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From the Instructions for the Revell 1954 release of the Franklin D. Roosevelt
Come with us now to the days of Yester-Yore, when things were simpler and a fleet was a fleet. Get into the Way-Back Machine for a quick trip to the days of the Cisco Kid, and Ozzie and Harriet. Travel a half a century into the past to see injected plastic warship models in their infancy. Welcome to this edition of Blast from the Past, where we will examine the grand-pappy of all plastic aircraft carrier models, the 1954 Revell release of the Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1954 Ike was still in his first term, Stalin had died the year before and automobile tail fins were mere bumps at the rear fenders, just waiting to bloom to their towering majesty with the 1959 Cadillac, but that was still half a decade in the future. A half a century ago injected plastic model kits were still in their infancy. In the 1940s, model kits were made of wood. Thanks to the miracle of plastic, any kid could build a replica of a fighting ship without having gone through woodworking class. In 1954 the Fightingest Ships came from Revell Models of Venice, California.
Although it was in the last half of that decade that I built my first kit, I still remember that era in bits and pieces. My first kit was a Revell ship but not one of the original seven. Mine was the Arizona, which was released in the later 1950s and amazingly enough is still a good seller now, almost fifty years later. However, although my first memories of plastic kits were from Ike’s second term, a few years later than 1954, the situation was about the same in one regard but vastly different in another. It was the same in that there were a limited number of plastic kit manufacturers. Revell, Aurora, Lindberg, Renwall Hawk and Monogram, plus some third world minor companies like Ideal and Pyro. There was no Airfix or exotic French kits from Heller kits to be found, much less anything on the hobby shop shelves from Japan. It was an American show in the United States. Model Companies were ranked by each kid but the majority probably did have a consensus that Revell was king. Aurora was always trying harder and went into exotic foreign ships like the Graf Spee, King George V, Bismarck and Yamato but their kits were smaller than the whoppers put out by Revell. Lindberg, well Lindberg was and is Lindberg, they had some kits that could stand in the battleline, like their WWII Essex but a lot of their kits were on the small side, if not outright puny. Renwall was a late comer whose kits were the Hi-Tech, i.e. complicated, kits of the age. Monogram showed up later but originally I don’t remember any warship kits from them, other than a frogman (UDT) boat. Hawk was strictly dinky toy as their warship kits were cheap midgets and only for bottom feeders like younger brothers.
Make no mistake, for a pre-ten plastic ship modeler, size mattered and gun power mattered. The bigger the physical size of the kit, the more potent it was. The more guns that it had, the more invincible were its qualities. Scale. What was scale? Wasn’t that something on a fish? OK, I’ll admit that I purchased the 1:1200 Pyro line of warships when they were released but that was the first time that I had seen a selection of RN subjects like the Warspite and County Class cruisers, plus the first Bismarck kit to be seen, since in my memory it predated the Aurora kit. However, those kits were strictly novelties, as they were far too small in physical size to be a fighting component of the fleet. Revell was king for a number of reasons and one was the size of their kits.
In 1954 Revell ship options were limited to seven. At 89 cents you could have a Chris Craft Cabin cruiser ,although that was for momma’s boys. However, for the low spending boy admirals a PT boat and nuclear submarine Nautilus, complete with missile could also be had for 89 cents. They are warships but strictly on the weak side for size and gunpower. The first warship kit of which any self respecting boy admiral could be proud was the Sullivans destroyer, Revell’s flat bottomed version of a Fletcher Class destroyer at $1.29. When you could afford the heavy cruiser Los Angeles at $1.69, you were a naval power, incorporating size and quantities of guns. When it came to pure gunpower, the top of the heap was the New Jersey/Missouri/Iowa/Wisconsin. It didn’t matter what the box said it was always the same kit and in 1954 it was the Missouri with the repop as New Jersey appearing in 1955. This baby would set you back $1.98, as it did to me in a series of identical situations, every time they slapped new artwork on the box. If you were a fancy pants with the unlimited buying power that a dollar a week allowance conferred, you could go for "The Admiral’s Set", in which Revell packaged all of these kits together in one box, excluding the girlie-boy Cabin Cruiser, and sold the set for $6.95, which is exactly the same price of all five purchased separately, except that Revell threw in glue, paints (glossy) and brush.
