1:72 Reims Aviation MH.352 "Bastang II"; aircraft “R2118/M” of the Royal Rhodesian Air Force No. 4 Squadron; Thornhill AB, during Operation Sable, late 1972 (Whif/Italeri P-51D conversion)
+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the model, the conversion or the presented background story might be based historical facts. BEWARE!
Reims Aviation Industries was a French aircraft manufacturer located in the city of Reims. Max Holste, the company founder, built his first aircraft in 1931, a light two-seater aircraft called the SHB1. In 1946 he started his own aircraft company in downtown Reims. In the 1950s two new models were designed, in 1950 the Broussard MH.1521 and in 1959 the Super Broussard MH.260, both military utility monoplanes. Additionally, Max Holste (later renamed into Reims Aviation) developed in 1956 the Bastang MH.351, and its evolution, the MH.352.
In 1954, when France had just emerged from the Indochina war, the country was again involved in a conflict: that of the Algerian war. The General Staff was aware of the need to have a specialized aircraft in the fight against guerrilla warfare, known as the "Overseas support aircraft". The resulting requirements brochure called for a two-engine aircraft with a crew of two or three, which, in addition to the anti-guerrilla warfare, had to be capable of ground attack, air support, reconnaissance and observation.
The project was submitted to industrialists in August 1955 with the following demands: a cruising speed greater than 400 km/h, loitering time of 5 hours on an observation mission, conveying distance of 2000 km and a 300 m takeoff distance on rough terrain. The aircraft had to weigh less than 5 tons, approximately 4800 kg. The armament had to be composed of at least 2 guns against lightly armored ground targets, plus bombs and rockets. Finally, a secondary capacity of transport and liaison was added.
No less than seven aircraft manufacturers submitted their projects in early 1956, which included Fouga (CM-220), Latécoère (Laté 820/821), Nord-Aviation (North 3300), Potez (TOE or 75), SIPA (S-1100), South-East (SE- 116) and Max Holste with the MH.351.
Unlike the other projects, which were designed from scratch, Reims Aviation decided to use an existing and proven airframe as basis for a conversion - the North American P-51D from WWII, which was at that time available at low costs and in considerable numbers, and the type had already been in use with the Armée de l'Air in recent years.
The initial MH.351 was a simple but thorough conversion of the warbird: the original Merlin engine and its ventral radiator bath were omitted and the cowling replaced with a new, solid nose section that contained two 30mm DEFA cannon and four 7.62 mm FN Browning machine guns. The new engines, a pair of light Bastan turboprops, were mounted in small nacelles on the wings' leading edges, more or less in the position of the P-51’s former machine gun bays. The original tailsitter landing gear was retained, including the Mustang’s inward-retracting landing gear. Inside of the cockpit, a second seat replaced the original radio equipment bay, so that an observer or a passenger could be carried. Four underwing hardpoints outside of the propeller arc could carry light ordnance like bombs of up to 227 kg (500 lb) caliber, unguided rockets/rocket pods or wire-guided AS.12 anti- tank missiles. No defensive armament was mounted.
Two prototypes were built and presented in March 1957, but the MF.351 was, like all other contenders, rejected and remained at the draft stage. Eventually, this whole contest did not lead to any serial construction, and in March 1960 the French Air Force preferred to buy off-the-shelf A-1 Skyraider and T-28 Trojan from the USA.
However, this was not the end of Reims' ambitions, since the idea of converting a P-51 into a cheap but effective COIN/reconnaissance aircraft was appealing to many small air forces around the world In 1958, when the failure of the French design contest was already to be expected, Reims started an evolutionary development of the MH.351 Bastang as a private venture, leading to the MH.352 Bastang II.
While the MH.352 was still a modified P-51D airframe, it had a totally different look and was effectively a total reconstruction of the WWII aircraft. The nose section had been lengthened, so that it could now, beyond the gun armament, hold a well for a front wheel, effectively changing the MH.351’s tail sitter layout into a tricycle aircraft. In order to shift the center of gravity backwards and ensure a proper stance, the wings were moved back 75cm (3’ 5 ½”) and the cockpit was moved forward by 50 cm (1’ 7 ½ “) and lengthened, giving the crew of up to three more space and the pilot a better field of view forward.
The wing span was slightly extended and new, more aerodynamic tip tanks introduced. In order to improve stability, especially at low speed, the fin the stabilizers were enlarged.
