Dragon P–51D Mustang in 1/32nd scale
By Vince Pedulla, ModelerV Studios
My main focus in modeling during my adult years has always been armor and figures, but I have always admired and enjoyed the aircraft models I would see at shows and on the internet. Of course, I was weaned on the old Monogram 1/48 th scale airplane kits of the 70’s, typically building one a week. But I transitioned to armor and didn’t look back. The most daunting things to me about aircraft models were the clear parts and seam filling, not something one deals with too much when modeling armor! But when Dragon released their new 1/32 nd scale P-51 Mustang, I knew I would have to build it! The Mustang is one of my three favorite prop fighters, the others being the P-38 Lightning and the P-61 Black Widow. The Mustang, at least to me, is the epitome of the great WWII fighters.
A friend of mine once researched the P-51 for a film, and he related to me some interesting observations. Although often pictured in pristine condition, during wartime, these planes were real workhorses, and would get battered and dirty from use. They were living, breathing creatures, spitting oil and belching smoke. Kinda like a battlefield tank, I thought! So rather than try to build a very clean and “show room” type of airplane, I decided to depict a veteran warrior, deep in the midst of the desperate battles of post- D-day 1944, where the aircrews would be focused on keeping the plane operational, but not necessarily clean and pretty. At this point in WWII, air superiority was pretty well achieved, and the Mustangs were often used as close air support. I decided to approach this project as if the airplane was an “airborne tank”. I wanted to depict a Mustang set up to perform close air support during the final days of the war. The Mustang was not only a superb fighter, but was a stable and heavy hitting attack plane.
One of the things I found most daunting about this project was the natural metal finish on the Mustang’s “D” model, which I had never attempted to paint. I found a nice picture on the internet of a P-51 finished in metal, but with the upper surfaces either left olive drab or repainted. I also located a decal set from Cutting Edge models called “Big Stud Ponies part two” (gotta love that title!) The set, number CED32081, depicted an aircraft flown by Major Jack Ilfrey, called “Happy Jack’s Go Buggy”, which had the upper surfaces painted in olive. I also purchased Eagle Editions’ magnificent figure of Major George Preddy, sculpted by John Rosengrant, quite frankly the best pilot figure I have ever seen. I picked up Eduard set 32569, Mustang Interior, which includes pre-painted parts for the cockpit, which have to be seen to be believed. Finally, I procured the Radu Briznan US seatbelt set and the Black Magic canopy mask set. The Squadron books “Mustang in Action” and Mustang Walk Around” were used as reference. Regrettably, it seems that Meteor Productions has faded away, along with the decals and mask sets. Maybe someone will resurrect them.
I began the kit by putting together the cockpit, carefully referring to the Eduard instructions to replace plastic kit parts. It’s a fairly simple set with an enormous impact, particularly the instrument panel, which is eerily realistic. I replaced the photo-etch throttle handles with modified width indicator parts from a Dragon SdKFz 251 halftrack, an improvement over the flat PE parts. WARNING-If you going to use the figure, make sure you move the seat back as far to the rear as possible, or the figure will not fit!! The fiddliest assemblies were the rudder pedals, which end up being almost invisible anyway. I hollowed out the gun sight lenses and replaced them with MV lenses. I painted the interior with Testors Interior Green before installing the pre painted Eduard parts. I also treated the floor with an exposed wood, worn pattern. I also sculpted a canvas boot from Milliput for the control stick, per photos in the Squadron books. Careful chipping and weathering completed the cockpit. After painting was complete, I added the Radu Briznan seatbelts, which are made from pre-cut self adhesive paper, to which you add photo etch parts. They are beautiful and drape over the seat surfaces realistically. Watch the lengths, though, as they are much too long if left untrimmed. I used the white set, although an olive green set is also sold.
I had no intention of displaying the engine, so I just assembled the base parts of the big Merlin, enough to mount and add the prop to later. I also completed the radiators and tail wheel. Dragon made the engine covers out of a gimmicky clear plastic, which is kind of textured and opaque and would look plain odd if left unpainted in my opinion,. I decided to glue the two covers to the fuselage parts before assembling the halves together. I glued in the cockpit, engine and tail wheel, and then carefully assembled the fuselage halves from the front to the rear, using various clamps and rubber bands. The fit was fine, but I was trying to be careful to keep possible seam lines at a minimum. I was noticed that the pattern on the rudder in the kit is markedly different from that depicted in the instructions. The kit parts seem to match the photos I’ve seen of the plane’s rudder, though. There is some controversy about the direction that Dragon has you put the prop blades. The vast majority of the pictures in the Squadron books show them facing the way Dragon has you build them. I had a small issue with the placement of the engine, because the prop sat too high. I drilled out the hole in the engine so I could lower the position of the prop. I also added a brass rod for strength, which was shiimed with a small length of plastic to secure it. Problem solved!
