Airfix New 1/48th P-51D Mustang

Airfix New 1/48th P-51D Mustang

From the Airfix Workbench…

Over the past few weeks, it has been fantastic to be able to bring you news of some new tooling projects that will soon appear in the Airfix range and from the reader responses by e-mail and via social media, they have both been well received. With the announcement of a new Messerschmidt Me 262 in 1/72nd scale and the impressive 1/48th scale Supermarine Walrus in successive editions, you could be forgiven for thinking that we might be taking a little break this week – not a chance. Hot off the modelling press, we have news of yet another new tooling project, this time marking one of the most famous aircraft of all time and a true WWII classic – more on this a little later.

As the nights begin to draw in and we look forward to gaining an extra hour in bed at the end of this month, it is also time to start planning your trip to the IPMS Scale ModelWorld Show at Telford. Later in this blog, we will begin our countdown to the event with some details of what Airfix have planned for this year’s show and how this fantastic event has become such an important weekend in the modelling calendar. We will end this latest edition of Workbench by delving into the Customer Images section of the Airfix website once more and featuring some rather unique pictures of a recent model build that clearly illustrates more than just exceptional modelling skills. There is much to get through, so let’s make a start by bringing you the BIG news.

Is it another Supermarine?

When asking modellers and enthusiasts to name their favourite aircraft, you are always sure of receiving some unusual nominations, but as is the case with all polls and surveys, the more people you ask, the more accurate your results will be and you could probably predict some of the most popular suggestions. Without question, many of the most popular aircraft will have taken part in the air battles of the Second World War, as this period of history continues to enthral and fascinate and you only have to look through any modelling catalogue to see how these subjects are heavily supported by the model manufacturing companies. We have also seen over recent years how the Airfix range of 1/48th scale model kits has continued to increase in popularity, as manufacturing techniques allow designers to incorporate ever increasing levels of detail and construction options into their toolings. We are pleased to tell you that this range is about to increase once more, with a totally new tooling of one of the most iconic fighter aircraft of the Second World War.

In the dark days of 1940, Britain stood alone against the might of the all-conquering German Wehrmacht and as Europe was thrown into chaos, Britain knew her greatest challenge was still to come. As with most of the European powers in the 1930s, Britain did not want to contemplate another war and she was ill prepared for what she now faced – Britain desperately needed help and she needed it fast.

Britain’s most pressing need was for aircraft and in 1940, the British Purchasing Commission approached US aircraft manufacturer North American Aviation, to produce licence-built Curtiss P-40 fighters for the RAF. Slightly indignant at the prospect, North American officials proposed to build a totally new aircraft for the Royal Air Force, which would be superior to the P-40 and more suitable for their needs. So impressive was their pitch, the British agreed to their proposal and signed a contract for the new aircraft. Unfortunately, time was very much against the North American design team, as Britain desperately needed aircraft without delay. Work on the new project began immediately.

What North American Aviation achieved with their new aircraft design was nothing short of astonishing. Incorporating highly advanced new features and the very latest manufacturing techniques, the prototype aircraft (NA-73X) rolled out of their hangar on 9th September 1940, only 120 days after the contract had been signed. The first flight of the aircraft took place just 47 days later and other than the usual issues associated with a first flight, the aircraft showed great promise and was a clear vindication of the confidence North American Aviation had in their design capabilities.

p51d_001Mustang – A fighting thoroughbred.

Despite the many undoubted qualities of the new American high performance fighter, Britain would continue to be inextricably linked with the birth of the Mustang and were directly responsible for unlocking its full potential. In early 1942, a Rolls Royce test pilot had flown the Mustang I and been suitably impressed with its low and medium altitude performance. He informed his superiors that a Merlin 61 engine would transform the performance of the aircraft significantly and after much persuading, he eventually got his way. In August 1942, the Mustang X programme saw a number of Mustang I airframes married with the Merlin engine and the result was spectacular. Incredibly, this new combination propelled the Mustang to 441mph at 29,800ft, which was approximately 100mph faster than the Allison powered P-51A at the same altitude. The Mustang had just come of age!

Perhaps the finest example of a WWII fighting aeroplane arrived with the introduction of the P-51D variant of the Mustang, which was the most heavily produced version of the aircraft and addressed some of the shortcomings of earlier versions. Although the earlier razorback B and C model Mustangs were excellent fighters, they did have problems with poor rearward visibility and regularly jamming machine-guns, both of which hampered its performance as a fighter. The D model addressed both of these issues by introducing a Plexiglas teardrop canopy, offering excellent all-round visibility and six .50 calibre machine-guns, which were mounted upright in the wings and greatly minimized the jamming issue. Add to this one of the most advanced gun-sights to equip any WWII fighter and the P-51D Mustang was ready for action. Starting to appear in the summer of 1944, the P-51D would allow the Mustang to build on an already successful aircraft and provide pilots with a fighter that could hunt the Luftwaffe to destruction. Mustang pilots interviewed after the war describe how they knew the Mustang was a special aeroplane as soon as they sat in one – it just felt right. With a two stage, twin speed supercharger, it was equally at home at altitude defending the bombers, or down on the deck looking for targets of opportunity. Famous USAAF ace Bud Anderson said that best of all, “It went like hell”. From a German perspective, it has been widely written that Hermann Goering reputedly proclaimed that he knew the war was lost when he saw American Mustangs flying low over Berlin, but there is no denying that Luftwaffe pilots had huge respect for the Mustang and their capable pilots.

