Looking for a scale subject? Read this book
–a labor of love in honor of the beloved fighter.
Labeled a design biography by its author, Ray Wagner, the book reads like a non-fictional historical novel. The story is told from the point of view of the P-51 Mustang’s designer, Edgar Schmued. Ray Wagner had access to the designer’s personal papers, and it shows. In fact, it was the designer’s widow that suggested to Mr. Wagner that he write the book. Being a retired history teacher, Mr. Wagner wrote a wonderful narrative history of this most famous fighter.
This book is a far cry from the typical fighter love fest that I find in bookstores. Text in those other books looks like an afterthought. The focus there is clearly on the pictures. Mr. Wagner, on the other hand, makes it very clear that the star in the book is the story of the fighter.
The scope of the book is large. In about 250 notebook-sized pages, the author tells the story of the events that led to the Mustang being created and looking the way that it does. Later chapters cover postwar variations on the Mustang and even jet-powered designs that evolved from the wartime lessons learned. A fitting subtitle for the book might have been “The history of the P-51 Mustang in its historical context”.
The book is filled with first person quotes, which made the book a lot more interesting to read. I really got the feeling I was there with the designer (Edgar Schmued) as he overcame all the challenges he faced.
There’s lots of photos of airplanes (mostly Mustangs) and of the people that played a role in its history. The focus on the captions is on technical accuracy. You won’t find any captions of the “Pretty Mustang in flight” type. As best as possible, the captions tell you exactly which airplane you are looking at in the picture. If you like technical accuracy, you’ll love this book.
All of the pictures in the book are in black and white. Given their historical nature, my guess is that color was missing from the original pictures, too.
I was also hoping to find more technical details that would help me create a scale model. A couple of three-view drawings of the P51D variant are included, but almost all of the pictures of the Mustangs are side views or three quarter views.
The biggest issue I have with the book is the reproduction quality of the pictures. They are similar in quality to what you find in a newspaper. I was frustrated that I couldn’t see more details in the airplanes.
This is a unique book on an extremely popular scale model airplane subject. It works wonderfully well as a way of understanding the mindset and wartime constraints that led to the design of the fighter. If you are an aviation history buff, I can think of no better book to read. If you are a fan of the P-51, as I am, bring this book along on your next vacation. You won’t regret it.