Unlike their propeller-driven counterparts, the US Navy's first jet aircraft required external electric power to start up their engines. An idea of electric plugs in the flight deck somehow didn't appeal to anyone, and the Navy followed the road already chosen by the Air Force: aircraft starters should be designed as mobile units. This job has been initially allotted to Willys MB jeeps which server on carriers since 1942 as aircraft tow tractors. The real life showed, however, that Willys MB was not ideal for this role: an even smaller and more agile vehicle was needed. Thus in early 1950s all jeeps were replaced with specialized mobile aircraft start units. Based on Willys CJ-3A commercial model, the new NC-1 vehicle differed from it substantially: the rear axle was replaced with a centrally mounted 360º steerable castor wheel set, the front wheels provided traction but were not steerable, and the whole rear end was shaped as a flat platform housing the electrical generator and power cables.
Being adequate for the task, NC-1 starter units were present on carrier decks until late 1960s. However, they were gradually phased out by more modern tow tractors equipped with gas turbine start units, as the Navy's second generation jets needed compressed air to start their engines.
The model presented here shows an NC-1A aircraft starter unit from one of the USN aircraft carriers in early 1950s. It should be noted that since NC-1s were re-manufactured from CJ-3As by a rather small company (O.E.Szekely & Associates), and then sometimes upgraded during their service life on carriers, the vehicles differed from one another. My model just shows a variant I found the clearest photographs for.
2.1. The Kit
No Willys CJ-3A kit is currently available in 1/72, leave alone such a weird vehicle as NC-1. The closest thing would be a Willys MB jeep model which is offered by a number of vendors. It so happened that I had to use probably the most widespread Willys kit, the one produced by Hasegawa and labeled as "U.S. Jeep Willys MB / Cargo / 37mm Gun". Unfortunately, it's accuracy is very poor, and the level of details can only be assessed as barely existing. The plastic of the body and fenders is very think and definitely not to scale. All exterior and interior items of the tiny jeep will have to be done from scratch, since those available in the kit are either too thick or do not exist at all. The wheels do not resemble the real thing even remotely. However, I needed some base to start from, and the Hasegawa's kit served its purpose.
2.2. Improvements and Detailing
- The only parts utilized from the Hasegawa's kit were the car frame and body, hood and radiator grille. The car frame and body were cut off approximately after the driver's seat, and the NC-1s rear end was scratch-built from sheet polystyrene.
- Front wheels were taken from a die-cast Willys model made by Hongwell.
- Rear wheels module was scratch-built with the use of some small airplane wheels from the spares box.
- Various small items were also scratch-built, including the driver's seat, steering wheel, dashboard, gearshift levers, braces, fire extinguisher, electric power unit etc.
- Clear headlights with foil reflectors were installed.
2.3. Materials Used
- Sheet polystyrene, wire, aluminum foil;
- Headlights from the "Landing Light" set by Elf.
2.4. Known Issues
- The model turned out to be too tall: the car frame sits higher above the ground than needed (in hindsight, the Hasegawa's Willys MB frame should've been disposed of rather than modified).
- The vehicle's chassis was rather sketchily imitated (unfortunately, no photographs of NC-1s from below seem to be available).
3. Painting and Markings
3.1. Historical Context
All NC-1A vehicles were painted Orange Yellow (FS33538) overall, a standard color for the Navy's support equipment at the time. The bumper stripes and identification numbers were in black.
3.2. Materials Used
Vallejo acrylic paint and Humbrol enamel were used for painting and weathering the model.
4. Information Sources
- Photographs from historical publications such as the Naval Fighters series (by Ginter Books), In Action and In Detail & Scale series (by Squadron/Signal Publications) and Combat Aircraft series (by Osprey Publishing).
- Photographs from usscoralsea.net and philsea.org Internet sites.
- Video footage of carrier operations from "The Bridges of Toko-Ri" movie.
- Information gathered on several Internet forums.
Hasegawa "U.S. Jeep Willys MB / Cargo / 37mm Gun" kit parts