When I was very young, I had two plastic airplane models. These were the kind suitable for a 3-year-old to fly around the house without causing too much trouble and those models were rough approximations of the Spitfire and Mustr. As a result, I knew what P-51 Mustang was before I was 4-years old. It doesn’t take much for me, several decades later, to look at an airplane like the Mustang with fond memories and deep appreciation. Update 4.702 for IL-2 Great Battles brought with it a new P-51 Mustang for us to fly in the form of the P-51B-5 and this is my in-depth review of the aircraft.
The P-51B Mustang
Most people know the story of the P-51 but some of those stories skip over a key intermediary model in the P-51 line, the B and C, that helped pave the way for the legendary P-51D.
The P-51, as the story is often told, was created by North American aviation and was in the concept stages when the British Purchasing Commission sought out North American to license build P-40s for the RAF’s wartime effort. North American famously came back at them with what would become the Mustang and the first production versions were Mustang Mark I’s that went on to service in the RAF.
The Mustang Mark I, P-51A and A-36 were all powered by an Allison engine that gave the type great performance up to 15,000 feet but poor performance above that. To solve the problem, teams on both sides of the Atlantic aimed to fix the problem. The Mustang Mark X, fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin 61, the same engine powering the new Spitfire IX, proved promising. Also happening around the same time was the start of license production of the same engine from Packard in the United States. That provided another opportunity to fit a Merlin into the P-51 and the XP-51B was born.
Two examples proved the concept before mass production began on P-51B at the Inglewood, California factory and identical P-51C at the Dallas, Texas factory.
The P-51B’s performance possessing speed and range together with effective maneuverability ensured the aircraft’s adoption as a long-range escort fighter. But before that happened the P-51B started its combat debut with the 9th Air Force being sent to the 354th Fighter Group of the 9th Air Force in December of 1943 seeing action just weeks later.
The fundamentals: visuals and audio
1CGS has been really good over the years of subtly pushing the quality level of their aircraft forward while keeping a consistent art style that helps make everything feel like it fits together. The P-51B is a good example of some of the best art and texture work that the series has had. It’s not perfect and there are a few areas where it could be tightened up (especially around the flight stick and the fuel controls) but when you take in the whole thing you can’t help but be impressed with how cohesive the whole thing feels.
Sitting in the cockpit, the P-51B with its razorback fuselage style and cockpit framing makes it feel like a different aircraft from the P-51D. In-fact, the cockpit is very different from the D model. There are plenty of great small details in the cockpit such as the weathering on the seat and the mechanism that winds the Malcolm hood back and forth. It looks like a bicycle chain and the animation for it is superb. No wonder 1CGS needed some time to get this hood modification just right. It looks impressive!
The exterior detailing is also at the top of what we’ve seen from the IL-2 series so far. It looks great and it feels right. There’s about a dozen liveries of which about half are intended to offer some default options that will make use of the dynamic tactical code system. The custom liveries that are included hit all the right marks. We have Captain Don Gentile’s ‘Shangri-La,” Lt. Col. James H. Howard’s ‘Ding Hao!’, Lt. Lee “Buddy” Archer Jnr’s ‘INA The Macon Belle’ and Squadron Leader E. Horbaczewski’s PK-G airplanes and these are exactly what I would have picked to help represent the P-51B. I’d love to have a few more of these unique birds but we also do have a great selection of USAAF and RAF generic skins intended for use with the tactical codes that give us tremendous flexibility.
The other thing I can’t help but notice is the audio. The P-51’s audio feels really good and, during my brief multiplayer experience since the aircraft’s release, others seemed to be saying the same thing! It may be one of the best audio examples we’ve had in the series and while IL-2’s audio tends to lack some authenticity versus some competitors this is the next best thing. Of course the P-51B still has that characteristic Mustang whistle which, yes, the earlier B-model really does have although developer notes have suggested that it will be toned down slightly for the B model in a future update.
