|Kitbashing a 1/72 Mustang Mk.1
by August Horvath
It's hard to imagine what motivated the British Purchasing Commission to agree to North American's counterproposal, in July of 1940, to create an all-new fighter aircraft within four months rather than to license-produce the Curtiss Tomahawks Britain had requested. With the Battle of Britain clearly about to commence, England could foresee a desperate need for fighters in a matter of months. What could possibly have been attractive about a proposal, from a company that had never built a fighter plane, to create a new prototype of an untried design that would doubtless need further months of development, when in the same time it could tool up to produce a tested, though admittedly indifferent, fighter in useful quantities? The decision must have reflected some hard bargaining by North American, which was naturally anxious to enter the fighter field rather than become a branch plant of one of its competitors. It was certainly a commercial coup, and one that led NAA into the leading position in fighter design that it maintained through the late 1950s.
As it turned out, the decisive phase of the Battle of Britain was over before many North American-built Tomahawks could likely have been produced and shipped to Britain, so from the standpoint of Britain's immediate need, its decision was moot. Even so, it was 1942 before useful numbers of Mustangs arrived in Britain and were made ready for operational use. Some aviation historians who are Mustang enthusiasts would have us believe that the British were immediately overjoyed with the performance of the new fighter, but in fact, flight trials with the Mustang Mk.I quickly convinced the RAF that the type would be mauled at typical fighter-combat altitudes by the Bf 109Gs and Fw 190s then being encountered over the Continent. The airframe itself, however, was quickly recognized as the most advanced received from the U.S. up to that time, and a few Mustangs were assigned to Rolls-Royce to assess whether the new two-stage supercharged Merlin could remedy the fighter's deficiencies. In the meantime, the approximately 600 Mk.I and Mk.IA Mustangs to achieve operational status with the RAF were used for army cooperation and low-level photoreconnaissance.
Low-level photorecon was not glamorous duty, but the Mustang Mk.I was well suited to it. Behind the cockpit of the Mustang was a large, transparent rear quarter-light which, because of the shape and position of the pilot's seat, was almost useless for rear vision but was perfect for the installation of a large, oblique camera. With their clean airframes and low-altitude-optimized engines, the early Mustangs were excellent low-level performers - faster at sea level than any of the later Merlin-powered Mustangs, which were less aerodynamic and had put on quite a few pounds. Serving with RAF and RCAF squadrons from July 1942, through mid-1944, they succeeded in avoiding air-to-air combat for the most part, but did achieve the first Mustang "kill" (an Fw 190 on August 19, 1942) and several thereafter.
Any modeler interested in Allison-powered Mustangs over the past couple of decades has a frustrating story to tell. The total vacuum that has existed regarding this type in 1/48 scale has been filled satisfyingly in recent years by Accurate Miniatures, but 1/72 modelers still await an accurate, easy-to-build early Mustang incorporating the level of detail that modelers have come to expect in the 1990s. Until 1996, the only available kit was the old Frog, which is both flawed and difficult to find, having not reappeared in the guise of some other manufacturer as have many of the Frog releases. To make matters worse, all of the available P-51B kits from which a conversion could be attempted were themselves in need of significant updating and correction.
My personal Mustang Mk.I saga dates to about 1990, when I began surveying the wasteland of available kits for the best path to an accurate model. A few queries to the rec.models.scale newsgroup uncovered several other online modelers in similar states of frustration. One of these was Scott Hemsley of the IPMS Buzz Beurling Chapter, whose willingness to share reference data and conversion ideas actually got me to the point of chopping up a Monogram P-51B for conversion. But the project eventually languished, as my odds of getting a very satisfying result didn't seem to justify the extensive surgery needed. Instead, I continued to collect reference information in anticipation of the happy day when a new Allison Mustang kit would appear.
