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The Last Mustang

Classic Airframes and
Historic Plastic Models

North American P/F-51H Mustang


By Tom Cleaver

The Airplane

There are four fighters that became operational during the Second World War that are immortal: the British Supermarine Spitfire, the German Messerschmitt-109, the American P-51 Mustang and the Japanese Zero. Each more than fulfilled the original specification that called it into existence, and each advanced the aeronautical state of the art on their debut. The true mark of greatness is that each was capable of further development far beyond what had been originally created (had the Japanese had access to similar engine technology as the other three, the Zero would likely have been developed similarly to the others). The Bf-109K-4 bore little more than a superficial resemblance to the "classic" Bf-109E; similarly, the Spitfire 24 bore virtually no resemblance to the "classic" Spitfire IX; and the P-51H bore even less relation to a "classic" P-51D than the others did to their predecessors, who at least shared similar rear fuselage structures. The P-51H was a completely new development, bearing only a passing visual similarity to its predecessors.

The Bf-109F was the ultimate development of its original series; past the Friedrich, the gains in performance were not as striking despite the physical changes in the airframe and powerplant. The same can be said of the Spitfire IX for the Spitfire series. The P-51B is the high-water mark for the original Mustang design; the P-51D was heavier without a commensurate gain in performance past an increase in armament and pilot visibility, and its handling was decidedly different than its lighter Merlin-powered predecessor, which was far more maneuverable.

In 1943, North American and the U.S.A.A.F. both recognized that the original Mustang had passed its peak of development. The P-51D, at 11,000 pounds, was some 35 percent heavier than the original Mustang, with only a 25 percent increase in power. The desire was for increased speed, increased altitude, increased range and increased maneuverability. The solution was to go back to the drawing board, which Edgar Schmued and his team did under the overall direction of Lee Atwood.

The result was an airplane with a different wing that lost its characteristic "crank" due to the use of smaller wheels, a different, finer fuselage, and a structure that included plastics wherever possible. The first airplane to emerge from this was the XP-51F: to reduce drag compared to the P-51D, its most notable difference was a longer bubble canopy, as well as the low-drag wing. Armament was reduced to four .50 cal. machine guns, while overall fuel capacity was increased with two 105- gallon wing tanks. The net result was an airplane that weighed just over 9,000 pounds, capable of a 466 mph maximum speed with the same V-1650-7 Merlin of the P-51D, as compared to 425 mph for the earlier airplane. Three were built. Two more lightweights called the XP-51G emerged, powered by a 1,500 hp Merlin 145 and weighing only 8,879 pounds; top speed went up to 472 mph at 20,000 feet.

The final production result of this development process was the P-51H, powered by the Packard-Merlin V-1650-9, which delivered a maximum 2,218 hp at war emergency power (a 35 percent increase over the Packard-Merlin in the P-51D). With a 50-gallon fuselage tank that provided a total internal fuel capacity of 255 gallons, the maximum range on internal fuel was 1,000 miles, which could be extended to 1,500 miles with two 75-gallon drop tanks. With 6 .50 caliber machine guns and full provision for underwing stores, the maximum overload weight of the "lightweight" was 10,500 pounds, scarcely less than the "D." However, the airplane had a top speed of 487 mph at 25,000 feet, best of the entire series. Coupled with increased range, increased altitude capability, and better maneuverability, it was the airplane North American had set out to achieve.

The first P-51H flew on January 3, 1945, and by V-J Day that August, 330 had been produced at the North American plant in Los Angeles, with plans for increased production at the Dallas plant, where the airplane would have been known as the P-51M. Three fighter groups had completed conversion to the new Mustang, and had the invasion of Japan proceeded that fall, the type would have seen extensive combat, replacing the P-51D as the USAAF air superiority fighter in the Pacific. As it was, production ceased in late 1945, with only 550 rolling off the line.

As the Spitfire 21/22/24 did for the squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in the late 1940s, the P-51H provided the former WW2 pilots who formed the Air National Guard with a weekend diversion that could truly take a man's thoughts off his weekday concerns. The last Mustang equipped several units of the ANG through the early/mid 1950s, when they were progressively replaced by the F-80 and F-84. When they were taken off operations, there were no secondary air forces for them to serve with as was the case with the P-51D, and they were rapidly turned into scrap. Today, only two are known to be in flyable condition.

The Kits

How often does it happen that we go for years without a kit of a particular type or sub-type, and then in a matter of weeks have two show up? To tell you the truth, I don't remember the last time this happened. But here we are with a 1/48 P-51H from Historic Plastic Models, and another one from Classic Airframes.

Many people have wondered, since both companies have their production facilities in the Czech Republic, if perchance they are the same molds, released by different companies? One look in the boxes answers this question. NO!

The Historic Plastic Models kit is made from metal molds, while the Classic Airframes kit is made from resin molds. This results in major differences right off. The injection molded plastic parts of the HPM kit are crisper, with better-defined panel lines, etc., while the C-A kit has a less-smooth overall surface. It's my guess both will look similar under a coat of SnJ aluminum paint.

