Tamiya 1/32 P-51D Mustang

KIT #: 60322
PRICE: 7840 Yen at www.hlj.com (about $100.00)
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Zotz Decals 32-048 “Duxford Eagles” used.


             Anyone needing further history of the P-15 Mustang can find everything you need reading any other review of P-51 kits here at Modeling Madness:

 The 78th Fighter Group and Dick Hewitt:

             The 78th Fighter Group was originally organized at Muroc Army Air Base in the San Francisco Bay Area in early February 1942 after the P-38-equipped 14th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) was sent to Hamilton Field from March Field in early January to provide air defense to San Francisco.  Orders creating the 78th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) were issued on January 13, and the 14th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) was split in two at the end of January to form the new unit.  Following training of the new pilots assigned to the group, the 78th moved to join the 14th at Hamilton Field in May, 1942, when the unit designations were changed from “Pursuit Group” to “Fighter Group.”

             As the Eighth Air Force was being formed in Britain in the Spring of 1942, it was originally planned that the 1st, 14th, 78th and 82nd Fighter Groups would form the backbone of Eighth Fighter Command.  All four were equipped with the P-38 Lightning, which was considered the best U.S. fighter at the time, with the potential range to operate as an escort fighter over Europe.

             The 1st and 14th Fighter Groups - which had been operational on the P-38 the longest - began moving to England during the summer of 1942, with the ground echelons traveling aboard the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, while the aircraft and their pilots made the trans-Atlantic crossing by air.  The 82nd Fighter Group followed in September, with the 78th making the crossing in November.  By the time the 78th Fighter Group arrived in England, the three earlier groups had all been transferred to North Africa following the success of Operation Torch, where they would operate in the Mediterranean Theater for the rest of the war.

            In January 1943, losses in the three North African P-38 groups were such that immediate re-supply of scarce aircraft and qualified pilots meant that the 78th Fighter Group would be stripped of their aircraft and all pilots other than flight leaders, with the aircraft and personnel being sent on to North Africa; this was accomplished by the end of February. 

             In March 1943, new pilots began arriving, along with the group’s new mount, the P-47C Thunderbolt.  The 78th, along with the veteran ex-Eagles of the 4th Fighter Group and the P-47 experts of the 56th Fighter Group (the first group to equip on the P-47 a year earlier) would become the nucleus of Eighth Fighter Command.  From the start, the 78th was the red-headed stepchild, with the 56th FG having the most experience with the P-47 and the 4th FG having the most combat experience due to their previous RAF service.  All three groups began operations in April, 1943.

             The ability to escort the bombers was limited by the P-47's voracious fuel usage for its R-2800 and its small fuel supply.  On internal fuel, the aircraft were hard-pressed to make it to the Dutch coast, and it was even more difficult for the 78th, which was based at the former RAF field at Duxford in Cambridgeshire, which was the westernmost Eight Air Force fighter base and thus the furthest from the area of operations.

             By June 1943, experiments were being made using the 200-gallon fixed ferry tank for the P-47, to extend the fighter’s range.  The problem was that the tank was unpressurized, which meant that fuel would not draw above 10,000 feet.  Thus, the P-47s could only use these tanks until just before reaching the far side of the Channel, where they were forced to climb for altitude and unable to use the tanks further.  Nonetheless, this meant that the P-47s could now fly as far as the German border.  Still, the bombers were unescorted once they entered German air space, and the Luftwaffe made the most of that.  The frustration of American fighter pilots grew as they could see the massed Luftwaffe fighter formations in the distance, waiting for the Thunderbolts to turn back before tearing into the bomber formations.

             Things began to change on July 30, 1943, the most important date in the history of Eighth Fighter Command of the entire war.  The 78th FG was assigned to penetrate and pick up the bombers as they left Germany.  Aided by a tail wind and the decision to remain at 10,000 feet for as long as possible before switching to internal fuel, the P-47s were able to penetrate western Germany and pick up the bomber stream approximately 50 miles east of the Dutch-German border, which was a big surprise to the still-attacking Luftwaffe, which normally broke off their attacks just short of the Dutch border to avoid just such a confrontation with the American escort.

