ICM 1/48 P-51D Mustang
KIT #: ?
PRICE: $24.00 or so MSRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES:  Lifelike Decals 48-015 “North American P-51 Mustang Pt. 1" used


            The P-51 came late to the Pacific Theater, since its long-range fighting ability was so desperately needed in Europe to provide escort to the strategic bombing campaign.  The Fifth Air Force began receiving Mustangs in January 1945, and they re-equipped the 348th Fighter Group, which had been the premiere P-47 outfit in the Southwest Pacific since their arrival in New Guinea in the summer of 1943.  Additionally, the 3rd Air Commando Group arrived in the Philippines in February, while the tactical recon units received F-6Ds the same month.  By the time the Mustangs arrived, aerial combat in the Philippines was nearly over, with the Japanese Navy and Army air forces having been thoroughly defeated during the air battles following the invasion in late October.

            The Fifth Air Force was, however, able to make use of the range of the Mustang, and flew missions over the South China Sea to French Indochina, southern China and Hong Kong, and as far north as Formosa.  Following the invasion of Okinawa in April and the securing of the Japanese airfields on the island by June, the fighters of the Fifth Air Force made their final move of the war and began missions over Kyushu that July.

            The 348th fighter Group had been the Pacific Theater’s equivalent of the 56th Fighter Group in England, being the first unit to bring the P-47 to the theater where they proved to be a formidable unit despite the initial displeasure of General George Kenney in being given a unit flying an airplane he believed had no business being in the Pacific due to the initial short range of the P-47. However, Colonel Neel Kearby and his pilots proved their commanding general wrong as they became one of the top three units in the command, the others being the 49th Fighter Group and the 475th Fighter Group.

            The second-leading ace of the group was LCOL Bill Dunham, one of the original members of the group.  In December 1943, he had been given command of the 460th Fighter Squadron, an “extra” unit formed from extra pilots and airplanes, which at first operated independently but then became a fourth squadron in the 348th.  By January 1945, Dunham was the Deputy Group Commander and had 15 victories scored over new Guinea and the Philippines.  He took a rest back in the United States, during which time he finally attended an official gunnery school.  This might sound surprising that a leading ace would do so, but he was following in the steps of Dick Bong, who had done so in 1944 after scoring 27 victories and becoming the second American fighter pilot to equal the World War I score of Eddie Rickenbacker.  Bong had let it be known when he returned that, had he had such training before he first came to the Fifth Air Force, he believed he might have doubled his score.  Amazingly enough, the USAAF had not had a formal gunnery training program for fighter pilots until early 1944, meaning all the top fighter pilots of the war had learned this vital skill the hard way on their own while on operations. 

            Dunham returned to the 348th Fighter Group in early June, shortly after the unit had moved up to Ie Shima, and resumed his position as Deputy Group Commander, now flying a P-51K which he quickly had re-equipped with the superior Hamilton-Standard propeller of the P-51D.  When the 348th began flying missions over Kyushu in the Japanese Home Islands in late July, he was able to add a final victory to his total, bringing him to 16 kills and making him the fifth-ranking USAAF ace of the Pacific Theater.


            ICM first released their P-51D in 2003.  Modelers quickly noticed that the major parts were obvious copies of the Tamiya P-51D first released in 1994; the differences between the kits were that ICM also included useless cockpit parts taken from the Accurate Miniatures P-51s, and the Malcolm Hood was not molded as cleanly and clearly as was Tamiya’s.  Additionally, the ICM kit’s flaps are generally short-shot and need putty and rescribing; they also do not have the locating tabs the Tamiya kit has.  Other than that, the main parts of the two kits are interchangeable, though the ICM kit decals are largely useless, being printed flat, and having a tendency to come apart when put in water.  The big advantage of the ICM kit is price, since it was approximately half the price of the Tamiya original.  ICM then went out of business two years ago, though the kits could be found here and there.  Now that ICM is back in business, the kit has been re-released this summer, with about a 40 percent price hike, though it is still cheaper than the Tamiya kit.

            While the decals may be bad on the ICM kit, this is not a problem, since there have been perhaps a hundred different decal sheets released over the years by aftermarket companies.  While many of these sheets are no longer in production, most modelers have a few in their stash, and they can be found on dealer’s tables at shows and over at eBay.

            One company that is very much still in business is Lifelike Decals in Japan, and they have released three P-51 sheets that cover P-51Bs and P-51Ds.  Some of these are re-dos from earlier sheets by other companies, but Lifelike has made them appreciably better, a good example being the decals for Captain John Voll, leading Mustang ace of the MTO and his well-known “American Beauty.”  On this sheet, the decals include the 31st FG red stripes, the yellow MTO ID stripes, and the name done in two parts so there is a thin black outline to the red letters.

            For me, this sheet was a winner because it included Bill Dunham’s well-known P-51K, “Mrs. Bonnie.”  Lifelike went to the effort of finding a color photo of the airplane and getting right such things as the aircraft number, which was long incorrectly thought to be “00" rather than the “0" it is. The decals have separate Japanese flags for the victory markings and include stripes to do the multi-color spinner

            Aftermarket items for the P-51D have been around a long time.  I personally think that the True Details resin cockpit, which has been available since about 1996 that I know of, is the best of the bunch.  It is easy to use, very accurate, and most importantly it is the least-expensive P-51 cockpit out there.  The cockpit is now currently available from Squadron for about $5.95.

