Dragon 1/32 P-51D-5 Mustang

KIT #: 3205
PRICE: $45.00 (approx-look for bargains)16.98
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Kits World Decals KW132001 “Passion Wagon” used.  Rutman Productions propeller blades used.  Greymatter Figures resin cockpit used.


The 357th Fighter Group:

             The 357th Fighter Group was the first unit originally equipped with the P‑51 Mustang to serve in the Eighth Air Force.  Following the decision to assign the 9th Air Force's 354th Fighter Group to operational control of the Eighth as a long‑range escort group, Eighth Air Force command moved heaven and earth to get the nest P‑51 units destined for the Ninth reassigned to the Eighth.  They swapped the new P‑47‑equipped 358th Fighter Group for the P‑51‑equipped 357th after convincing the Ninth that P‑47s were better suited for the ground attack role that air force would be assigned to for the invasion ‑ a fact fully demonstrated by history.

             The 357th was formed on December 16, 1942 at Hamilton Field, north of San Francisco, and had spent some eight months training its newly‑minted pilots with the P‑39, first at Hamilton and later at Tonopah, Utah, where flight restrictions were fewer since there were less people to possibly complain about any “flat‑hatting,” though 14 pilots were killed in accidents during this time. The unit was ready for transfer to England in October 1943, at which time they learned they would be the second fighter group to be equipped with the P-51B.

       The 357th entered combat on February 11, 1944, at the opening of what was known as “Big Week,” an offensive directed against the Luftwaffe and the factories supporting it, which actually lasted throughout February with missions being flown every day the weather allowed.  It was the “opening bell” of The Battle of Germany, the effort to defeat the Luftwaffe and gain air superiority over Western Europe by the summer, when the invasion was set.

      The P‑51Bs of the 357th were the first allied fighters over Berlin on March 4, 1944 , along with the 336th Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group. Flying Mustangs insured the unit would be assigned the hottest part of the missions ‑ target escort ‑ where they were almost certain to always meet the Luftwaffe.  Throughout March and April the battle raged, with the Luftwaffe finally unable to meet a major attack in mid‑April.  During the Spring of 1944, the Luftwaffe lost 70 percent of their squadron and flight leaders, as well as several of their group and wing commanders, in addition to other veteran pilots.  It was a loss the Luftwaffe could ill afford and would never be able to replace. 

             By late April, American fighters were strafing German airdromes on the way back from their escort missions, due to the fact the Luftwaffe wasn't coming up to fight.  By May, the Luftwaffe had been effectively beaten.  That air superiority had been achieved was demonstrated by the fact that only two Luftwaffe fighters showed up over the invasion beaches on June 6.  Throughout the summer of 1944, the fighters of the Eighth, along with those of the Ninth that were more and more based in France, took on the Luftwaffe over the battlefield of northwestern France.  By the end of August, with Paris liberated, the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self and could never mount more than token resistance throughout the rest of the war. The untested kids of units like the 357th had smashed what had been considered the world's leading air force.

      In August, the 357th escorted B‑17s to Russia, Italy and back home on one of the shuttle missions. During Operation Market Garden ‑ the airborne landing in northern Holland in September ‑ the 357th destroyed 50 enemy aircraft in two days. On January 14, 1945, the group fought its biggest battle and experienced its greatest success when the three squadrons shot down 55.5 German fighters over Berlin, in what would be the last major combat of that size of the war.

             By V‑E Day, the 357th Fighter Group had produced the highest number of aces in the Eighth Air Force ‑ (43), five of whom scored more than 15 victories and four of whom scored more than 10.  This widespread “acedom” was a credit to leadership throughout the group.  The 357th scored 695 air victories, making them second in aerial combat to the 56th Fighter Group, which was in combat a year longer.


            I am certain that my “review” of the initial release of Dragon's P-51D kit is burned into the frontal lobes of readers.  To say it caused a “sensation” is an understatement.  I could have wallpapered my house by printing out the e-mails bemoaning my act of lese majesty, which was sure to result in model companies refusing to release any more models since people like me were “wrecking the hobby” with our attacks on the poor model companies.  Dragon itself launched a campaign against me on their website, which can probably be listed as one of the more ignorant corporate decisions made, since my in-box was bulging with queries from readers about the kit, and general laughter at Dragon for so stupid as to do such a thing.  As almost all the many reviews of the kit that sprouted on the internet in the months following revealed, a lot of modelers wanted to prove me wrong, though their results were unconvincing on that point, as was also pointed out by readers.

             So I am sure it is surprising to see this model reviewed here today.  However, this P-51D-5 is not quite the pig that the original release was, though it is still “unbuildable” (if by that term you mean the final result out of the box is an accurate model) without a lot of aftermarket items, all of which I used here.  However, there is one important difference in this kit: the “moonscape” surface detail of the original release has been toned down (it may also be that I have been desensitized to overdone surface detail, now that so many kits have been released that way). This is a common trick of Dragon with their armor kits, to respond to criticism by correcting things while admitting nothing in public.  Unfortunately, the serious problems remain.

             Additionally, this is the only kit of the early P-51D that has been produced by any company.  While I wish they had also modified the elevators to create fabric-covered items, the fact that most early Mustangs were re-equipped with metal elevators as soon as they became available covers the problem.

