Tamiya 1/48 P-51C

Model, Text and Photos by: Tony Bell 



In an effort to improve the performance at altitude of the Mustang, the RAF authorized Rolls Royce to modify three Mustang Mk. I airframes to fit them with the twin-stage supercharged Merlin 65 engine in late summer of 1942. Although the Merlin 65 was optimized for lower altitudes, it still maintained much better performance than the Allison V-1710 at high altitudes. The Rolls Royce tests were highly successful, prompting them to propose a program to refit 500 RAF Mustang Mk. Is with Merlin 65s. However British wartime production capacity was already stretched to the maximum and there were no resources available to carry out the proposal.

Meanwhile in the USA, North American Aviation engineers were thinking along the same lines. They fitted two Mustang Mk. Is with Merlin 65s and were rewarded with similarly promising performance results. Even before the first flight of a Merlin powered Mustang, the USAAF had ordered 400 of them.

NAA's Inglewood, California factory was to be expanded to manufacture the P-51B, but there was still not enough capacity to satisfy the demands of both the USAAF and RAF. NAA opened another plant in Dallas, Texas which was to manufacture P-51Cs. The P-51B and P-51C were essentially identical, with the only distinguishing feature being the serial numbers. The engines were supplied by the Packard Company, which had reached an agreement with Rolls Royce to license produce the Merlin under the American designation V-1650.

The NAA P-51B/C represented a quantum leap in high altitude performance and range, allowing them to escort the heavy bombers all the way to their targets deep into enemy territory. Whether or not it was the "best" inline engine fighter of the war (a popular chat-room debate), there can be no denying that the P-51B/C and later D models had an enormous strategic impact on the WWII.

Aftermarket Accessories

I had originally intended to build my P-51B straight out of the box.

Hahahaha! Who was I fooling?

Upon digging the kit out of the stash/pile I discovered that I had tucked the True Details resin cockpit set away in there.

(Thinks) Cool! OK, let's use it - be a waste not to. Oops, the seat is wrong! Looks more like a 'D seat so I'd better get the Ultracast one. I may as well get their exhausts, prop, spinner and wheels while I'm placing the order. And ya know, I've never liked the TD instrument panels. Why not grab the Eduard colour "Zoom" set, since I've been wanting to see how they look anyway? Gosh, the cockpit is going to look nice. I can't leave the wheel wells alone, what with the inaccurate rear wall. It wouldn't be consistent with the cockpit! Hmmm, how 'bout that Aires wheel well?

And so it goes.

The following is a comprehensive list of the aftermarket stuff I used on this model:
True Details: 48465 P-51B/C Cockpit
Eduard: FE219 Color-etch Zoom Cockpit
Ultracast: 48132 Diamond tread wheels
48133 Block tread wheels
48009 exhausts
48136 Spinner
48015 Seat
Aires: 4186 P-51B/C Wheel Well
Aeromaster: 48-211 Fighting Mustangs P-51B Part 1
Hobbydecal: st48002v1 P-51 Stencils
Verlinden: 1407 P-51 Mustang Underwing Stores

I don't know if I spent more on the bells & whistles than I did on the kit it's self and I don't want to know, frankly. More to the point, I don't want my wife to know!

The Cockpit

The True Details cockpit is, as is typical of their stuff, very nice. Installation required some minor surgery to remove the kit details and thin the side walls down to get the resin bits to fit. This was accomplished with my trusty Dremel tool and the resin side walls were attached with five minute epoxy.

The entire cockpit was airbrushed with Polly Scale U.S. Interior Green (IG), followed by a sprayed coat of Future, a black enamel wash, a sprayed coat of Polly Scale flat and finally a light drybrushing of Aeromaster enamel IG lightened with white and yellow oil paints. The details were picked out in Citadel acrylics with a fine brush using "Chaos Black", "Blood Red", and "Chainmail" (silver). These acrylics are ideal for painting small details. They cover well, dry nice and thin and have a good working time. They also have amusing colour names like "Rotting Flesh", "Snot Green" and "Bad Moon Yellow" - a fun change from boring old FS or RLM numbers.