However, the crème de la crème was not available in the conspicuous consumption of the Admiral’s Set and was the highest priced single Revell kit of any type out there, the massive and mighty aircraft carrier, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Surely possession of this baby would be a deterrent to that sniveling Johnny’s fleet down the street. It was a true triple threat, size, gun power and air power. The Revell FDR was the biggest and baddest carrier around. It had it all! If you were stuck with 10 cents a week allowance, it would take you half a year to come up with the coin for this ultimate weapon. It was a huge stretch, even for the mildly affluent that raked in 25 cents a week. Does that mean that you saved up until you had all of the money before you bought it? Your fleet needed it now, not half a year from now! You probably resorted to that time honored tradition in government funding, deficit spending. To put it context, you begged mom or dad, whoever was the softest touch, for an exorbitant advance on your allowance, or else you were sure you would die, if you couldn't have it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Of course, if it did work, you would honor you’re pledges for a few weeks, before the inevitable debt forgiveness campaign began. The Revell FDR was the oldest plastic carrier kit but it was never surpassed in the estimation of most kids of the era.
Size- Size matters! Look at the competition. Aurora was late in fielding a carrier. Their first carrier kit was the Enterprise CV-6, allegedly in 1:600 scale. Sorry, but the Aurora Big E was positively wimpy next to the Revell FDR. Both Lindberg with their WWII Essex and Renwall with their modernized Shangri-La had big carriers. They had impact but they still were not as big as the FDR and the FDR carried the day on other grounds by a wide margin. Then in the late 1950s Revell launched another large carrier, their version of the modernized Essex, however, it was not until the Revell Forrestal hit the shelves, that the FDR was eclipsed in size.
Stability – One of the first things you will notice about the Revell FDR is the absolutely flat bottom. Is that realistic? Of course not. However, for a kid in the late 1950s, it was a strong selling point in its favor. The flat bottom gave stability to the ship as she sailed into battle in the back yard, on carpet and most of all, on hard floors. The Revell Essex and any other round bottom model had a distressing tendency to roll and capsize at the worst possible time because of their poor rounded hull design. To see all of your beautifully and thoughtfully spotted aircraft scoot over the side as the ship rolled over was a heart-rending sight. How can you mount a sortie of up to ten feet against sniveling Johnny’s fleet, if all of your aircraft are in the grass, due to poor carrier design? Of course, if you intended to use the carrier operationally, your aircraft could not be glued to the deck. Attrition rate of aircraft was high, if you had one of those self-sinking rounded rollers in long grass, as you never could find everything that dropped over the side. No doubt about it, if you were a wise eight-year-old admiral, you went with flat bottom ships every time.
Air Power – Air power is the number one striking element of a carrier and although that self-evident truth may not be so evident to an eight year old, the Revell FDR packed air power. My buddy David bought the Aurora Enterprise when it was released, as he actually knew something about the history of the ship. The kit had three lousy planes! With a three plane air group you couldn’t even punch your way out of a paper bag. Now, the Revell FDR doesn’t skimp on planes. You won’t be a bottom feeder with this baby. Count them, 26 aircraft came with the 1954 release of the FDR and they were cutting edge platforms, except for the six Corsairs. There were 16 F9F-6 Cougars, not the Panthers shown in the box art but futuristic swept wing Cougars, that went into squadron operation in 1953-54. Of the 16, five were straight wings ready for operations and 11 were folded wings. However, as all boy admirals know, sometimes the folded wing aircraft will be required to sortie in spite of their wing position. There were also two of the new Skyraiders and two helicopters. You could mount a decent strike with those numbers but even if your air group was depleted through the natural attrition from universal enemies of small aircraft, such as pets, grass and vacuum cleaners, the FDR still carried her trump card – fire power!
