• Reviewed here in 2006 under the Air Loisirs brand, this kit is now available under the VQ label.

Throughout my aeromodelling ‘career’ I’ve only owned and flown a handful of warbirds, and as a patriotic soul these were all Spitfires. The reputation of the North American P-51 Mustang, however, has grown on me over time and I was pleasantly surprised to be offered this version from Air Loisirs. Anyway, I suppose for all the hype our American cousins would have you believe about the Mustang, it wasn’t until they fitted the British Rolls Royce Merlin engine that she become a really useful war machine.

I took delivery of the Mustang at our Tyldesley MFC flying site and immediately opened it up for a gander. It was quite a shiny and colourful experience at first until some of the present members pointed out that the plywood at the root section was coming away from the wing. Sadly it was a poor piece of 1/8 ply which was full of knots and had begun de-laminating. First impressions count and this wasn’t a good start. Putting a brave face on things I stuck her in the car and smuggled her into the house for a closer examination. I couldn’t find any other similar damage on the model and so proceeded to collate the bits needed to finish her, i.e. a suitable engine and the radio gear.

That aside I spent some considerable time looking for a spinner to match the front of the cowl, having been somewhat surprised that there wasn’t one in the kit. I guess I’ve been spoiled with some of the other models I’ve built in the past. ind you, everything else was present and correct so I tidied up the workshop and started building.

ASSEMBLY
After a quick read through the very simplistic illustrated instruction booklet I started with a repair to the de-laminating wing root rib. I think if I had bought this kit at a shop I would probably have taken it back immediately to exchange either it or the wing panel. I realised that returning this kit and getting a new one delivered would take some considerable time so I put up and shut up. It is a review after all! A few drops of CA and a little sanding flat had the two wing halves ready for joining with one-hour epoxy. The stout wooden wing joiner was a reasonable fit into the spar boxes and the join was near perfect. Even the sticky backed pre-printed covering lined up! As a point of interest, pre-hinged full span strip ailerons are incorporated, these driven by a single servo housed in the centre-section.

Moving to the undercarriage you’ll note that there’s an option for retracts although, as supplied, the kit has only a normal fixed set-up. It’s a shame really as a good set of retractable wheels can really set a warbird off.
Quite a lot of drilling, screwing and gluing is needed to get the fixed undercarriage located and I found this to be quite a tedious job. Accordingly I found myself considerably bugged by the ‘almost’ bit in the ARTF badge.

After test fitting the wing to the fuselage, I drilled the bolt hole as required and added the ply reinforcement. Again, as I was cutting out the ABS vac-formed belly pan and air scoop, followed by the separate moulded front fairing I became a little impatient. These bits took an awful lot of time to trim and fit but I must admit that they did look really good once they were fitted.

Conversely, the tailplane was easy to assemble and fit except for the mistake of using five-minute epoxy on the vertical stab / rudder assembly. As always happens when you least need it, the phone rang. Due to the the elevated temperatures in my workshop during the balmy summer months, when I returned the stab was not vertical but two or three degrees off and the epoxy virtually set. Before kicking the model around the room I did manage to get it somewhere near upright. Not perfect, but near enough for all but the most discerning eye. The mess involved in taking it apart again and re-aligning it didn’t bear thinking about. With the covering being a printed, self-adhesive Vinyl, a satisfactory repair or patch-up would be almost impossible to achieve.

ENGINE
Fitting the engine was easy on the supplied plastic mount but I ignored the instructions and installed my Saito 65 Golden Knight four-stroke in the inverted position rather than ‘sidewinder’ as this gives cleaner lines to the cowl. Very important on a Mustang. I also know that installing large top-heavy four-stroke engines on their side affects the model’s lateral balance considerably.

The supplied tank fits perfectly in the preformed former slots, with its nose projecting nicely through the bulkhead. Likewise, the fibreglass cowl fitted beautifully (peculiarly, my favourite part of the build) and the necessary holes for the choke and mixture needle were easy to drill for the four-stroke motor.

I realised at this point that the supplied pilot bust would need the two halves trimming, gluing and painting before I could attach the canopy. This again took up a chunk of time - I’ve built and flown other ARTF models in the time it took the paint to dry on this little bit alone! Looking for something to do in the interim, I decided to fit the remaining radio gear and linkages.

Steel snakes of 2mm diameter are employed as pushrods, the outers and exit holes being pre-fitted and finished - at last a job that would save time!

Control horns have to be positioned correctly so do be careful when drilling the holes and bolting them in place. All, incidentally, are of adequate quality. I chose to fit standard Futaba 3003 servos as no special high torque, high speed (high price) ones are needed for the fairly small control surfaces.

With the pilot’s dodgy moustache dry to the touch I glued him in place (another mistake - more later), fitted the canopy and sticky-backed instrument panel from the decal sheet and finished off the fuselage with the simple tail wheel assembly. Finally, the plastic drop tank halves were glued together and fitted on their mounts on the wings to complete the build.

