by: Bill Gormley [ ]
Originally published on:
USS Arkansas (CGN-41), the fourth and final ship of the Virginia class of nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers, was launched in 1978. Over 580 feet long and tipping the scales at 9,500 tons, she carried a range of weapons for surface-to-air, surface-to-surface, and anti-submarine warfare. Her primary mission, however, was providing air defense for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and during her lifetime she escorted USS Enterprise, USS Nimitz, USS Abraham Lincoln, and USS Carl Vinson. USS Arkansas was ideally suited for this role as her nuclear reactors gave her the high speed and the endurance to keep up during extended deployments.
Following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy reassessed its needs and determined the Virginia class cruisers were no longer needed. This decision drew criticism from some quarters because USS Arkansas and her sisters were still modern, capable ships and could have been upgraded. Unfortunately, the economic case was against them as conventionally powered ships proved cheaper to operate and required smaller crews. Consequently, in 1993 the U.S. Navy cancelled their mid-life overhauls and began decommissioning the class beginning with USS Texas (CGN-39). USS Arkansas was decommissioned last in 1998 after just 18 years of service.
The kit comes packaged in a standard top-opening box that shows USS Arkansas steaming placidly through calm seas. First impressions are that the kit is straightforward, almost simple, as there are only four sprues. The instructions are in the standard Cyber-Hobby / Dragon fold-out format and, although busy in places, list just eight steps (fewer when you take into account how most modelers will actually build the kit).
The sprues are of generally high quality with minimal flash. Sprue D contains the weapons and was the exception. It was noticeably cruder than sprues A-C. Perhaps I received an oddball in my kit but my suspicion is that Cyber-Hobby recycled it for this kit. The good news is you don’t need to use many parts from it.
The hull comes in two parts to allow assembly as either a waterline or a full hull model and the top and bottom parts dry fitted together very well. The base is similar to other Cyber-Hobby/ Dragon ship kits: sturdy, appealing, and, in my opinion, superior to what other manufacturers provide.
A small photo-etch fret provides various ladders, the star antenna for the bow, and replacement parts for the AN/SPS-49 air search radar and spray guards. No doubt the photo-etch parts will enhance the look of the finished model but it makes me wonder how much more effort railings would have required. For me, railings always come before any decision to replace kit parts available in plastic.
The decals provided are cleanly printed and have good opacity. If you are thinking of building one of the other Virginia class ships, bear in mind you only receive hull number 41 for USS Arkansas (albeit in white and grey tones). Finally, the instructions show the ship clearly from every perspective to aid in painting and decal application.
A couple of notes are in order before I describe my experiences building the kit. First, I made no attempt to upgrade or “accurize” the kit. On the contrary, I deliberately built it per the instructions to show what you get. The one exception I allowed myself was to build the model as I saw fit rather than follow the construction steps sequentially. Second, I am not an expert on the Virginia class specifically or naval affairs in general, so my apologies for any terms I have used in error.
I decided to build the model full hull so that I could see how the hull parts go together and how the model attaches to the base so I went straight to Step 9. The upper hull (A1) has seven thick attachment points that need to be cleaned up. They’re nothing the average modeler can’t handle but they do require careful attention to avoid damaging the part. The fit of the hull parts (A1/Y) was superb. There was a hairline seam where the upper and lower hull met but it was easily hidden using Mr. Dissolved Putty and fine grit sandpaper.
The shafts and propellers are nicely done but very delicate. The locating indents are almost non-existent which makes assembly harder than it should be. It’s a minor point but as I was building Tamiya’s 1/350 USS Fletcher at the same time I couldn’t help but notice the deeply recessed location points it provides to prevent misalignment. I finished the hull by adding the foredeck (A5). The fit was snug and left only the faintest gap at the stern end.
I assembled the base next but left the hull loose so that I could remove it for closer handling. The finials have seam lines that are difficult to remove, given their complex shape, but in my opinion it’s a small price to pay for what is ultimately a nice base. Realistically, most viewers’ attention will be focused higher up on the ship itself.
With the hull and base done, I went back to Step 1 and built sub-assembly A, which is the highest level of the superstructure. If the hull gave me a great first impression of the kit, Step 1 moved the needle back in the other direction. The primary issue is that the attachment points for the small parts are poorly done. Some examples:
• The main components of the sub-assembly (A22/A23) are mirror images of one another but have no pin-and-hole arrangement to aid in joining them together. Instead, you simply apply glue and position them as carefully as possible. Even after taking care I still found a nasty seam around the entire perimeter.
• The base for the AN/SPS-48E air search radar (B7) has a square peg which you are supposed to fit into a round hole in the platform below (C10). Square peg, round hole … this one actually made me laugh.
• The antenna (C57) doesn’t really slot into the platform below (C13). Rather, it just passes through it and rests on top of the mast (C62), which meets C13 from the bottom. The average modeler will deal with it but it’s sloppy work on Cyber-Hobby’s part.
• Platform (C11) leaves a glaring seam when attached to the main components (A22/A23) that takes very careful work to conceal.
The kit redeemed itself with Step 2, which addresses the next level down in the superstructure. The manner in which the main parts go together isn’t obvious at first but once you have them loose on your cutting mat it’s hard to go wrong. In at least one case (A9), the breakdown of the parts was clever enough to make me smile in admiration. Overall, the main parts went together very well and required minimal filling and sanding.
