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Merit International HMS Ark Royal

Best known for its part in sinking the Bismarck in May 1941, HMS Ark Royal saw almost continuous action from the beginning of hostilities in September 1939 until its sinking in November 1941. The first purpose-built aircraft carrier — those before had been converted from other classes — Ark Royal boasted large hangars, a hurricane bow, a rounded-down stern to reduce turbulence for landing aircraft, and double the anti-aircraft armament carried by contemporary Allied carriers.

Merit’s kit is finely molded in gray plastic with just a few areas of flash and nice detail throughout, including eyebrow gutters above the portholes. The air wing comprises five Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers, four Fairey Fulmar fighters, and four Blackburn Skua dive-bombers. All are molded in gray plastic with good detail; the biplane Swordfish are kits themselves with 15 parts, including photo-etched (PE) struts and rigging, but there’s no provision to fold the wings. Decals provide aircraft roundels and the ship’s flight-deck stripes.

The 16-page, 37-step instructions are OK, but PE bending and placement guidance is vague, especially for parts around the edge of the deck, such as the antenna mounts.

I recommend starting with Step 14 and joining the hull halves and internal braces. Some of the brace mounts are obscured by the recessed sections installed in steps 1-13; there’s plenty of room to add those assemblies after the hull is together.

Step 14 also requires the installation of a PE railing around the fantail, but that interferes with installation of the angled supports (parts E9, E10, and E11) in Step 16. I suggest adding the supports first, then sectioning the railing between them.

In Step 20, hold off installing the life rafts until the last of the eight deck-edge antennas are mounted in Step 28; the support braces will get in the way of the rafts. Flash mars all of those plastic braces that must be removed to fit the nice PE antennas and platform details. The drawings for bending the details in steps 24-26 are incorrect, so examine drawings of the finished assemblies to get them right.

A word of caution: The detailed two-part PE safety rail at the stern is handed. The port side is curved, versus starboard, which is straight. Bend the fragile upper rails carefully to conform to the platform below.

Step 30 adds the nicely rendered PE wind fence to the flight deck and completes the hull.

The island went together quickly, and the fit of the railing to it and the mast make for a relaxed build. The two-part PE frame for the funnel fit perfectly.

All of the aircraft are great, but the highlight is the Swordfish biplanes. Minor flashing mars the biplanes’ tail wheels and windshields, but they include forward-raked struts for the main landing gear, torpedoes, and PE wing struts.
I checked the model against drawings and it appears to be accurate. However, the kit lists the kit as 1939 yet includes some items added in 1940. To build an accurate 1939 Ark Royal, omit the degaussing cable molded on the hull, the crash barrier, and the Fairey Fulmar fighters. Research also revealed that the Type 285 Yagi radar antennas added to the Mk.V HACS directors in Step 22 were never fitted to the carrier. The only kit parts I would replace are the pom-pom directors (D14), which look like lollipop searchlights rather than the optical Mk.III units fitted on Ark Royal.
This was a fun build with a few challenges. With excellent PE features to build and enhance, it would provide a full season of modeling entertainment.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the February 2017 issue.
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