The world entered the nuclear age at the end of World War II and the possibility of using nuclear propulsion systems to power ships began to gain a foothold. In addition, the effectiveness of submarines in
World War II demonstrated that undersea warfare would play an even more important role in future conflicts and dictated a need for better boats. An improved hull coupled with nuclear propulsion would be
the optimal submarine design. For the United States Navy, nuclear powered subs became a reality with the launch of the
USS Nautilus in 1954 and she was soon followed by the Seawolf and the boats in the
Skate class. As revolutionary as these boats were they still had a full form that was more conventional. Nuclear power plants did not need oxygen to operate like conventional engines and technologies were
developed to convert carbon dioxide back to oxygen so submarines could operate for extended period of times without having to surface. As a result, naval designers concentrated on developing an optimal
hydrodynamic hull design to maximize submerged speed and agility. A program was developed within the Bureau of Ships to determine which design would be the best and models were tested both in a model
basin and in a wind-tunnel. At the end of the program a single-screw teardrop shape hull was selected and construction of an experimental diesel-electric submarine based on this design was authorized on
November 25, 1950. This boat would become the
USS Albacore (AGSS-569). Albacore’s keel was laid on March 15, 1952 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire, launched on August 1, 1953
and commissioned December 5 of that year. As she was built for strictly experimental purposes, she was never armed.

Throughout her life as a test bed,
Albacore underwent several major rebuilds/reconfigurations. As launched her propeller was surrounded by the rudder and stern planes. Her stern was redone in 1956 so that it
would be open with the propeller aft of all control surfaces. At this time a bow extension was fitted providing a sonar window. This rebuild was called Phase II. In 1960, Phase III was completed with her
stern being completely rebuilt with a radical new “X”-shaped tail for improved control. A new bow with improved sonar equipment and an auxiliary rudder on the aft part of the sail was fitted as well. In 1962
a pair of concentric contra-rotating propellers were fitted (Phase IVa) and in 1965 the distance between these propellers were shortened (Phase IVb). Eventually frequent diesel engine breakdowns took their
toll and Albacore was decommissioned in December 1972. She was stricken in 1980 and towed to Portsmouth in 1984 where was dedicated as memorial/museum in 1985 and is open for visitors.
Albacore’s impact on the design of US Navy submarines and the knowledge gained on both applied and theoretical hydrodynamics was tremendous. The proof is that goal of merging nuclear propulsion with
her teardrop hull shaped was first realized in the
USS Skipjack (SSN-585) class and the influence of her hull design is apparent in all subsequent US Navy submarines.
The Kit - Albacore is the latest kit release from Blue Ridge Models and their third in a series of 1950s - early 1960s Cold War US Navy submarines. This simple but detailed little kit appears to be another
winner from this label. The kit can be built in one of her three final configurations after her 1960 rebuilding when
Albacore was fitted with the “X”-shaped tail fins. The kit is packaged in a box fitted with a
bed of foam inserts. While the hull and bag of kit parts where not fitted in between sections of foam (like the previous releases), the packaging was still good enough to protect the kit. The assembly
instructions were placed on top of the parts and there is no photo CD included with this kit. The layout of this kit is very similar to the previous two submarine kits. The main part is of course the full-hull
which is cast very well with excellent details and no major issues. The limber holes, ballast flood grates and various hatches are well depicted. Since this sub was not armed, there are no torpedo tube doors.
While there are hard to see in the photos and barely visible on the hull, there are little indentations along the deck edges which serve as a guide to drill openings for the photo-etch stanchions. The casting
runner in this kit follows a different approach from their previous sub kits. The casting runner is attached more traditionally with two tabs rather than small plugs. However, instead of being attached along
the keel, the runner is attached to the side of hull in an effort to minimize fouling up the details along the keel that would occur sanding and cleaning up after the runner is removed. Since the spots where the
runner meets the hull are smooth, any required clean-up would not damage any underlying detail. Still there is a bit of uneven casting along that side of the hull that needs to be taken care of and it does run
across a small bit of detail. The outline of the sail is present in the deck to fit that part.

