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P-51D Kit

Tamiya 1/32 P-51D Mustang Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2011 Manufacturer Tamiya
Subject P-51D Mustang Scale 1/32
Kit Number 60322 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Nice detail, straightforward build Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $167.95

First Look

P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit
P-51D Kit

North American's Mustang fighter was a huge success once the Allison engine of the early Mustangs was replaced by the license-built Packard Merlin. The P-51B/C Mustangs were a formidable threat to the Luftwaffe. Like most fighters of the early war, the P-51B/C had the standard hood design of the day which was more of a greenhouse type that was streamlined into the rear fuselage. Aerodynamically, this wasn't a bad thing, but combat experience with this type of cockpit enclosure revealed a fatal rear aspect blind spot. The Americans, British, and Germans all set to work on the problem.

North American addressed this visibility issue with the next version of the Mustang, the P-51D. The rear fuselage was cut down and the canopy enclosure replaced with a teardrop canopy. Additional improvements included the addition of two more 50 caliber machine guns, bringing up the total to six, additional fuel tanks, and a new gunsight.

The P-51D became the principal fighter for the US Army Air Force and could hold its own against the Luftwaffe until the advent of the next generation of Luftwaffe fighters including the Ta 152, Me 262, etc. Even then, the Mustangs (and other allied types) outnumbered what was left of the Luftwaffe and retained air superiority over the continent. The P-51 was the first fighter that had sufficient range (with external tanks) to escort bombers all the way to Berlin and back.

Over the years, model companies have tried with varying degrees of success to replicate the P-51 Mustang in scale. Until recently, the best P-51D in 1/32 scale continued to be the venerable Hasegawa kit though the Monogram (also ancient tooling) it right up there for accuracy and shape. The best P-51D in any scale was Tamiya's 1/48 P-51D as it was an easy build and represented the type very nicely. One problem that has plagued just about every scale P-51 kit is the boxed-in main wheel well. While the rear of the well is indeed boxed in by the wing main spar, the front of the well is open to the wing leading edge.

Another problem on many Mustang kits are the panel lines and rivet details on the wings. North American introduced the laminar flow wing with their Mustang and in order for the air to flow smoothly over that wing, the panel lines and rivets were puttied over and sanded to create a smooth surface over the top of that wing. Only the gun bay access doors showed any deviation to that rule and these were kept as tight as possible when closed. After several disappointing attempts at the P-51 in 1/32 scale, I was hopeful that Tamiya would succeed where its competition had failed.

We've seen Tamiya raise the bar on their 1/32 scale kits over the last decade or so. Their 1/32 F-14 had raised the bar with the details and features in that box, but their scribed panel lines on the nose and raised panel lines on the rest of the airframe left many puzzled modelers. Then came the F-4 Phantom II kits with the new technology molding that allowed for that huge fuselage to be molded in one piece. But then came the Zero and the bar wasn't simply raised, it was kicked into orbit. This kit was not only loaded with details, but it featured landing gear with sophisticated retraction mechanisms and other moving features. Tamiya easily produced the best A6M Zero kits in any scale.

Much to everyone's surprise, Tamiya entered the Spitfire battle with several releases, each featuring the same level of engineering excellence as their Zero kits. What made this surprising is the level of emotion that die-hard Spitfire enthusiasts have for their beloved aircraft and any flaw could be fatal. Tamiya had succeeded where others had failed and now hold the title of best Spitfire kits in any scale.

So here we are with their first entry into the Mustang market. The previews of this kit from the Shizuoka Hobby Fair were very impressive and left you to wonder if this kit's only weakness might be Kryptonite. Does it hold up to close scrutiny? Let's take a look:

The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on 17 parts trees, one parts tree molded in black styrene, three parts trees molded in clear styrene, two frets of photo-etched parts, one set of rubber tires, and an array of metal rods, screws, and springs.

This release is the 'Swiss Army Knife' of P-51D kits in that it can represent the early P-51D Block 5 without the dorsal fin extension, the later block P-51Ds from Inglewood with the fin extension as well as the late block P-51Ds from Dallas with the 'Dallas Hood' higher profile canopy. The kit is modular so it can be set up in several configurations, not only during assembly, but also after it is finished. More on this later.

Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Beautifully detailed Packard Merlin engine with two types of exhaust stacks
  • Nice Hamilton Standard propeller
  • Lots of detail firewall forward so you'll want to be able to look upon this detail after assembly
  • Removable cowling panels (top, bottom and sides) - magnetic
  • Early and late block instrument panels
  • Early and late block pilots seats with different shoulder harnesses
  • Optional seated pilot figure
  • Optional standing pilot figure
  • Early and late block gun sights
  • Early and late block avionics
  • Choice of three canopy types
  • Sliding canopy
  • Optional rear view mirror
  • Movable radiator flap
  • Movable rudder
  • Choice of early (fabric) or late (metal) ailerons and elevators
  • Movable elevators
  • Movable ailerons
  • Movable flaps
  • Correct main landing gear well design
  • Beautifully detailed landing gear
  • Landing gear can be raised or lowered (module exchanges)
  • Detailed gun bays
  • Gun bay doors can be open or closed (module exchanges)
  • Choice of early or late block tail
  • Choice of 108 gallon paper or 75 gallon metal drop tanks
  • Optional display stand
  • Canopy masks

As I mentioned earlier, Tamiya designed this kit to allow the modeler to change up the model after assembly. The landing gear can be raised or lowered by simply pulling a lock out and dropping the entire main and tail wheel units out and installing the modules in the other configuration. They don't move, they simply get swapped. The kit can also sit on its gear and be displayed all opened up with the gun panels open and cowling panels removed. About the only thing you can't do is swap the pilot's seat with one empty and one crewed-up. Once you're bored with the model opened up, the cowling panels go back in place with magnets, the gun bay doors are swapped with a spare set closed up, and the gear can be swapped with the doors-closed modules and placed onto the display stand.

Now for the nits. Keep in mind that these are minor points that can be addressed in kit assembly.

  • First are those Trumpeter-type flight control hinges. Tamiya does link the elevators and flaps together so they at least move in unison, but the ailerons are going both droop. At least replace the aileron hinges with styrene strip and lock them into neutral position
  • Second, the Block 5 P-51D has fabric-covered ailerons and elevators. The fabric-covered rudder would remain on the later blocks. For whatever reason, the kit designers wanted to impress you with rib details but a properly covered fabric aileron or elevator was tight as a drum and didn't show any of that detail on the full-scale aircraft. Use the metal (non-ribbed) flight controls if you're building the Block 5 and primer over the rivet holes to make it smooth like fabric
  • Third, the rudder did show some rib detail through the fabric, but look at your reference photos and see if you might want to sand down some of that rib detail on your kit parts
  • Fourth, Tamiya did give in to the desire to show panel lines and rivet details on the upper wing surface. Fortunately these are finely done so you can use primer to cover these over. The first major panel line aside from the gun access doors are the lines that exist on the outboard sections of the wing, one just outboard of the mid-section of the aileron and one at the wingtip. There are a few others, but for the most part, that wing surface was puttied smooth at the factory to hide those lines and rivet divets to allow for that laminar airflow to happen

As I said, these are all minor points that can be corrected.

Markings are provided for three examples:

  • P-51D-25-NA, 44-73304, 334 FS/4 FG, QP-U, 'Blondie'
  • P-51D-10-NA, 44-14151, 487 FS/352 FG, HO-M, 'Petie 2nd'
  • P-51D-5-NA, unknown, 79 FS/20 FG, MC-Z, 'Glengary Guy'

Decals are provided on two sheets and also include a nice set of maintenance stenciling.

With an manufacturer's suggested retail price of under $168 USD, this kit is not for the beginner nor is it intended to be. While the kit will be a joy to build, it will take some experience to get all of those details to go together and still have the major kit components (fuselage halves, wings, cowlings, etc.) still come together. With the DML 1/32 P-51D retailing at less than 1/3 the price of this kit, is this Tamiya kit worth the money? From my point of view, absolutely. Despite the minor points cited above, this is the very first kit of the P-51 in 1/32 that has come the closest to perfection out of the box. What's more, with all of the P-51D kits that have been released over the years, there is no shortage of decal subjects already available with more coming soon. I can only hope that Tamiya is planning the P-51B/C as well.