P-51D Mustang - Arii/Otaki

P-51D Mustang by Arii
1/48 scale
Kit No.  A331-800

Cost: $14.00
Decals: Three versions - Two  USAAF, Northwest Europe, 1944, including markings for "Old Crow" flown by Lt. Bud Anderson of the 357th Fighter Group; one for Royal Air Force, Italy, 1945
Comments: Engraved panel lines; one-piece canopy; choice of 150 gallon drop tanks or 500 lb. bombs under each wing


The North American P-51 Mustang originated with a June 1940 design proposal that the company submitted to Britain's Royal Air Force for a fighter to replace the Curtiss P-40.  The prototype aircraft, NA-73X, was a low-wing monoplane powered by the Allison V-1710 engine, featuring a new ram air intake in the belly which would increase its top speed.  The NA-73X flew for the first time on October 26, 1940 at Mines Field, what is now known as Los Angeles International Airport.  Ironically, it was the British who gave this classic American fighter its name -- after the successful first flight, the British Purchasing Commission authorized putting the type into production, with the first model being dubbed Mustang Mk. I.   

The only aftermarket add-ons were seat straps by Eduard.

The Mustang I went into production with a longer carburetor intake scoop above the nose (extending all the way to the prop spinner) and bristling with eight guns -- two .50 caliber machine guns in the lower nose just beneath and aft of the prop spinner, and one .50 caliber and two .30 caliber guns in each wing.  The RAF intended using it for low-level ground attack and photo reconnaissance, so there was no requirement for high altitude performance.  The U.S. Army Air Force eventually began using the Mustang for armed reconnaisance also (under the designation F-6) particularly in North Africa once the U.S. entered World War II. 

From the outset, the Mustang had relatively long range.  On July 27, 1942, Mustangs of RAF No. 2 Squadron became the first fighters to hit a target inside Germany from bases in England.  In North Africa, there were instances of the RAF borrowing the American F-6 reconnaissance planes for missions for which their own photo recon Spitfires did not have the range.  An American pilot, Flying Officer Hollis Hills flying a Mustang IA, scored the first Mustang victory over the Luftwaffe when he shot down an Fw 190 near Dieppe on August 19, 1942 -- while flying air support for that ill-fated raid. 

Enter the Americans

The United States Army Air Force discovered the Mustang when a decision was made to pull two Mk. I's from the North American production line and send them to Wright Field in Ohio for evaluation.  The planes were designated XP-51, and the Wright test pilots raved about them.  Only then did the AAF order 150 of the type in July 1941, giving birth to the P-51.  Most USAAF P-51's were employed in the armed photo reconnaissance role in North Africa following Operation Torch, the U.S. invasion of Morroco in November 1942.  They used K-24 cameras and were given the official designation F-6A -- but they were commonly referred to as P-51's or Mustangs.  A dive bomber version, the A-36 Apache, had dive flaps installed in its wings and retained the .50 caliber nose guns of the British version.  But the P-51's saw the nose guns deleted.  The first Mustang lost was shot down by friendly fire -- anti-aircraft crews had trouble telling the early P-51's from the Messerschmitt Bf109. 

When the Mustang's Allison engine was replaced with the Spitfire's Rolls Royce Merlin powerplant, license-built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, an outstanding fighter was born.  With the Merlin installed, the Allies had a superb fighter equal to anything the Axis Powers had in the sky -- capable of both high altitude interception and long range escort, with the firepower and manueverability to excell at both.

The Mount of the Tuskegee Airmen
One of the units achieving its greatest fame while operating the P-51 was the 332nd Fighter Group, which operated in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from 1943 to 1945.  The 332nd, consisting entirely of African-American fighter pilots and ground crew, included four fighter squadrons, the 99th, 100th, 301st and 302nd.  Called the "Tuskegee Experiment" by the War Department, the point of the all-black unit
was to prove whether or not blacks could cope with the rigors of front-line combat and still accomplish their assigned missions.  The 332nd was an historic unit, for although blacks had served with distinction in various branches of the U.S. military dating back to the Revolutionary War, the prevalent attitude in government and military circles in the 1940s was that blacks had neither the fortitude nor the intellectual capability to withstand the pressure of combat.  Initially the 332nd's units were tasked only with fighter-bomber sorties, such as those supporting the July 1943 invasion of Sicily, but air-to-air combat began in earnest when the 332nd, still flying aging P-39's and P-40's, was assigned to provide air support for the Anzio beachhead on the Italian mainland during January 27-28, 1944. 