Now then, you’ll probably want to know what spinner I eventually used? Well, in the end I chose an Irvine metal-backed item which, I must say, seems to really set the model off well. Adding the decals is a truly satisfying task and after sticking them in the places where I guessed they should go (the instructions and box illustrations depicted the alternative Silver and Olive Drab B&C versions of the Mustang) I placed the whole thing assembled on the floor for a final inspection. You know, it does look good despite the hiccups along the way, and for all my moaning during the build it was indeed satisfying to see the result. The detailing is very good and the drop tanks looked the business. The Golden Knight engine was virtually invisible mounted in its inverted position and I was glad I chose to do it this way. What’s more, the balance point was bang on the money; must have been all those big steel pushrods that helped out there. Finally, the forward rake of the main undercarriage was a nice (if non-scale touch), for the model showed no sign of nosing over.

READY TO FLY
Having adjusted all the throws and set the rate switches I gave the engine a run in the back garden, whereupon my thoughts turned to flying her. A common problem with Mustangs, Spitfires and, in fact, most warbirds, is that the tail area can be too small for good model flight resulting in somewhat ‘tippy’ flight characteristics, especially on landing. The elevators are usually fairly big too and this combined with the short moment can make for strange behaviour in the air. The tail on this Mustang though is clearly not to scale, being oversize with small strip elevators. This being so, I predicted a well-mannered flight.

After waiting for my fussy, cantankerous old photographer to pick a suitable occasion with good light, the day dawned bright and sunny as predicted with a blustery wind. I assured myself that all would be fine - after all, the model doesn’t know that it’s windy does it?

After a couple of coffees and some engine refinement she was wheeled out to conquer the skies.

Swinging a 12 x 6” prop I did pre-empt a slight torque swing to the left when she lifted off but nothing manifested itself, which was jolly nice. As it was, the take-off run was quite brisk and short for a reasonably heavy model. Moreover, once airborne, and after a couple of circuits, I decided it didn’t even need trimming!

Going vertical was no problem but rather than silly aerobatics I loved doing simulated diving attacks and strafing runs up the field making machine gun noises in my head and rolling out at the end as if I’d just won the war. Despite its toy-ish appearance on the ground with its plethora of detail she didn’t half look good in the air. The Cadillac of the skies she certainly was. The drop tanks set the model off really well and the slow passes that I did for the cameraman looked well. Even the pilot’s moustache could be seen fluttering in the wind on occasion.

There were never any signs of flicky behaviour and I was really enjoying the exemplary slow handling characteristics. With this, I started a landing approach and brought her in for a greaser without any problem. Even taxiing back was a breeze.

Never satisfied, one’s cameraman asked for even more pictures so I refuelled and took her up again, this time stretching the take-off for scale-ish looks and just because I could.

I was machine gunning the daisies again right up to the moment when one of the ‘drop’ tanks fell off a long way from the strip in a very scale like manner. The handling characteristics were unaffected by the single remaining tank but even so I promptly landed. Upon doing so we discovered that the pilot had done a 180 turn in the cockpit (obviously looking for his tank). Perhaps you can spot him looking around for the enemy in some of the photographs. Anyway, after sticking him down again and giving him a strict rollicking for taking off his seat belt, we embarked on a fruitless search through the undergrowth for the missing drop tank. Alas, in its absence I removed the other one for the third sortie.

CONCLUSION
The Mustang has been out several times since the first outing and I’ve yet to find a bad habit. Although I griped about the amount of work necessary to finish this model, the result was a good looking and easy to fly warbird. The covering is very detailed but I still have my reservations about its longevity. I don’t even want to try to shrink out the wrinkles with an iron as I think it will do just the opposite and sag. That said though, the adhesive of the sticky back does seem to be holding up under the onslaught of burnt castor.

If warbirds are your thing then you’re hardly spoiled for choice in the current market. The toy-ish looks of the Air Loisirs finish is not for everyone but does make for a very detailed model and instant scale success. Personally, I think the price tag of £159.99 is on the high side for an ARTF model needing this much work, but the competition in this class would have to be assessed with care. I don’t think I would fork out that kind of money for this plane if I didn’t know it to fly as well as it does.

The well behaved barrel rolls and strafing machine gun runs up the patch fuel my imagination and now that frustrating build is out of the way I’m left to enjoy the P-51 where she likes it best: in the air.

DATAFILE
Name: P-51D Mustang
Aircraft type: Semi-scale ARTF warbird
Manufactured by: VQ (previously Air Loisirs)
UK distributor: Slough Models
RRP: £99.99 (Aug 2012)
Wingspan: 1460mm (58'')
Fuselage length: 1270mm (47'')
All-up weight: 2300g (5.9 - 6.4 lbs)
Engine: .46 – .52 two-stroke, .61 – .70 four-stroke
Rec’d radio: 4-channel (requires three 9g servos)
Control functions: Aileron, elevator, rudder, throttle, optional retracts
Rec’d no. servos: 4 / 5