             However, even with the less-offensive surface detail and the provision of a sub-type not previously available in any scale, the basic problems of the kit remain.  One definitely must get aftermarket prop blades; I was lucky to obtain a set from Jerry Rutman before he closed up shop, but I do not know any other replacements, so a modeler is on their own at that point.  I was also fortunate to receive a resin cockpit from Greymatter Figures; this cockpit was originally created for the 1/32 Hasegawa kit and they were interested to find out if it could work with the Dragon kit, which it can with some modifications.  I wish I had been able to use the Scale Aircraft Conversions white metal landing gear and True Details resin main gear, because the parts provided in the kit are deficient.

             What tipped things in favor of proceeding with the project was getting the Kits World Decals that provide markings for the well-known “Passion Wagon” of the 357th Fighter Group. I wasn't ready to try doing this kit with a natural metal finish that would expose all that surface detail, but a nice dark overall camouflage scheme could change things.  For modelers who have this kit in their stash and my be convinced by this review to build it, Eagle Editions has also released three sheets of 1/32 decals for 357th FG Mustangs in overall camouflage, which I would recommend.


            I started by working on corrections to the kit parts. 

             I had no intention of using the engine and mount provided in the kit, so I glued the clear cowling parts in position and strengthened the joints by reinforcing them with Evergreen strip on the inside.

             I wanted to drop the flaps, which involved dremeling out the area under the wing fairing on the fuselage as well as adding some Evergreen sheet to the separate flaps; after I puttied that area and cleaned it up, I also used my pounce wheel to replace rivet detail on the flap.

             When I assembled the wings and horizontal stabilizers, I ran across a problem with the separate trim tabs, that being their tendency to break off if handled at all, with the result that I replaced two of them with Evergreen sheet after they were sacrificed to the carpet monster.  I ended up gluing these in with cyanoacrylate glue, then sanding them smooth and rescribing the outlines.

            The parts for the cockpit ended up being mix-and-match from the Greymatter set and the kit.  The Greymatter side panels and instrument panel were used, as was the forward cockpit floorboard and the seat. The armor plate behind the seat and the flooring and fuselage fuel tank provided were too wide, since they were made to fit the too-wide fuselage of the Hasegawa kit; I used the parts provided by Dragon, with some Evergreen sheet added to the edges of the flooring to fit snugly.

             The built-up multi-part gyroscopic gunsight Dragon provides is the definition of “over-engineered,” as were the main gear legs, and the air over the workbench turned a distinct purplish shade during the construction process for these.

             Mating the wing and fuselage sub-assemblies required more than a bit of puttying, sanding, smoothing and rescribing of detail to finish off, but it was nothing difficult.



             Over the years there has been much controversy about what colors were used for the repainting of the 357th FG Mustangs.  This is complicated by the fact that nearly all photos of the aircraft are black and white.  Back in the mid-1990s, I had the pleasure of knowing Hank Pfeiffer, the pilot of “Tangerine,” out at Planes of Fame, and I had the chance to talk with him in detail about this.  The airplanes were painted on the 357th's base, not at a maintenance unit, and used those paints that could be found. Thus, some airplanes were in Olive Drab and Neutral Grey, some were in RAF Dark Green and RAF Medium Sea Grey or RAF Ocean Grey, and some were in US Medium Green and whatever shade of grey was available.  Thus, a modeler has a lot of choice, and no one can definitely prove or disprove the accuracy in most cases.

             However, Jeff Ethell's “World War II In Color: 8th Air Force” has two color photos of “Passion Wagon,” and it is definitely a “green” green, not an olive green.  Most likely, it is US Medium Green.  The lower surfaces are a light grey that to me appears close to RAF Sea Grey Medium.  This was how I decided to paint this model.

             I first painted the white stripe areas, masked them, applied black for the lower fuselage D-Day stripes while pre-shading the rest of the model, masked that and then freehanded Xtracrylix RAF Sea Grey Medium and Xtracrylix “US Medium Green”.  I added in a bit of violet to the green paint when I went back over it, to hint at the high-altitude UV sun fading the airplane would have been subject to in the ETO.  When finished, the model was given a coat of Future for decals.


             I used the Kits World decals for the individual markings and serial, and the kit decals for the national insignia and other small markings. Everything went down without problem under Micro-Sol.   

             I did note that the decals for “Hurry Home Honey,” the boxart airplane, followed the incorrect Replicast decals for the name, with the wrong font and done in black instead of red.   


            The photos I have of this airplane show it well-maintained, so I did not “ding it.”  I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Satin clear coat, to simulate a waxed finish.  I attached the prop, landing gear, and drop tanks, unmasked the canopy and positioned it open.


             The kit still has problems it shouldn't have as the product of a major company like Dragon, but it can obviously be built, if one has the aftermarket parts to correct the more glaring inaccuracies.  Whether one wishes to go to this expense - given that the new Zooki Miura company has announced a P-51D in their future releases - is individual choice, but if you like the early P-51D, it is the only game in town.  And for those who still think “TC killed the hobby,” take a look at Dragon's aircraft kit releases since this debacle.  Lesson learned??

Tom Cleaver

November 2010

Review kit courtesy of a friend; aftermarket items courtesy of Greymatter Figures. Get yours at www.greymatterfigures.com

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and quickly, please contact me or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

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