Friday, April 3

Build Review - 48th scale PLA P-51D/K Mustang (1949 Parade) from Bronco Models

Gary had a fair few questions about Bronco Model's new P-51D/K Mustang in the roundels of the PLA. The only way to truly find a kit's worth is to build it - so in the first of a two-part article Mr Wickham has done just that. Helpful tips and insight along the way in the first part of his story today.

Build Review - PLA P-51D/K Mustang (1949 Parade) 
From Bronco Models
Kit No #FB4010
1/48th scale

Product Link on the Bronco Website
The North American P-51 Mustang is considered one of the world's most iconic warplanes from the Second World War, seeing action in nearly all theatres, as well as the Korean War and many other conflicts thereafter. However, one of the lesser-known stories of the Mustang is its service with the Communist Chinese forces who would go on to form the People’s Republic of China shortly after. A total of 39 Mustangs were obtained from the Chinese Nationalist forces either by capture or defection.
These Mustangs were used in various roles with the Communists, and nine of them even had the honour of flying over Beijing on October 1st 1949 for a parade to commemorate the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Although never seeing combat, the Mustangs still had served with the Communist Chinese forces as one of their most advanced fighters until the arrival of Soviet aid. [source:]
To this day, only two Mustangs formerly in PLAAF service survive in museums. The first one is a P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” with the serial number 44-12458. This P-51K is on public display at the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆), sometimes also known as the Datangshan Aviation Museum located in Datangshan, Beijing. The other surviving PLAAF Mustang is a P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” with the serial number 44-73920. This Mustang can be seen at the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Haidian District of Beijing. 
What is notable about this specific plane is that it was one of the nine Mustangs that flew over Beijing on October 1st of 1949 for the Founding of the People’s Republic of China parade.
KIT OVERVIEW - Bronco 1:48 P-51D/K Mustang PLAAF (FB4010)
Bronco has once again dipped their toe into the murky, unforgiving waters of 1:48 scale aircraft modelling. Since I built their first kit (the Mk.IIB Tomahawk (P-40C) a little while back I was wondering if they would have another crack.
I admit to being a little surprised when they settled on the P-51 Mustang. Surely no other subject has been more studied, researched and kitted by model manufacturers over the years. What would make Bronco's kit different?

Well, Bronco had an ace up their sleeve, the little known fleet of Mustangs used by the Chinese Army following the end of WW2. This was certainly a differentiator but would a P-51 with very bright and distinctive PLA markings appeal to the aircraft modelling community?

Well, it certainly caught my eye and whilst I am not a fan of seeing P-51s with roundels, for some reason I had no such reaction to the idea of a Mustang being flown in China. Perhaps it was the novelty of seeing something a bit unusual instead of yet another "Old Crow" or "Big Beautiful Doll" that appealed to me.

