Revell/Dragon 1/700 HMS Illustrious

KIT #: 5035
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Frank Spahr
NOTES: Everything by WEM:  PE set # 742, resin correction set PRO 7026, resin deck vehicles PRO 7043, resin Sea Harrier AS 7005, resin Sea King AS 7002


Two of the most important postwar classes of RN ships are currently being phased out, the type 42 destroyer and the Invincible class aircraft carrier. Only one of each is still in service at the time of writing (January, 2013). Type 42 was the most numerous RN destroyer for several decades, and despite issues the class had with sea-keeping and stability, rendered sterling service all around the world. Two Type 42 (HMS Sheffield and Coventry) were lost in the Falklands war of 1982. It was decided to replace these war losses and the two type 21 sunk by an improved type 42, the batch 3 of the class. These ships were lengthened considerably ahead of the bridge to improve sea-keeping qualities. HMS Manchester has been decommissioned in 2011 and is currently awaiting disposal.

The „Harrier carrier“ of the Invincible class was designed in the wake of the 1966 momentous decision of phasing out fixed wing naval aviation from the RN. Originally, it was designed as a helicopter-carrying cruiser to patrol the sea areas Soviet submarines would have to pass to reach the open Atlantic. ASW helicopters should locate and destroy the submarines. The threat of Soviet long-range maritime surveillance aircraft caused the inclusion of the recently developed Sea Harrier fighter into the cruisers´ air group. A lot of care was taken originally not to refer to the ships as aircraft carriers, but in the event it was accepted they were carriers to all intents and purposes, so they received the requisite „R“ pennants. A novelty developed during construction of the lead ship was the „ski-jump“, a ramp added to the fore end of the flight deck, which enabled the Harrier to take off after a short run with much more payload than possible in a vertical take-off.

The country´s dire financial situation almost put an end to the Invincible class, and had it not be for the outbreak of the Falklands War in 1982 and the excellent service HMS Invincible rendered, she would have been sold to Australia. In the event, three units of the class were built and progressively upgraded, serving from around 1980 until 2005 when Invincible was the first to decommission. The ship´s air group and their deck space had been enlarged during their service by removing the Sea Dart missile system. CIWS systems had been introduced immediately after the Falklands War, same as a AEW conversion of the Sea King effectively remedying the loss of this capacity.

With the new defence cuts of 2010, the remaining Harriers were decommissioned,  same as Ark Royal. Only Illustrious remains in service as a helicopter carrier and is due for decommissioning in 2014.


So building two of my stock of 1:700 kits on a common base made perfect sense to me, even more so as I had received the 1:350 scale Airfix kit of Illustrious and had a faint inkling I wouldn´t build the smaller version once the large one was completed. I had aquired the Illustrious kit (a Dragon/Pit-Road kit in a Revell box) for a song at a swap meet, and it showed it needed some upgrading. The Manchester kit gave me that pleading last-puppy-in-the-shop look one day at my LHS, so I made a shopping list for aftermarket and bought the lot at the WEM booth at Telford one year.


Making the base

 My approach in making waterline models is as follows: I prepare the waterline model hulls and chose the type of base I want to use. In many cases, I use the affordable Trumpeter display cases. The largest of these cases just about sufficed for the two ships, sailing a bit closer together than in reality. Illustrious´ hull had to be waterlined for the purpose. Both model hulls were placed on the base where desired, and holes were drilled through model and base to accept screws. These screws were fixed inside the model using dental resin. Now the models were ready for mounting to the base , and the screws were very handy to mount the models on my indispensable adjustable vise during building.

With the hulls provisionally screwed to the base, grey paint was misted over them from my airbrush to mark the hull perimeters. With the models again removed, I was able to sculpt the raised areas of the seascape, using generic plastic putty from the hardware supermarket. Spatulas for artist´s oils and a wire brush were used for the purpose. It´s always very helpful to consult images of the real ships when creating a seascape. With the putty done and cured, I applied white wall paint in a stippling motion using a large flat paintbrush. That blends the surface in and creates a slightly irregular surface similar to real water. The effect can be varied with amount of paint, pressure, frequency and direction of stippling. That dried, I used green and dark blue acrylic model paint in my airbrush to achieve the correct colour for my seascape. As a rule the water nearer the hull will be lighter and with a greenish hue – using an airbrush makes blending between the various shades easy.

This surface, once completely painted, will need several weeks to cure so most of the included moisture can evaporate. The next step is to seal the surface with several layers of solvent-based clear gloss spray from a rattle can to achieve the appropriate degree of gloss. If this layer is applied too early, evaporating moisture will cause bubbles in the surface.  Another caveat: Even though this surface may seem dry to the touch, it takes several weeks to fully cure. So do not leave your models on it for any longer spell, or they will be glued to it.

Once the models were completed, they were screwed to the base, and any remaining gaps between the hulls and the seacape filled with clear gloss acrylic gel. That cured, final accentuating was done using white artist´s oil paint.

Building the kits

Illustrious is depicted in this kit as she appeared during the 1990s, prior to losing the Sea Dart and having her deck extended. Sadly, the kit has heavy raised flight deck markings. These were removed. The hull needed some filling and sanding. A quarterdeck was scratchbuilt  using styrene stock, even though it is hardly visible on the completed model. The hull complete, the flight deck was added and cleaned up. It was then painted white. The flight deck markings were then masked off using AIZU ultra-fine masking tape and custom cut pieces of kip #308 tape. Now the flight deck was sprayed and the decals added.

Using the resin correction  set and the plethora of PE by WEM made this build quite involved, and needed a fair amount of concentration in order to select the right parts for the 1990ies fit. But mostly, things fit well and the build proceeded smoothly. Breaking down things into a number of subassemblies helped, too. The model was painted using approximations of RN shades using various manufacturers of acrylic paints, such as (sadly now defunct) JPS and Vallejo. Once complete, subassemblies were added working from center to periphery, in order to minimize the risk of inadvertently destroying something.

The air group from the kit was on the lacking side, so resin aircraft from WEM were added. These were cleaned up, PE was added, they were painted and decaled. The flight deck was weathered using artist´s oils and pastel chalks prior to gluing the aircraft and the resin deck vehicles from WEM to it. PE figures from Lion Roar were also added. What little rigging there is was added from UNI Caenis ultra-fine flyfishing thread. The hull was weathered very sparingly and below the anchors, as reference images showed very little evidence of weathering. Finally a flat coat of Vallejo ModelAir matt varnish was used to seal and blend in the model.

HMS Manchester was built almost like an afterthought, as quite some structures were similar, and things went smoothly and rather fast. I applied the decals with the ship´s crest to PE discs to imitate the way the crests are mounted to the funnels. Once the ship was manned and rigged, it was also flatcoated and mounted to the base.


This was an interesting project with an outcome I find pleasing. Despite the work involved, I enjoyed it a lot.

Frank Spahr

March 2013 

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