|KIT:||Revell AG 1/72 P-51B|
|NOTES:||'What If' conversion.|
As 1942 drew to a close, the enterprising team at North American Aviation saw an opportunity to break into the lucrative US Navy market with a navalised P-51 Mustang. With the Grumman F6F Hellcat proving adequate but not outstanding, and the Vought F4U Corsair then considered ‘too hot’ for carriers, the new Merlin-engined P-51 offered some valuable possibilities. It was faster than the Hellcat, had excellent range on internal fuel, and clearly had a lot of development potential left in it.
Although not overly excited – being already committed to two existing types – because the basic airframe had already been proven, the US Navy agreed to fund development work and two prototypes. Initial adaptations of what was mooted as the F2J-1 ‘Seastang’ were quite straightforward – beefed-up main undercarriage, repositioning of the tailwheel further back to ease attachment of an arrester hook, plus – of course – folding wings. The latter proved quite straightforward to engineer immediately outboard of the aileron/flap division, and in the process the North American engineers suggested the addition of jettisonable tip-tanks to further increase the range of the Seastang. True to its Mustang heritage, the Seastang prototypes were rolled out in under two months.
Carrier trials were successful – with some concerns about low-speed handling – but disaster struck the second prototype when an engine failure led to ditching. In alighting, the underbelly airscoop acted as a huge ram inlet and filled the fuselage with water in seconds, the pilot narrowly escaping with his life. As a result, the Navy immediately demanded a rectification, and once again NAA’s engineers rose to the challenge, mounting fuselage-side airscoops and reshaping the main fuselage tank to preserve most of the original fuel capacity. Despite initial fears about inadequate cooling airflow, the new ‘flat-belly’ F2J-2 Seastang performed just as well as its predecessor and was ordered to the tune of 600 units in June 1943.
By this stage of the war, the Pacific fleet had no time for a changeover in equipment , so it was decided that with a long loiter time, the F2J-2s might well suit the North Atlantic ‘jeep’ carriers on U-boat patrols. The Mustangs performed well in this role, and continued to replace FM-2 Wildcats on the Atlantic front through till the end of the European war. In the Pacific, however, the Navy had decided they preferred the Corsair – especially given the lower vulnerability of its radial engine to overheating and to ground fire – and therefore the F2J-2 order was never increased beyond the initial 600. The final 400 had the bulged ‘Malcolm’ hood but never adopted the cut-down fuselage of the P-51D as this would have reduced internal fuel too much for the Navy to accept. However, this experience with carrier operations and Navy bureaucracy stood North American in good stead when presenting concepts for their F3J ‘Fury’ jet fighter.
A P-51D was indeed fitted for carrier operations and carried out deck trials in 1944, but the design was not proceeded with – mainly because the need for a very long-range carrier-based escort fighter diminished in the Pacific as successive island bases were captured from the Japanese. Nevertheless, North American had worked up plans for a folding-wing version with tip-tanks. The above scenario moves the whole timeline back about 18 months, but also adds in the fuselage-side airscoops (these were never officially considered, but ditching was a major risk in Mustangs for the reasons stated).
The idea of a ‘Seastang’ has been knocking round in my head for a while. When a friend sent me some info on North American’s proposals, I couldn’t resist. I picked up one of these great little kits at an almost ludicrously low price and set to work.
Scott has already previewed the contents of this kit so I’ll direct you to his impressions for what you get on the sprue.
The kit builds up pretty nicely – the only area requiring a little attention is the wing roots – which leaves more time free for ‘what-iffing’. I decided to leave the cockpit as is – it looks good out of the box and in fact cannot be seen that clearly through the kit canopy (I couldn’t track down a vacform replacement; if I had, I would have gone for the ‘Malcolm’ hood). However, I moved the tailwheel bay back to the rudder line, and sliced off and rounded the bottom of the rudder itself to allow room for the arrester hook. A hook was sourced from the spares box, as were the tip-tanks which came from the old Matchbox P-51D. The wing fold was easily achieved by slicing along panel lines, joining the upper and lower halves, then filling the cavities with plastic scrap followed by filler before a few lightening holes were drilled in.
The main change was the removal of the under fuselage scoop, which was relatively painless after slicing from the outside and inside of the fuselage wall. I then filled the hole with plastic card and sanded it to a slight curve to avoid it looking like – well, a flat bit of plastic card. The fuselage-side air scoops came off an old Airfix B-26 Marauder kit, and seemed to fit in with the panels well; I made sure the ‘airflow’ aligned with the real position of the radiator so they would be ‘functional’. A bit of filler here and there, a bit of rescribing, and it was off to the paint shop.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
The Atlantic scheme is rather neglected by modellers and as such it appealed to me; basically it is dark gull grey over white (both Gunze acrylics). I used the kit decals, but switched the insignia as Navy aircraft in this scheme had very large fuselage ‘stars and bars’, and the smaller markings fitted very neatly just outboard of the wingfold. A few extra naval-like stencils came from the spares box. The white panels were oversprayed with Tamiya smoke to post-shade the panel lines, then everything got dirtied up a bit with a wash of burnt umber artist’s oil paint.
There you have it – a Seastang! This Revell kit is a little beauty, and as it’s so easy to build you really can use it as the basis for wilder flights of fancy. If you can track down an aftermarket canopy it will look better and you can then show off the cockpit detail. Otherwise it builds up very nicely from the box and is highly recommended both for beginners and more advanced modellers.
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