The marking choices
Decals in the kit
The pre-release marketing material from Bronco looked encouraging. Three sets of marking options for P-51D's and K's with colourful PLA insignia, both cuffed and uncuffed propellers and a generous assortment of external stores. The 3D CAD renderings looked passable shape-wise so perhaps Bronco had learned and improved since the Warhawk/Tomahawk release.
The timing for the release of the kit was unfortunate with Eduard not long before having released their "ultimate" P-51 in 1:48th scale, comparisons were bound to be inevitable. Many modellers were rightly sceptical about this Bronco release and based on past performance, so was I. Lets see how it holds up when actually subjected to some glue and paint.
BUILDING - Bronco 1:48 P-51D/K Mustang PLAAF (FB4010)
Kicking off as usual in the cockpit I was impressed with the level of detail provided by Bronco out of the box. Most of the expected details for a P-51D were present and accounted for. Colour callouts seemed generally on the money and several placard decals are provided.
As I began to assembly some of the cockpit parts the kit seat pan jumped out as being way off shape-wise. 
I considered re-working it but instead decided to dig through my spares box and was able to find a lovely Ultracast resin replacement which had the bonus of being a near-perfect drop fit.
I have learned that pouring hours of effort into WW2 aircraft cockpits ends up giving very little return on investment as much of the detail is hidden away. I'll make the effort to fix things that are glaringly wrong but adding lots of extra detail was not on my agenda for this build. Besides what Bronco gives us is pretty good and once painted up would more than do the job.
I have been testing out some of the new AK Real Color range and this is what I used for the Interior Green colour here. I have applied the Green over a black base coat as I find that helps get some variation in tones without too much effort. This build was also one where I made more use of the Tamiya Panel Liner washes and I have to say I wish I had started using these products sooner. Being enamel-based they have a very fine pigment and behave almost like oil washes as can be seen here in and around the raised rivet detail.
The small details on the seat and cockpit were hand-painted using Vallejo acrylics and the kit decal was used for the main instrument panel. 
A final light oil wash was applied to all the interior surfaces to give a dusty worn look.
The tailwheel mounting strut on my part was broken off the sprue and rather than just try and glue the small mating area back I decided to use a brass rod instead for more strength. I used some square evergreen rod sandwiched between the fuselage halves as the mounting point for the new tailwheel support. This solution had the added benefit of allowing me to leave the tailwheel assembly off until the end of the build.
Bronco have followed the lead of most other manufacturers of P-51 kits by modularizing the engine cowlings and rear fuselage spine parts. Remember this kit is billed as a "quick build" and meant to be assembled with little or no glue so anything they can design to minimize the need to sand seams is a sensible measure.
Of course, if you are not using glue to hold the parts together you need some sort of mechanical solution to keep things tight. Bronco (much like Meng) has designed each part of the model with large male and female joiners that are a force fit. You can see the female mounts here. For modellers who want to use glue instead, these mechanical mounts are nothing but a nuisance and so I made a point of cutting them all off, flush with the model surface. This, of course, meant I needed another method to keep the parts aligned and so you see the small evergreen tabs I have added for that purpose.
I have learnt from my previous Tamiya and Meng Mustang builds that the best way to deal with nasty internal seams on the belly radiator intake is to mould it as a separate part. Bronco did not see it that way and moulded the intake lip onto each fuselage half instead. I chose to correct this by simply cutting each half of the intake off the fuselage halves and gluing them together separately as shown here. This meant I could easily deal with the internal seam and once the main fuselage was joined, I could just glue the intake lip back on the model. Remember, we don't always have to assemble a model the way the manufacturer gives it to us :)
Another quick tip is to always check the fit of the wing roots to the fuselage at this point in your builds. If there are small gaps a simple fix is often to insert a "spreader" inside the fuselage to close up the gap with the wings. Spreaders can be fashioned using most anything but I like to use some spare sprue as it's a cheap and easy option.
Turning my attention to the tail I was surprised to see that Bronco has given the elevators both a fabric and metal riveted finish. Talk about having an each-way bet. Earlier blocks of the P-51D did have fabric covered elevators but these switched to metal from the P-51D-20-NA onwards and were often retrofitted to earlier blocks. It's a reasonable bet that the aircraft provided to the PLA after the war would have all had metal elevators fitted.
The easiest way to eliminate the fabric finish was to sand it smooth. I also wanted to "drop" the elevators so I killed two birds with one stone. 
The elevators were cut away from the tail, sanded flat (to remove the fabric scalloping) and rivet detail re-applied. All in all a relatively easy fix for this blunder by Bronco.
The engine cowling likewise needed a little bit of TLC in the form of scribing in the main join line which runs the full length of the cowling panels. Bronco gives you the parallel rows of fasteners along the centre of the cowling but for some reason left off the join itself. 
I also enhanced the look of the DZUS fasteners that hold the two cowling panels in place on the frame. 
These simple additions greatly improved the look of the cowling.With these few small corrections complete the fuselage parts were glued together with no significant gaps or misalignment resulting.
The wings also use the glue-less "friction fit" design with the leading edge gun ports sensibly provided as separate single pieces. The flaps as supplied are designed to be installed in the up or retracted position, which is an odd choice because you almost never see P-51s on the ground with the flaps up. To display the flaps down you need to cut off the locating pins and glue them on freehand. Not a sensible design decision by Bronco in my opinion.
To keep the wings together without glue, Bronco has liberally covered the interior with friction fit connectors. These work reasonably well but I found that even when you pushed the parts together tightly you were still left with small gaps along the edges. 
As I intended to use glue anyway I proceeded to cut off the alignment connectors and as expected this also fixed the fit problem with the gaps all but disappearing.
Perhaps the biggest inaccuracy in this Bronco P-51 is the main wheel. They have fallen trap to the age old error of mistakenly placing the rear wall of the main well in line with the gear door cutouts. On the P-51 the rear wall of the well is actually the main wing spar, which of course runs perfectly down the centerline of the wings as shown by the red line. A quick comparison with the accurate Meng kit highlights the error. It's no excuse but Bronco are in good company with this mistake as Tamiya infamously did the exact same thing on their 1/48 scale Mustang. I pretty quickly decided that this issue was one I was just going to live with as I did not want to undertake major surgery.
