Getting It Right

With the release of the Tamiya’s 1/32 North American P-51D/K Mustang “Pacific Theater” kit in 2012, modelers were finally provided with a kit that has almost all of the necessary parts to build an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang. It had been a long time coming. For the most part, kit manufacturers have either been willfully ignorant of the differences between a standard P-51D Mustang and an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang, or completely indifferent. I say willfully ignorant because there is more than sufficient photo documentation regarding the external differences, and on-line resources, such as the P-51 Special Interest Group Forum, to easily document the necessary parts for an accurate kit. In 2005, Hasegawa released an “Iwo Jima” boxing (Kit No. 09664) of their popular 1/48 P-51D Mustang kit, however, it did not have any of the necessary parts to make an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang. In 2014, Italeri released a 1/48 P-51D/K Mustang “Pacific Aces” kit (Kit No. 2743) that included decals for three Iwo Jima VLR Mustangs. While Italeri gets kudos for including decals for the three VLR Mustangs, the actual kit is just a reboxing of the Hasegawa kit.

It appears that Hasegawa’s business model has been to create a kit, and rebox the kit multiple times with different decals with little regard as to whether different or additional parts need to be included. According to Scalemates, Hasegawa has reboxed its 1/48 P-51D Mustang kit a total of 29 times since it was originally introduced in 1991! Not a bad business model if the sole objective is to sell the greatest number of kits with only one mold, but frustrating if you are a modeler who desires accuracy between variants of the same plane. I do not consider myself a “rivet counter”, but the investment of time to get the correct information on an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang is minimal.

It is encouraging to see kit manufacturers like Tamiya raising the bar as far as the level of detail, ease of construction (better engineering), and providing different variants. It was very pleasing to see the parts and decals for an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang in their “Pacific Theater” boxing. The other model manufacturer that is catering to those who desire greater accuracy between variants of the same plane is Eduard. Both their 1/48 Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Focke Wulf Fw-190 lines of kits provide modelers with accurate kits of the variants of those planes. Eduard recently released their first 1/48 kit in their widely anticipated line of P-51 Mustangs, and has made it known that they will be releasing an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang boxing in 2020. I received Eduard’s first release last week, and to my surprise, all of the necessary parts to make an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang are in the kit except for the drop tanks and sway braces. Kudos to Eduard, and I eagerly await their release of the Iwo Jima VLR boxing. Review of the Eduard kit to come later.

The Differences: SCR-695 and Battery Locations. The P-51D Mustangs flown by the 15th, 21st and 506th fighter groups were standard Block 20-NA and 25-NA models to which modifications were made while on Iwo Jima. The first difference was the placement of the SCR-695 IFF transmitter (multi-band airborne transponder which allowed a plane to be identified on friendly radars) behind the standard SCR-522 radio transmitter (4 channel VHF radio set used for air-to-air and air-to-ground communications). This necessitated moving the battery, which was normally located behind the SCR-522 radio transmitter, to the engine compartment. In order to keep the engine compartment cooler, a small air scoop was located on the left side of the fuselage above and in front of the wing leading edge. Also added to the cockpit area behind the pilot’s head rest armor plating was the SA-3/A inertia switch and the BC-727 indicator lights. A small antenna (the AN95-A) was added to the underside of the wing just aft off the right landing gear wheel well.

AN/ARA-8 Homing Adaptor & Uncle Dog Twin Antennae. The most distinctive external feature of an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang was the twin “Uncle Dog” antennae.

With the installation of these antennae, the normal single mast antenna was moved under the fuselage just forward of the wheel wells, which can be seen in the lower left corner of the photo below.

The twin Uncle Dog antennae were a part of a VHF beacon system that was needed for the long over water flights in order for the VLR Mustangs to find the B-29s they were escorting, and to find their way back to Iwo Jima. The system devised included B-29 navigation aircraft equipped with Uncle Dog transmitters, the VLR Mustangs using their SCR-522 VHF communications set along with an AN/ARA-8 homing adapter, and an MD-34 modulator keying set, and a ground based version of the SCR-522 (SCR-575) operated from Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima known as “Brother Agate”. The VLR Mustangs would home in on the B-29 navigation aircraft, not only to form up with the B-29s they were escorting, but the B-29 navigation aircraft were also used on the homeward leg of the VLR missions to guide to Mustangs within a couple hundred miles of Iwo Jima after which the Mustangs would home in on the signal sent from Brother Agate. There is an excellent article on the Uncle Dog/Brother Agate VHF beacon system written by Mark Starin, RMC USNR (Ret.), on the 506th Fighter Group website (http://www.506thfightergroup.org). From the main page, go to the Pilots section, and click on the “VLR Story” page. The article is the second article on the page. Mark Starin is the son of 458th FS, 506th FG pilot 1st Lt. Myndret S. Starin.

VLR Drop Tanks. Because of the great distance covered on the VLR missions, the Mustangs used two of the larger types of drop tanks: 1) 110 gallon metal drop tanks, and 2) 165 gallon P-38/P-61 style drop tanks. The 110 gallon metal tanks were the standard drop tanks used on VLR missions, and even with these larger tanks, pilots often landed back on Iwo Jima with only a few gallons of fuel left.

The 165 gallon P-38/P-61 type drop tanks were used on two different types of missions. The first was combat air patrol (CAP) missions around Iwo Jima. The 165 gallon drop tanks allowed the Mustangs to loiter longer. Towards the end of the war, the VLR Mustangs began carrying six HVAR rockets on strike missions, and the 165 gallon drop tanks were used to provide additional fuel due to the extra drag caused by carrying the rockets.

Major James B. Tapp (USAAF/National Archives via Fold3)

Because of the larger size of both drop tanks, sway braces were used. The sway braces were cut from plywood and made to drop from the planes when the drop tanks were released.

Unfortunately, Tamiya did not include the sway braces in their “Pacific Theater” boxing, nor did they include the 165 gallon drop tanks or HVAR rockets. With the Tamiya kit, a modeler is limited to VLR Mustang with the 110 gallon drop tanks out of the box. It is anticipated that Eduard will include both the 110 gallon and 165 gallon drop tanks along with the sway braces in their 1/48 Iwo Jima VLR Mustang boxing.

2 thoughts on “Getting It Right”

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