           One thing that has long been needed for a really accurate P-51 is a resin wheel well, since no kit ever issued has gotten it right, that the wheel well extends inside the wing back to the main spar, without the wall all kits have that blank off that area. Sergey Kosachev of Vector has recently released a wheel well that is designed to be used with the Tamiya P-51 kits that is so accurate it looks like he hit the real thing with some kind of shrinking spray.  While this item is expensive enough that those modelers who have 10 P-51s in their collection (let alone the 50 I think I have!)  are unlikely to equip all with this piece, it is nice to do at least on P-51 up with “all the trimmings” and definitely worth the effort in the end.


            Having finally achieved “critical mass” on the ICM P-51D that had been hiding in a good box (as opposed to the crappy ICM box) for a few years, by accumulating the Lifelike Decals, a True Details cockpit and P-51 wheels, a Falcon vacuform canopy, and the Vector wheel well set, it was time to break my promise that I had built my “last P-51" and do one more.

            The first thing I did was thin the cockpit area of the kit’s fuselage halves.  This is crucial if a modeler is going to get everything to fit right.  You can always tell a P-51D with the True Details cockpit where this wasn’t done, since assembling the cockpit that way results in the fuselage becoming just wide enough that when the wing subassembly is attached, it will result in a wing with no dihedral.  I also took this time to get rid of all the wheel well detail in the wings, cutting off the “walls” and removing the ribs, then sanding out the interior of the wings to thin them as much as possible so the resin wheel well would fit.

            Next, I cut the True Details cockpit parts off their molding bases, and sanded the sidewalls smooth on the side that fits to the fuselage part, and thin enough that I could see light through them.  I also sanded down the cockpit floor to make it as thin as possible so that it would fit with the resin wheel wells.

            Following that, I painted the cockpit parts with Xtracrylix “Interior Green,” using Xtracrylix “Night Black” for the instrument panel and other details.  The floor was painted with Tamiya “NATO Black” to simulate the non-skid that was painted on the wooden floor of the real thing.  I used one of my last P-51D instrument panel decals, and then finished up other details by dry-brushing with Tamiya “Flat Aluminum” and then picking out various buttons with red, white and yellow to add color.  The seat was painted Interior Green with

Tamiya “Khaki” for the seat back pad and the lap belts, with the shoulder belts painted Tamiya “Flat White.”

            I then turned my attention to getting the gear well into the wing.  In retrospect, I should have sanded the interior of the lower wing even thinner, getting completely rid of the “ridge” that is there to guide placement of the kit central wheel well part.  However, I was able to sand down the resin part till I could see light through the top, and things fit.  The resin wheel well was painted Tamiya “Flat Aluminum” with the main spar hand painted with Xtracrylix Interior Green mixed with yellow to create “Yellow Zinc Chromate.  Then all that great detail was “popped out” with thinned Tamiya “Smoke.”  Once assembled, I decided to make this wing close to “factory original” by getting rid of all the panel lines other than for the gas tank and the gun bays, so it resembled the “puttied wing” as it came off the production line.  I did this with Tamiya’s “Mr. Surfacer” replacement.

            I then assembled the cockpit and then proceeded to assemble the fuselage.  When done, I mated wing to fuselage, and - voila! - all that attention to thinning things down for fit worked - everything came together right.  I attached the upper cowling panel and the horizontal stabilizers, and was ready for paint.



            I first painted the areas that would have the black ID stripes with Tamiya “Semi-Gloss Black.”  These were then masked when dry.  The anti-glare panel was painted with Tamiya “Khaki” which was then lightened for “post-shading of the area.  This was then masked off.

            The wing was painted with Tamiya “Flat Aluminum,” and then masked off.  The rest of the model, including the flaps and the ailerons and the upper wing gun panels, were painted with SNJ Aluminum.  The spinner was painted with Tamiya “Flat Yellow.”  The canopy, which was Futured first, was masked off and painted with “Semi Gloss Black,” with the windscreen frames painted with SNJ Aluminum.

            When all was complete, I unmasked the model and painted the wings, the black stripes and the spinner with Xtracrylix Satin Varnish for decals.


            The Lifelike Decals went on easily.  These are very thin, they don’t stick to the first thing they touch.  Handle them carefully and there is no problem getting them to settle onto the surface detail with a couple coats of Micro-Sol.  When these were set, I airbrushed Xtracrylix Flat Varnish - which is actually a slight semi-gloss finish - over the decals and the stripes.


            I attached the landing gear and the prop blades.  Fortunately, the Vector wheel well is molded with the gear leg attachment so that it is impossible to not put the leg at the correct forward angle.  The canopy was cut away from its base, and the windshield was attached with white glue.  I positioned the canopy in the open position, attaching it with drops of cyanoacrylate glue.  ATTENTION MODELERS: the canopy of the P-51D does not slide back into space!  This is not a jet!!  The canopy slides back on top of the fuselage to the end of the slot.  The nice thing about the vacuform canopy is that it is easy as can be to do this correctly since it is thin enough to fit right.


            It’s a colorfully-marked P-51D - what’s not to like?  With these extra aftermarket parts, you can put a “definitive” P-51D in your collection without having to recalculate the national debt to do so.  As to my promise that this is the last one, ehhhh - there are those nice markings for “American Beauty”...

Kit, True Details cockpit and wheels, and Squadron canopy courtesy of my wallet.  Lifelike Decals courtesy of Keishiro Nagao.  Vector wheel wells courtesy of Vector.

Tom Cleaver

July 2009

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