Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Aircraft Carrier Made of Ice

I thought I'd do something a little different today and present one of my scratch-built ship model projects. I have made lots of ship models out of bass wood (harder than balsa), spare ship parts and bits and pieces from the parts box in 1:2400 scale (1" equals 200'). I had, for a long time, been fascinated with a project the British came up with during World War II for an aircraft carrier made of ice - or more specifically a substance called Pykrete, which was made of sawdust and ice. Named for British inventor Goeffrey Pyke who proposed the project, it was designed to fill the gap in air coverage south of Iceland and in the Norwegian Sea to provide air support to convoys to England and Soviet Russia. Pykrete was actually very impressive - a story has British Admiral Mountbatten taking two blocks of material into a conference being held in Quebec in 1943. One of these was just ice, into which he fired his revolver and the ice shattered. But when he fired into the Pykrete the bullet ricocheted, and was variously reported as narrowly missing the British chief of the air staff or actually clipping U.S. Admiral King in the leg. It was decided to build a mock up in Canada, which lasted into the next year with minimal maintenance, so technically it was probably a feasible design since it was designed to operate in Arctic waters. However, the resources required for construction would have been prohibitive and besides, the U.S. began building Escort or jeep carriers from converted merchant hulls, which were used to fill the air gaps at a more modest cost. The Pykrete carrier was named Habbakuk by Winston Churchill (although a clerk misspelled it from the original Habakkuk), and would have displaced 2,000,000 tons, would have been 2,000 feet long and 300 feet wide and would have carried 150 twin engine bombers and fighters. It wouldn't have gone very fast (maybe up to 10 knots), but would have served as a moderately mobile landing platform more than a traditional aircraft carrier. I've shot the model alongside some of the largest ships of the period - British liner Queen Mary, which was 1,018 feet long (foreground), HMS Illustrious at 753 feet long (on the left) and USS Essex at 888 feet long (on the right) for comparison of size - all 1:2400 scale.
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