name-plate was made from a rectangular piece of sheet styrene, covered with gold Bare-Metal Foil. The name was then applied with Letraset dry-transfer letters. All in all, I think Jim's classic display completes a true masterpiece. The Tumpeter kit offers a useful starting point to make a good representation of the real thing, but it clearly needs the attentions of a dedicated modeler to bring it to life.