            In the swirling combat that ensured, Captain Charles London of the 83rd Fighter Squadron shot down two Bf-109s to stretch his score to five and become the first ace of the Eighth Air Force.  Major Gene Reynolds, Executive Officer of the 82nd Fighter Squadron scored a triple, while Captain Jack Price of the 82nd scored a double; both would later become leading aces of the group.  In all, the 78th made claims for 34 German fighters destroyed.  Coupled with the claims of the 4th and 56th groups that joined in the combat, the P-47s of Eighth Fighter Command and scored more victories on this day than their total previous claims to date, demonstrating that American escort fighters could meet the Luftwaffe over its home field at long range and defeat the Germans.                       

             July 30, 1943, was also important for another event.  Homeward bound at low level after the fight, Lieutenant Quince Brown of the 84th Fighter Squadron of the 78th FG spotted a German train and strafed it, leaving it wreathed in steam and stopped.  This was the first ground attack by an Eighth Air Force fighter, and was a sign of things to come.

             In August 1943, brand-new Second Lieutenant Dick Hewitt arrived at Duxford after training on the P-47, and was assigned to the 82nd Fighter Squadron.  This was also the month that the P-47s stopped using the unpressurized ferry tanks and began to utilize the pressurized 75 gallon metal drop tank, carried on the fuselage centerline.  Still, the fighters could not accompany the bombers all the way to the target and back.  Within a week of his arrival, Dick had participated in escorts for the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission on August 16th, and an escort to Paris on August 17th. 

            Following the disaster of “Second Schweinfurt,” also known as “Black Thursday,” October 14, 1943, when the Luftwaffe effectively defeated the Eighth Air Force by shooting down 60 of 290 attacking bombers and damaging so many others that the next day the Eighth couldn’t have sent a combat box of bombers over Germany, the weather closed in for two months.  This meant the Eighth didn’t have to admit the defeat, and the time was put into turning things around.

             By now the 78th FG was operating the P-47D, and the Engineering Department of Eighth Fighter Command had developed pylons that could be fitted under the wing outboard of the landing gear, allowing the P-47 to carry up to three 75-gallon drop tanks; this gave the Thunderbolt the range to get almost 2/3 pf the way to Berlin.  At the same time, the 108-gallon paper tank was developed and put into production by the end of the year.

            February 1944 saw the results of all this in the combats known as Big Week.  The fighters could take the bombers all the way to the target, with the P-51 Mustangs of the 354th Fighter Group providing target cover over the most distant targets.  Additionally, the new Mustang-equipped 357th Fighter Group was transferred from the Ninth to the Eighth Air Force in trade for the P-47-equipped 358th Fighter Group, and Don Blakeslee managed to convince the Eighth’s new commander Jimmy Doolittle to allow the 4th Fighter Group to crowd into line for re-equipment with the Mustang.

             The 78th was still at a disadvantage in competition with the other fighter groups, since even with the new long-range tanks their P-47s were still an important 50 miles further away from the scene of the action than any other group.  By this time, Dick Hewitt had been promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was an element leader in the 82nd FS.

             By April 1944, following the Battle of Berlin that began on March 6, the Luftwaffe was unable to meet the Eighth in the air.  Orders came for the groups to go after the German fighters wherever they found them, and the orders came to make strafing attacks on German airdromes on the return leg of any mission where there was not significant air combat.  This changed the game completely.  At altitude, in an air combat, there was something approaching a fair fight, with the quality of the pilot and his airplane being the deciding factor (after being the first to spot the enemy) in aerial victory. Attacking an airfield at low level, with up to 100 20mm and 37mm light anti-aircraft weapons putting up a massive volume of fire to fly through, changed the odds of survival from skill to chance.  Losses mounted, but P-47 pilots still had a better chance of getting home even with serious damage than did the P-51 pilots, who could end up going down as the result of one bullet of any caliber hitting the cooling system for their Merlin engines.