Gun Power – Lets face it…with boy admirals fire-power is where it is at. Sure carriers have neat additional toys in the form of their aircraft but it was size and quantity of guns that won the battle. This was one overwhelming advantage enjoyed by the Revell FDR, she bristled with guns. Those long galleries crammed with five-inch turrets and twin 3-inch open mounts created an overwhelming sense of gun power. As the average 8-year old is not well versed in the different ballistic properties and explosive power among 5-inch, 8-inch and 16-inch guns, so quantity of turrets was an important consideration. When it came to turrets, the FDR had fourteen, one more than the Missouri. With that firepower at her disposal she could blast herself out of any predicament. Because of this she was a whopping titan among the lesser creations of the Aurora Enterprise or any of the various Essex kits.
Having looked at the Revell Franklin D. Roosevelt from the advantage of childhood memories, now we will take a look at the original 1954 kit. I was frankly expecting to find a very crude kit. After all one of the other original Revell ship kits was the Missouri and even as a kid, I knew that was a poor kit. When the kit arrived in the cardboard box, I quickly removed the packing container. As I gazed upon the box art, I felt a very comfortable feeling of reliving part of my youth. The glorious, garish yellow shy and deep colored flight deck were vintage Revell artwork. I also notice those nice blue panthers coming in for landing and I didn’t remember them in the kit.
Upon opening the box I examined the model and was struck by some advanced features found in this 50-year-old model. There is nothing special about the hull, other than the very stable but unrealistic flat bottom, that I had admired so much in my youthful career as boy admiral. However, when it came to the flight deck, I noticed several things that set this kit as remarkably advanced for the age. The deck has aircraft tie-down points. They are raised rather than recessed but still I didn’t remember them, probably because I didn’t know what they were when I was a kid. There was a full set of arrestor cables worked into the deck. How about a complete LSO platform with safety netting. You don’t see that with every kit now but it is there on the FDR. Additionally other safety netting is found along the deck and elevator. Of course you can find negatives too, starting with the raised 42 on the flight deck. Designed to allow kids to accurately place the decals, this has disappeared from kits in half century since the release of this kit. There are also raised outlines for the deck lines. These were to be painted by the modeler and Revell put them here to help kids paint those lines. However, some Trumpeter kits of today still have raised lines to help the decal process. The side galleries have ribbed splinter shields and director positions. Also found is one of the worst features. I vividly remember these from the Revell Missouri of the period as the cross-shaped blobs that are supposed to be Oerlikon guns. FDR has some f these blobs in the deck side galleries and although they are still bad, seem better than I remember from the old Missouri. However, did FDR have Oerlikons in 1954? What else could they be?
For firepower you have to go to the side galleries, which are packed with guns. There are four of them, one for each quarter. Crammed on these galleries are 13 5-inch turret positions on raised barbettes and 15 twin 3-inch mount positions on open grid planking. You will find some more of Oerlikon blobs here as well but on the other hand, you’ll also find some surprising detail. In addition to the grid deck under the twin three-inch mounts, Revell added hose/cable reels, doors to the hangar, deck and bulkhead detail. On one of the bulkhead panels for the gallery, Revell even attempted to provide three-dimensional inclined ladders as well as vertical ladder. Admittedly, they are rough by today’s standards but none the less show a remarkable effort for this first plastic carrier kit. The island also has raised number 42 on both sides like the deck but here again Revell tried to give the modeler detail and did to a surprising degree. Notice the underside supports for the platform at the base of the funnel cap, the incised bridge windows, island base doors including the three open ones on the port side, director detail and side piping. The forecastle and stern decks even have more surprises. The forecastle is not bad with significant detail in anchor chain, bollards, bits and windlasses but the true surprise is at the stern. The stern has two decks. One is the quarterdeck which has two twin 3-inch positions with deck grid, other deck fittings and two ship’s boats with clearly defined canvas coverings. However, it is the platform that is above the quarterdeck where I discovered the most amazing bit of detailing for this ancient kit. Look past the blobs that are supposed to be Oerlikons and look at the corners of this deck. There you will find two floater net baskets on each rear corner and what is more you’ll see individual floats of the floater nets inside the baskets. I had no idea those were there all along. Along the same lines the port hull area under the island is festooned with carley floats. Although on the thick side, it is just more detail that this original plastic carrier featured.