The two days of action resulted in 13 kills for only one loss, 2nd Lt. Sam "Lizard" Bruce, who was forced to bail out during a melee with two Fw 190's and was later found dead on the ground.  After flying P-39's and P-40's for the first ten months overseas, the 332nd began transitioning to the P-47 Thunderbolt on April 25, 1944.  The group flew its first bomber escort mission on June 8, 1944, covering B -17's of the 5th Bomb Wing in an attack near the Italian city of Pola.  While this first escort mission was uneventful, those which followed were not.  In rapid succession, the 332nd was dispatched to escort strategic bombing missions to Munich (June 10 and June 13), Budapest (June 14). Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (June 16 and June 27), Sofia, Bulgaria (June 23), and Vienna, Austria on June 30, 1944 -- the last mission the group flew in the P-47.  There were additional targets in Hungary and Italy during the month of June.

A pin vise came in handy for drilling out holes for the wing machine guns.

The Legend of the 332nd

During this period, the legend evolved that the 332nd never once lost a bomber to enemy action during its escort missions.  It is not known conclusively if this is true; what is confirmed is that there is no documented case of a bomber being lost to an enemy fighter during a 332nd escort mission -- many bombers were lost to flak.  This is due in large part to the rigid philosophy of group commander Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who stressed to his pilots that they must protect the bombers at all costs -- fighters of the 332nd held their bombers close, staying with them all the way through their bomb run and back out of the target area, and on repeated ocassions, detaching two or more fighters to shepherd stragglers, damaged bombers that had fallen out of formation and were limping home.  These were not the uniform practices of other fighter groups at the time, many of whom would peel off from escort once the bombers reached their target, and go off in search of targets of opportunity.  Bomber crews grew to appreciate the 332nd's tactics. 

The Red Tails

In late June, P-51 B's and C's began to arrive at the 332nd airfield at Capodichino, Italy.  The group moved to a larger base at Ramitelli on July 3rd, and on July 4, 1944 flew its first escort mission in the P-51, when 40 Mustangs led by Col. Davis escorted bombers of the 5th and 47th Bomb Wings.  For fighter escort duty, the Mustang with its greater range and fuel efficiency was superior to the admittedly more rugged P-47.  The P-51 had comparable firepower, with -B and -C versions carrying four .50 caliber machine guns, and the -D carrying six, to the Thunderbolt's eight.  The Mustang's only drawback was its liquid-cooled Merlin engine; if one of its glycol coolant lines was hit, it was a matter of moments before the engine would seize.  The P-47 did not have this weakness, but with its big, gas-guzzling 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engine, it did not have the Mustang's range, either.  With the conversion to the P-51, ground crews made a concerted effort to paint the tails of all aircraft red.

The pace of bomber escort missions continued, with the 332nd escorting bombers to the strategic target of the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania no less than six times during the summer of 1944.  As the reputation of the Red Tails spread, bomb groups began to specifically request the 332nd to provide fighter escort -- and Ploesti was known as a "hairy" target.  There were still more targets in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Greece and  France, most notably escort missions in support of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944.  The 332nd Mustangs also frequently provided escort for reconnaissance flights by P-38 Lightnings and British Mosquitos.

The 332nd Fighter Group ended the war with 119 confirmed kills and 8.5 probables.  25 of its pilots had multiple kills, in large part due to the extended combat tours the African-American flyers had to endure, since there was only one facility in the entire United States, Tuskegee Army Air Field, that was training black pilots during the war.  Many pilots flew up to 70 missions before rotating home, when the average AAF tour for fighter pilots was 50 missions.  Manpower problems plagued the 332nd throughout its time overseas, so much so that one of its squadrons, the 302nd, stood down as of February 1944 and had its personnel absorbed into the other three remaining groups.  A total of 66 Tuskegee Airmen were killed in combat or accidents during the war.  This group of flyers and ground crew overcame overt racism from the moment of their unit's creation to become one of the elite fighter units of the war.  The 1945 War Department report on the "Tuskegee Experiment," which reflected how well the 332nd accredited itself in combat, did not see the light of day for 18 years, being suppressed until it was ordered declassified by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1963.

The Arii kit has been around for many years, but remains an alluring kit in part due to its engraved panel lines and ease of construction.

The Kit
Arii's P-51 is molded in pale green and consists of 58 injection molded plastic parts.  The kit features engraved panel lines, flush rivets, an option for one 150-gallon drop tank or one 500-lb. bomb beneath each wing, a one-piece canopy, and a pilot figure which is fairly well detailed.  There is also a clear plastic part representing the gunsight, but given the age of the kit it is crude and is best replaced with an aftermarket example such as the excellent one manufactured by Quickboost.