When the Model News Mustang Mk.I kits became available in 1996, I bought two copies immediately, but with some reservations. I'm a fan of limited-run kits by this manufacturer and others, because I appreciate the chance to build obscure subjects and don't mind reworking or replacing some parts that may not be fully up to scratch. Because of the extra work involved, however, these kits are not to be embarked upon lightly and have a high probability of meeting the same fate as my P-51B conversion. So, after a quick check against drawings and photos to confirm that they were at least basically accurate, the two kits went into the closet to await my next urge to tackle a major job.
The announcement of the Italeri Allison Mustang kit shortly afterwards was almost immediately followed by the bad news that Italeri, following the example of several makers of P-51B kits, had given it the wrong wing, supplying a P-51D wing from its kit of that variant. Correcting a P-51D wing to an Allison or P-51B/C wing would involve cutting back the extended inboard leading edge, reshaping the wheel wells and inner landing gear doors, and altering the fuselage-wing fillet and much of the inboard wing to restore the correct airfoil. That was enough to deter me from obtaining the kit - until it came out in conversations at Internet Modeler that the two 1/72 editors were both contemplating options for building Allison Mustangs. With the still newer Condor kit also coming on the market, options for this project were raining down on us after a 30-year drought, and a series of articles were quickly proposed and agreed on. For my part, I decided to see if an Italeri-Model News kitbash could spare me most of the trouble of converting the Italeri wing, while giving me Italeri-quality detail and small parts over most of the model. The Italeri was duly ordered.
Upon receiving the Italeri, my first order of business was to lay out both of the model kits for accuracy checking, cross fit comparison, and general fondling. My plan for the kitbash was simple. The wings would come from the Model News, all the other major components would come from the Italeri, and the detail bits would come from whichever kit rendered them better, which I assumed would be the Italeri in almost every instance. Things didn't go quite this way, but it worked as an organizing principle.
Both kits are molded in light grey plastic with incised panel detail. The Italeri molding was flash-free with straight, precise panel lines that I thought were a bit too wide and deep. The Model News surface detailing was more subtle, with panel lines that would be just detectable under a few coats of airbrushed paint, but several of these lines were not straight and their depth and thickness sometimes varied as they ran along the model. Clearly, making the detail from the two kits' parts look consistent was going to be a priority in doing the kitbash. The Model News pieces had large amounts of flash that obscured the shape of almost all of the parts.
On the other hand, the Model News kit was significantly more accurate. Over the years I had gathered together several different scale plans of Allison Mustangs, none of which I thought was perfect. Generally I relied on them where they agreed, but used photographs whenever something looked funny in any of the drawings. It was immediately obvious that the Italeri did have a wing much closer to the D than to a Mk.I, and also that the Model News wings generally had a very good shape in both outline and airfoil section. As to the fuselage, the Italeri's cockpit canopy, which, like the Model News, incorporates the section of the rear fuselage spine surrounding the rear quarter-lights, was well over-scale at about 2 millimeters too long. Careful measurement revealed that the central part of the canopy between the windscreen and rear quarter-lights accounted for 1 millimeter of this discrepancy, and the rear quarter-lights themselves were oversized by the additional millimeter. The Model News kit was much better in this regard.
Moving forward to the nose, the kits differed in their interpretation of the engine cowling, which has been a difficult area for both model makers and scale-plans artists to pin down correctly. I evaluated the kits mainly using photographs of both wartime and restored machines, including close-ups that I had taken of five out of the six surviving Allison Mustangs. The bottom of the Italeri cowling, I felt, was too deep and chunky in profile, but in cross-section, it did capture the squared shape of the lower cowl. The Model News had a sleeker profile and looked better overall, but may have been a bit too rounded in cross-section. Finally, the Italeri's vertical fin and rudder was about a millimeter taller than that of the Model News. I couldn't say, at the time, which one was more accurate, but with the model finished, I think that the Italeri tail looks too tall, and wish I had sanded it down to the size of the Model News fin.
