Moebius 1:72 Scale SSN Skipjack: Development and R/C Conversion – Part 1
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Report to the Cabal: Part 1

(A note to my long-time Cabal Report readers: this multi-part Report is the initial draft of what will become a proper instruction manual for those wishing to convert the Moebius Models 1/72 SKIPJACK plastic model kit into a fully capable R/C model submarine using the Caswell-Merriman fittings kit.)

As you get older you start to compile a ‘bucket-list’, those things you want to accomplish before you die.  I made mine decades ago – I tend to be a forward thinking type.  Near the top of the list, right next to ‘marry  a Filipino Princess’, was to help create a well detailed,  competently researched (hear that, Lindberg?!), and successful traditional  plastic model kit.  That promise to myself made long before I became the poster-boy of American R/C model submarining; at the time I prepared the list I had little appreciated that an injection-formed, polystyrene plastic model submarine could be successfully converted to R/C operation.

Decades after formulation of the bucket-list the two interests — plastic model kit production and r/c submarine building and driving — intersected as I  worked with Moebius to produce the 1/72 SKIPJACK kit while  producing product for the R/C submarine hobby with Caswell.

Moebius Models has just released a plastic model kit of a 1/72 SKIPJACK class submarine.  I was the lead man on that project.  A good history on the real  boats can be had here. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skipjack_class_submarine)

About two years ago, I emailed the Moebius product development guy, Dave Metzner, suggesting they produce a 1/96 scale kit of the SKIPJACK class submarine.  I figured, what the hell, the worst thing he will say is ‘no’.  Nope.  The only thing he said was, “Too small. How about 1/72?” Holy-**it! Hell yeah!

And the rest, as they say, is history.  The guys at Moebius  are constantly pestered by fan-boys to make kits of some off-the-wall-never-get-your-money-back subjects.  I was mindful of that and respectful of their time and resources.  On the other hand, I’m not some no-body off the street.  My name – and more significantly, my work –  proceeded me; I got my hearing because of who I am (pisses you off, don’t  it) and what I’ve done; I’ve paid my dues in this game and cashed in occasionally, like this job with Moebius.

This is the contents of the kit: an excellent set of Bob Plant instructions, complete with a painting rguide; decal markings for all six boats of the class; clear parts for the four dead-lights and stern light;  sail; appendages; propeller; and a complete array of optical and electronic periscopes antennas, masts, including a well-detailed snorkel induction-exhaust mast.

The hull comes in quarters.  Two bow halves and two stern halves – the bow and stern assembles joining at a very robust radial flange near the hull mid-point.  The hull (and this was no mistake) lends itself to being built as an upper and lower unit that can be opened up if the kit-assembler wishes to R/C this model.

Just a sample page from the outstanding Bob Plant instruction booklet that accompanies the 1/72 SKIPJACK kit.  This is a far cry from the bare-bones exploded-view sketch provided with earlier Moebius kits.  A perfect balance of illustrations and text, in plain English.  No ‘chinglish’ here!  We all worked to keep the nomenclature of parts identified in the instruction on par with the descriptive words used by those who made and operated the real thing.

The man responsible for the box-art and instructions (and to no small degree the decal sheet) is Bob Plant.  He’s Moebius’ ‘Art’ guy.  I can not heap enough praise on the job he did on the instructions.  Bob’s work is in the tradition of the kits produced during the golden-era of plastic models kits, the  early 60’s to the mid-70’s.   If, after cracking the box on the Moebius Models 1/72 SKIPJACK kit you feel sweeping over you the joy you first felt as a kid doing this stuff, it is due to Bob’s capture of the look and feel  of the old, good-old-days.

The box art on the first issue of this kit is a very well photo-shopped melding of a Dave Metzner build-up and Bob’s dramatization of a boat underway on the surface.  If there is a follow-up issuing of the kit, you  all are in for a real treat – the new box art will feature a dry dock scene from a noted kit illustrator.  Stay tuned on that.

The Moebius team worked long and hard to get the details right.  An example are the main sea-water (MSW) suction and discharge gratings – on the kit rendered as photo-etched (PE) stainless steel parts.  Getting the attack and night periscope right was a battle.  I spent several days researching the type-2  and type-15 scopes used by most of the boats of the SKIPJACK class.  We didn’t  get it right till the second test-shot.  This demonstrates the uncomplaining  willingness of Frank, Bob, and Dave to get the kit contents right before committing to production.

The Chinese (through no fault of they’re own) did not get it right the first time.  The mock-up, grown in a 3D printer, was severely flawed – the fault was mine, there were several paradoxes of form presented between the documents and scanning models I provided them.  And even after making physical corrections to the mock up, once it was scanned, and that file used to cut the initial tooling, the test shots revealed the need for further refinements.  We went through two test-shot cycles before all flaws were identified and corrected.  Only then did Dave give the green light to start series production.