On the other hand, the kit continued its trend of not providing clear location points for the smaller parts. In at least one case (C55/D38) I had to consult other steps in the instructions to identify the correct placement. The two Phalanx CIWS (D20) have a very noticeable seam line that I left alone rather than risk damaging the parts. These two parts are from sprue D, which I mentioned at the outset is visibly rougher than sprues A-C. Parts B41 and D40 are little more than small hunks of plastic. Parts C28/C29 are easy to attach but must fit precisely through slotting holes in sub-assembly C, which you don’t encounter until Step 3. I attached them now but would recommend putting them aside until you have sub-assembly C done and can check the fit.
Step 3 is one of the biggest of all and addresses the lower levels of the superstructure. The parts are nicely molded but in many cases lack positive attachment points. It’s literally stunning to see this on a modern plastic kit. For example, the deckhouse sides (C63/C67) have absolutely nothing to ensure their proper alignment. The risk of misalignment is high and the resulting assembly is structurally weak. The Harpoon launchers (D16/D17) are simple two-piece assemblies but due to their awkward shape and lack of pin-and-hole construction are actually difficult to handle. Finally, be aware that there are two mistakes in the instructions:
• Part B2 points to the wrong location. Step 5 asks you to attach B2 again but provides the correct location.
• One of the guns (B36) is shown twice making it appear that there should be a third gun.
The kit’s Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde persona continued with Step 4, which addresses the aft portion of the superstructure. The main components go together well but the mast (C56/C45/C64) is fragile due to the lack of clear, positive attachment points. On the plus side, optional photo-etch parts are provided for the AN/SPS-49 air search radar. They are much finer than the plastic parts, which didn’t fit together very well, and will certainly enhance the model. A photo-etch ladder is also provided for the backside of one of the AN/SPG-51 radars. I found this to be a curious addition as it is in an out-of-the-way location and most other ladders in the kit are molded in plastic.
Step 5 has you layer cake the sub-assemblies created in Steps 1-4 in preparation for attaching them as one unit to the main deck. I normally don’t build ship models this way, but in this case the streamlined profile of USS Arkansas made it feasible. A fair amount of Mr. Surfacer 500/1000 was needed to close the seams between the sub-assemblies. As mentioned above, take care when joining sub-assemblies B and C as parts C28/C29 (previously attached in Step 2) must fit through small slots in sub-assembly C. It’s a tight fit and they are easily bent.
With the superstructure in place I proceeded to Steps 6 and 7, which address the davits and boats. I had to review the instructions for the port side several times, but once I understood them assembly was straightforward. Oddly, there is a locating tab for platform C15 but not platform C18. You simply glue C18 to the superstructure, which creates a weaker connection and complicates alignment with C15. Also, take care when you attach C18 to ensure it is centered between the davits (C34/C36) otherwise they won’t have sufficient clearance. Finally, the smaller of the two port side boats (D19) is from sprue D and is visibly rougher than the others.
By comparison, the starboard side presented no difficulties. The davits are nicely done – they’re detailed and molded in such a manner that they’re easy to detach and clean up. There are clear slotting holes provided for the davits, but ironically they’re too big resulting in too much play in the parts. If you haven’t done it already, I would recommend attaching D21/D22 as they are harder to maneuver into place once the boats and davits are attached. Also, take note that they go on both sides of the ship as the instructions don’t show this clearly.
Step 8 is the end of the line and covers everything on the main deck, including the 5-inch Mk 45 guns, Mk 26 surface-to-air missile launchers, and all of the deck fittings. The Mk 45 guns are an easy two-piece affair. The Mk 26 launchers are another story and I found them tricky to keep aligned as the glue set. My suggestion would be to attach the missiles (B10) to the launch rails (B15/B16) first and then attach the rails to the main body (B1/B19).
The port and starboard side spray guards are provided in both plastic and photo-etch. I used the plastic parts but would use the photo-etch parts if I were building the kit again due to their finer appearance. Regardless of which route you go I would recommend attaching the spray shields prior to the superstructure, davits, and boats. There are no locating tabs for the shields and they are difficult to maneuver into place if you leave them until now.
The instructions are an absolute mess when it comes to the bow. After looking them over several times I resorted to the box art and the rest of the instructions for clues.
• B42 isn’t mentioned in the instructions but is shown attached in Step 8. Its placement is obvious based on the locating hole and was confirmed by a peek at the back of the box.
• C42 doesn’t match the parts diagram on page 1 of the instructions. That’s because C42 is already off the sprue as it was used earlier. As best I can tell C42 mistakenly references B42 (the phantom part referenced above) while pointing at what should be part B40. Confused?
• I couldn’t decipher the reference to B13/C50 as C50 is off the sprue already and B13 doesn’t look correct. Since there wasn’t a locating hole anywhere in the area I decided to leave the parts off.
The saving grace in this step is the star antenna (MA12) which is available only as a photo-etch part. Normally, I am not a fan of being forced to use photo-etch, but in this case it is completely straightforward to attach. Great call on Cyber-Hobby’s part to provide this prominent and delicate feature in photo-etch.