On the Bench: 1/48 Tamiya P-51B Mustang

The North American P-51B Mustang

The North American P-51 Mustang is one of the great success stories of World War II, not only for its stellar combat record, but for its winning design, and its origins, which are a testament to American scrappiness.

The P-51 was conceived when the RAF wanted more P-40s than Curtiss could manufacture. When they approached North American Aviation about building additional P-40s on license, NAA instead offered an entirely new aircraft design utilizing the latest aviation advances, the main one being the laminar flow wing, which significantly reduced drag. The Mustang went from napkin sketch to prototype in a matter of months, but the final product was underwhelming due in large part to its Allison engine. It soldiered on as a competent strike aircraft, but didn’t really have the chops to go toe-to-toe with the Luftwaffe.

Then somebody had the idea of shoving a Merlin engine into the P-51. Where the result had yielded slight gains when the similar step was taken with the P-40, it transformed the Mustang into a war-winner. The P-51B and P-51C (identical, and only designated to denote where they were built) began equipping USAAF and RAF squadrons at the very end of 1943, and the rearmament swelled in the first few months of 1944. By summer, every fighter group in the 8th Air Force save for the 56th had converted over to the Mustang, and the iconic bubble-top P-51D was making its way into the field. But the -B continued to serve pretty much up to the end of the war.

The Tamiya Kit

Two years ago, in July 2010, I kicked off my return to modeling with Tamiya’s P-51B Mustang. It was the perfect choice. While perhaps not reaching the masterpiece level of Tamiya’s P-47 lineup, the -B outstrips the -D handily in terms of cockpit detail, and is an absolute pleasure to build, almost falling together in a way few other kits do.

When I was casting about for a simple build to refresh myself on, the -B seemed an obvious choice, especially since I’ve long wanted to build one in the markings of Henry Brown’s “The Hun Hunter ~ Texas”. Brown’s one of my favorite Mustang pilots, not only for the sake of his being a fellow Dallas boy, but for his exploits in the air, which on one mission included outmaneuvering and driving off six Bf 109s – without ammunition! His Mustang’s striking scheme of RAF Dark Green over bare metal only adds to my want-to-do-it-ness.

At the moment I’m waiting for several Ultracast bits. Once they arrive, it’s off to the races!

On the Bench: 1/48 Revell/Monogram B-25J Mitchell

What the Hell’s Going On Here?

Yesterday, I put the massive HK Models B-25 back into its box, for a myriad of reasons. The summer heat, the lack of certain aftermarket items, and most importantly just where I’ve been at mentally. I’ve been at that kit for over a month, with precious little to show for it.

Rather than keep slogging away at a kit that’s overwhelming me, I’ve decided to shift gears to a commission build – which is coincidentally a B-25J Mitchell from the exact same bomb group as the big Mitchell I’ve set aside. Why is the 340th so popular? I think part of it is simply that there are decals for several of the 340th’s aircraft. That and the striking mix of bare metal overpainted with green – a measure taken in the aftermath of a Luftwaffe raid on the group’s airfield. And in the case of this particular aircraft, there’s a personal connection involved. I’ll just leave it at that.

The Revell Kit

Considering this is a commission build, and one that will need to thus be shipped (I’m already shaking at the thought), it was mutually agreed to forego the larger HK kit in favor of the venerable old 1/48 Monogram kit, which is these days sold as a Revell.

Despite the raised panel lines and age of the molds, the Monogram B-25 is actually a rather solid kit. When you poke around its sprues, you can see immediately just how much inspiration Wingscale/HK took from it in designing their 1/32 kit. A ridiculous number of subassemblies actually have the exact same build mechanics, only 50% smaller and sometimes lacking in crispness of detail.

A quick test-fit reveals that everything goes together more or less as it should, though there’s some gap issues where the engine pods meet with the undersides of the wings. Barring any nasty fit issues with the clear parts, I imagine dealing with that will be the greatest challenge of this build. The rest of the fit of the major airframe is actually very good, even if the wings are a bit sloppy on the wing spars.

As for aftermarket, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Eduard makes a very thorough, if not colorized, photo etch set for the old girl. Likewise, True Details makes a wheel set that is hands down the best thing I’ve ever seem them produce. Another area in desperate need of attention is the gun barrel detail on the .50 cals. I’m planning to replace these, likely with Quickboost barrels as I used on the PV-1.

Being lazy in the presence of so much clear stuff to deal with, I also broke down and purchased a mask set.

Stay tuned…this one will be a longer term build…but it will be fun all the same, and a good run for whatever I ultimately decide to do with the HK kit.

Too Much

I put the HK B-25 back in its box tonight. The Hasegawa P-40, too.

I know, I know. What the hell?

