Hobby Master, a Hong Kong manufacturer of die cast collectibles, has just released two Iwo Jima VLR Mustangs as part of their 1/48 Air Power Series. The two Iwo Jima VLR Mustangs are both from the 506th Fighter Group; 505 from the 457th Fighter Squadron (44-72551) flown by Captain Abner M. Aust, Jr, the only ace of the 506th Fighter Group; and 619 “Hon. Mistake” from the 462nd Fighter Squadron (44-72587) flown by 1st Lieutenants James R. Bercaw and William G. Ebersole. The die cast models come in two editions, a regular edition and a signature edition. The signatures are of Captain Aust and 1st Lieutenant Ebersole. So for a little extra money, you can obtain a little slice of history with the signatures.
I have never been a huge fan of die cast models because I would rather build models, but I have to admit that die cast technology has come a long way over the years and the level of detail and realism is really good. You can display the model sitting on its landing gear, or on a stand with the landing gear up or lowered. The canopies are crystal clear, the flaps are moveable, and it comes with the twin Uncle Dog antennae, relocated single mast antenna, drop tanks, HVAR rockets and bombs. As you will see, the plane markings are exceptional. So let’s take a look at the pilots who flew these planes, and the die cast replicas.
505 – Captain Abner M. Aust, Jr. (457th FS, 506th FG)
Abner Maurice Aust, Jr., was born on October 7, 1921, in Scooba, Mississippi, and enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 23, 1942. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and awarded his pilot wings at Luke Field, Arizona, on April 12, 1943, and then served as an instructor pilot at Venice, Florida, until he joined the 457th Fighter Squadron of the 506th Fighter Group at Lakeland Army Air Field, Florida, in October 1944 shortly after its activation. Captain Aust was the only fighter ace in the 506th Fighter Group with 5 confirmed victories, and has the distinction of being the last fighter ace of World War II. He claimed his first victories on a VLR strike mission to the Nagoya/Bay of Ise area on July 16, 1945, shooting down three Nakajima Ki-84 Hayates (Franks) in quick succession. His next opportunity to score came on August 10, 1945, on a VLR mission escorting B-29s to the northeast of Tokyo. Captain Aust shot down a Mitsubishi Zero at 25,000 feet for his first victory of the day. He quickly spotted another Zero and made two passes damaging his adversary’s plane both times. After the second pass, the Zero dived into clouds and disappeared. Captain Aust was able to spot a third Zero, get behind it, and shot it down over an airfield for this second victory of the day, and his fifth aerial victory of the war.
Unfortunately, during his various aerial encounters on August 10th, Captain Aust became separated from his wingman, 1st Lieutenant Jackie Horner. In addition, to Captain Aust’s misfortune, the armorer maintaining his plane erroneously set the gun camera film at 75 frames per second instead of the normal speed of 16 frames per second. Because of this, his gun camera film only provided proof of the first Zero shot down at 25,000 feet, and the two passes made on the second Zero that disappeared in the clouds. The gun camera film ran out before he shot down the third Zero over the Japanese airfield. Captain Aust did not have an American eyewitness or gun camera film to corroborate his claim of shooting down the second Zero. He would find out several years later than there were several Japanese eyewitnesses to his downing of the third Zero. What follows is an excerpt from the book the “506th Fighter Group: The History of the 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima 1945”, describing Captain Aust’s efforts to gain official confirmation of his fifth aerial victory.
“It took me 18 years to confirm the fifth aircraft destroyed. I kept all my mission records for this mission. My brother-in-law, Phillip Edward was stationed at Misawa AB in northern Japan during the early 1960s. He married a Japanese lady. I sent her all the facts concerning this mission. He and his wife visited this airfield and confirmed my claim by statements from Japanese men who were working at this airfield that day in 1945. That was the only aircraft ever shot down over that air base. They confirmed that it happened about 12 noon and that the airfield anti-aircraft were doing everything they could to shoot me down. Phillip Edward sent me the facts and proof to support my claim. I sent this information with a letter to the Office of Correction of Military Records. This office, after review, approved my requests as did The American Fighter Aces Association. I finally became a WWII Fighter Ace in 1963!”
Captain Aust flew a total of 14 VLR missions during the 506th FG’s deployment on Iwo Jima, and he was credited also with 3 enemy planes destroyed on the ground. He became a career officer in the United States Air Force obtaining the rank of Colonel, and commanded 31st and 3rd Tactical Fighter Wings during the Vietnam War flying both F-100 Super Sabres and F-4 Phantoms. Abner Aust currently lives in Frostprof, Florida, and continues to remain active at the age of 98. His description of the July 16th and August 10th VLR missions are contained in the “506th Fighter Group: The History of 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima 1945”.
Hobby Master has done a very nice job of reproducing the aircraft markings, from the 457th Fighter Squadron badge to the Alberto Vargas pin-up art that adorned the fuselage of Captain Aust’s plane below the canopy. They included the twin Uncle Dog antennae and the relocated single mast antenna under the fuselage in front of the wheel wells. The drop tanks are the 75 gallon tanks, which are not accurate, but the casual observer will not make the distinction. I think I will replace the 75 gallon drop tanks with accurate 110 gallon drop tanks from Eduard.
