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Greg Fabian
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Shangri-La P-51B Mustang

February 10, 2021 · in Aviation · · 28 · 2.5K

Here's my take on 's "Shangri-La" based on Tamiya's scale kit. This rendition does not include all of the "kill" markings and shows the spinner with the two-tone red/white finish as the machine appeared sometime before Gentile crashed it while "exhibiting his flying skills" to the press.

Last time I built this plane, it was in the guise of Revell's 1/32 scale model 50 (yikes!) years ago. I don't remember how well that model went together, but I do remember liking the results mainly because it was the first time I painted a canopy frame. This kit was very easy to assemble, though I did have some issues with the left wing leading edge where it meets the fuselage. It doesn't have a decal for the instrument panel or the seatbelts, which I took care of with dry-brushing and fabrication using strands of copper wire and masking tape. It looked OK to me, but not good enough to build the kit with an open canopy.

As I'm building models once again a half century later, the glories of the internet have allowed me to learn more not only about the machines, but the men who flew them. Don Gentile was quite a character and his story as a first generation Italian American resonates with me. My father served as a Coast Guard torpedoman and gunners mate on Destroyer Escorts in WWII and, like Don Gentile, he was first generation Italian American.

During the war, my father the chance to get into the Coast Guard Academy, but was soon washed out the all the other Italian and Polish American enlisted men because of the "o" at the end of his last name. This drove my grandfather, who was the most patriotic person I've known, to drop the "o" from our family name. Not being deterred, my father continued to serve through the end of the war and went on to college on the GI Bill and to a career as an engineer in the US Air Force.

Reader reactions:
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7 additional images. Click to enlarge.

28 responses

  1. Very nicely done, Greg.
    The OD on this Mustang is beautiful.

  2. Well done. Might I suggest Uschi van der Rosten for your antenna needs. This stuff is very fine; I use super-fine for my 1:48 antennae...

  3. Attractive build, Greg. This is still a good kit and will remain the favorite -B/C until Airfix and Eduard work their way down the line. The Revell -B is almost as good but harder and harder to find. The clarity of your markings really stands out, and the red nose and wheels give that extra splash of color. This is a good tribute to your heritage (wonder if Gentile pronounced the second e and how?). Congratulations on finishing this neat build!

  4. Nicely done Greg, that's a good looking P-51B. If you can find them the old Accurate Miniatures kits of the P-51B as well as C model make up quite well. Other than a rather thick canopy their cockpit detail is quite good. Italeri has re boxed their P-51B as well. Nice job.

  5. That's a great P-51B, Greg.
    I love the Tamiya kit. In fact, I have the same kit too, intending to build it like yours.
    I enjoyed reading about your Father and Grandfather: you should be proud of them!
    It is really nice that you came back to modeling after half a cantury!
    Looking forward to your next builds!

  6. That's a nice looking fast-back pony! Well done.

  7. Great looking Pony-plane, Greg!

  8. Actually, the "red/white" spinner only lasted until March 5, at which point Blakeslee ordered Gentile and Godfrey (they were both using it as an ID in addition to the red/white checkers) to paint it overall red. At some point, he also had his ground crew paint on "white sidewalls", which I think was when he was getting close to the end of the run. This is one of those "famous airplanes" about which much less is known than people think. It's also interesting to discover that while he was recording his victories on Shangri-La, he actually scored them in several different other planes. Wade Meyers researched this with a copy of his logbook his son provided, and he actually flew Shangri-La for only 12 of about 26 missions and only scored 4 victories flying her. The early P-51Bs were "maintenance hogs" till they figured out to put in British sparkplugs to deal with the British avgas they used, which fouled the plugs and had engines constantly "down for maintenance."

    You've done very nice work on the model. Tamiya's marking instructions are now closing in on 30 years out of date with contemporary research. (which isn't the modeler's fault)

    • We really need a time machine so we can go back and sort out all the details. I also read somewhere that when Packard received the Merlin blueprints from Rolls Royce, they had to revise the design because the tolerances too loose for their machining.