I used a few Reheat 1/72 data placards to add a bit of visual interest and sourced some instruments from the decal heap which were punched out and added to the floor to represent the fuel gauges.

I replaced the incorrect TD seat with the more accurate one from Ultracast. The seat was painted overall IG followed by XF-60 Buff for the shoulder harness and Aeromaster faded OD 41 for the lap belts. The belts were then given a wash of burnt umber oil paint, followed by a light drybrushing with white. Finally the buckles were picked out with "Mithril Silver". The stitching was drawn on with an ultra-sharp pencil and then brushed with Polly Scale flat.

The instrument panel from the Eduard colour "Zoom" set looks nice and busy, albeit a bit two-dimensional. Although the set also provides the usual acetate instruments, I elected to use the instruments printed on the brass part. To make the instruments suitably glossy several brushed coats of Future were brushed on, which was also used to attach them to the back of the panel. A spare set of rudder pedals (complete with NAA logo) from the Eduard B-25B set were used in lieu of the TD resin ones. They're totally invisible, of course.

The TD gun sight was painted "Chaos Black" with Testor's "Leather" for the crash pad. Clear 0.010" styrene was used to make the objective lens and reflector. The edges of the reflector were painted Gunze clear green and it was attached to the sight with Future. I drilled a small hole in the canopy bow and used white glue to attach a Tally-Ho photoetch ring sight.

Wings and Wheel Wells

Like every other known kit of the P-51 (perhaps with the exception of the Rutman resin P-51B in 1/32), the Tamiya kit has inaccurate wheel wells insofar as the rear wall is concerned. The kit depicts the rear wall as being flush with the aft edge of the opening, whereas in reality it was open all the way back to the main spar. I could have done some real modelling and used sheet plastic to scratch build the well to the proper dimensions, but it would be easier to simply purchase the Aires well and glue it in, right? Right…

I had heard that, in general, the fit of Aires stuff isn't the greatest. But this was a relatively new release and, thought I, how bad could it be? (Cue ominous music…) With uncharacteristic foresight, I figured that is would be easier to attach the landing gear to the original plastic mounting points than to the resin ones. I removed the pour stub and lopped off the ends of the Aires part, removed the appropriate kit details and dry fit the three wing pieces and the wheel well. The resin fit very nicely indeed up against the lower wing, however when I tried to fit the top wing piece I was confronted with a 1/8" gap at the leading edge! How in the name of Sheperd Paine was I going to remove 1/8" of material?

Out came the 120 grit to take down the roof of the resin piece. Sand and fit, sand and fit. The resin was translucent and had actually worn through in places and there was still a considerable gap.

Out came the Dremel tool to thin the upper wing halves. Grind and fit, grind and fit. I spent the next hour or so in a swirling styrene snowstorm, merrily grinding away until daylight could easily be perceived through the plastic. Finally, when there was no more styrene or resin that could be safely removed, the wings just barely fit together without compromising either the dihedral or the fit to the fuselage.

After thoroughly washing the wheel well to remove all the resin dust, I sprayed it with Alcald II Duraluminum, brush painted the rear spar zinc chromate and applied a wash that consisted of a mixture of Polly Scale flat and black ink. At this point I must say that in spite of the difficult fit of the Aires part, the detail is outstanding and looks great with minimal painting effort.

After attaching the wheel well to the lower wing with super glue, I slathered five minute epoxy all over the top of the wheel well and attached the upper and lower wings with superglue. The resultant assembly was surprisingly solid, the epoxy glue returning some of the lost strength to the thinned kit parts.

Having taken the leap of faith by risking butchering the kit's wings, I decided to go one step further and fill in the wing panel lines. In order to take maximum advantage of the low drag laminar flow airfoil, North American Aviation puttied, sanded, primed and painted the wings of the P-51. In the interest of historical accuracy I decided I would do the same on mine.