619 “Hon. Mistake” – 1st Lieutenants William G. Ebersole and James R. Bercaw (462nd FS, 506th FG)
1st Lieutenant William G. Ebersole – William Glenn Ebersole was born on September 30, 1924, in Arcadia, Florida. Upon graduation from high school, he entered the University of Florida in Gainesville, as a freshman in September, 1942. Wanting to control his entry into active service in the armed forces, he enlisted in the Air Corps Reserve on October 31, 1942, shortly after turning 18. The thought that he might have two years of college before being called up was short lived as he was ordered to report for active duty on February 24, 1943, in Miami Beach, Florida. On his way to earning his wings, Bill flew in Stearman PT-17s, BT-13s, and AT-6s. He received his wings and a 2nd Lieutenant’s commission on April 15, 1944, at Craig Field in Selma, Alabama, as part of class 44-D. During his training as a fighter pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Ebersole flew in the Curtiss P-40N Warhawk, and the A, B, C and D models of the North American P-51 Mustang.
2nd Lieutenant Ebersole was assigned to the 462nd Fighter Squadron of the 506th Fighter Group in early January of 1945. When deployed to Iwo Jima, half of the squadron’s fighter pilots ferried their brand new P-51D Mustangs to San Francisco, where they were loaded on the escort carrier Kalinin Bay and set out for Tinian. The other half of the pilots, which included 2nd Lieutenant Ebersole, took a troop train to Seattle, and then boarded the converted Swedish hospital ship, the Bloemfontein. They sailed from Seattle to Hawaii, Eniwetok Atoll, Tinian, and then finally to Iwo Jima.
2nd Lieutenant Ebersole was the youngest pilot in the 462nd Squadron at the ripe old age of 20 years while on Iwo Jima, and flew a total of 10 VLR missions, the first being on June 7, 1945 to Osaka, and the last being on August 5, 1945, to Tachikawa. While on Iwo Jima, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and was credited with destroying a twin engine bomber on the ground during a strafing mission. Bill took his last flight in a P-51D Mustang on December 4, 1945, when he led a flight to 4 planes from Guam to Isley Field on Saipan. From there, he took a ship for the long trip back to the United States.
Bill Ebersole re-enrolled at the University of Florida, and received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. At the pinnacle of his career, he was the editor of the Gainesville Sun. Bill, and his wife, Anna, live in Gainesville, and is scheduled to make a return trip to Iwo Jima in the spring of 2020, as part of a veterans trip.
1st Lieutenant James R. Bercaw – The only record on Fold3 for James R. Bercaw is his enlistment record which indicates that he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps on February 24, 1943, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the time of his enlistment, he was attending Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.
After returning from the war, 1st Lieutenant Bercaw received his bachelors degree from William Jewell College, in Liberty, Missouri, in 1948, and his PhD degree in physical-organic chemistry from Ohio State University in 1954. James was employed by the DuPont Company for 31 years, serving in technical and management positions in Textile Fibers Department in Wilmington, Delaware; Kinston, North Carolina; and Camden, South Carolina. He was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and by the U.S. Trade Representative as an industry advisor on textile and fiber issues. He served as technical and international trade consultant to the American Fiber Manufacturers Association in Washington, DC, from 1970 until 2007. James R. Bercaw passed away on March 9, 2018, at the age of 94 in Greenville, Delaware.
I hope to find more about James Bercaw’s service in the 462nd Fighter Squadron from the 506th Fighter Group records.
Again, Hobby Master has done a very nice job of reproducing the aircraft markings, from the 462nd Fighter Squadron badge to the nose art of “Hon. Mistake”, which is short for Honorable Mistake.
The name and nose art originated from a VLR strike mission in which 1st Lieutenant James Bercaw inadvertently strafed an outhouse at a Japanese airfield. Bercaw’s gun camera footage showed a Japanese soldier fleeing the outhouse being strafed.
I am very impressed with the quality and accuracy of these die cast models. They are proudly displayed on a bookcase in my office, and they have been nice conversation pieces with some of my clients. If you are a die cast collector, and have an interest in the Pacific Theater of operations, these die cast models are worth a serious look. I did check the Hobby Master website, and they have also produced Major James B. Tapp’s 101 “Margaret IV” (78th FS, 15th FG). I purchased my die cast models from The Flying Mule.
Kudos to Hobby Master for producing these die cast models, and a special thanks to 506th Fighter Group historian Brian Walter who spearheaded this effort to honor Abner Aust, Bill Ebersole, and James Bercaw. Brian worked with Hobby Master to not only get the markings right, but also to make sure the uniqueness of a Iwo Jima VLR Mustang were accurately represented. Below is a photo from the 2018 506th Fighter Group Reunion in Orlando, Florida. The photo was taken at a luncheon hosted for the 506th Fighter Group by Stallion 51 in Kissimmee, Florida. Colonel Aust is in the center in the teal green shirt, and 1st Lieutenant Ebersole is fourth from the left in the cap and the Hawaiian shirt.