  9. Greg,
    Thanks for sharing your model build here. I like your version of Gentile's Shangri-La. It's pretty accurate in terms of the white nose and kill markings. I am building the same kit but doing Shangri-La just before he pranged it on a low level pass over Debden. My stang has the all red nose and his greater kill tally on the port side banner.

    • Thanks. I was originally going for the same version as you, but I messed-up the kill marking decal and had to switch to the earlier version. Nothing a little alcohol and some elbow grease couldn’t cure.

  10. Classic kit, classic build, neat job, Greg, definitely liked. By the way, my favourite Italian American - Mario Andretti.

  11. Great rendition of this well known airframe Greg.

  12. Hello Mr. Fabiano. I'm a longtime lurker here and your post made me sign up tonight. Thanks for including Polish Americans in your explanation of going through life with a vowel at the end of your name, feels good to be included in something!

    From what I've read of yours you're about 60, my age. Welcome back to the hobby. Apologies to Rembrandt and Monet but Jack Leynwood's powerful painting of Shangri-La on Revell's 1/32 boxtop is still my favorite piece of artwork, ever. It evokes emotion, well like wanting the kit of course, but more than that it puts a boy in a dogfight.

    A near miss with a '109 we're not done with yet, and we don't see who's making the plume of smoke because he's literally out of the picture, and out of the fight. Doesn't matter who he is, or was, right now. No time for that because that '109 is still flying. If he's an enemy no time to celebrate and if he's a friend no time to grieve, we'll do that later if we're lucky enough to make it back and open up our landing gear once more. This is what goes through a boy's mind standing in Sears' hobby aisle holding the kit in his wanting hands. It still does that to me, every time I look at mine. It's on my stash shelf, facing forward at me so I can see it without wearing the box out.

    I'm saving that Revell kit for when I get old. I've built Shangri-La twice so far, with a Monogram in 1/48 and an Airfix in 1/72. Same amount of kills on each, same as yours, but the 1/48 still has the white spinner tip and the 1/72 has an all-red one. According to photos I have on file you're good, as that's right when the spinner repainting happened. I'll try my hand at posting photos here. I'd credit them but I don't remember where I found them. If they didn't want them shared they probably shouldn't have put them on the internet huh. One last pic of that Revell painting in which he's dogfighting an Me-109E!

    Tom Cleaver has written about Gentile, an interesting character for sure, and very defensive of his heritage. On a family trip to Dayton for the Air Force Museum, we saw a letter written by Gentile on display there and caught the address. On our way home I dragged my poor family miles out of the way to see his boyhood house in Piqua, Ohio. Still have a photo of it around here somewhere. Down the street from it was Gentile Hardware.

    As for questions about his pronunciation, I seem to remember reading a long time ago his preference was "Gen-tilly" but I could have that backwards.

    About those Packard tolerances, millionths of an inch is what I remember hearing.

    Beautiful job on your Shangri-La Greg. Now to find that like button.

    3 attached images. Click to enlarge.

  13. Thanks for liking my Shangri-La and for posting your pictures.

    I do remember the box art on the Revell version being quite dramatic and I've always found Gentile's livery very fetching.

    There's a film on Youtube of Gentile that includes footage from his gun camera, here's the link to it:

    My father had some buddies in the service who became close family friends that were pilots; two in WWII (B-17 in ETO and F6F Hellcat in PTO), one in Korea (F-86), and one in Vietnam (F-4 Phantom II). I heard a few stories, but I wish I could have heard more and recorded them.

    I'm finding that I'm getting more out of the hobby than I did as a kid by learning about the people who flew the planes .

  14. Thanks for the video link Greg, that was pretty cool to see and hear Shangri-La move and to hear Don Gentile speak. Sure brings it all to life better than some dusty old book. I guess this is as close to that time machine as we're gonna get.

    Your markings match what's in these movies and you're right, so much more fun with research but it's a double edged sword because research cuts into building time, although it's more rewarding knowing it's as correct as it can be and that's worth it because we come away with a better understanding.

    These men were just kids.

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