Now, I've been spoiling myself with lots of Tamiya and Hasegawa kits lately, and my skill with fillers beyond Mr. Surfacer and minute amounts of superglue has atrophied somewhat, to be honest. I broke out the Squadron Green putty and filled in the panel lines ('cept the gun bay access panels and wing tips) on one wing, using masking tape to keep the putty confined to the areas around the panel lines. After the putty dried for a couple of days I sanded the surface with 800, 1000 and 1500 grit wet sand paper. I then primed the wing with Mr. Surfacer 1000 thinned with lacquer thinner and shot through my airbrush. Gad but the wing looked awful. The porous filler stood out like a sore thumb, so I sprayed heavier coats of Mr. Surfacer along all the panel lines and once dry, sanded with 1500 and 3000 grit papers, ending up with a nice, smooth surface.

For the remaining three wing surfaces I used superglue to fill the panel lines. Working with a drop of glue on a piece of scrap plastic, I repeatedly dipped the tip of my X-acto in the glue and ran it along each panel line. This deposited just the right amount glue into the lines while minimizing the overspill onto the surrounding plastic. Within 5 minutes of the glue drying I sanded again with 800, 1000 and 1500 grit papers and primed (after a good scrubbing with dish soap) with Mr. Surfacer 1000. A few touch ups followed by a final rubbing down with the 3000 grit and I set the wings aside to concentrate on the fuselage.


Before joining the fuselagehalves, I Dremelled the plastic behind the perforated cooling vents on the lower nose cowling to open up the holes. The vents were backed with scraps of styrene painted black to prevent a see through effect. I also inserted a piece of brass mesh, painted black, behind the carburettor opening under the spinner. Not exactly accurate, but it's better than a gaping hole. As a further precaution, I painted everything visible through the carburettor opening flat black. After painting the radiator bits silver (Alclad again) I joined the fuselage halves together. I used superglue for this, as liquid glue continues to shrink for several weeks and can leave a ghost seam that is very noticeable under a natural metal finish.

I sanded and polished all the seams smooth, being extra careful not to introduce flat spots that would again be visible under NMF. The lost detail on the underside of the belly scoop was rescribed with a Verlinden template and a sewing needle in a pin vise. After scribing I brushed a small amount of liquid cement into the scribed lines and let it dry before sanding. This prevents the raised ridges from being pushed back into the groove and makes it easier to clean out the sanding dust. On the lower access panels, the lost Dsuz fasteners were recreated with a Jeweller's beading tool.
A test fit of the upper engine cowling piece revealed that there was a gap of about 0.007" at the rear and bottom. This was a bit of a surprise to me considering the almost legendary fit of this kit. I've never heard of this before and can only assume that it was of my own doing. In any case, I elected to shim the parts with sheet styrene and sand them to fit.

I wanted to pose the canopy open so as to show off all the aftermarket cockpit stuff (what's the point otherwise?), but I didn't want to spoil the nice lines of the Mustang by having the top portion of the canopy open. Shamelessly stealing the idea from fellow IPMS Toronto member and modeller extraordinaire Rob Bilinski, I took the closed canopy and carefully cut the side hatch away, leaving the top closed. I removed the rather clunky attachment ridge from the side hatch and detailed it with strip styrene and wire whereupon I masked it and painted it IG and Alcald Aluminum and set it aside for final assembly.

After masking and attaching the canopy parts, the fuselage was carefully sanded smooth with 1500 grit wet & dry sandpaper and plenty of water, followed by an airbrushed primer coat of Mr. Surfacer 1000 thinned with lacquer thinner. The first coat of primer revealed a hairline crack on the upper spine of the fuselage. I applied a few drops of thin super glue to the inside of the fuselage by dropping it down through the tail wheel opening and letting it run down the spine. A heavy coat of Mr Surfacer was sprayed on the spine to fill in the crack. Once the Mr. Surfacer had dried I rubbed it down with 1500, 2000 and 3600 grit polishing cloths, again with lots of water.

Looking through my myriad of Mustang material I noticed that a good proportion of photographs of aircraft of the ground showed a slight droop to the elevator. This is due to the fact that for ground manoeuvring the tail wheel was unlocked by pushing the control column forward. Because of the notch for the mass balance, simply cutting the elevators off and repositioning them was not going to be easy. Instead, I took the kit parts and, using RTV rubber and two part resin, took a cast and made copies of the elevators. I then cut away the plastic elevators and cut and trimmed the resin duplicates to fit.