The sail is cast as a separate part rather than integrated into the hull. Again this part is done cleanly and with nice details such as the large auxiliary rudder. The top of the sail has indentations that mark the
locations for the periscopes, antennas and radar mast. A quick dry fit shows that the sail needs to be sanded down a little along the bottom after the runner is removed to make it flush with the deck. A little
filler will be needed hide a very thin gap. The smaller parts include the short and long dive planes for the x-shaped tail configuration, periscope, antennas, radar mast and radar, winches, chocks and propeller
fairings and hubs to model one of the last three fits (Phase III, IVa or IVb). Naturally, which of these latter parts to use will depend on the Phase you will choose to model. These parts are also well cast but
need a little more clean-up to remove wisps of resin film. An interesting, and I dare say exciting, extra provided with this kit are resin die-forms to be used to bend the photo-etch propellers into a proper and
uniform shape. I think this is an ingenious idea and should minimize effort, improve consistency and eliminate possible errors in judgment that could occur when bending brass propeller blades. A total of
three different die-forms are provided to accommodate each style of propeller provided with the kit.
The small photo-etch brass is well done and provides the different propeller options for the last three Phases, individual stanchions, mooring cleats and antennas. The stanchions have loop openings for
the fishing line included in the kit and will require drilling openings into the deck to accommodate them. A set of decals is provided with the ship name and hull/sail number for
Albacore. A bit of .020 rod
and some .002” fly fishing tippet line to use with the photo-etch stanchions to make the safety railings round off the kit parts. There are five pages of assembly instructions provided. The instructions
have a cover sheet, a parts inventory and several pages of very clear illustrations. The last page contains a painting and decal placement guide. I did notice in the parts inventory that the descriptions for
resin parts 10 and 12 are inadvertently swapped. Part 10 is actually the fairing for Phase IVb and part 12 the fairing for Phase IVa. The parts are correctly referenced in that section of the assembly

The Build - I decided to build my Albacore in her final fit, which was Phase IVb, as this is how she appears currently as a museum. The first thing I did was to remove the casting runner using a
serrated #11 style blade and then I sanded down the area. As carefully as I did this process I still needed to apply some filler to take care of some imperfections. I sanded down the filler and smoothed
the area using successively finer grits of sandpaper being careful to maintain the curve of the hull. Once this was done to my satisfaction, the next step was to drill the openings for the stanchions and
the other deck fittings using the dimples as a guide. I also drilled out an opening along the keel to accommodate the brass rod I was going to use to mount the model to its wooden base. I had already
removed the casting runner from the bottom of the sail and sanded it smooth to dry fit it for the review so I glued it to the full and applied some Mr. Surfacer with a thin brush to fill in the very narrow
gap around the sail and sanded it smooth once dry. Next step was to attach the dive planes to form the “X” and again using a little bit of filler to blend them seams flush. Then I glued the chocks and
winches into the holes I drilled into the deck. At this point the majority of the model assembly was completed and it was time to give the model a scrubbing with a toothbrush and dishwashing liquid and
then paint the hull its overall black color. I used Tamiya NATO Black for my submarines as it is more of an off-black and not as dark as a true black. I also painted resin parts 10 and 11 (the fairing and
hub for Phase IVb) and the photo-etch stanchions, cleats and antennas. Be careful when painting the stanchions as the eyeholes are very small and will easily get clogged up with paint as this is what
happened to me. I fortunately had the stanchions from my Blue Ridge Nautilus kit which I did not use and I substituted these instead.

Once the paint was dry I applied a coat of Tamiya gloss on the hull for the decals. The decals went on without any problems and they reacted well with MicroScale decal setting solutions. I applied an
initial coat of Testors Dullcote along the bottom of the hull as I was going to mount the model to the display base at this time. The die-forms for the propellers worked out great and are very helpful.
However, the photo-etch blades are very delicate and they can easily be bent or twisted out of proper alignment when handling them so extra care is needed. When assembling the props I did knock a
blade or two out of whack so I had to correct this as best as I could. Still the die-forms are a good idea and did what they were made to do. I then attached each stanchion into the openings I drilled and
glued on the different scopes and antennas to the sail which I had painted haze gray. I then masked the base and applied another coat of Testors Dullcote to the model to avoid having it building up and
frosting on the fishing line. The last step in my build was threading the fishing line through the stanchion loops. I took lengths of the fishing line and ran it under the point of a black marker to color it in.
I threaded the line moving aft and once I got it to the last stanchion I applied a drop of CA glue to attach it. I then pulled the line enough to make it taut without bending the stanchion and taped the loose
end to the base to maintain the tension. I then applied a little bit of CA glue to each stanchion and carefully clipped the loose end flush. I repeated this process for the other side. The last touch was to
apply a little bit of Dullcote to each stanchion to hide the shine of the CA glue. In the photos I took I noticed that the Dullcote frosted on a few of the stanchions (amazing what the camera picks up!) so
I subsequently touched them up. This model is a fairly simple and straight-forward build. I would even say that it could be a weekend build if you had the time to do so. I don’t have that kind of luxury
so it took me a little over a week working bit by bit to build this model.
This release from Blue Ridge Models is another excellent kit and it is a great addition to my Cold War model sub fleet. It captures the innovative shape of the Albacore’s hull and it builds into a very nice
model of an important yet overlooked boat that made an immense impact on submarine design.
Felix Bustelo
Baron of Brooklyn