Both kits provide the option of building either a Mustang Mk.I or a cannon-armed P-51. Model News decided to make their kit chiefly a Mk.I, giving the modeler the opportunity to cut off the Mk.I wing armament and substitute the cannon for the P-51 if desired. Italeri chose the alternate route of leaving all subtype-specific bits off the basic model and supplying two separate sets of wing armament to be spliced into a gap left in the leading edge. Both manufacturers coincidentally chose the same individual P-51 for their decal sheets, 41-37322 "Mah Sweet Eva Lea" of the 154th Squadron in North Africa, although their interpretations of the markings vary substantially. Amusingly, the Model News decal sheet shows 50 stars on its U.S.-flag tail marking; the Italeri decal provides the less prescient but more accurate 48 stars. For the Mk.I variant, Italeri provides decals for AM101, RM-D of 26 Squadron, while Model News offers AG522, SY-L of the RAF. Unfortunately, neither set of RAF decals was usable, as they both featured incorrectly colored code letters (grey from Italeri and pale blue from Model News, rather than Sky) and an overly bright shade of red on the roundels. Both companies also provide under-wing roundels that are too large; they should be the same size as the fuselage model from the blue disc inward, scaling up to 32 inches, rather than the same size as the entire fuselage roundel, which scales up to 36 inches.
Despite the fact that the cockpit area would need correction, I elected to use the Italeri fuselage for its crisper molding and because correcting its nose would require only removing plastic, and not adding filler as the Model News would. The Italeri had a basic, not-particularly-well-fitting cockpit floor, no sidewall detail unless you count a couple of fairly prominent molding pin marks, and a rear cockpit deck section inherited from the P-51D kit, with a vaguely shaped cube to represent the radio. Two seats were provided, only one of which the instructions authorized me to use, but neither of which looked much like the seats I'd seen in photos of wartime British Mustangs. There was also an instrument panel with crisply molded, raised instruments arranged in P-51D configuration, which was quite different from the Allison Mustangs. I threw out everything except the floor and seat, and built a new cockpit out of sheet styrene that I cut out of disposable cafeteria coffee-cup lids. I fashioned a new rear bulkhead and rear cockpit deck, conforming these by trial and error to the starboard fuselage before CA-gluing them in place and then making them fit the port fuselage half by repeated dry-fitting and sanding. More little scraps from the coffee lid went to form the formers and stringers along the cockpit walls, with additional lumps and bits being added to represent the stick, throttle and mixture controls, switch panels, map case, tailwheel lock lever, and other objects that I saw in cockpit photos but whose purposes I didn't bother to research. For the instrument panel I resorted to the Model News unit, which has the instrument dials as sunken pockets in a less sharply molded panel, but which are arrayed in the right configuration for this type of Mustang. At this time I also built a camera to go behind the seat, but postponed installing it until later in the project when I could position it properly with respect to the canopy.
The entire cockpit, when finished, received an airbrushed coat of British Interior Green. At one time I used to forego hassling with the airbrush just to paint this small, difficult-to-see area of a small model, but over the years I have adopted the modeling maxim, Everything Looks Better After You Point an Airbrush At It. This is especially true of areas like cockpits where airbrushed paint brings out the three-dimensional detail. After brush-painting other individual items within the cockpit, I attached a seat harness made out of strips of old, formerly white decal lettering that had yellowed to a good simulation of the natural cotton used for these items. A pair of buckles from the photoetch scrap box finished the seats. I then highlighted the entire cockpit by brushing talcum powder (i.e. baby powder) on it with a cotton swab. This had the effect of muting the colors, softening the blacks in particular, and especially emphasizing the panel instruments as the talc collected around the rims of the recessed instrument dials. I prefer this method to the more conventional dark wash and dry-brush highlighting because it produces a lower-contrast and, to my mind, less contrived-looking light and shadow effect.
With the addition of the well-molded Italeri tailwheel between the halves, the fuselage went together without complaint. There were no gaps, ridges, or misaligned panel lines. The rudder, which I had separated for repositioning, had severe and rather crudely represented fabric detail, which I took pains to eliminate, as there is little or no fabric effect visible on the control surfaces of real Mustangs. With the detail removed and the trailing edge thinned, the rudder was reattached at a more casual angle. I also attached the front of the carburetor intake over the nose, which was finely molded and needed only a little thinning of the edge from the inside. The elevators got the same treatment as the rudders and were then added, along with the horizontal stabilizers.
