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P-51B Build Report 1: Initial Inspection and Cockpit Assembly

July 16, 2010

And so it begins. After ten years away and a week or so fiddling with the Fail Dauntless, it’s time to start building models again.

First up? Tamiya’s 1/48 P-51B Mustang.

Tamiya 1/48 P-51B Mustang

The Kit

Compared to the sadness that was the Fail Dauntless, Tamiya’s P-51B is an absolute beauty to behold.

Opening the box reveals several parts sprues molded in light gray polystyrene. Details abound in the recessed panel lines, rivets, and various access points. Initial fit and finish appears pretty much perfect.

As something of a surprise, the clear sprue includes parts for not one, but three different canopy configurations: one closed cage, one open cage, and one “Malcom” hood, designed for improved visibility and easier ingress and egress.

The decal sheet contains markings for several aircraft, but I’m choosing to stick with Don Gentile’s “Shangri-La”, which enjoyed six weeks of glory in the spring of 1944 before Gentile crashed it while hooning around for some reporters.

Oops...

Supplementals

If the P-51B kit falls short in any area, it’s the cockpit. There are various resin replacements and crazy photo-etch detail sets available to change this, but I decided to keep things simple for my first time out. The one concession I did make was picking up a set of Eduard’s color photo-etched WWII seatbelts, since the kit came with none and the relatively undetailed pilot’s seat could really use the dressing up.

For the outside, I picked up a set of Ultracast’s exhaust manifolds to replace the kit parts, in part because I wanted to get some practice working with resin, and in part because they are so much more detailed than the Tamiya manifolds.

On to the Cockpit

As with every other model airplane kit, the P-51B starts with the cockpit. After giving all the parts trees a quick scrub, I set about removing the cockpit pieces using sprue cutters (a revelation I never experienced when I was younger). Some, such as the main cockpit tub, I separate entirely, while others, such as the control stick and instrument panel, I left attached to small pieces of sprue so I could use them as hold points.

Once the pieces were ready, I primed them with Model Master Gray Primer, then sprayed most of the cockpit Green Zinc Chromate. In reality, this wasn’t actually paint, but an anti-corrosion coating applied to various bare metal pieces. The various aircraft manufacturers previous used variations on yellow zinc chromate, but pilots complained of glare, so the War Department mandated a new standardized shade of the zinc chromate. This the bizarre green color.

Once the spraying was done, details were painted in. Black for the instrument panel and control stick grip. Brown for the pilot’s headrest, etc.

After letting this dry overnight, I came back through and drybrushed everything with Chrome Silver. Drybrushing is a technique where you get just a hint of a color on your brush, then sweep it across a textured surface. Tiny amounts of paint will grab, which can help bring out raised details or create a chipped, worn look depending on the surface. With the P-51B’s cockpit, it worked out remarkably well at simulating the scuffed up appearance of a World War II fighter cockpit:

Curtiss P-40 cockpit

Once the drybrushing was complete, I spent a frustrating our or so wrangling the Eduard seatbelts into position and gluing them down. See, the thing is, they’re tiny and really hard to hold, and they’re also made out of metal, so they aren’t the most flexible of things. But damn do they look nice once everything’s said and done.

On the flip side of things, I touched up the instrument panel with a few dots of Insignia Red where necessary to indicate the gun safety and a few other controls. I also scratched on the gauge dials with a Prismacolor silver pencil, then dotted each individual dial with a small coating of Future acrylic flood polish. After a second coat, this gave off the appearance of real glass.

At this point all the various cockpit bits were assembled together and cemented into place. Then a heavily-thinned acrylic wash of Tamiya Dark Gray, Flat Brown, and Smoke was slopped all over everything. It wasn’t as dark a wash as I’d wanted – and I think next time I’ll be incorporating black into the mix – but it helped accentuate the lines and fine detail within the cockpit, as well as give everything a further sense of being used and abused. Even though Gentile’s plane only lasted six weeks, archival photos show that it was a hard six weeks, with “Shangri-La” sporting the paint chipping and other wear and tear you’d expect from months or maybe years in hard use.

Once the wash was thoroughly dried, the cockpit was officially done and ready to be installed inside the aircraft.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how well the cockpit came out. Next up…assembly!

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