The P-51B does have one quirk. The standard canopy, when opened, lets you lean out the left side of the aircraft but not the right side of the aircraft. However, likely due to a quirk of the IL-2 engine, the collision model for your head in the cockpit respects that restriction regardless on if you have the standard canopy or the much better visibility from the Malcolm hood variant. It’s not a big deal but it is a quirk to be sure.
Flying and fighting
At a basic level, the P-51B flies very much like the P-51D. The Mustang is a legendary aircraft and a lot of people have what are ultimately different ideas on what the aircraft should be capable of. The first attribute that the P-51B delivers on is speed, and as you’ll see in the performance comparisons below, this is an aircraft that matches its real-world reputation. The P-51B is actually slightly faster than the D model thanks to slightly better aerodynamics.
The P-51B is also slightly snappier in its maneuverability than the D model and I suspect this is mostly to do with taller fuselage. The D model has far superior visibility as a result but it has slightly less stability. That also seems to benefit the B model when it comes to turning as you can get into a tight turn and continue to pull for longer. The snap stall is still quite sudden but it comes a little later than you might find with the D model.
One should note that the P-51B does have some quirks. The landing gear for example takes about 20 seconds to fully retract, the type does have a rear fuel tank and thus aerobatics are prohibited until the tank is at least partially empty (around the 75% mark in IL-2). You’ll spin out quickly if you do end up with a full tank. One of the P-51B’s weaknesses, the feed jamming on the sideways mounted .50cals, is also not represented.
That’s a good segue to talk firepower. The P-51B has only four .50cal machine guns with 350 rounds on the inner and 280 rounds on the outer guns. Possessing two less guns than on the P-51D model has an impact on firepower which means you do spend a bit more time on target. That said, IL-2’s .50cal machine guns have seen some love and are performing better than they used to. Good aim matters more with machine guns and you have to fight just a bit harder to make sure that the four guns get on target – made easier with the K-14 lead computing sight. When they do hit key areas of enemy aircraft, they still cause significant damage. I’ve had both extreme examples where I’ve blasted away for several seconds before scoring the kill as well as hitting with my first few bullets causing a fire and catastrophic damage. Most of the time it will be somewhere in the middle.
The P-51B is also quite capable in the ground attack role coming fully equipped with M8 Bazooka tube rockets and 500lb and 1000lb bombs in both US and UK variants.
The P-51B comes with impressive performance levels rivaling the best aircraft of the war. Although the P-51B is an earlier version of the Mustang, not everyone knows that the type had the better overall performance than the D model. Slightly thinner wings and an engine tuned for higher altitudes made the aircraft into one of the fastest piston engined aircraft of WWII.
This performance advantage in speed is all the more visible when taken into consideration that it is in Battle of Normandy and flying against some earlier aircraft.
- P-51B (with V-1650-3): 600 kph
- P-51B (with V-1650-7): 604 kph
- P-51B (with V-1650-7 and 150 octane): 626 kph
- P-51D-15: 592 kph
- P-51D-15 (with 150 octane): 607 kph
- Bf109G-6 Late (with MW50): 573 kph
- FW190A-6: 563 kph
- P-51B (with V-1650-3) at 9000m: 700 kph
- P-51B (with V-1650-7) at 7500m: 717 kph
- P-51B (with V-1650-7 and 150 octane) at 6250m: 721 kph
- P-51D-15 at 8000m: 717 kph
- P-51D-15 (with 150 octane) at 7000m: 718 kph
- Bf109G-6 Late (with MW50) at 5000m: 661 kph
- FW190A-6 at 6400m: 661kph
- P-51B-5 climbs at 19.3 m/s at sea level, 18.0 m/s at 3000m, and 13.1 m/s at 6000m.
- P-51D-15 climbs at 18.1 m/s at sea level, 15.7 m/s at 3000m, and 12.4 m/s at 6000m.
- Bf109G-6 climbs at 20.6 m/s at sea level, 18.3 m/s at 3000m, and 14.1 m/s at 6000m.