I next did my accuracy correction of the lower engine cowling line, which consisted of removing plastic with an emery board from the bottom of the fuselage, roughly below the first three exhaust stacks. I worked mainly off a very good, telephoto photograph of a wartime XP-51 taken from directly to one side, and referred constantly from the model back to the photograph with every few swipes of the sander. It's very easy in modeling to fall into a sort of sanding trance where, before you know it, you've removed more plastic than you intended. I tried to modify the nose using the same rule I use when cooking pasta: When you're sure it's done, it's overdone; when you're sure it's not quite done yet, STOP! In the end, my reshaping was very subtle but it makes a major change in the visual impression of the completed model. When I had the profile right, I rounded the corners slightly to correct the cross-section. It was now time to switch kits.
Unlike the Italeri, which included a reasonable set of wheel wells in its misshapen wings, the Model News wings had only a cutout in the lower wing. To conceal the resulting unsightly void, Model News molded the inner landing gear doors into the lower wing in the closed position. Unfortunately, many modelers will want to cut out these doors (of which, fortunately, a separate set is also provided on the sprue) to show them in the drooping position that was more characteristic of Mustangs at rest, and I was one of them. So I set out to build the wheel wells, one of my least favorite tasks in modeling. I started by taping the top and bottom wing halves together, and cutting more coffee-lid sheet styrene to form the vertical walls of the outboard part of the wheel wells. I CA-glued these to the edge of the lower wing cutouts while aligning them flush with the inner surface of the upper wing halves. I then removed the upper wing halves and glued a one-piece wheel-well roof to the top of these vertical walls, knowing that if this piece were bent to conform to the vertical walls, then it would roughly follow the shape of the inside upper-wing surface and should later fit under that surface when the wings went together. With the wheel well roof securely in place, I added the inboard vertical walls. Having now built a sturdy box for the wheel wells, I tricked them out with a few bits of sheet plastic and stretched sprue. I am not much for superdetailing wheel wells, so I stopped adding stuff when they were about as detailed as those on the Italeri kit.
The upper wings went on tolerably well, although I still needed to remove more plastic from the inside of the upper wings than I had expected. Model News wing halves are molded very thick, and they meet in the middle not just at the edges but across much of their surface area, so inasmuch as their inside surfaces are not completely flat, they tend not to fit very well, and to leave cracks around the edges. It took a good deal of sanding to achieve a proper mating, and the parts also had a slight warp, so they had to be glued together in stages. I also found it necessary to increase the dihedral.
I had cut out the flaps from the Mustang wings, intending to show them in the down position which was characteristic of parked Mustangs. For the sake of realism, I wanted to deflect the ailerons as well, but only slightly. With most parked aircraft, ailerons are generally found to be deflected less than other control surfaces, because their opposing motion cancels any tendency of wind or gravity to make either side droop, and because pilots normally exit the cockpit with the stick more or less centered. To save the trouble of cutting up the wings to display this small degree of deflection, I have developed a trick for representing it that stems from the usual need to thin the trailing edges of these parts in any event. I simply thin the trailing edge of the port aileron by sanding down one face of it (e.g. the top, if I want the aileron to appear deflected down) and thin the starboard aileron by sanding the opposite face (e.g. the bottom). This selective removal of plastic alters the position of the trailing edge just enough to make it visually apparent that the two ailerons are slightly deflected. The effect works especially well when the model has its flaps up, or has split flaps, so that the aileron trailing edges are seen to be separated slightly from the wing trailing edges, which are thinned in the normal manner of removing plastic from both faces. However, it also can be effective in cases like this, where there is no adjacent fixed trailing edge. Limited-run kits like the Model News present an especially good opportunity to use this technique because their abnormally thick trailing edges require extra thinning, increasing the degree of aileron deflection that can be simulated.