At this point I elected to leave the wings and stabilisers separate in order to facilitate riveting and painting. The fit of these parts is so good that they can be attached after painting without the need for any filler.

Rivet, Rivet, Rivet

Those of you who have read my Tamiya P-47D Bubbletop build feature here on Roll Models can skip this section, as it is largely the same information repeated.

In order to reproduce the rivets I made the pounce wheel from a piece of 1/16" brass rod, with a steel sewing pin for the axle and a watch cog with a diameter of approximately 1/8" and a tooth pitch of about 0.75mm.

I drilled a hole in the brass rod for the sewing pin axle and then cut a slot lengthwise into the rod perpendicular to the axle hole. I annealed the sewing pin and mounted the cog in the brass rod with the pin and cut it almost flush with the rod. I then mushroomed the ends of the pin by tapping the axle with a hammer.

To guide my home-made pounce wheel, I laid a piece of electrical tape over top a piece of Tamiya masking tape and cut a 4" by 3/16" strip. The electrical tape provides the thickness and flexibility to guide the pounce wheel, while the mild adhesive of the Tamiya tape allows it to be applied and removed over and over again without leaving any sticky residue.

For reference, I used drawings from the back of an Osprey book, and of course plenty of photographs. I applied rivets to the fuselage, tail and fuel tank on the underside of the wing, leaving the wings alone since they are supposed to be smooth. The wings and stabilizers had not been attached to the fuselage at this point, making it easier to get at their respective root areas with the pounce wheel.

I worked in sections, first outlining each panel and then filling it in, constantly referring back to the plans. For each rivet line, I positioned the tape guide and ran the wheel along at about 2-3 r.p.s. (rivets per second), being careful to reduce the pressure as I crossed any panel lines. Any slip ups were fixed with Mr. Surfacer 1000 and 1500 grit sandpaper.

Once finished, I took some well worn 2000 grit wet & dry sandpaper and soapy water and rubbed the entire model down in order to make the rivets a little less prominent.

The results look a lot more impressive than the actual skill to produce them, requiring more patience than anything else. The most challenging aspect is fabricating the pounce wheel, and with commercial products such as "Rosie the Riveter" available (http://riveter.wz.cz/Riveter.pdf) this should no longer be an issue.


NMF: three letters to strike terror into the heart of even the most experienced modeller. And yet with the availability of two particular products, getting a decent natural metal finish has never been easier. These two products are of course Mr. Surfacer and Alclad II.

The first step in achieving a good NMF is surface preparation. Because metallic paints are very thin and very smooth, they tend to show all the flaws; sanding and filing marks, scratches, filler, hairline cracks, etc. This is where Mr. Surfacer is most useful. Thinned with lacquer thinner and sprayed through the airbrush, this primer fills in most minor surface defects. Spot applications will take care of bigger issues such as scribing mishaps. Once dry, a good rub down with increasingly fine grits of polishing cloths, finishing up with 3600 grit, brings the surface to a smoothness that is acceptable for NMF. Note that it is not necessary to polish the surface to a mirror like shine. In fact, doing so reduces the adhesion of the paint, making for a more delicate finish.

The next step is the paint itself. Alclad II requires an acrylic primer, but if Mr. Surfacer has been used for surface prep, then the primer can be skipped (unless of course one is using the special shades which require specific primer colours). The Alclad is best applied with a siphon feed airbrush so that any pigment that settles to the bottom of the airbrush jar can be re-suspended with a quick swirl. It is not so easy to do this with a gravity feed due to the fact that the funnel shape of the paint cup concentrates the settled pigment in a small volume.
I sprayed at low pressure, applying light mist coats to avoid any build up that would obscure the rivet detail. Putting it on in thin coats also keeps the lacquer based Alclad from attacking any bare plastic that may have been exposed as the primer was rubbed smooth.

