On the Bench 138: Kyu-Woong Lee’s Sulaco

Kyu-Woong Lee brings us this ship from Aliens that he has been working on. The Sulaco is seen here in progress.

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“Oh why, oh why, didn’t Halcyon make their Sulaco larger?” is a question I’m sure is often asked by Aliens modelers. I always liked the designs for the ships and vehicles in Aliens, and so I collected all the available Halcyon kits.

I was always particularly fond of the Sulaco. It always had a very military feel about its appearance. It also had Syd Mead’s trademark design, a vast and intricate antennae array on the front part of the ship. The antennae array had the interesting combination of appearing both delicate and armed to the teeth.

 

When I got my Halcyon Sulaco kit, however, I got it mostly to complete my collection. I was resigned to its scale being small, and although it was very accurate, like many of their kits, it was less than satisfying because of its size. The antennae array was also fairly accurate, but at that scale, the level of detail is limited.

When I found out there was limited run, large-scale garage kit version available, I jumped at the chance to get one. Well, I emailed a few people, and then jumped. I had heard some horror stories about how difficult it was to build, that the detailing was a bit heavy handed. Ultimately, it didn’t deter me from getting one; it just softened the blow when I opened the box.

Kit as received:

This kit was VERY hard to find, and by some miracle, John Green of Greenmodels found me one. The kit was made by BCI. My first impression of the kit was that they tried very hard to make the kit accurate, but this was, after all, a garage kit. There was a LOT of excess resin, much of which had to be removed by lots of sanding, grinding, and even sawing. There was enough excess removed to cast a solid Halcyon scale Sulaco!

All of the mating surfaces looked as if they were the top faces of the poured resin, bubbles and all. I had to sand most of these smooth.

Some of the parts were warped, but I corrected them by heating them over a gas stove, then forming to shape. The worst warp was the long bottom detail piece, which had a sort of “s” bend.

Overall, however, I felt it did provide an excellent basis for building a good replica, and the manufacturer did a great service by making the Sulaco in this scale available. The overall proportion of the model was pretty accurate, although an extra inch inserted into the mid-drift of the main fuselage would have made it perfect.

Sections requiring accurizing:

Most of the kit went together rather well after the material removal and some putty. However, there were some sections of the kit that required major rework and accurizing. These were the front antennae array, the engine drive section, and the upper and lower gun turrets. Some work had to be done on the lower aft “tower”.

Front antennae array:

 

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Let’s face it, this is the most interesting part of the ship. This is the first part of the ship we see in the opening sequence of the Sulaco on its way to LV-426. It was intricate in detail with all those antennae spikes, yet looked very formidable and intimidating.

To accurize this section, I looked at still shot references on the Special Edition Laserdisc of Aliens, the shots on the Starship Modeler site, and Harry Harris’s shots shown in Sci-Fi and Fantasy International magazine. These were invaluable references, although they didn’t completely agree on the antenna configuration. All I can assume is that the configuration changed slightly as the movies went on, or after production.

The main parts provided were fairly well detailed, and some minor warpage was easy to correct. I used the kit’s center spar, front upper faceplate, and 6 of the 10 antennae. The rest of the kit’s pieces didn’t seem to match the references, so I scratch built the other antenna from styrene rods, mostly 020-.035in diameter stock, and leftover antennae from various kits, including my Halcyon Nostromo.

First I attached the center spar to the upper front faceplate piece, then I built up the center spar with some scrap pieces from other kits. In the reference photos, most of the antennae appeared to be attached to the center spar as well, either in front, or on either side. Attaching most of the thin antennae to the center spar helped to ensure proper alignment, and also looked fairly accurate.

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There are four other antennae that do not attach to the spar, but attach to the left and right sides of the fuselage front center face. These were mounted directly on to the fuselage. These also required some accurizing. One actually had to be scratch built (port side, upper), as none of the provided antennae resembled this one. Others required shortening and some added detail (starboard side, lower).

There was no lower front faceplate supplied, just the unfinished surface of the main fuselage halves, so I put on some thin, ribbed sheet styrene, and added small scrap model pieces and etched brass detail.

I left the major assembly of the antennae array detached from the rest of the ship until major painting and weathering was completed.

Engine Drive Section:

The main body of the rear drive section came molded as one, solid piece. It basically looked like four completely solid panels attached around a lopsided cylinder. Although the panels surfaces and shapes themselves were fairly accurate, they were solid.