With the open twin 3-inch mounts, don’t expect too much detail but there is some. The designers lavished detail on the five-inch turrets, all of it on the thick side. Although this detail is too prominent, it consists of doors, sighting hoods, forward vision slits and a pattern of giant rivets on the turret crowns. There are a handful of smaller parts that finish out the ship. Considering the age, the masts are rather nicely done, although again too plump and of course all radar arrays are the original clunky solid ancestors of the modern plastic clunky solid descendants. The same thing can be said about the cranes, except that the largest crane has open latticework. Of the 26 aircraft, the 16 Cougars and 6 Corsairs are really not too bad but the 2 helicopters could use some work. The 2 Skyraiders are real pigs with gigantic pegs for landing gear.
The decal sheet is sparse with two yellow number 42 for the flight deck and the name for the stern. Sitting in the box for the last 50 years didn’t help their appearance either. Also included was the flag sheet always found in a Revell warship kit. That was in pristine shape. It is amazing to look at the instructions. There is one huge sheet with the instructions on one side and kit catalog on the other. The assembly instructions are approached by drawing and text. Although there were 102 parts to the kit, over ¼ of them were aircraft. All of the ship parts were clearly shown in the drawing. The text portion states "Instructions for easy assembly of your Revell Aircraft Carrier. Now You are ready to assemble 33 easy steps for an exciting model" As a kid I never read the text, I just slapped kits together from looking at the drawings but for the Careful Carls out there, Revell in fact did provide 33 sequenced steps in text that took you from A to Z in building the FDR. Revell even had a parts matrix which list each type of part by name and quantity. The instructions stated that if you were short a part, send off the parts coupon to a printed address (Department X at the printed Revell street address) and replacements would be speedily sent. When is the last time you saw that in model instructions? Of course not everything was sweetness and light. In the event that you wish to build this model be careful with the painting instructions. According to the good folks at Revell, the modeler was to paint "All gun barrels, radar screens, cranes and railings silver" as well as the anchors. Sorry but I have reservations about those helpful tips. Also in rigging, lines are shown running from the mast fore and aft to indeterminate ending points somewhere from the centerline stripe to starboard side stripe with the signal flags hung like festive bunting. Somehow I think that formula would result in interference with flight operations and that signal flags should be found on the masts halyards but that is just my opinion. There was even a short history of the ship although it referred to her 1945 armament rather than 1954 rig.
Lastly it is fun to look at the other models available from Revell in 1954. At $2.49, the FDR was by far the most expensive kit in the line up. The most expensive none ship kits, other than gift sets, were two $1.69 wagons from the "Firefighters" series of horse drawn fire fighting equipment. The entire lineup consisted of 7 ships, 16 cars, 3 pistols, 8 aircraft, five firefighter horse pulled rigs, 8 "Miniature Masterpieces" horse or ox drawn (mostly western) wagons, including the State Coach of Britain, a Roman chariot and a set of western figures, 7 sailing vessels at .79 or $1.49 if you wished to get bottles in which to place them and lastly the 5 top of the line multi-kit gift sets, of which the Fleet Admiral’s Set was by far the most expensive. Starting in 1955-56 the Revell line up greatly expanded with new kits.
When I picked up this kit, I was expecting to find a very crude model for the Midway Class aircraft carriers. I had not seen the kit in over 40 years, so I relied from my memory. I remembered the flat bottom, blob like Oerlikons and raised numbers on the deck. What I did not remember, were the advanced features that I found on this model, which is over half a century in age. Amazingly enough, those kit designers at Revell in the age of Ike set a true and proper standard in so many ways.