The wing machine guns of the Model News Mk.I were represented by three holes, all positioned on the wing center line, but with the outermost and innermost guns having small fairings only above the gun opening and the center gun having a fairing only below it. This is a rather lame attempt to represent the correct arrangement, in which the outer and inner gun should be on the center line with small fairings both above and below, and the center gun a few scale inches back and in the lower surface of the wing. Referring to some photos I had taken of the only preserved Mustang Mk.I - AG348, better known as USAAC 41-038, the XP-51 restored by the Experimental Aircraft Association - I drilled a new center gun port with a #11 blade tip and blended in tiny crescents of sheet plastic as the fairings around the gun ports.
The Model News wings make no provision for landing lights, which should be in both wing leading edges outboard of the guns. There are panel lines indicating whether the lights should be, and although these are not in exactly the right position, I used them as a guide for cutting out an oval hole in each wing leading edge. I filled the whole with gel-type CA glue, which dries clear when shaped and buffed to conform to the wing. The gun camera lens further outboard on the port leading edge was built in similar fashion.
It was time now to mate the Model News wing to the Italeri fuselage, which was the point of no return for the whole project as far as I was concerned. I found that I had to do three things to get the wings to fit. First, a little of the Italeri wing root facing had to be trimmed away to provide clearance for my wheel wells. Second, the roots of the upper wing halves came just a hair too far inboard, and had to be sanded lightly. Third, the Model News wings have a circular cut-out in the center of the lower wing for the radiator, whereas the Italeri wings have a slightly larger, rectangular cut-out. I enlarged the Model News cut-out, using the Italeri wings as a template, but left the cut-out slightly smaller than on the Italeri. By test-fitting and sanding, I then enlarged the cut-out gradually for a perfect fit.
With these relatively trivial modifications, the Model News wings fit the Italeri fuselage probably better than they would have fit the Model News fuselage. I was pleased with the way they looked together, but there was still some work to do around the front of the wings. A gap of about 3 millimeters remained between the front of the wings and the forward fuselage, and the Italeri wing roots needed to be cut back to match the Model News leading edge. The wing-fuselage gap was easily closed with some plastic card shims, but in cutting back the wing roots, I found that I had to cut all the way through the plastic in some places and build up the extreme forward portions with filler. This took a couple of nights, but finally I found myself with a completed wing and fuselage that looked like it was all from the same kit. The bashing part of the kitbash was safely behind me with the addition of the front radiator intake rim and rear radiator door, both of which had to be reshaped slightly, as neither was a particularly good fit to the lower fuselage.
Considering that I had been researching this model for seven years and combined two kits to build it, I was inclined to make it as right as possible by sweating the details. Several areas of the model that I might have let slide thus came in for some extra treatment.
My first concern was the exhausts. Both the Italeri and Model News kits offer only the "fishtail" type flared exhausts, but most Mk.Is were equipped with smaller-looking exhausts of circular cross section. In addition, I felt that both the kit exhausts and the slot provided for them in the Italeri fuselage were too thick. When I test-fit the kit exhausts, they looked so oversized that I could tell they would lend a toy-like appearance to the entire model, a common problem in 1/72 scale models. I narrowed the exhaust slot by gluing a shim of coffee-lid plastic along its bottom edge and adjusting the slot shape with CA glue and sandpaper.
The exhausts themselves were a more serious problem, as the flared ones were unsuitable and my parts box failed to yield up an acceptable substitute. After wringing my hands for awhile, I decided to just whittle new exhausts out of the kit-supplied ones. I chose the Model News exhausts as a basis, because the heavy flash on them would give me extra plastic to work with. I sanded these down to eliminate the flare and to fit my narrowed cowling slot, by which time they had been reduced basically to a strip of plastic card with one serrated edge. Using a brand-new #11 blade and some needle files, I gouged channels where the spaces between the stacks should be and whittled each tiny stack to a circular cross section. When the stacks were roughly circular and my fingertips were numb with little #11 prick-marks, I drilled the openings in each stack with the tip of my blade. To my amazement, I ended up with nice-looking exhausts that fit perfectly into my new exhaust slots, and that greatly enhance the looks of the finished model. That's one more task I won't be afraid to do in the future.