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This was rather disappointing, because the original studio model made the panels look like curved sheets, with lots of greeblie detail underneath. This detail was missing completely, both in this kit, and the Halcyon kit. The studio model’s thin panels also created a “petalled” look to the rear of the engine.

I wrestled a bit with the decision to do some major rework on the main engine body, because I could potentially ruin this rare kit. On the other hand, this was an opportunity to go for it, and do the large scale of the kit some justice. What finally made me go ahead with the rework was the lopsided-ness of the cylinder, which was squished somewhat diagonally. I decided that if I didn’t rework it now, I’d do it later when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Now was better than later.

So, I sawed off the panels (carefully) from the cylinder, and discarded the square core. Then, I cut underneath the side edges of the top and bottom panels to create a “shelf” under which detailing would go. I sawed straight across for the side panels, since these weren’t open like the top and bottom ones.

Then, I used a Dremel to grind out excess resin from underneath the rear of each panel, until a thin, curved, sheet of the original outside of the panel was left. This worked well to create the “petalled” look.

I then got some sturdy, thick, acrylic tubing (2.25″ OD), and used this for the cylinder. I had to do a lot of sanding of the cut panels to match the curved surface of the tubing. Boy, did my arms and hands get a workout!

Sheet styrene was used to cap the ends, with detailing added. Strip and rod styrene were used to detail the outside of the cylinder surface.

Some detail pieces for the rear of the engine came with the kit, but these were fairly inaccurate and heavy-handed in detail, so I scratch built the “winged” section from sheet styrene, strip styrene, and rectangular styrene bars. The result matched fairly well with the reference photos. The concentric ridges on the rear face were cut from styrene tubes.

For the side detailing under the top and bottom panels, I took the side panels from a Star Wars Destroyer, cut two pieces to the right length for the engine panels, then cut each piece laterally into two halves. I then added small greeblie detailing to the pieces. I probably should have added more detail, but I was starting to burn out at this point. I also created the ridged shelves just under the detail panels from various shingle or board-and-batten styrene sheets. The pieces were painted separately, and attached after primary painting.

In all, the rework of the rear engine section was the most time consuming (and arm/hand consuming) part of the model, but the end result was really rewarding. I really felt like I had given the proper effort, to do justice to the scale.

Gun Turrets:

The gun turrets that came with the kit were not very good. The upper gun turret was pretty much useless, and the lower gun turret, though better, had to be reworked. These are located on the top and bottom of the ship’s main body.

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The upper gun turret on the studio model, as Starship Modeler points out, is from an M60A2 tank. However, it proved impossible to find a 1:100 scale M60A2 tank anywhere. I ended up having to scratch build one by taking the turret off a Military Miniatures 1:100 resin “Medium Tank”, and trimming off the sides to make it squarer. I then added a beveled base, and made guns from styrene spars and rods.

For the lower gun turret, I took the kit’s turret as a basis, and removed the guns. I then built on top of the piece using thin sheet styrene, shaping it to match the reference photos. The only visible part of the original turret remaining, were the gun “shoulders”. The guns themselves were scratch built by using styrene rod with a metal core, and adding .010″ strip styrene around the circumference to create the “ridged” look.

For both turrets, I added some etched brass detail. The etched brass sets for airplane cockpit buckles and scope/gauge windows seemed to work best. I also scratch built the upper turret pedestal, and made it rotate using some helicopter kit rivets. The lower gun didn’t have a pedestal, but I made that one rotate as well.

Lower aft “Tower”:

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Some minor detailing had to be reworked on this piece. The original vents on the piece suffered from bubbles and coarse scale of the vents, so I sanded them smooth, and attached styrene board-and-batten pieces. There also seemed to be a piece missing, which covered the gaping openings toward the rear of the tower where it met the connecting cylindrical piece. I scratch built some panels with sheet styrene, strip styrene, and leftover parts. You might recognize the leftover Dropship details.

Finishing:

I applied the base coat, a flat neutral gray. Then I applied the lettering decals. I actually had problems locating the correct size and font, so JTGraphics kindly made some custom decals. These aren’t just your Daddy’s Star Trek fonts!

After applying some weathering using charcoals and pastels, I sealed with a coat of Dullcoat. Although I haven’t finished the paneling details, I plan to mix some clear Gloss and Semi-gloss paint with various amounts of transparent blue, and add various panels to the surface.

This approach creates the color differences of the panels, while also creating the varying reflectivity seen in the movie. This approach skips the steps of painting the panels, then repainting the different reflective coats, although I haven’t really tried it out yet.

Kyu-Woong Lee

See the finished model

Originally posted in 2001

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