The primary shade was Duraluminum, with various panels masked off and sprayed with Aluminum and White Aluminum. Unlike other metallic paints, Alcald II is very durable and can be masked with low tack tape such as Tamiya after it is dry to the touch. The anti-glare panel was masked and sprayed using Tamiya Olive Drab lightened with Tamiya Buff. Four different shades of OD were mixed up and sprayed heavily thinned (nine parts rubbing alcohol to one part paint) in a patchy manner to break up the monotony.

Stars & Bars

Because decal carrier film is hard to hide on natural metal finishes, I elected to paint on the national insignia. It's not as daunting as it may seem at first. Digging through the stash, I pulled out some old and thick, but properly sized and proportioned, insignia decals which I applied to a piece of sheet styrene that had been primed with Future. After the decals had dried, I stuck a piece of low-tack frisket masking film over the decals and cut the masks using an Olfa circle cutter, X-acto and ruler.

I cut rough outline masks from tracing paper sprayed with 3M Remount adhesive (the same stuff on Post-It notes). These rough masks were about 1mm smaller than the final outline and were used to prevent paint build up around the edges. I masked the outlines of the insignia, applied the rough masks and airbrushed the white. The rough mask was removed and the star and bars masks were carefully applied, taking care to align them correctly. I then sprayed the faded Insignia Blue (Testors enamel, mixed with white), removed the star mask and then applied a circular mask the same diameter of the star. Finally I sprayed the darker Insignia Blue around the outline of the insignia.

Other Markings

The markings specific to "Gladys" came from Aeromaster's sheet number 48-211, "Fighting Mustangs P-51B Part 1". Because the Alclad is already smooth enough and because I didn't want to add unnecessary layers of paint, I simply buffed the anti-glare panel with an old tee shirt to shine it up a bit. The Aeromaster decals went down without any problems, settling into the details with Microsol setting solution and spot applications of Solvaset. The shark mouth required a few judicious slices here and there to get it to conform to the compound curves of the nose. Aeromaster provides some spare scraps of red decal to fill in any little gaps that remain.

For the stencils I decided to try rub down dry transfers, a relatively new product by a Japanese outfit called Hobbydecal. They are simply terrific. The stencilling is extremely fine, with even the tiniest lettering easily legible under magnification. Each stencil is cut from the sheet and taped to the model in position. Hobbydecal supplies a burnishing tool (which looks suspiciously like a crochet hook) which is used to rub the stencil down and transfer it to the model. One thing to be careful of is to make sure that the correct side is down, as some of the markings are so small that it is hard to tell the correct orientation. Rubbing the wrong side of a marking will wreck it, and there are no spares on the sheet. And another hint: do the rub down transfers before applying any water slide decals. The reason for this is that the transfers need to be held in position with tape and the presence of regular decals on the model limits the options for doing this, making for some head scratching while you try to figure out how to keep the stencil in position and yet avoid pulling up your nose art with the tape.

To hide the decal carrier film I freehand airbrushed the individual decals with Polly Scale satin heavily thinned with distilled water, taking care to spray only the decal and a small portion of the surrounding finish. Finally I went over the shark mouth with Polly Scale flat in a similar fashion to dull it down a bit, and while I had the airbrush loaded, I also sprayed the fabric covered rudder and elevators to give them a look distinct from the metal airframe.

I masked the ailerons off (I hadn't yet attached the flaps at this point) and sprayed the wing with a 50/50 mix of Polly Scale flat and satin to give it a more lacquered look.

Fiddly Bits

As I mentioned before, the spinner is from Ultracast. At first I was doubtful of the value added, as I never thought there was anything wrong with the kit spinner. However, looking at the two side by side and comparing them to photographs of the real thing, I have to admit that the kit spinner is a bit too fat looking. Whereas the kit spinner features circular shaped blade openings, the resin part features less incorrect oval shaped openings (they should actually be kidney shaped).

The Ultracast prop blades feature more accurate cuffs than the kit ones. The kit cuffs are distinctly flared at the base whereas they should be straight. Again, this was something I hadn't noticed until I compared the kit parts to photographs of the real ones. Unfortunately the rear sides of the resin blades were slightly flawed, and due to their thinness and delicacy I opted instead to file and sand the kit blade cuffs to the correct shape and thickness. This occupied less time than anticipated, taking only about 20 minutes for all four. After painting and decaling the blades, the mounting stubs were trimmed to fit the resin spinner and the blades glued in place with five minute epoxy, taking care to get them square and to set the pitch to a consistent angle.