The flaps also figured to be a challenge, especially at their inboard edge. On a Mustang model, you generally can't just reposition the flaps that you've cut out from the wing, because the bottom half of flaps on model Mustangs extend further inboard than the top halves. From hanging around real Mustangs I knew that the flaps actually run all the way inboard, but they pass under a lip formed by the top of the wing-fuselage fillet that hides part of the upper inboard flap when it is in the up position. Rather than build up the top half of the Model News kit flap to match the bottom half, I built the entire flap out of sheet styrene, adding first the bottom surface, then the curved hinge area, then the top surface, and finally the end plates. I added each piece directly to the wing for the best fit, rather than building the whole assembly off-model and then gluing it on. I took special care to cut back the upper rear wing-root to create the thin lip that overlays the inboard part of the flap.
The final area of major work was the cockpit and canopy, where I had several concerns. My first priority was to replace the oversized Italeri canopy. The best and obvious solution was Squadron's vac-formed P-51B replacement canopy which, with careful trimming, turned out to be a good fit for the Italeri except, of course, because it is the correct size instead of 2 millimeters oversize, it left a 2-millimeter gap between it and the rear fuselage. It was easy enough to shim this up, although I found that I also had to alter the cross section of the upper rear fuselage slightly to make a good join with the Squadron canopy.
Before the canopy could be attached, two other things had to be done to it. First, photorecon Mk.Is had their cameras installed by cutting out a hole in the left rear quarter-light and inserting a chute that ran up to the lens of the camera, which was mounted to point to the left, behind, and downward. The remainder of the formerly clear quarter-light was overpainted, generally in the adjacent camouflage color. Although both the Model News and Italeri Mk.I kits depict Mk.Is that were modified in this way, neither kit provides any means of simulating this installation, other than to overpaint most of the quarter-light and leave part of it clear. I was strongly tempted to adopt this solution, but the more photos I looked at, the more I realized that the 3-dimensional camera chute is a key element of the visual character of the Mk.I, so I was going to have to build one. Trying several different materials, I discovered that it is not that easy to bend something into such a small, hollow cone of irregular cross-section. What worked in the end was ordinary paper saturated with white glue. It took five or six tries to cut out a shape of white paper that, when curled around on itself, would form just the right type of cone. The effort was worthwhile, though, because when it was done, it made even more of a contribution to the model's appearance than I had expected. With the camera chute finished, I could finally glue the camera that I had made into its proper position on the rear canopy decking, while dry-fitting the canopy.
Next came the question of whether, and how much, to open the canopy. I often open the canopies on my models, even when I haven't superdetailed the cockpit, just to lend a more casual appearance to the model. For the Mustang I was inclined to make an exception because the side-hinging canopy panels would interrupt the clean, austere lines of the airplane. The compromise I settled on was to cut out the forward plate of both canopy side panels and depict these as slid back into the canopy sides. All razorback Mustangs had this capability and wartime photos often show these panels slid back, especially when the pilot was peering out of the cockpit during ground-running or taxiing, and often at rest to reduce the greenhouse effect of the canopy on hot days. The process of cutting these panels out of the Squadron canopy destroyed the panels, but it was easy enough to find clear sheet plastic from the packaging of some bubble-packaged product to bend slightly to conform to the canopy side back panels. I attached the panels with white glue applied in a solid coat so that, when it dried clear, no bubbles or glue-drop edges could be seen through the plastic.