Past this, what are the differences?

The Historic Plastic Models P-51H

The kit comes on three trees of dark grey plastic, with two injection-molded canopies - one open, one closed - a fret of photo-etch brass for detail parts, and Propagteam decals for two aircraft of the 67th Fighter Group in Alaska in 1946-47, and two aircraft of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, one from the "Irish" and one from the "Polish" squadrons.

The Classic Airframes P-51H

The kit comes on two trees of light-grey plastic, with petitely-engraved panel lines. A bag of resin pieces provides the parts for the cockpit, main gear well, and the drop tank pylons. There are two vacuformed canopies, which can be cut open or left closed. The Micro-Scale decal sheet provides markings for the prototype P-51H, an airplane sent to England in 1945 for evaluation, an aircraft of the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Field in 1947, and an aircraft of the Wisconsin Air National Guard flown by Captain Paul Poberezny (later famous in aeronautical circles as the founder of the Experimental Airplane Association).

The Two Compared

Both kits provide thin trailing edges to all flying surfaces.

The engineering of the fuselages is different. The C-A kit has the air scoop molded as one piece to each fuselage half, with the intake separate; the HPM kit has the forward half of the air scoop separate from the rear half, with the intake separate. From test-fitting, it appears that the HPM kit will need more putty in this area, with consequent re-scribing once assembled. The HPM kit has the radiator exhaust chute molded separately so it can be positioned open or closed; the C-A kit has it molded shut, which means a modeler will have to scratchbuild this part to get a realistic look for the airplane sitting on the ground.

Classic Airframes
click on thumbnails to view fullsize images

HPM molded the nose intake separate from the rest of the fuselage, while the C-A kit has the nose intake molded in halves, integral to the fuselage. This creates the same problems for the HPM kit one gets with the Hasegawa P-51D in having to sand and shape the area. This intake has a subtle shape, and here C-A has done a better job of capturing that look.

Capturing the cockpit floor inside the HPM kit and rubber- banding the fuselage and wings together, it is clear that there will be a lot of test-fitting of these two sub-assemblies. The cockpit floor has to be left alone to keep the fuselage wide enough to accept the instrument panel, which leaves the fuselage about 1/16" wide for the area where it should mate with the wing subassembly. The solution will be to sand down the fairings of the fuselage to fit the wings and keep proper dihedral. More putty here.

Capturing the cockpit inside the C-A fuselage and rubberbanding together the same assemblies, the wing fits more easily, but putty will be necessary along the upper wing-to- fuselage and the forward lower wing-to-nose joints.

The HPM kit gets the dorsal fin right. It is noticeably much thinner than the rudder. The C-A kit does not capture this shape, and it will have to be carved and sanded to achieve the right look here.

The wing of the C-A kit is 3/16" wider in chord than the HPM kit (and I am not talking scale inch here). Having eye-balled some photos of P-51Hs, but not having any drawings to measure off of, I think the C-A kit may be the one that's right; this cannot be definitively answered without some drawings, but the HPM wing looks a little "thin." Given that the P-51H overall looks like a Mustang on steroids, it may just be my unfamiliarity with the shape.

The HPM horizontal stabilizers are molded with too much "backsweep," which is noticeable when you look at the distinct backsweep of the leading edge of the elevators. This can be solved by trimming along the butt joint of the stabilizer to the fuselage; it's a problem similar to the Hobbycraft Bf-109Gs. The horizontal stabilizers a do not have this problem on the C-A kit.

The decision to use resin for the cockpit of the C-A kit leads to a more petite-looking cockpit area, with the seat belts molded integral to the seat; the HPM kit, by use of a P-E instrument panel with film for the instrument faces, makes an easier, more realistic-looking panel. The seat belts are P-E, and make up into a more realistic effect of seat belts over the seat.

Historic Plastic Models
Click on thumbnails for fullsize image

The canopies for the HPM kit are thick, but clear, similar to what one finds in their Bv-141 kit. Dipping them in Future will result in very clear canopies. However, once you have the instrument panel cover in place, the canopy looks to be too thick and needs to be trimmed away inside to allow a close fit. I will likely make a vacuform canopy for mine. The vacuform canopies in the C-A kit are very well-made, like the Falcon canopies sold by Squadron.

The landing gear in the C-A kit is more petite in its molding than that of the HPM kit.

Overall Assessment

These both look like accurate P-51H Mustangs. The big difference is the wing chord, and I suspect the accuracy freaks will make their decision based on whichever is the more accurate on this point.

Here in the US, the Classic Airframes kit sells for less than the Historic Plastic Models kit, with the situation being reversed in Europe.

By a nose, I give my nod to Classic Airframes - mostly on shape detail - with the caveat that if there had been only one of these kits released, I would have been happy either way.

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Air Intelligence
1999 Modelers'
Reference Guides

1/32 Scale Guide $18.00
1/48 Scale Guide $25.00
1/72 Scale Guide $25.00
HH-43 Huskie Color
Reference Guide $15.00

Please add $3.20 Postage in the US.

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PO Box 90933
Albuquerque NM

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