The vast majority of photographs of parked Merlin powered Mustangs depict the flaps and inner gear doors in the fully down position. This is due to the fact that the hydraulic system quickly bled off its pressure after the engine was shut down, allowing the flaps and gear doors to droop. Although not as common, there are still plenty of photographs showing the flaps in the full up position along with the gear doors being closed or almost closed. It was this latter configuration that I decided to model, just for something different. Besides which, to be strictly accurate if the flaps are to be modelled lowered then the inboard and leading edge cut-outs on the kit flaps would have to be filled in and surface detail restored. Either that or they could have been replaced with Ultracast flaps.

The gear legs were detailed with little bitty discs of 0.010" styrene, tie down rings made from fine copper wire wrapped around a small drill bit and brake lines made from wire. The gear legs and the hubs of the Ultracast wheels were airbrushed with Alclad II Duraluminum and treated to a Future and ink mix to highlight the detail. The tires were brush painted Aeromaster tire black and then dusted with MiG pigments. The treads were blackened by smearing Smoke Black pigment on with my finger. For a bit of visual interest I used a different tread pattern on each side, as can be seen in some wartime photographs.

The 500lb AN-M65 General Purpose bombs came from the Verlinden set of P-51 stores. The resin bombs feature photoetch fins which were a pain in the butt to fold, assemble and square up. For strength I decided to solder the fins together which allowed me to gently tweak them when mating them to the resin body. The fuse safety wire was added from fine copper wire and sway braces were added from stretched sprue and more little bitty discs of 0.010" styrene. The bombs were painted OD with a yellow disc on the nose, and stencil decals from the Tamiya P-47D applied which were completely obscured by subsequent weathering (oh well). To ensure a good solid join, the bombs were pinned to the pylons with brass wire.

The wingtip formation and under-wing IFF lights were brush painted with Gunze clear colours over silver, while the machinegun barrels were replaced with nested steel tubing. They were painted with Humbrol Metalcote steel because real steel didn't look enough like, well, steel.


To highlight the panel lines I applied a wash of dark brownish grey mixed from burnt umber, black and white Liquitex artist's acrylics, thinned with distilled water and a good dollop of dish detergent. The detergent is needed to reduce the paint's ability to adhere properly, allowing the excess wash to be wiped away with a clean, damp paper towel.

To give the model a grubby look I used MiG Pigments. The aircraft of the CBI theatre were very dusty and dirty, so I wasn't to shy when it came to dirtying up the model. A mixture Gulf War Sand, European Dust, Ashes White and Smoke Black was dusted all over, concentrating on the gear doors, wing roots, access panels and so forth. I poked and prodded at the pigment with a broad, soft paint brush moistened with water to achieve the final appearance. The bombs received extra attention with the pigments, as the real things were often rolled around in the muck of the bomb dump before being loaded onto the aircraft.

The exhaust stain was airbrushed on using Tamiya acrylics thinned 10:1 (thiner:paint) with rubbing alcohol, and some oil streaks were added from black and brown artists oil paints. Some light Yellow Zinc Chromate paint chipping was added to the wing using Citadel paints and a fine brush.
The final touch was to add the radio mast and antenna wire. The wire was "invisible" nylon thread, painted with Citadel "Gunbolt Metal" and superglued into small holes drilled at either end. I tightened it up by zapping it with a hair dryer set on high, being careful not to melt the mast while I was at it.

Wrap Up

The P-51B was one of the first of the new generation of Wunderkits released by Tamiya back in the mid-1990's. In spite of the fact that it is now a decade old it still compares well to any of today's newer releases. Straight OOB it can be built up into a great looking model, or if you suffer from terminal AMS (not that I'm admitting to anything) there are plenty enough aftermarket details to satisfy even the most hardcore resin and brass junkie.

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