The main landing gear was also modified: the main struts, equipped with low pressure tires for operations from semi-prepared airstrips, were re-located into the engine nacelles. They were attached to the wings’ rear spar and now retracted forwards into fairings behind the Bastan engines, rotating 90° to lie flat next to the Bastans’ exhausts. The space inside of the inner wings was used for additional tanks, and fixed wing tip tanks were added, too. The gun armament was not changed, but three heavy duty hardpoints were added under the inner wings and the fuselage (all plumbed for drop tanks), which allowed the carriage of bombs of up to 1.000 lb caliber each. The Bastang I’s overall ordnance capacity of maximum 3,300 lb was not improved, though.
Around the same time, a cooperative agreement was signed with Cessna to produce light aircraft for the European market. The Max Holste company was officially reborn as Reims Aviation in 1962, mainly producing the FR172 Reims Rocket, a more powerful version of the Cessna 172, and the Cessna 337 Skymaster, which was developed into the armed Reims Milirôle.
The MH.352 was met with mixed interest – while there was serious sales potential in Africa, Asia and South/Middle America, the costs for a converted, now twenty years old WWII aircraft scared off many potential buyers. Another factor was that the USA pushed their own products into the 3rd world markets with Cold War military support program and attractive products like the A-1 or the A-37. As a consequence, in the course of the MH.352’s production from 1961–1972 only 32 aircraft were built.
Major operators included Guatemala (8), (Southern) Rhodesia (6), Myanmar (4), El Salvador (3) and Honduras (3). Some machines were involved in hot conflicts in which they demonstrated their tactical worth, despite the aircraft basis’ age, especially the Rhodesian aircraft were heavily involved in several campaigns during the early Seventies. The last MH.352, in the service of the Gabon Air Force, was retired in 1982.
Length: 33 ft (10,08 m)
Wingspan (incl. tip tanks): 40 ft 11 in (12,50 m)
Height: 15 ft 11 in (4.86 m)
Wing area: 260 sq ft (24.2 m²)
Airfoil: NAA/NACA 45-100 / NAA/NACA 45-100
Empty weight: 8,535 lb (3,875 kg)
Gross weight: 9,962 lb (4,523 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 13,788 lb (6,260 kg)
Fuel capacity (incl. wing tip tanks): 470 US gal (391 imp gal; 1,780 l)
2× Turbomeca Bastan turboprops, 570 kW (760 hp) each, driving 4-bladed constant-speed,
variable-pitch propellers, 9 ft (2.75 m) diameter
Maximum speed: 500 km/h (311 mph; 270 kn) at 3,000 m (9,800 ft)
Cruise speed: 430 km/h (267 mph; 232 kn) at 6,000 ft (1,800 m)
Stall speed: 143 km/h (89 mph; 77 kn, with flaps and undercarriage down)
Recommended Mach limit 0.8
Range: 1,650 mi (1,434 nmi; 2,655 km)
Combat radius: 350 km (217 mi; 189 nmi) with 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) weapons, High-low-high profile)
Ferry range: 3,710 km (2,305 mi; 2,003 nmi, max internal and external fuel)
Service ceiling: 10,000 m (33,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 18 m/s (3,500 ft/min)
Wing loading: 39 lb/sq ft (190 kg/m2)
Power/mass: 0.18 hp/lb (300 W/kg)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 14.6
4× 7.62 mm (0.3”) FN Browning machine guns with 380 RPG
2× 30mm (1.18”) DEFA cannon with 150 RPG
7× hardpoints for a total of 3,300 lb (1.500 kg) ordnance, including bombs, unguided missiles,
gun pods and drop tanks
The kit and its assembly:
The origins of this weird build date back to 2016 – the initial spark was a discussion around the P-82 Twin Mustang at whatifmodelers.com, and what “mutations” could be created from it. One idea was a single fuselage layout with two engines in classic, wing-mounted pods, and fellow user Tophe even created a profile for this idea. The idea stuck to my mind, and the recent “More or less engines” group build at the forum was a welcome spark to tackle this project in hardware form.
However, when I dug out the ingredients, I wondered if the original idea could be taken further? I remembered some Lockheed 18 Lodestar conversions (into business aircraft) that changed the aircraft from a tail sitter to a tricycle landing gear – could this be done with a two-engine Mustang, too? Another influential factor became the real French search for an "overseas support aircraft" in the late Fifties, and a modified Mustang could well fit into the specification profile.
Said and done, I used an Italeri P-51D as a starting point, and I had a pair of 1:144 resin NK-12 turpoprops (actually for a Tu-95!) left in my aftermarket set bank, which vaguely resemble the French Bastan engines (but still turned out to be quite massive for my plans).