             At this point in the air war, tactics changed from that of the more passive close escort of a bomber unit, in which the fighters waited to ward off an incoming attack and didn’t go haring off after the Germans, the a more aggressive strategy of hunting the Luftwaffe fighters to break up their attack before they could get into position and chasing them as far as necessary. Not all group commanders adopted this more aggressive strategy, with units like the 78th FG and 361st FG continuing to deploy for close escort of the bombers.  It was the adoption of such a tactic by the 4th, 56th, 357th and 352nd Fighter Groups that led to the escalation of their group scores during this period.

             With the invasion of France that summer, the remaining P-47 groups in the Eighth Air Force found themselves getting increasing assignments for fighter-bomber missions in support of the Allied ground forces in France.  Dick Hewitt, by now a Captain, had finished his combat tour just before D-Day, and volunteered for a second tour.  He took the mandatory 30-day leave back home to think his decision over and thus missed the invasion, returning in July to take a position as a senior flight leader in the 82nd FS in time to participate in missions supporting the breakout from Saint‑Lô that ended the Battle of Normandy.

             That September, the 78th provided support for the airborne assault on Arnhem, and did such a good job of keeping the Luftwaffe off the backs of the embattled British that they received a Distinguished Unit Citation.

             In December, 1944, just before the Battle of the Bulge, the 78th Fighter Group became the last Eighth Air Force unit to exchange P-47s for the P-51.  While the pilots were happy to have an airplane that put them “back in the game” so far as having the range to make longer missions, they did miss the feeling of safety one had flying the Thunderbolt on strafing and ground attack missions.  With the Luftwaffe virtually a spent force, these kinds of missions were more and more the norm, flown as possible during the worst winter in Europe in a century. Dick Hewitt allowed his crew chief, an inveterate winner at acey-deucy, to name his new P-51D-20, which ended up sporting the double-5 dice score known in acey-deucy as the “Big Dick” (since scoring it usually “screws” the competition) becoming the name of the new Mustang and an additional play on the name of her pilot.

             In March, 1945, Dick Hewitt received a promotion to Major and assumed command of the 82nd Fighter Squadron.  He was one of the few fighter pilots in the Eighth to go from green replacement to unit commander during the course of the war.  At this point, he had 3 strafing credits and 4 aerial credits.  At the time, there was no official differentiation between such claims within the fighter groups, a decision made by Eighth Air Force Fighter Command to encourage pilots to engage in the always highly dangerous strafing attacks.

             By now, the missions were mostly long-range escorts, followed by strafing attacks whenever the Luftwaffe bases could be found with targets.  In mid-April, returning from a mission to Czechoslovakia, several German airfields around Prague and Pilsen were spotted with aircraft on them.  A special strafing mission was laid on, and was executed on April 16, 1945.  Hitting five different airfields, the 78th made claims of 134 destroyed, the record for strafing destruction by an Eighth Air Force fighter unit.  Dick Hewitt hit an Me-262 in the landing pattern which crashed, and a second jet just as it touched down, with the jet swerving off the runway and exploding. He failed to receive credit for these victories, since his gun camera failed and his wingman was shot down in the subsequent attack.  This left his wartime score at 4 destroyed on the ground and 4.5 destroyed in the air. 

            The 78th Fighter Group received a second Distinguished Unit Citation for this mission, which proved to be their final combat mission of the war.

             The 78th Fighter Group posted an official total of 688 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground with an additional 406 aircraft probably destroyed or damaged. Fifty pilots accounted for over half of these victories. The top-scoring fighter squadron in the group was the 82nd with 102.5 destroyed in the air along with 10 probables and 39.5 damaged, along with 94.5 destroyed in strafing attacks.


             For years, modelers have been hoping that Tamiya would take the opportunity to “print money” by being the model company to introduce a 1/32 scale “definitive” P-51 Mustang kit.  The old Hasegawa kit from the 1970s has many outline and detail inaccuracies, while the less said about Trumpeter’s contribution of 1/32 Mustangs with kits that include wings that are irretrievably wrong in not having a laminar airfoil, the better.

             Tamiya came through this summer, with what is definitely the “definitive” P-51D Mustang. The kit allows a modeler to make either an early P-51D-5 without the later dorsal fin, or a P-51D-15 or later P-51D-25/30, through the use of separate tail empennages.  Different canopies are provided, with the early teardrop, later teardrop and “Dallas” canopy as options.  The different seats and instrument panels are also catered for.  The only complaint the purists have been able to mount against the kit is that it does not include the early dorsal fin with its slightly-curved outline.

             As someone who has been around P-51s for going on 40 years now, I can say that this is the first P-51D kit in any scale that really, really, really looks like a real P-51D.  The rivet detail is there, very light, very petite, visible really only close up and in good light, just like a real airplane.  The panel lines are deeper than the real thing, as they are on any model, but they look good from a couple feet away when the model is painted, and complaining about that would be to go beyond nit-picking and into obsessive-compulsive disorder (which is not to say there aren’t those who have already gone there).

             The model comes with separate flaps, ailerons, elevators and rudder, as well as a complete Packard-Merlin engine under the cowling.  Tamiya has learned from the Spitfire kits, and the underlying structure for the cowling area, and the attachment of the very thin cowling panels, is much improved for those who want to go this route.  The gun bays can be posed open with nicely-detailed weapons, and there is a choice of 75-gallon metal tanks or 108-gallon paper tanks to hang under the wings, with the different attachments for each.

             Decals are provided for an early P-51D of the 20th Fighter Group, the well-known “Petie 2nd” of the 352nd Fighter Group, and “Blondie,” a late P-51D of the 4th Fighter Group.

             Several aftermarket sheets have already been released for the kit.  When Zotz announced they were going to do a sheet that included the markings for my good friend Dick Hewitt’s “Big Dick,” my decision was easy as to what markings to use.


             This kit is significantly different from previous Tamiya kits, and a modeler needs to be aware of the difference if they are to end up with the model they hoped to create.

             The plastic parts of the kit are much thinner and delicate than any other kit, and they fit very precisely.  If you do not get the fit right on an early part, the mis-fitting will cascade throughout the project.  The answer to this is to read over the instructions, take your time in assembly and be sure to test fit parts so you know where and how they go together before gluing things together.  Of particular importance is bringing the fuselage halves together, and mating the wing sub-assembly to the fuselage sub-assembly.  The upper wing-to-fuselage joint, if not carefully fitted, will result in a “ridge” that is not easily dealt with. 

             If you do take care in assembly, you will only need to worry about the centerline seam along the bottom of the radiator housing and the rear fuselage aft of the tailwheel.

             This model was built without the engine, and with the cowling panels glued shut.  There are other reviews available elsewhere for those who plan to open up the model.  I suggest that if you do so you plan to super-detail the engine, with wires, other hoses, etc., since the basic assembly cries out for this if you are going to display it that way.

            I began by first pre-painting everything for the cockpit and the wheel wells according to the painting instructions.  While all that was setting up, I proceeded with some initial assembly.

             First, I sanded down the main wing parts to get rid of the rivet detail, since I was going to create the “puttied wing.”  The rivet detail goes away easily, leaving just a bit of a reminder of its presence, which will look right when finished.  I filled the panel lines with Tamiya white surfacer, then sanded everything smooth, leaving only the gas filler caps for the wing tanks.

             I attached the rear fuselage halves to their respective forward fuselage halves at this point, so I could glue the joint from inside, keeping the outer surfaces as clean as possible.  I also assembled the horizontal stabilizers and attached them, again so I could work the fit from both sides, and get it nice and tight, with glue applied inside.

             I then proceeded with the cockpit assembly.  Tamiya has made different parts to go with the differing cockpits of the early and late P-51D.  Since Dick Hewitt had told me that his airplane was a P-51D-25, I went with the parts call-out for “Version A”, the 4th Fighter Group airplane, in choosing what to put into the cockpit.  I annealed the photoetch seat belts so I could make them look more natural when draped into the seat.  I then assembled the radiator housing after pre-painting it. 