Having done all of this surgery on my poor Squadron canopy, I considered myself lucky not to have cut, scratched, or otherwise ruined it. Attaching it to the model was relatively simple due to an easy trick that I use. The main reason (besides careless trimming) that vac-form canopies don't fit well on many models is that there isn't a lot of contact between the canopy and the model. Normally, the only contact is between the thin edge of the canopy and a flat surface on the model to which the original canopy was supposed to be attached - a one-surface, face-on contact with no guides for the canopy to follow. I augment this by taking stretched sprue and gluing it around the cockpit rim where the canopy will be attached, setting it in from the fuselage side by about the width of the canopy plastic. This creates a little ledge to guide the canopy into place, and also a much stronger 2-surface, 90-degree contact corner for the glue. The sprue itself is thinner than the bottom canopy framing and so is invisible once the canopy is attached. If the canopy is properly fitted and trimmed, you should be able to drop the canopy onto the model and see it practically snap into place around the sprue-rim. The resulting glue joint is often strong enough that white glue can be used as a canopy adhesive, although I use CA glue if I'm going to be stressing the join later by pulling masking tape off the canopy.
One error that I did make with the canopy was that I masked it after attaching it to the model, rather than before. It's too easy, in applying and burnishing the tape, to stress the join between the canopy and the model unnecessarily.
The propeller of the Italeri kit had a shape that struck me as odd, with the blades looking too club-like. Propellers often seem to be one of the worst-researched parts of plastic models, especially in 1/72 scale. I decided to shape my own propeller blades, using as a basis the Model News propeller, which was so flash-shrouded that it was impossible to determine what shape the manufacturer intended the blades to have. A few hours of work with needle files and emery boards, constantly comparing my blades against photographs (and each other!) produced a propeller that I thought was nice enough to display on its own. With some paring down of the back of the hub, it fit nicely into the excellent Italeri 2-piece spinner.
The landing gear was a mix-and-match assortment from both kits. The main gear struts came from the Italeri, and I deemed them detailed enough that all I added was a brake line from copper electronics wire. The outboard gear doors were also Italeri and were so finely molded that they required no thinning. For the inner gear doors, it was necessary to use the Model News parts to get the correct shape, and in any case these had a better rendition of the inner-face detail than the Italeri's. They did, however, require a good deal of thinning of the outer surface. As for wheels, the Italeri provides two different sets, but I liked the Model News wheels better than either of them. The Model News wheels had more subtle and accurate hub detail, good thickness and shape, and a very subtle diamond tread pattern. The latter is mostly lost during the process of gluing together the 2-piece wheels and removing the flash, but I tried to make it look as if the tread was merely worn in the center.
With the propeller, landing gear, and other bits still off the model, I was ready to complete the external finish. First, though, I had to face the problem of making the relatively heavy-handed Italeri surface detail match the very subtle Model News detail. I did this using a product available in the fingernail-care section of the drugstore, called "nail filler." If you are male, you may never have held your fingernails obliquely next to a light and examined them, but if you do, you will find that they are not evenly curved but rather made of up straight ridges, like a cheap pencil. This is one of those natural features of the human body that the beauty industry has convinced many women is a flaw to be corrected. Nail filler is a thin, brush-on coating that corrects this flaw by forming a thin layer that can later be filed or sanded smooth. As soon as I saw this product I thought that it might be useful for reducing, or even eliminating, heavy-handed recessed surface detail, and because I have a lot of old Matchbox kits in my closet, I immediately bought some.
Using the handy brush built into the bottle cap, I brushed nail filler along the panel lines of the Italeri-based parts, except for those that had already been reduced by seam clean-up during the building process. After each light application, which dries in about ten minutes, I sanded lightly over the panel line, removing the filler from the surface adjacent to the line. Two or three iterations of this process was enough to reduce the panel lines to the very subtle depth and thickness that I prefer on my models. Under a coat of paint, the Italeri surface detail ended up indistinguishable from that on the Model News wings.
For the color scheme of my model I had chosen AG528, SP-B of 400 (City of Toronto) Squadron, RCAF. I have a general bias toward Canadian subject matter, and AG528 was an especially colorful machine with extended yellow leading-edge recognition bands and single red stripes painted on the wings, both in the effort to help observers distinguish the aircraft from a Bf 109. Scott Hemsley had generously provided an out-of-production IPMS-Canada decal sheet featuring this aircraft, but I had my doubts about the shape of its call letters and prefer to avoid decals in any event, so this model was to be decal-free with the exception of the serial numbers. The resulting ten-color airbrush job figured to be challenging, but satisfying.
