L'Arsenal 1/400 Floreal Class Frigate 'Nivose'
Text and Photos by: Hans Bernink
The Floreal class frigate is intended as a replacement for the smaller and older Aviso class of frigates. Described as 'Fregates de Surveillance' or 'Ocean capable patrol vessel', the Floreal class frigate is designed for low intensity or low-threat operations. The class is comprised of 6 vessels; the Floreal (F730), Prairial (F731), Nivose (F732), Ventose (F733), Vendemiaire (F734) and Germinal (F735), all were built and commissioned between 1990 and 1994.
The Floreal class measures 306.8 ft in length with a 45.9 ft beam. Full load displacement is 2,950 tons. They attain a speed of 20 knots using four SEMT-Pielstick diesel engines generating 8,820 HP through two shafts. For added maneuverability, the class also has a bow thruster rated at 340 HP. Range proved to be better than expected during sea trials, averaging 10,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. The usual complement is 110, including 10 Officers, 76 Sailors and 24 Marines.
The weapons suite includes two Aerospitale MM38 Exocet missiles with active radar homing to 42 nautical miles, one DCN 3.9 in (100 mm) 55Mod 68 CADAM cannon with a rate of fire of 80 rounds per minute to a range of 9 nautical miles and two Giat F2 20mm cannon with a rate of fire of 720 rounds per minute at a maximum range of 5.5 nautical miles. The class also has 2 CSEE 10-barrelled chaff and IR flare launchers. In the future, it is planned to replace the two 20mm cannon with two Matra Simbad twin SAM launchers to drastically improve air defense capabilities.
Unlike the Aviso class that it supersedes, the Floreal class has a flight deck and hanger for supporting helicopter operations and can handle one Dauphine II, one Alouette III or one AS 332F Super Puma but it is doubtful that the existing hanger can accommodate the Super Puma. While the weapons suite is not as dominant as for example, a comparable ship of Russian design, the Floreal class is reportedly quite sea-worthy and well suited to its job of showing the flag for France's territorial interests.
THE L'ARSENAL KIT
I've always been attracted to the appearance of newer generation ships with the odd angles, clean surfaces, and lack of topside clutter, and the Floreal class of frigates falls squarely into this description. The L'Arsenal kit provided me with a low-cost alternative for building one of these 'newer' generation ships.
Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a very nicely cast one-piece full hull, a baggie with resin cast parts, two photo-etched frets and (surprise) a clearly printed set of decals. The hull casting is cast in cream-colored resin and the detail is outstanding. This is easily one of the better castings that I've seen, and only had a few minor pin holes that are easily filled (photos). The hull casting has a faint line cast at the waterline to assist in painting the boot-topping, or for the more ambitious, water-lining the kit.
The resin small parts are cast on blocks with petite and convincing detail. Only the two small zodiac boats had pinholes in identical locations which would indicate that the mold is beginning to see wear. The kit includes a nicely cast resin Dauphin II helicopter (photos). A nice touch is that the parts on the resin casting blocks are identified by letters, which correspond to the instructions.
The PE is comprised of two frets; one for the detail parts and one for the railing. The detail parts are relief etched with recessed lines to facilitate bending the parts. Included are radars, life raft supports, nicely realized exhaust guards, davits, helicopter rotor blades and a host of other parts that will add greatly to the overall detail. Stanchion type railing make up the second fret. Some modelers will find these difficult to use and will opt to use replacement railing with a bottom gutter rail. In addition, the supplied railing seems clunky and not as fine as the other detail parts.
The kit includes a 2" X 3" sheet of decals. Having run into all too many resin kits that fail to provide any decals, these were a pleasant surprise. The decals include helicopter deck markings, useful bridge and flight control windows, numbers for every ship in the class, names, and draft marks. The only real omission is the lack of roundels or markings for the Dauphin II. These can be purchased separately from L'Arsenal or possibly scrounged from Heller kits. The decals appear bright and in register, although they appear somewhat thick on the backing sheet.
The instructions consist of 3 pages and they include a brief history, a parts breakdown, and separate schematics for the placement of the resin parts, PE parts and the decals. Unusual for resin kits, the instructions are comprehensive and include 'recipes' for the paint work in (old) Humbrol and Tamiya numbers. The location of a couple of the resin and PE parts are somewhat vague, but all in all, the instructions are good. Other resin manufacturers could take a lesson from these instructions. Hats off to Jaques Druell of L'Arsenal.
I chose to build the Nivose (F732) because I stumbled across a very good series of walkaround pictures on the Internet of that ship taken while paying a visit to Perth, Australia. Most of the photos that I could find seemed to be of the Nivose, possibly because she is stationed in the attractive island paradise of Noumea (in the vicinity of Tahiti).
I planned to mount the Nivose on a cherry plaque that I had picked up at an IPMS regional. To lend a clean, 'modern' look, I chose to attach the Nivose via two 1/8" brass rods and drilled matching holes in the plaque and the hull. I mounted the hull so that it would stand ¾" from the plaque. After mounting the Nivose to the plaque, I added the black boot-topping and hull red, I masked off the lower hull. The plaque did double duty as a stable work stand for painting the topsides and adding the detail parts.