The instructions of my kit were entirely in Japanese, but as is typical of Arii kits, the illustrations are so straightforward that there was no need for detailed explanation.  You begin by building the two-part Merlin engine, an assembly which includes engine mounts and a rear firewall.  The cockpit is simple with a rear bulkhead, seat, instrument panel, control stick, and a radio situated behind the pilot.  The kit's instrument panel has a fair amount of raised detail that can be brought out with dry brushing, and there is also molded detail on the fuselage  interior for the cockpit sidewalls. 

Construction is uneventful until you get to two areas: the landing gear and the removable panel on the left side of the engine.  While the detail on the wheels is good, the tread on the tires leaves something to be desired in terms of realism, and what little tread detail is there is partially obliterated by sanding since the wheels come in two halves.  Aftermarket resin wheels are recommended as replacements.  As for the engine panel, I went ahead and glued it in place, as the engine was not of sufficient detail to ensure being able to see it once the kit was completed.  The only other notable issue was the one-piece canopy, which presented a fit problem that I did not entirely conquer.  The canopy was initially a bit scuffed, but I washed it and dipped in in Future and set it in a Tupperware container to dry for at least four days
before attempting to handle it.  The Future worked wonders.

The only aftermarket parts used on the P-51 were the seat straps from a photo-etch cockpit set by Eduard for the P-51 B/C, Kit No. FE 140.  I recommend sanding down the antenna, as it is a bit thick for 1/48 scale.  For the radio aerial I used ceramic wire from Precision Enterprises, Unlimited, attaching it to the canopy by cementing it first to a tiny square of paper that I then cemented to the canopy and painted Polly Scale Oxidized Aluminum with a fine brush.  I used a pin vise to drill a small hole in the leading edge of the tail for the aerial, and to drill holes in the wing machine guns for a little more realism. 

The challenge of this kit is presented by the paint job.  I painted the P-51 in the colors of the Tuskegee Airmen -- in this case, the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group.  "Creamer's Dream" was the aircraft of Lieutenant Charles White, a pilot with the 301st in Ramitelli, Italy early in 1945.  I airbrushed the Mustang in Alcad Polished Aluminum, first using Alclad Gloss Black Base as a primer.  The
nose, tail and wingtips are done in Model Master Navy Red with Future floor polish as a gloss coat over those sections only.  For the theatre recognition bands on the wings I used Tamiya Flat Yellow.  All interior surfaces are done in Model Master Interior Green.


The kit decals were unfortunately damaged by some kind of sticky substance - it did not matter since I used Tuskegee Airmen decals from Three Guys Replicas, Sheet No. TGR 48017.  The quality of these decals was outstanding.  While they need a bit of decal solvent to sink into the kit's engraved panel lines, apply it sparingly, otherwise the decals may crinkle up excessively without flattening out again.  The markings depict "Creamer's Dream," a P-51D flown by 1st Lieutenant Charles White of the 301st Fighter Squadron based at Ramitelli, Italy in
January 1945.  White joined the 100th Fighter Squadron as a replacement in late 1944, later transferring to the 301st.  In an illustration of the "squeaky wheel" phenomenon, his heated protests about the condition of the P-51C he was initially assigned led to him receiving one of the unit's first P-51D's.  White was flying "Creamer's Dream" when he shot down two Messerschmitt Bf109's on April 1, 1945.

Arii, however, did not disappoint in providing a color plate containing profiles of the Mustang bearing two of the three versions of markings provided.  One version is for an RAF Mustang Mk. IV (the British designation for the P-51D) in 1945, painted in a camouflage scheme of Sea Grey and Dark Green over Neutral Grey; the second is for a USAAF olive drab over neutral grey P-51D, "Old Crow," the mount of Lt. Bud Anderson of the 357th Fighter Group, a triple ace with 16 kills during WWII whose exploits were lionized in an episode of the History Channel's "Dogfights."  The third is for an unidentified natural metal USAAF Mustang which bears the Mustang logo on the nose, with black lightning bolts on the fuselage and wings.

A great kit.  While there were some fit issues with the canopy, Arri's Mustang features engraved panel lines and ease of construciton -- a great value for the price.

 "The All-Black 332nd Fighter Group," World War II Magazine, Vol 8, No. 1, pp. 30-37; January 1980
 332nd Fighter Group - Tuskegee Airmen by Chris Bucholtz; Osprey Publishing     
Limited, New York, 2007
 P-51 Mustang in Action by Larry Davis; Squadron Signal Publications, 2008

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