             With the fuselage interiors done, I attached the sidewalls in position, then attached the cockpit, being careful to get a good snug fit (it’s a tight fit so take care there), then attached the radiator assembly.  I then glued the fuselage halves together and found it was a good idea to use rubber bands to hold things tight while the Tamiya Extra-Thin Glue set up (it is slower than glues like Tenax, which I usually use).

             I replaced the kit tailwheel leg with the Scale Aircraft Conversions metal part, assembled the tail wheel and well, and glued that in position in the rear fuselage.

             While that was setting up, I turned to the wing sub-assembly.  I assembled the wheel well and installed it in position on the lower wing, and also glued in the second spar.  I then glued the upper wing halves to the lower wing and set this aside.  I assembled the ailerons, flaps, elevators and rudder, and set them aside.

             I attached the front plate of the cowling, and then the upper frame.  I attached the thin cowling panels by starting at the bottom and working up, gluing only the panel edges together from the inside, until the bottom and side panels were in position.  I then glued these to the interior structure and left them to set.  I finished off by attaching the upper cowling cover.  If you are very careful in doing this, everything will come together and look right.  Do not squeeze things into position, or you will end up mis-aligning the panels.

             When the cowling was set up, I then attached the wing sub-assembly to the fuselage.  I glued the lower wing in position, then made certain to push the upper wing into position so that there was a smooth join of upper wing to fuselage, then glued that.

             With the basic airframe together, I glued the control surfaces in position.  I did not use the little metal hinges, since I wasn’t planning on a toy with “positionable controls.”


             Checking the decals, I realized that the white in the forwardmost ring of checkerboards is not a decal, so I painted the nose with Tamiya “flat white” and masked that off.  I also painted the spinner parts white and masked off the one side.  I painted the rudder white, then finished it with Tamiya “flat red,” and masked that off.  I painted the anti-glare panel up to a line just aft of the exhausts with Tamiya “olive drab” and masked that.  I painted the prop and the other side of the spinner parts with Tamiya “semi-gloss black.”

             The wing was painted with Tamiya “flat aluminum,” with a coat of Xtracrylix Satin varnish when dry.  The rest of the airframe was painted with Talon “aluminum.”  I added in a couple drops of blue to do the panels on the aft end of the radiator housing, then added some Tamiya “gunmetal” to do the cowling panels immediately aft of the exhausts.

            I used the Zotz decals and an old Super Scale stenciling sheet, all of which went down without problem.  The checkerboard nose decals were very nice because they are fully opaque and doing them in parts allows everything to fit correctly. When all the decals were set, I washed off the model to get rid of decal solvent residue.


             I applied exhaust stains and gunfire stains with Tamiya “smoke.”  The main gear was replaced with the Scale Aircraft Conversions metal gear and glued in after assembling and attaching the gear doors.  I “muddied” the wheel wells and wheels, since the spring of 1945 was a rainy time. I then unmasked the windshield and canopy and attached the canopy in the open position.  The model represents “Big Dick” as the airplane might have appeared after landing from the Prague strafing mission.


             Due to the precision of parts fit and the thinness of the parts, there will be no Tamiya Mustangs with no-dihedral wings, landing gear hanging straight down, or canopies sliding up into outer space, the three most common errors in P-51D models.  Well, never say never, if there is a way to screw up a model, there are modelers who will find it.  But they’re going to have to go out of their ways to accomplish that with this kit.  The completed model looks the closest to a real P-51D of any kit I have ever built.  If the modeler follows instructions and exercises care, any modeler of average ability should be able to create the best model in their collection with this kit.  The Tamiya P-51D really is a “game changer,” even moreso than the Spitfires were, and is definitely Kit Of The Year. 

Tom Cleaver

December 2011

 Review kit courtesy HobbyLink Japan.  Order yours at:  http://www.hlj.com/product/TAM60322  

Decals courtesy Zotz Decals.  Order yours at: http://www.zotzdecals.com/reviews/Zotz32048/zotz32048.htm  

Landing gear courtesy of Scale Aircraft Conversions via Da Boss.  Order yours at: http://scaleaircraftconversions.com

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