- FW190A-6 climbs at 15.0 m/s at sea level, 11.3 m/s at 3000m, and 8.9 m/s at 6000m.
- P-51B-5 completes a maximum performance turn in 19.0s at sea level and 28.0s at 3000m.
- P-51D-15 completes a maximum performance turn in 20.0s at sea level and 29.5s at 3000m.
- Bf109G-6 completes a maximum performance turn in 21.7s at sea level and 27.4s at 3000m.
- FW190A-6 completes a maximum performance turn in 23.5s at sea level and 35.5s at 3000m.
Faster turning, faster climbing, and better turning than the P-51D-15, the P-51B-5 depending on its engine equipped is actually the superior fighter in a number of different categories. Of course the tradeoff, superior visibility in the P-51D-15, should not be underestimated but in a pure comparison of numbers the P-51B-5 is seriously impressive.
Versus the contemporary opposition, the B-5 thoroughly trounces the Bf109G-6 Late and FW190A-6 in speed and turn while being narrowly bested by the fast climbing Bf109G-6 Late.
Of course, these are just number comparisons and combat features a complex series of variables ranging from pilot skill and coordination to relative fuel states and weather conditions. The B-5 in IL-2 is equipped with the rear fuel tank which gives the Mustang its legendary range, however, the tank must be empty before aerobatics are to be considered and this limit is only lifted at 75% fuel or below. Newbie pilots taking 100% fuel and being shocked at the poor handling of the type will need to make some adjustments before taking the Mustang into combat.
Strength in modifications
The thing that impresses me the most is the modifications. 1CGS has achieved a consistent level of quality with the P-51B but this aircraft in particular stands out in the series. The only other aircraft that I would put into the same level is the Hurricane Mark II. Both of these aircraft come with a huge list of very consequential modifications. Here’s what the P-51B has included:
- Ground attack modification (this lets you mount British and American bombs and rockets)
- British Reflector Sight
- Gyro gunsight (a K-14 lead computing gunsight)
- Merlin V-1650-7 (changes the engine from the -3 to the -7 which is geared for slightly lower altitude performance and better overall performance)
- 150 grade fuel (adds 22 kph to sea level speed)
- 150 grade fuel with the ability to push 81in of manifold pressure (this modification was common for V-1 chasers and adding more sea level speed although I wasn’t able to find an exact number)
- Malcolm hood canopy
- Mirror (adds an external mirror)
When you take these modifications in you have essentially every major modification that the aircraft had. The V-1 chaser with the V-1650-7, 150 octane fuel and 81in of manifold pressure, the standard with 150 octane boost, as well as the default V-1650-5 and optional <engine> really just bring things together. If that’s all 1CGS did, it’d be pretty good but they went further. There’s the three gunsights listed above with US standard, K-14 lead computing gunsight, and British <> sight. There’s the default canopy hood and the Spitfire sourced Malcolm hood which offers better visibility and was a common modification.
The aircraft even sports the US and British versions of the 500 and 1000lb bomb. Take all of these together and the P-51B in IL-2: Battle of Normandy might be the most accurate representation of the Mustang Mark III that I’ve ever seen in a combat flight sim. It’s oft neglected as a key variant of the P-51B and its not like the P-51B is always paid attention to in the first place. I just love the attention to detail.
I’ve enjoyed and found purpose for every aircraft that 1CGS has put into the Great Battles Series but the P-51B feels extra special to me. It might be the modifications, the incredible performance, the legendary nature of the Mustang, or something else but my first flights with the P-51B had me feeling excited and enjoying the experience more than usual. That feeling hasn’t changed over the course of several dozen flights.
I love flying the P-51B and I deeply appreciate all of the little details inside and out on this aircraft. This aircraft is a real gem and one that helps make the Normandy add-on such a great compliment to the rest of the IL-2 series. Fast, fun, and perhaps the most complete P-51B Mustang experience that I’ve ever seen. 1CGS has taken a lesser modeled Mustang and turned it into one of their best modeled aircraft.