Airfix take on yet another classic.

There can be no doubting the fact that the North American P-51D Mustang is one of the most famous aircraft of the Second World War, but it could also be argued that the shape of the Mustang is one of the most distinctive and instantly recognisable in the history of flight. Taking on such a classic aircraft for the discerning modeller must be quite a daunting prospect for the Airfix development team, but it is a task they attack with some relish. From the start of this 1/48th scale project, the team were determined to produce a highly accurate scale representation of this classic fighter and bring yet another impressive new model to this growing range of larger scale kits, which have become so popular. With existing base model files for a 1/72nd scale Mustang already on the system, you may think that this latest project would have something of a head start, but unfortunately for the designers, this is not necessarily the case. As design and manufacturing techniques continue to improve and new research data becomes available, any existing base model work is simply a reference point, with every step of the design process requiring extensive input from the lead designer on the project.

p51d_002Airfix research trip images featuring a restored P-51D Mustang in the UK.

p51d_003Just a life-size Airfix Mustang kit.

With regard to this new Mustang project, the research files were bolstered by the opportunity for the team to inspect a magnificently restored example of the P-51D, which at that time was one of the best loved aircraft on the UK display circuit. This really is an important step in bringing a new model to the market and not only allows the team to check various details and measurements that will be incorporated into their tooling design work, but also to check the complex curves and shapes associated with a subject aircraft. The ability to check cockpit detail, wheel well fittings and the distinctive laminar flow wings of the Mustang allowed the team to incorporate all this critical detail into their research files and assist the design engineer on the project to create his working CAD base model. Once this base model has been produced, every aspect of the design can be checked and re-checked, before these files are used as a reference for all the many design processes to follow.

p51d_004The unmistakable lines of the North American P-51D Mustang in this CAD base model screen grab.

p51d_005Airfix designers at work – more magnificent Mustang base model screen grabs.

p51d_006Although the Airfix engineers are extremely proficient in converting research data into usable digital file format, modellers continue to be fascinated by the process of using computers to design and produce the highly accurate model kits we all love to construct. Although too modest to tell you themselves, this is a highly specialised process and the designers spend many hours working on the individual components that will make up the new kit, always conscious of the injection moulding process they will be subjected to. The scale of the model is also of vital consideration at this point, as there are defined tolerances that must be adhered to for the various scales to which models are produced and additional detail that needs to be incorporated into larger scale kits. Importantly, despite the fact that they have produced beautifully accurate CAD representations of the classic Mustang shape, they are actually working on a construction kit, so everything has to be divided into its component parts, always aware of how each part will react with the many others around it.

p51d_009A selection of base model screen grabs showing different views from the Mustang project.

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Ultimately, they need to ensure the new kit will come together in a relatively simple and logical manner, without challenging the modeller too much, whilst building into an accurate representation of the subject aircraft. They are helped in this work by the use of parametric CAD modelling software, which is incredibly powerful and will allow them to view the model in a variety of ways, including allowing cross sections and exploded component views to be accessed – a fascinating, yet extremely labour intensive part of the design process.

Bringing new model announcements to life – the computer rendered 3D image.

As we began to develop our Workbench blog, it quickly became apparent that the images many of our readers looked forward to seeing most were the computer rendered 3D pictures of the new models we were announcing. These appealing images certainly help us all to get an idea of what the new model will look like and as many of these projects are being announced much earlier that would usually be the case, they are also used in our catalogues and on the website to illustrate future models. These beautiful images are also a product of the CAD modelling software available to the Airfix design team, but still require some of their creative skills before they look anything like good enough for us to use – it is most definitely not a case of pressing a button and letting the computer do the rest. Their artistic prowess is definitely appreciated, as the computer rendered 3D images look fantastic on both our Workbench blog and when incorporated in the latest edition of the Airfix catalogue. They help us all to see what the finished model may look like when it is eventually released and keeps us all informed on the exciting development work that is going on at Airfix. Even though it is still relatively early in the 1/48th scale P-51D Mustang project, we hope you enjoy this selection of rendered 3D images of what will surely become one of the most popular kits in the range.

p51d_013The appealing computer rendered 3D images really bring the new Mustang to life.

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The new 1/48th Scale North American P-51D Mustang (A05131) will feature the impressive levels of detail associated with this slightly larger scale and will also incorporate a number of different build options for the modeller to consider. As you would expect, the model will be able to be finished in either flight, or static configuration, with the latter providing the modeller with a number of alternative options, such as canopy position, flaps and undercarriage door positioning. The kit will also allow the modeller to build different versions of the ‘D’ model Mustang, from the first machines introduced into service, to the later aircraft which featured a number of improvements – this will very much appeal to fans of this magnificent aeroplane. There will also be a number of weapon and under-wing drop tank options available, which will allow the modeller to produce a great many of the attractive Mustang schemes we will all be familiar with.

This exciting new 1/48th scale P-51D Mustang is due for release in August 2017 and we look forward to bringing you regular updates over the coming weeks. To receive notification of when this Magnificent Mustang is available for pre-order, please sign up for the Airfix e-mail newsletter and be at the head of the pack.

Paul Tosney – Editor
ModelBuilder International
Scifiantasy

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