Even though a lot of the P-51D basis went into this build, hardly any part of the kit remained untouched or was glued into the place where it was originally planned to be. Furthermore, lots of PSR went into the construction. Major modification include:
- The windscreen was moved 5mm forward for a bigger cockpit (with 3 seats), and the sliding part of the canopy was replaced by a clear part from an 1:72 Matchbox Blackburn Buccaneer. This also necessitated a new dorsal spine as a matching rear fairing. The cockpit received a new, extended floor and two additional bucket seats
- The original landing gear wells were closed (using the OOB covers and some putty), the ventral radiator disappeared and the nose slightly trimmed down in order to make room for the elongated, narrower new front end
- A new nose section with an integral front landing gear well (made from 0.5mm styrene sheet) and lots of lead beads hidden inside was created with 2C putty, integrating a nose tip from an Airfix Westland Whirlwind
- The wings were moved backwards by 5mm, the wing span was slightly extended (each side by roughly 5mm) and finally received customized tip tanks (originally belonging to a Heller Saab J29)
- The stabilizers were replaced by larger alternatives (from a Heller He 112) and the fin was extended in order to balance the overall proportions of the airframe
- The resin engines were mounted to nacelles, scratched from 1:48 drop tanks (IIRC from an F6F). The nacelles were later cut open to provide new main landing gear wells
- The main landing gear consists of the P-51’s OOB struts and wheels, while a front leg from a Matchbox A-4M Skyhawk was used. The result is quite stalky, but the low propeller position called for this layout
- Pylons from a Matchbox Hawker Harrier were attached under the wings with an external load of a pair of drop tanks and missile launchers
This sounds simpler than it actually was to create – I can hardly remember a model kit that I modified that much and thoroughly, even though most of the original substance remained!
As a side note, concerning the Italeri kit, I must say that the kit’s material is very thin and therefore the whole structure, especially the fuselage, is rather wobbly. The kit itself is not bad at all and comes with fine, engraved panel lines and a nice range of ordnance (including six HVARs, two bombs and drop tanks), but it was not the best choice for such a thorough conversion – the Academy kit, for instance, would have been easier to work with, and even the old Match box and Heller kits had made many things easier.
Painting and markings:
Finding a suitable paint scheme or an operator caused some headaches. The initial plan was an operational Armée de l’Air aircraft, but I soon rejected this because France eventually procured US aircraft, and there was no attractive paint scheme to be found. Then I changed my plans to an exotic operator, a smaller air force e.g. in Southern/Middle America or Africa, maybe a former French colony. After long consideration I eventually settled for Southern Rhodesia in the early Seventies – the country was rather affiliated with Great Britain, but since its air force operated the Reims Milirôle around the same time, why should the procurement not encompass the Bastang II, too? This was also a nice opportunity to apply the contemporary and very unique paint scheme of many RRAF aircraft: a wraparound scheme in RAF Dark Green and Dark Earth, with the brown tone applied uniformly to the lower sides. A very strange scheme, but, after consulting landscape pictures and aerials, apparently very effective at low level. The low-viz effect was further emphasized through minimal markings, just roundels on the fuselage, a small fin flash and small/minimal tactical codes or registrations.
I adopted this design to the Bastang, an easy task with a typical RAF pattern as benchmark for the upper surfaces. The basic tones were Humbrol 163 (which has a dull, olive drab touch) and 29, the latter mixed with a little 72 for a sun-bleached, more yellow-ish look. After basic painting, I added some new panel lines with a pencil and gave the kit a light black ink wash. Then the virtual panels were further emphasized through post-shading with slightly lighter mixes of the basic tones.
Internally, things remained very conservative. I gave the landing gear wells and their covers a zinc yellow primer finish, while the struts became aluminum. The cockpit was painted in Dark Gull Grey (Humbrol 140).
The Rhodesian markings come from an Xtradecal Hawker Hunter sheet, the tactical code was slightly changed and I added a yellow, RAF-style code letter on the fin for individual identification. Some stencils were added from the scrap box, but, just like in real life, the aircraft remained pretty devoid of any markings.
A very tough project, more ambitious and riddled with realization problems than the first look might reveal. It is also amazing that, even though roughly 80% of the original P-51D kit were used and donor parts are few, the whole thing looks so different from its WWII ancestor – like a crossbreed between a Shorts Tucano and a Grumman F7F? The dull Rhodesian paint scheme adds IMHO credibility to the exotic and somewhat purposeful-looking aircraft, only the stalky landing gear looks a little out of place – my fault, though, I should have placed the engines higher, above the wings, but it was already too late before I realized this mistake. Nevertheless, considering the effort and the risks that went into the build, I am happy with the outcome: A Mustang with more engines than usual, and a further evolutionary step from the original mono-fuselage P-82 idea from 2016. I am also amazed how well the simple paint scheme works over the real landscapes of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe!