Dragon 1/32 P-51D Mustang

KIT #: 3201
PRICE: $52.95 MSRP
DECALS: Several options
REVIEWER: Ralph B. Thompson
NOTES: Hobby Decal’s 1/32nd scale P-51D dry transfers, Eduard 32168, 32569 photo etch sets, Eagle Cals EC-100



     The history of the Mustang, including its debt to ex-Messerschmitt engineer Edgar Schmued at North American Aviation, has perhaps been as thoroughly documented as that of any aircraft built in an English-speaking nation. The machine chosen here, a P-51D-5NA, “Cripes A’Mighty 3rd,” was flown by Major George E. Preddy, the leading Mustang ace of World War II, in the summer of 1944.


      Thanks to DML/Dragon’s reputation for fine AFV kits and to the known shortcomings of other Mustang kits in 1/32nd scale, Dragon’s first foray into large-scale aircraft models was awaited breathlessly. The product itself fell short. Its most obvious shortcoming is its egregiously overdone surface treatment. Further examination by subsequent reviewers and builders has revealed additional errors both in kit engineering and in substance. They include: a “backwards” propeller, a cockpit floor that fails to reach the sidewalls of the cockpit, apparently incorrectly sized flaps and ailerons, inadequate landing gear, incorrect main wheel wells, and incorrect MLG doors.

     Tom Cleaver’s initial review of Dragon’s P-51 here on Modeling Madness both alerted me to some of the build issues I’d confront and inspired me to give the kit a go. His recent build article on Dragon’s “early” P-51D moved me to submit this account of my experience with a Dragon Mustang. A couple caveats: (1) I do not pretend to set up shop as a Mustang expert. My resources, skills and knowledge are limited. I have done what I could with what I had.  (2) In no way am I suggesting that Dragon’s Mustang kits are unbuildable. For the most part they fit together nicely.  Builders hoping for an accurate P-51, however, have their work cut out for them.


     My first task was to improve the rendering of the model’s surface by obliterating most of the “surface detail,” including all rivets, several panel lines, and all oversized raised details I could identify. I have found no easy way to tackle this kind of job. All of my attempts have required time, patience and diligence. In this instance I addressed the rivets and unwanted panel lines with 3M’s Acryl Green, a pinhole filler for auto body finishes. I cut the filler about 1/1 with 91% isopropyl alcohol to get it into the rivet cavities and applied additional coats over several days to cope with shrinkage as the filler dried.

     Each major airframe element received additional attention. While working on the wings, I filled the slots for the zero-length rocket launchers (the -5 NA’s did not have them) and filled the two triangular sets of mysterious round cavities on the bottoms of the wings.  Using a micro-chisel, I removed the raised aileron hinge details and replaced them with more petite versions made from styrene sheet. The wingtips, which in the kit appear as raised detail, were sanded flush with the wing surface. The fairings for the machine-gun blast tubes were also pared down to a more realistic size. Since I was building an “early” P-51D, I had to remove the diagonal strake ahead of the kit’s vertical fin and fill the resulting hole with a styrene patch. At the same time, I removed the raised detail at the root of the horizontal tail (which is supposed to represent the sheet-metal fairing covering the area.) I then rescribed the panel lines and the fasteners. When the time came to join the major components, I would face additional issues involving the wing roots, flaps, ailerons and elevators. These matters are discussed below.

     I had ample time to work on details between applications of filler and sanding sessions for the exterior. I rebuilt the propeller, modified and detailed the engine, and created a new cowling for it. I detailed the cockpit and modified the cockpit/radiator assembly to fit the fuselage. Finally I tackled the undercarriage, scratchbuilding new wheel wells, new main landing gear and new main landing gear doors.

      Dragon’s propeller is a mirror-image of the real article, so I could not use the existing propeller blades. Their shape at least looked right, though, so I put some Tamiya tape on a blade and carefully trimmed around the edge to make a template. I then cut eight blade profiles from .010” styrene sheet. Digging into the stash, I raided an old Hasegawa Mustang kit for a spare propeller. The blades on it were too short and too narrow, but the pitch and camber were about right. After I had thinned them, I used them as the cores for my new blades, sandwiched between the profiles I had made earlier. According to my EagleCals reference, that blue overspray at the roots of the propeller blades was present on the real ship, incidentally.