Intending to 'shadow-shade' the Nivose, I painted the middle hull and all of the topside angles and crevices with Tamiya flat black. I then added the shafts, V-struts and rudders, and masked off the boot-topping with 1/8" wide low-tack tape and painted the lower hull a combination of Tamiya red toned down with Tamiya brown. I was careful to allow dark shadows (no pun intended for the older ones among us) to accumulate at angles and edges. I left off the stabilization strakes since they seemed fiddly and would most likely get broken off during the preliminary building stages. I recommend adding the separate propeller blades to the shafts prior to gluing the shafts to the hull. I waited until later and had a devil of a time gluing them on and getting them to align properly. I'm still not satisfied with how the propellers look.
I wanted to duplicate the prominent helicopter tie-downs and the rail track on the flight deck. I used a Waldron punch and die set to punch small discs out of black decal film and placed the disks on the flight deck per the pattern on my references. I also used Evergreen stock to duplicate the rail track. Then I painted all of the decks and horizontal surfaces in Tamiya XF-29 per the instructions; careful to leave a hint of black shadow at angles, crevasses, etc. I also used the XF-29 as the shadow coat for the vertical surfaces. I carefully masked off most of the horizontal surfaces using numerous pieces of low-tack masking tape and chartpak tape. This is a tedious and time-consuming process, but I believe that the sharp delineations between the horizontal and vertical surface colors make it worth the effort. I sprayed the vertical surfaces with Tamiya XF-19. For the few surfaces that I did not mask, I was careful to spray at about a 110 degree angle to the deck to avoid overspray. Any surfaces missed by the airbrush can be touched up with a brush later. Removing the masking revealed sharp edges. The Nivose is beginning to look like a ship. I sprayed the Nivose with a couple coats of Future as a base for the decals and a barrier for the oil washes to follow.
I applied the decals per the instructions and my references. Once free from the backing sheet the decals were thick, slightly cloudy and did not respond well to any of my setting solutions. Repeated applications of Solvaset finally helped the helo deck decals to conform to the pulley rail, but there is a definite 'step' or transition where every decal meets the surface. A couple coats of Testors Dullcoat made the steps less obvious.
I assembled the mast per the instructions but also added a Loran radar, rails and scratchbuilt safety tunnels on the vertical ladders. I completed all of the smaller sub-assemblies adding details here and there and then moved on to the railings. My preference is to preshape each piece of railing prior to painting and mounting to prevent paint from flaking off during the bending process and to avoid having to paint them after attaching them to the decks. All of the subassemblies and railing sections were attached to low-tack masking tape (photos) and sprayed with Tamiya XF-19. The rails went on without any problems using thin CA. Even though they are of the individual stanchion type, the bent 'leg' on each stanchion afforded adequate gluing surface. I think that the railings are somewhat clunky, but the overall effect is good. At this point I added all of the smaller assemblies and the helicopter deck railing. The completed mast assembly is very fragile and to avoid damaging it in the course of final finishing, I added it later.
Comprised of 11 parts, the Dauphin Helicopter is a little kit in itself. I added a rescue winch and chose to duplicate the canvas cockpit cover and tie-downs per my references. Patience was key here as the tail fins require several butt fits and the parts are small. I mounted the Dauphin on a short piece of brass rod and drilled a matching hole on the helo deck. The rod created a support for handling the Dauphin and provides a solid mounting point to the hole in the deck. I felt the landing gear and the rotor to be undersized based on my reference photos and replaced them with PE parts from a WEM 1/600 generic detail set. I saved the detailed rotor hub from the L'Arsenal PE set by clipping the blades off and mounting it on a rotor set from the WEM 1/600 ultimate Royal Navy set. The Dauphin was painted in the standard French two-tone gray scheme and a wash was applied. I painted the canvas cover green and then dry-brushed it with Khaki to give it a worn look. As noted earlier, no decals were supplied so I'll order a set from L'Arsenal and add them at a later date. The Dauphin was attached to the flight deck using the brass rod, and stretched sprue used to imitate the tie down cables on the canvas cover and the rotor blades. A scratch-built handling dolly and wheel chocks were made, painted yellow and attached to the rear and front wheels of the Dauphin. The overall effect was better than I had hoped for.
To complete the Nivose, I added the mast assembly, anchor chains, the front and rear flag staffs and rigging. Rigging is made from stretched sprue and confined to the flag lines between the flag lockers and the yardarms. There is a linear radio antenna with circular inner supports on the real ship, but as of this writing I haven't figured out how to reproduce it convincingly without driving myself mad. I made a French flag by painting the French tricolors on a small piece of lead foil and then carefully forming it to a draped position and attaching it to the rear flagstaff. Finally, I sprayed several coats of Testors Dullcoat using care to try and even out the step caused by the decals.
The L'Arsenal kit of the Floreal class frigate is well made, a good value and a great choice for someone looking to advance into resin shipbuilding. The railing is a little finicky and could be replaced by GMM or another manufacturers railing with a continuous bottom rail to ease the assembly. The kit decals proved to be a little frustrating, but I was pleased with the finished result. I'm looking forward to building L'Arsenal's LaFayette stealth frigate when it's released later this year.