The entire model was painted with Testors Model Master enamels. A first coat of Interior Green served the dual purpose of coloring the interior canopy frames and priming the model. After tidying up the surface problems that the primer coat brought to light, I was left to consider the main camouflage colors. I chose standard British shades for the Mixed Grey and Dark Green over Medium Sea Grey camouflage, although the correctness of this is not certain. Mustang Mk.Is left the North American factory in NAA's interpretation of the 1940-standard British scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green over Sky, which may have involved the substitution of U.S. Olive Drab or Dark Olive Drab for the green, and the Olive Drab areas may not have been corrected on at least some aircraft when the British overpainted the aircraft with the grey/green scheme. For the Sky, I was forced to mix my own color, because I feel that almost all model paint manufacturers use too green a shade for this highly variable and chameleon-like color. After some experimentation I settled on a recipe of two-thirds of a bottle (10 mL) of FS36440 Gull Gray, one-third bottle (5 mL) of Interior Green, and twenty drops of Insignia Yellow. This was sprayed after the primer coat on the sides and rear fuselage and spinner.
I cut the masks for the call letters out of thin sheet styrene rather than paper. By using styrene, I could round the corners of the letters with a file without creating a ragged edge. The letters will also be reusable in the admittedly unlikely event that I need them again. For affixing the masks to the model, I had difficulty finding a suitable adhesive that would securely hold the stiff, nonporous masks to the model, yet allow me to remove them safely in the future. Spray-on temporary adhesives did not provide enough adhesion between two nonporous surfaces, and other adhesives like rubber cement were strong enough, but tended to attack the paint under the mask. I finally settled on good old white glue, which if held in place long enough can create a nice secure bond, but which can be removed and cleaned off after painting by dripping a few drops of water around the masks and letting it dissolve the glue.
I sprayed the camouflage colors using editor Tom Cleaver's loose-masking trick of cutting masks out of tape and running a string close to the tape edges to make it stand off the model surface. The demarcation lines were to be softer than usual for a British aircraft because these machines had been field-repainted. The order of painting was top colors first, then bottom color. This violated the usual airbrushing rule of lightest-to-darkest, I wanted to get a consistent under/upper demarcation line even where this line crosses two upper colors, and Medium Sea Grey is not a very light color so there was little risk of bleed-through. As with any modeling rule, the trick is knowing when to break it.
With the camouflage painted, I removed all masks from the model, as it was now time to paint highly specific areas - the insignia and striping. Model Masters Insignia Yellow and Insignia Blue were tolerably close matches for these colors on the British insignia, but the Insignia Red needed to be mixed with a small amount of Medium Sea Grey to achieve the correct dull red color. I painted the roundels using circular masks that I cut from clear sheet plastic so that I could work from the outside in and visually center each circle inside the previous one. I confess that I never properly learned how to cut a decent circle in the first grade, so it took about half an hour's work with a drafting template and a piece of sandpaper taped around a pencil to obtain each of the 18 masks that I needed. Fortunately, this is a long-term investment, as the masks are reusable and I have many occasions to paint standard-sized British roundels. The wing striping and fin flash were masked conventionally with straight pieces of tape.
Completing the model by the addition of the serial decals, propeller and spinner, landing gear, antenna and pitot tube, I at last had an RCAF Mustang Mk.I, eight years after I first resolved to build one. On balance, I was satisfied with the means that I chose to produce the model. The final result was as good as I generally can do with a high-quality kit built out of the box, and I believe that I achieved this result with less time and frustration than I would have experienced, had I tried to modify either of the individual kits without borrowing components from the other. For me, this is the test of a successful kitbash. Nevertheless, this was an involved project, not to be taken lightly. In the case of several parts, including the exhausts, canopy, propeller, cockpit, and decals, there was not an item in either of the two kits that could be used without substantial reworking.
Mustang Part 2