      Continuing aft, I decided to replace the thick clear styrene cowling Dragon had provided as a “see-through” option to display the Merlin engine. I used the kit pieces as masters for male resin molds and vacuformed replace-ment panels using .020” styrene. I adjusted the support frames on the engine mount pieces to compensate for the much thinner panels, moving them out slightly and applying the appropriate facing from the Eduard photo-etch set.

      Then I turned to the engine proper. Right away I was scratching my head about the three rectangular lumps on each side of the engine block, where the exhaust ports would be ordinarily. They are there because Dragon’s Merlin has been made very undersized in order to fit beneath those thick clear styrene cowl panels. One mounts the exhaust stacks on the lumps so they will extend outward far enough to project through the openings in the cowl. I was not up to scratch-building a 1/32nd scale Merlin, but I decided I could improve on what was offered. I rebuilt the squat valve-covers. Then I went a little AMS. I punched 015” diameter plugs out of a sheet of soft aluminum to use as conspicuous bolt heads surrounding those newly-refined valve covers and, in sheer defiance of accuracy, attached Eduard’s “Rolls-Royce” placards to the valve-covers of this Packard-built Merlin. After I had assembled, wired, and plumbed the engine I installed the other Eduard parts for the engine compartment; and scratchbuilt some missing items that should be found in front of the firewall.  The result looks plausible to me, if somewhat anemic.      

      My one clear pleasure in building this Mustang was constructing the cockpit. Dragon provides a decent set of bare bones, if you discount the matter of the floor and associated bulkheads not reaching the sidewalls of the fuselage. Simply adding styrene card symmetrically and test-fitting until everything makes contact takes care of the problem. My revised cockpit insert lined up perfectly with the mounting guides inside the fuselage halves.   

     Eduard’s interior photo-etch set offers an abundance of small detail, even providing toggle switches (!) on the instrument panel and the electronics control panels and a pair of wing-nuts to hold down one of the “black boxes” aft of the pilot’s seat. Much of the photo-etch is pre-printed in color. This feature simplifies detailing considerably and results in a stunning array of instruments.   Since the assembly in question also includes the Mustang’s radiator, I added Eduard’s photo-etched radiator faces at this stage and refined the adjustable exhaust-duct by thinning it.

     While I was building the cockpit I kept thinking about Dragon’s thick, clear styrene glazing.  I decided to use the windscreen piece, which called for some careful filling and fitting to blend it with the fuselage, but the canopy had to go. I used the Dragon part as a master for a resin male mold, over which I vacuformed a new canopy from .010” thermoform plastic. At the same time, I also vacuformed an opaque canopy from .015” styrene, to be used as a mask for the cockpit enclosure during the rest of the build. I then carefully cut away the “bubble“ part of the original Dragon canopy, leaving just the frame. This remnant fit perfectly inside my new clear bubble and provided a three-dimensional canopy frame to boot. So what if the replacement canopy was roughly .010” oversize? Close enough for government work, I figured. While I was at it, I decided to refine the “Major George E. Preddy” legend which appears on the canopy frame. I scanned the original decal at high resolution and used Photoshop to brighten the colors and sharpen the definition. I printed the result on inkjet decal paper, sealed it and put it in place.

       Now I had to cope with the undercarriage, an aspect of the kit one build-reviewer charitably described as “a train wreck.” The most complex problem would be the MLG wells. Dragon, like other kit producers, rendered these features with a rear wall that follows the line of the cover for the landing gear leg. The actual wheel well cavity, as many reviewers have noted, extends back to the main wing spar.

     I began by making masking tape patterns for the front walls of the MLG well (inside the lower wing part) and cut replacement parts from .010” styrene. These would be attached to part E25 (Dragon’s wheel well interior) in due time. Then I dremeled the molded-in walls off the lower wing part. Next, I removed all spurious detail from part E25 after marking the wing rib locations for future reference. I cut out the rectangular openings in the roof of the well through which coolant hoses can be seen and from which many hydraulic lines emerge. I also replaced kit part I15, the divider between the wells, with sheet styrene, extended the wheel-well roof aft to the line of the main spar, and added the front walls (the styrene pieces mentioned previously) and the back walls. I now had a boxlike element resembling an aftermarket drop-in wheel well replacement. Temporarily assembling this structure with the wings and fuselage, I installed the MLG mounts at the required 11 degree rake angle, using a jig. The mounts themselves are aluminum tubing sockets that also serve as the “cuffs” at the top of each MLG leg. They are held in place with epoxy resin to provide sturdy, secure attachment points. After I had fitted the mounts, I removed the box, detailed it with ribs, simulated riveted stringers using embossed aluminum salvaged from a soda can, and devised hydraulic equipment from scrap styrene, bits of brass and fine gauge solder. The result may not have been utterly accurate, but I considered it, like my Merlin, plausible.

     Now for the undercarriage itself. The Mustang’s landing gear legs are simple structures, easy to reproduce in small diameter rod and tubing. I built mine of brass and used the torque scissors from the Eduard exterior set. The tie-down ring is a thin slice of fine brass tubing. The legs fit snugly into the aluminum sockets of the wheel well replacement, providing a sturdy base. Making the main wheels turned out to be rather fussy. As in many large-scale Chinese-made aircraft kits, two styrene parts form the wheel hub, onto which one then fits a vinyl tire. In my kit the tires, while of the correct outer diameter, had an inner diameter too large for the hubs. I glued thin strips of .010” styrene to the surfaces where the tires were to seat until the tires would meet them properly.

     Finally I had to remake the two inner landing gear doors. I could have built ”Cripes A’Mighty 3rd” with these doors in the up position, obscuring all the detail I had just lavished on the MLG wells, but I wanted to fix them. The MLG door on a Mustang is a sort of sandwich, with a thin outer “skin” layer following the shape of the wheel well opening and a thicker, inner component having a shallow, roughly circular concave area on its face to accommodate the wheel.  Three long parallel depressions in this face stiffen the whole affair. The exterior of the Dragon doors is the right shape, but all of the interior details are wrong. I began by removing everything but the skin from the Dragon doors. Returning to my Hasegawa donor-Mustang kit, I ground away the exteriors of its MLG doors. I now had MLG door interiors on which the deep parallel depressions were headed in the right direction. After I matched everything up, refined fit and shape where needed, and added the various Eduard details, I had a pair of decent-looking doors. I finished them off with a polished aluminum strip (Bare Metal Foil chrome) down the middle of each, the “scrub strip” along which the tire (I gather) slid upon retraction and extension. I doubt the real “Cripes A’Mighty 3rd” sported this refinement. On the other hand, my model already had a “Rolls-Royce,” so . . .

     After I had closed up the fuselage halves and the wings, I began assembling the major airframe elements. In the process I discovered other matters that needed attention. I had been using the Watanabe 1/40th scale drawings from The Great Book of World War II Airplanes throughout this project. I scanned my finished wing and horizontal tail into my computer as JPG’s and compared them with a scaled-up Photoshop overlay of the Watanabe plan view. The elevators appeared too broad in chord. The ailerons were slightly large in both span and chord. The flaps, though slightly short in span, scaled out at 5 ¼’ too broad, producing a 25% increase in flap area. Moreover, the flap root was rendered as curved, rather than straight. The sheet-metal fairing that surrounds the wing root does present a curved metal flange that overlaps the slight gap between the flap root and the wing structure proper, a flange I overlooked in my revision. Nonetheless, the flap itself is trapezoidal. Dragon’s portrayal of the fairing strip on the fuselage poses further complications by showing the juncture of trailing edge and fuselage side as curiously bulged, and by presenting the fairing strip itself as raised above skin level like the one I have already mentioned on the vertical fin.

           The remedy was simple. I modified the flaps and ailerons to match the reference drawings, then modified the bays to accept them. To fix the flap well, I made aluminum angles from soda-can aluminum on my Etch-Mate, fastened them with cyanoacrylate to the front of the well top and bottom, and used them to support strips of .010” styrene, butted to the skin of the wing with Tamiya extra-thin cement. Then I dry-fitted the completed ailerons and flaps until they fit properly. The elevators were simply trimmed at the trailing edge. While I was at it, I also thinned the trailing edges of all the control surfaces.


     By choosing “Cripes A’Mighty 3rd” as my subject I had committed myself to a color scheme including aluminum lacquer, bare metal, the famous blue nose and, on the underside, D-Day invasion stripes. I sprayed several coats of Mr. Surfacer 1000 thinned with isopropyl alcohol, then a couple coats of Alclad II Microfiller to deal with scribing slips and stubborn rivet cavities. I finished the removable cowl pieces separately, in Alclad’s Polished Aluminum. Later, they would be put in place to receive the blue nose trim (Model Master True Blue, deepened to taste with Model Master Insignia Blue), then removed again for decaling and additional work. Meanwhile, the airframe received three coats of Alclad II Aluminum mixed 3:1 with Polished Aluminum to lighten the tone. After the Alclad II had cured I masked and painted the invasion stripes. I understand that these markings were none too fastidiously applied on many real aircraft, so I felt justified in being a little rough and ready myself. The white is Tamiya’s fine white primer. It dries fast and covers well. The black is Testor’s RLM 66 Schwarzgrau deepened with a bit of flat black.  After the stripes had set up, I added other aluminum tones to various panels and touched up as many glitches as I could find. Jerry Crandall’s EagleCals went on easily and performed beautifully. I added various stencils from Hobby Decal’s 1/32nd scale dry transfer set for the Mustang. Then everything was sealed with a thinned coat of Future. Since I knew that my subject had been spiffed up for the Brass Hats on the day my reference photos were taken, I did not weather the model.


     Dragon’s armament and stores are among this kit’s nicer features. The Browning M2’s are pleasingly crisp. The 500 lb bombs and the rockets make up nicely, especially when enhanced by Eduard’s photoetched fins. Dragon also includes sets of both 85 gallon and 110 gallon drop tanks. Most of these items went into my spares box, but I plumbed the 85 gallon tanks, fitted them out with their special decals from the EagleCals set,  and mounted them. I used short lengths of hypodermic tubing for the blast tubes of the six 50’s and for the gun barrels themselves. Also at this stage I installed the exhausts, the landing light, the undercarriage and its doors, navigation lights, the antenna, and the canopy, which I had protected until now in a small Ziploc pouch. I then fashioned a base using red oak, foam board and a small circular mirror, and made a cover from 1/8th inch clear acrylic sheet. Finally, I produced the legend as an inkjet decal and applied it to a rectangle of .016” aluminum.


     So what’s the verdict? Did I expect too much, or is the Dragon kit a bust? I have to say there was some of each in the mix. When I build models, I want to have fun. But since I also build things for others to view, I want the end result to be useful as an expression of the original. I believe that a model succeeds only to that extent to which its audience buys into it, and for me, Dragon’s 1/32 scale P-51D Mustang kit is not credible. It looks as though Dragon couldn’t decide whether to produce a model or a toy. Serious attempts to render details stand side-by-side with needless distortions, gratuitous working features, odd mistakes (the propeller, the landing gear doors, the mysterious circular depressions on the underside of the wing), and the rivets. Nonetheless, one can get beyond them. The kit is not unbuildable. A slew of aftermarket products awaits the AMS sufferer’s dollar, among them the excellent Eduard brass and EagleCals decals I put into this effort. Meanwhile, for those of us who delight in simply assembling and painting a model, then playing with it, the Dragon kit is just fine. And their number must be legion: the kit’s still on the market and evidently people are buying it.


 1. Crandall, Jerry, “The Mustangs of Major George E. Preddy.” Brochure for EagleCals EC-100 set.

 2.  Grinsell, Robert, “P-51 Mustang,” in The Great Book of World War II Airplanes. Zokeisha Publications, Ltd. Tokyo, 1984, pp53-100.

 3. Watanabe, Rikyu, illustrations for “P-51 Mustang” in The Great Book of World War II Airplanes. Zokeisha Publications, Ltd. Tokyo, 1984.

Ralph B. Thompson

January 2011 

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