Another small correction you will need to make if you plan to drop the flaps is to fill the triangular cutout on the inboard edge of the flap. Again many kit manufacturers have made this mistake to allow them to fit the flap fully flush with the wing root fillet when closed. On the real aircraft the flap does of course not have or need a cutout to retract flush with the fuselage wing fillet. I filled the cutout with some .020" Evergreen sheet and sanded smooth.
With the wings now mostly dealt with I turned my focus to the main landing gear. I was quite impressed with the shape and detail of the inner clamshell and outer gear doors. The gear struts are pretty simple on the P-51 and Bronco has done a solid job of reproducing them. Note also that the main wheels are designed with separate tires and rims which makes painting that much easier.
I was pretty impressed with the job Bronco had done on the main gear until I did a test fit to the wings. They probably felt quite proud of the job they did in designing the gear to fit perfectly perpendicular (ie 90 degrees) to the wing. Problem is, this is wrong :( The main gear on the P-51 is actually offset by 11 degrees from the perpendicular and gives the aircraft that characteristic raked look as the wheels extend out forward of the wing leading edge. This was one problem I could not ignore as it would fatally impact on the overall look of the finished model. 
 With some effort I re-worked the wing locating hole for the gear, inserted a brass rod for extra depth and strength into the strut and changed the angle. I would classify this work as non-trivial and was perhaps the most involved correction I had to make on this kit.
After I cut out the main wheels I noticed that the block tread only appeared on the sidewalls, with the main surface of the tire being bare. I assumed this was an error by Bronco and so sourced some True Details resin wheels instead. However, later in the build I was looking more closely at photos of a preserved museum P-51 in China and to my surprise, the tires were exactly as provided by Bronco. So I'm not really sure what to make of this, but clearly, Bronco used the museum aircraft in their research and maybe these were tires made in China at some point and fitted to their P-51 fleet.
Another part that underwhelmed me was the kit shrouded exhaust stubs. The Bronco parts had only a passing resemblance to the real P-51 shroud and exhausts and so once again I looked for replacement options. I raided a Tamiya P-51D kit (for which I had some resin exhausts) and used the kit shrouded exhaust parts. Only a little trimming was needed to get them to fit into the cowling holes on the Bronco kit. 
I later drilled out the ends of each stub using a 0.6mm drill-bit.
Unlike most of their contemporaries, Bronco only provides a single style of canopy in the kit. It has a mould seam that needs to be removed and some weird bulges in each side of the forward section. I assume that Bronco has tried to reproduce the "blown" effect of the bubble canopy but have not quite pulled it off. The end result looks like a canopy with bug eyes and is just distracting. I was not convinced this would be acceptable once painted and on the model so just be safe I sourced and painted in parallel a spare canopy from the Airfix kit. In the end, I went with the Bronco canopy as the bug-eye effect was not so pronounced when painted and fitted to the model.
One area I will give Bronco full marks for is the windscreen. They have included a section of the fuselage into the clear part and the whole assembly fits like a glove. This is so much better than trying to carefully glue a clear windscreen to the fuselage with only a thin frame. Tamiya used this same method in their beautiful 1/32 P-51 kit. The armoured glass panel is missing but I can live with that in 1/48. 
The canopy frame is also moulded into the clear part, which again is a much better option than a separate frame that must be glued to the clear part.
Any hope I had that someone could truly build this kit without glue went straight out the window when it came time to mate the fuselage to the wing. The wing part would not sit flush (or anywhere near flush) unless you glued or taped it. As the glue was drying I applied a clamp to hold everything in place.
Several of the join lines needed to be removed completely as they are not along natural panel lines. I marked these with a pencil so I knew exactly which ones to fill.
With all of the main assembly complete and seam work done it was time for some primer. I prefer to apply a primer to check my surface work and this is particularly important when you plan on using metaliser paints. One of my goals for this build was to use it as a testbed for the new AK Xtreme Metal paints. I have read several reports that these work best with a solid primer coat, rather than applied to bare plastic. My go-to primer these days is Mr Color Finishing Surfacer 1500. I normally thin it with Mr Color Leveling Thinners but recently discovered that Gunze themselves recommend using their Rapid Thinner instead. I had never heard of this product but a quick eBay search and purchase had a bottle in my hot little hands in short order. The result of thinning the Finishing Surfacer 1500 with the Rapid Thinner was a super-thin, silky smooth primer coat that would do perfectly for my metalwork to come.
The primer coat allows us to really see for the first time any blemishes or errors present on the surface of the model. Now is the time to correct mistakes or re-work problems before you start applying any topcoats. 
I carefully go over every inch of the model seeking out glitches and correcting as needed. As it turned out for this model I must have been on the ball as everything seemed in order (that happens very rarely let me assure you)
In anticipation of this build, I had acquired several bottles in the AK Xtreme Metal range but as it turned out I was not happy with any of them as a match for the painted finish found on the wings of Mustangs. Whilst the fuselage and tail on the P-51 was left as natural metal, the laminar flow wings were puttied, primed and painted silver at the factory by North American. I needed a model paint that looked silver but not too metallic. From past experience, I knew that the Alclad range of paints had just the ticket called RAF High-Speed Silver. This was applied to the wings over the top of a second primer coat, this time black. Not that I intentionally did not use gloss black because I was not after a super shiny metal effect on the wings or indeed the fuselage.
One of the benefits of the lacquer based Alclads is that they dry very fast. I was able to commence masking within less than an hour of spraying. As I mentioned it's only the wing surfaces (and fabric rudder) that are painted on Mustangs, all the rest is natural metal. Applying Tamiya tape over the top of Alclad metabolizers has never been a problem for any of my builds.
Based on some earlier testing I settled on AK479 Aluminium for the base coat of natural metal. The Xtreme Metal range is pre-thinned and designed to be sprayed directly from the bottle. I found the paint flowed very well through my Iwata Revolution and it only took a couple of light coats to get a good solid coverage. Being unsure about the curing time for these enamel-based Xtreme paints I opted for the cautious path and left them overnight to dry fully.
Gary Wickham

Gary's second part of this build will follow shortly here on TMN - a sneak peek of the finished kit here...
Thanks to Bronco for sending this kit to us to build and review. You can see more about Bronco's kits on their website.
If you like Gary's work then please do go to his website for a whole lot more of that...