ASSEMBLY ALERT- If you glue in the cockpit all the way to one side, it will be slightly off center when the fuselage halves are placed. The cockpit floor is too narrow. It might be better to leave it unglued until the halves are sealed, then center the cockpit and finalize it.
I then moved onto the wings, assembling the wheel wells and gun bays. I left out the MG belts as they would not be seen. I also assembled the flaps and ailerons, which are designed to be operable. This is also a bit toy like, but it’s nice to be able to position them. I glued the wing tops on and set the whole thing aside to dry. I was depicting a landed aircraft, and most photos show the flaps lowered to some degree. I also cocked the ailerons a bit, and glued them and the flaps in place. The wings fit onto the fuselage with little difficulty, but there was a distinct gap between the wing roots and fuselage.
ASSEMBLY ALERT- When I build this model again, I will leave the tops of the wings off until the bottom halves are glued on, then glue on the tops. This would eliminate any gaps. One could also add a spreader part inside the fuselage, but I did not think of this until too late!!
With the Mustang coming together, I glued on the elevators and rudder, leaving them angled for interest. I moved onto the landing gear, where some problems reared their ugly heads. First, the gear is made to be compressible, with small springs in the gear legs. WHY?? I can’t imagine anyone playing “hard landing” with the model, so I left the springs out and glued the legs securely. If you leave in the springs, the model will sit too high anyway. Second, the instructions show the tops of the legs trimmed off, which are molded in a T shape. DON’T DO THIS!! Only trim off the front facing pin, which will allow you to have a secure footing for the legs. There is an opening on the rear side of the wheel wells where the landing leg pin would go. Unfortunately I did as the instructions show, so I had to cut small pieces of brass tubing and insert them into the wells, along with a piece of brass rod from the landing leg tops. This resulted in a reasonably secure assembly. The rubber tires included in the kit are a disappointment, as they have a very loose fit. I managed to glue them into position without too much gap, but I wish that Dragon has foregone this gimmick and just provided plastic tires, maybe without the flat area. I would replace these with aftermarket resin parts in subsequent models. The inner landing gear doors have no actuators, so I crafted them from brass rod and tube, and small PE parts from the scrap box.
The canopy has a fine seam line running down its middle, the result of Dragon correctly modeling the complex curved shape of the glass. I first used a new #22 curved X-Acto blade to scrape this away, and then wet sanded the line with finer and finer grades of sandpaper until the seam was gone. I used Tamiya Plastic polish to finalize the clear part and remove any traces of scratches. I finished with a dip in Future and allowed the parts to dry for several days.
I sanded out the seam lines along the fuselage and wing edges without the need for any major filling. The spaces between the wings and fuselage were filled with gap filling super glue and sanded flush. I had to re-scribe a few lines but I did not lose too much detail. There have been some comments of the “heavy handedness” of the panel lines and rivets the Dragon engraved on the model, but I do not think they detract from the surface. As I was intending to heavily weather the plane I thought these would be a positive boon. I also assembled the rockets and wing tanks. I initially intended to use the 108 gallon paper tanks, but they were marred by bad sprue attachment points, so I used the metal tanks instead. I also masked the clear parts with Black Magic masks in prep for painting.
I was very apprehensive about this stage, as I have never painted a natural metal surface. After a bit of research, I settled on using the Alclad paint line to finish the kit. I bought several shades ranging from White Aluminum to Steel. These paints can be airbrushed straight out of the bottle without any mixing. I decanted some Tamiya Fine Primer into a paint jar through the simple method of shooting it thorough a large plastic “theme park” type of straw. Be sure to let this paint “settle”, as its lacquer chemistry makes it a bit volatile. I left the bottle “breathe” without any cover for a few hours, and then sprayed the whole model with very low pressure until I got a smooth shiny surface, making sure to mask the cockpit area. After allowing the primer to dry for 24 hours, I sprayed a coat of Aluminum over the whole model. After another 24 hours, I then masked a few select areas in several stages, spraying several different shades of Alclad to break up the surfaces. I did not bother doing this to the upper wings, elevators, or fuselage as these would be repainted with Olive later. Spraying the Alclad went off without a hitch and the surfaces were very nice. Remember, I was not trying to create a shiny, happy airplane. I allowed the Alclad to dry for several days, and then cut Tamiya tape masks using scans of the Cutting Edge as a guide. To achieve this, I cut out the scanned copies of the instructions, and simply stuck a strip of masking tape to a sheet of wax paper, then traced the curvy fuselage and rudder lines onto the tape.
Note: why are there rarely any views of the right side of the airplane in these illustrations? For that matter, most photos are also taken from this side. I kind of had a hard time figuring out in which order the ID letters went on the right side of the fuselage. After looking at the few pictures of other Mustangs taken from the right side, I think I got it right.
The Tamiya tape did not pull off any of the Alcald surface, which was also something I feared would happen. For the first time, I tried mixing Tamiya acrylic paints with lacquer thinner as opposed to alcohol, as this is supposed to give a smoother finish. It works very well, and the Olive Drab went on smoothly onto the wings and upper fuselage. I also mixed of some Tamiya Khaki Drab and shaded the upper surfaces to add depth. The masked canopy and windscreen were first painted with Interior Green, then re-sprayed with Olive, but left off of the model until later. A few more days, and I sprayed the whole model with several thin coats of Future, then applied the Cutting Edge decals, along with a few from the Dragon sheet. These decals responded very well to Walther’s Microset, snuggling down into the panel lines. However, Dragon supplies at least a partial set of maintenece stencils, but no instructions as to where to apply them. After 24 more hours, I sprayed thin coats of Testor’s lacquer flat, resulting in nice, slightly shiny surfaces, and readied the model for weathering.
HEAVY WEATHER ALERT
I did not want to try to hand paint the numerous chips to create flaws and damage points in the green paint. I developed a new (to me, anyway) method, which consisted of using a very sharp #22 X-Acto blade and carefully scraping away the green paint to reveal the Aluminum below. I used the curved edge about halfway down the blade, with quick, light flicking motions, along with gentle scrapes. The Alclad is tougher than the Tamiya paint, which comes off fairly easily, but care must be taken not to reveal the white primer or bare plastic. If this happens, you can later touch up the area with silver Humbrol paint. I picked out the edges of panel lines, particularly around the gun bays, wing roots, wing edges, and access panels. The propellers and nose received the same treatment. As I did not spray the canopy with Alcald, I hand painted with aluminum Humbrol paint to create chip marks. I also used a sharp silver Berol colored pencil to create subtle scratches and chips.
To weather the Joy Buggy, I washed the model in several stages with Sepia oil paint thinned with Turpenoid. I would let it dry for a few minutes, then gently remove the excess with a cotton cloth. After a few overall coats, I pin washed panel lines and rivets, along with the landing gear and wheel wells. This was done in several stages, allowing the effect to build up slowly. After allowing the last wash coat to dry, I placed small spots of Sepia and Raw Umber oils at different spots and brushed them along the air flow points, paying particular attention to leading edges, the oil cooler, air intake, gun ports, and other spots that my references show got very dirty. To create the exhaust stains, I first sprayed a thin mix of Tamiya Clear Black and Smoke back from the exhausts, then applied oil paint stains that I brushed back. The Mustang’s prop wash seems to have sprayed in a slightly downward direction. MIG pigments were used to create dirt and mud splashes on the landing gear.
The excellent pilot figure was painted with a base coat of acrylics and finished in oils and Humbrol enamels. The head that came with the figure was an excellent representation of Maj. Preddy, but looked nothing like Ilfrey. I replaced the head with a grinning Hornet sculpt, and hollowed out the original figure’s head to create an empty helmet. I dipped the resin part in boiling water for a moment then flattened it out in order to glue it to the figure’s left hand.
To finish the model, I secured the wing tanks and “bombed up” the Mustang with the six 5” rockets, after drilling out their solid ends and adding a bit if tubing to represent the exhaust. I was not able to find any pictures of the back of these rockets, so the detail is an educated guess only. Honestly, I don’t know if Maj. Ilfrey ever used rockets on his plane, but I liked the look of them. To finish, I placed the canopy in an open position, but the windscreen had a very disappointing fit, with gaps between it and the fuselage. I used Microscale Kleer to fill the gaps and secure the clear part.
OK, it’s not pretty, but neither were the combat aircraft used during the war.
The model was very nice and I can’t see why it caught as much review flak as it did. The fit was good overall with only a few difficulties. It is a bit “gimmicky”, with some toy like features, but these are bypassed easily. In my opinion, Dragon has raised the bar for 1/32 nd scale planes and I look forward to future releases. Of course, I’m not an “airplane” guy. Hmmmm…Although there is no 1/32 nd Black Widow, Maj. Ilfrey did fly a P-38 during the first years of the war. Hello, Trumpeter! I may have caught the airplane bug…