The P-40 is pretty straightforward. I started it up expecting a resin conversion to a very good kit. Instead I encountered a warped fuselage, terrible wingroot gaps, and so on. And I just don’t have the fire to take that on right now.

The B-25 is more complicated.

First…summer has truly arrived here in Austin. And with it hot and gross nights in the garage where I’m literally sweating as I sit at the bench. These past few weeks, the bugs have been just awful, too. Not only the usual moths, but spiders. Big ass ones popping out from under cabinets, little ones building webs in the bomb bay, and over sprue trees awaiting painting. And then there are the crickets. A plague of the damned hoppers. Tonight alone I’ve killed nearly thirty of the bastards. And dealing out insect holocaust is hella distracting, which doesn’t jive well with a kit as complex as the HK B-25.

Second, there’s the mental thing. The past two months have played absolute havoc on my mental state. Landing a new job, leaving an old one, all that goes along with that transition…I’ve had a ton of stuff on my mind. Last summer’s bout with unemployment pushed my mental buttons, too, but I was able to channel into the Spitfire VIII. This time around, no go. Honestly, for the past few weeks I feel like I’ve just bee spinning wheels.

Third, there’s the aftermarket thing. I desperately want resin wheels. And Eduard’s mask set. At a minimum. I also want better markings – right now nobody offers stencils for the B-25, which is absolutely retarded considering the scale of the kit. Perhaps giving it a few months off until the cooler weather will allow the aftermarket players to make some headway.

So what’s going on the bench next?

I have no idea…

On the Bench: 1/32 Hasegawa P-40F Warhawk

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

The Curtiss P-40 is one of the few aircraft that is simultaneously vaunted and shafted by history.

On the one hand, it was the fighter immortalized by Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group – more excitingly known as the “Flying Tigers”.

On the other hand, it’s basically all but ignored for its service beyond China. And it served in every theater of the war before being overshadowed by the arrival of first the P-47 and then the P-51 Mustang.  Much like the Hawker Hurricane or the Grumman F4F Wildcat, the Curtiss P-40 is very much the plane that held the line during those critical earlier years of the war.

Pretty much every allied air force flew the P-40 at some point or another, including the Free French, whose famed GC II/5 squadron – the famed Lafayette Escadrille – flew the P-40F in Africa and Italy.

The P-40F differed from the P-40E in one major regard. Instead of the Allison inline engine, it ran the Packard V-1650 Merlin. That’s right, the Merlin of Spitfire and P-51 Mustang fame. Weird that the jump from the Allison to the Merlin turned the P-51 from “meh” to scourge of the Luftwaffe, while the same jump in the P-40 did jack all save for a modest bump in high-altitude performance, but there you have it.

The Hasegawa Kit

The P-40F and P-40L are among that small cadre of aircraft variants that somehow have just fallen right through the cracks of the modeling world – alongside the Spitfire Mk.Vc and a few others. There’s a crappy old AMT kit in 1/48, and, um, that’s it. Seems strange, when one considers how extensively the USAAF used the Merlin-powered P-40s in the Mediterranean.

Fortunately, Gray Matter Figures makes a pretty intensive P-40F/L conversion kit for the 1/32 Hasegawa P-40 range.

Since I’ll be building “Madkot”, the P-40F-5 flown by GC II/5’s commanding officer, Polish-born Frenchman Constantin Rozanoff, I’ve decided to use Hasegawa’s 1/32 P-40M as the donor kit. The -M has the longer tail found on later-block P-40Fs and all P-40Ls.

In the box, the Hasegawa kit looks pretty great. Very solid detail work all around. Maybe not quite as good as what Tamiya’s been doing on their latest 1/32 releases, but close.

Once the kit comes out of the box, however, some problems become apparent. At least with my example, the fuselage is nice and warped up front. Not a big deal considering almost everything forward of the cockpit’s going under the knife.

The other nasty spot that I’ve uncovered thus far is without question the wings. Check out that gap!

Still, I’ve faced worse…

HK Models B-25J Mitchell Build Log, Pt. 1 – Internals

Now that I’ve started work on this monster of a B-25, I’ve come to realize there are basically two ways to approach the build.

The first is to plan, plan, plan. There are so many subassemblies that need attention, and that all have to come together in a magic leap from one step to the next. For example, closing up the fuselage requires finishing out not only the cockpit, but the column for the turret gun, the bomb bay, the waist guns and ammo belts, and the rear gunner’s position. And the nose strut, which as to be installed to the underside of the cockpit floor before the halves are joined.

The second route is to proceed haphazardly, and find yourself doing multiple things twice or three times, or four. Like spraying interior green, or weathering, or what-have-you.

Despite my best intentions to pull off the former, I find myself wallowing in the latter more and more. Continue reading