Periscope Drawing

More on the work done to correct the mock-up and test-shot flaws later.  Above are some of the orthographic and isometric drawings I prepared for the Chinese to help them get the scope heads right.

Nearly a decade before the Moebius project I had been operating a 1/72 SKIPJACK R/C model submarine – a fiberglass (GRP) and resin kit produced by Scale Shipyard.  The kit is one of the best quality articles that company produces – the accuracy of form and detailing is high; the parts were warp-free and no bubbles to fill.  Nice kit!

Scale ShipYard Skipjack at Nauticus

However, GRP-resin kits are not for the common kit-assembler; they require a great deal of talent to clean up, lay-out, assemble properly, and to get operational.  I know of only a hand-full of these kits out there working today.  Above you see my Scale Shipyard 1/72 SKIPJACK tooling around the fresh-water pond at Norfolk’s Nauticus museum where our club, the Elite Fleet,  puts on shows during the summer months.

The Scale Shipyard SKIPJACK’s a dead ringer for the Moebius kit.  It demonstrated to me that a mass-produced plastic model kit, if built robust enough, would be the perfect hull for the first-time  R/C submarine driver: Maneuverable, fast, and lacking the brittle little bits and pieces of a WW-2 era submarine that invariably break off during handling and use; the SKIPJACK is the perfect R/C submarine for those with itchy transmitter fingers.  Believe me, I know!

The SKIPJACK (all of my SKIPJACK’s) is operated as a wet-type R/C model submarine: the hull and sail are free-flooding structures.  The propulsion, control, and ballast sub-system elements are all contained within a single 3.5″  diameter Lexan cylinder.  That removable cylinder forming the brawn, brains, and  displacement changing mechanisms that animate the model.

Aurora Skipjack reboxing by Monogram & Revell

How many of you old-timer’s remember this kit as a kid?  How many of you stuck a motor in this 13″ model and saw it chase across the pool only to smash into the other side with a sickening ‘crunch’? Come on! I can’t be the only one  to have done this?  Oh … you were the cherry-bomb type.  Sorry.

Electronics have matured to the point where even that small Aurora SKIPJACK can be R/C’ed! Caswell Inc. provides a fittings kit to convert the little model to R/C and they also sell the  Sub-Driver and devices needed to complete the job. (http://www.sub-driver.com/models/submarine-models/uss-skipjack-submarine/the-revell-skipjack-submarine-fittings-kit.html)

1/230 scale SKIPJACK as R/C boat

And our 1/96 scale, GRP-resin-metal SKIPJACK kit.  This was the size I first recommended to Moebius, but they preferred a larger, 1/72, sized kit – something that would be in scale with the excellent Revell 1/72 Type-7 and GATO  models.  A good call in my opinion.

1/96 scale R/C SKIPJACK

Prior to my assembly and use of the Scale Shipyard 1/72 SKIPJACK.  I had produced and marketed a 1/96 scale GRP-resin-metal kit of the SKIPJACK which I’ve been selling now for nearly twenty-five years.  Of course I’ve been driving  this version of the Beast around forever!  I’ve even produced R/C versions of the  little Aurora-Monogram-Revell 1/230 SKIPJACK – a model measuring only 13″ in  length.  The 1/230 and 1/96 scale SKIPJACKs pictured above.

Yeah … I’m Mr. SKIPJACK!

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4 Responses to Moebius 1:72 Scale SSN Skipjack: Development and R/C Conversion – Part 1

  1. Milo Reed says:

    I’m building a 6 ft long by 12 inch diameter RC submarine. It’ll be tether controlled due to the depth I want to go. It’ll have a camera with headlight and dive to 100 ft. It’ll send live video to a laptop.

    It has a ballast system as well as a depth control (tanks) system. Three WTCs (camera, control, & propulsion) will drain to an enclosed automatic pumping bilge system in case of water in-leakage. It has a self-leveling system using 2 DCTs, 2 pumps, and 4 level switches.

    With the lead ballast required, I figure my sub will weigh about 100#.

    I’m considering using a 12v dc reversible constant drive 500RPM motor using a relay (for reversing) with servo controlled switches.

    I REALLY want to propel it with an RC electric motor run from my transmitter. My question is: What KV motor to use and what gear reduction do you use on your Skipjack?

    • RBeach RBeach says:

      Milo, I have forwarded your question to the author. You might also want to visit the Sub-Driver.com forum [http://forum.sub-driver.com/] and engage the community there. Lots of no-nonsense discussion there.
      Regards, R.

  2. Robert Osmond says:

    I have been unable to locate anyone or any site that has the rudder connector components to make this RC. Several Articles have mentioned that they exist but no search has found them. If there is no someone making these parts, I will go ahead and make them myself and get a prop from the Prop Shop in England.
    I have build many tugs and steam launches from scratch.

    I want to make my skipjack dive dynamicly like I made my 13″ one do 28 years ago.

    It was a nice article.

  3. Michael Criswell says:

    i would like some blue prints if you have any of the uss skipjack model i am going to build one.

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