By any number of surveys, the P-51 Mustang is one of the most admired airplanes in the history of aviation. Even though that statement sounds bold — on the verge of exaggeration — most readers will surely agree.
Like most aviators, I’ve never flown in an original P-51, although I have flown in a light kit version called the 5151 and a closer-to-original-size S-51. The Loehle Aviation version was made entirely of wood and had a Rotax two-stroke engine. While it had the right basic shape, it was docile to fly … unlike the immensely powerful original, I’m told. The Stewart Aircraft iteration was bigger and bold, powered by a 450-horsepower Corvette engine.
However, while both were close-enough recreations of the original to be desirable, even a non-pilot could tell they were replicas. I see nothing wrong with that, but is it simply too challenging to make one that looks truly like the original? It turns out the answer is “no.” Someone finally did do so.
At the Aero 2013 in southern Germany, I discovered the most detailed P-51 replica I have ever seen. Offered by manufacturer FK Lightplanes of Poland, the design by Austria-based ScaleWings AeroTec revealed the most authentically realistic reproduction of a 70% scale P-51 Mustang you can imagine.
Most replicas are forced to approximate some qualities, but FK Lightplanes and ScaleWings made what they are now calling SW51 into something stunning, down to the last rivet. It is literally beyond what you can envision without seeing the construction in person. Fortunately, Americans will be able to do that in 2015.
Originally named FK51, SW51 reproduces the 100,000 or so rivets and screws that put together an original World War II North American P-51 Mustang. The SW51 work is all done in composite so those are not real screws or rivets, but you’d have to be a P-51 expert to tell the difference, even when you put your hand on the skin to be sure your eyes are not deceiving you. SW51 is magnificent!
“Every rivet row, every screw and every maintenance door matches the original plane,” said creator ScaleWings. A reported 40,000 man hours have been invested.
This amazing imitation is represented in the USA by light aircraft expert and former airline pilot Jon Hansen of Hansen Air Group. Jon reported that SW51 took its maiden flight in October 2014 and the initial flight went very well.
“It looks to exceed our flight expectations for it,” exclaimed Jon.
With demand already spiking, FK Lightplanes’ Poland factory will be working to build about one SW51 per week. The design has been optimized not only for a very high degree of authenticity, but for swifter production.
Jon explained that using modern CAD manufacturing, the assembly of the components can happen fairly fast.
“When the fuselage halves go together, much of the wiring and other details will already be in place,” Jon explained.
A European-style ultralight version will have retractable gear and in-flight adjustable prop because this configuration is allowed under rules in the European Union.
“For the USA, we will be offering a Light-Sport Aircraft version with fixed gear and propped to stay within the 120 knot limit of LSA,” clarified Jon.
According to those associated with this creation, the tight LSA weight limits will not pose a problem because the design is created for sale in Europe as well, where all-up weight cannot exceed 472.5 kilograms (1,041 pounds), a figure that includes the airframe parachute as required by German regulations.
However, this is no lightweight; SW51 is also designed to accommodate aerobatic flying.
Developer ScaleWings said, “Our Mustang is an absolutely true to original replica of the legendary P-51 Mustang.”
SW51 will be produced in a complex but extremely strong carbon-honeycomb construction, which helps assure an extremely lightweight construction with maximum strength.
SW51 Mustang will look deceptively similar to the original Mustang in all surface details. To be sure structures and aerodynamics were professionally engineered, ScaleWings worked closely with the founder of FK Lightplanes, Peter Funk. Using his many years of aircraft design experience, Peter is responsible for the aerodynamic and static design, structural layout, dimensioning, load tests, flight tests and the certification of the SW51 Mustang, said ScaleWings. This was a smart decision as today Peter focuses on engineering and new development having turned over manufacturing over to Rolland Hallam in Poland.
We see that yellow taildragger “Cubalikes” sell briskly in the USA where many aviators evidently have a sweet spot for vintage aircraft. Yet none that I recall inspire the intensity of interest as does a P-51 Mustang, easily one of the most highly regarded aircraft of all time.
The problem is that only a very limited number of people can afford an original and probably even fewer are qualified to fly one. So, for true accuracy in recreating the original and made available in fully-built form, SW51 from FK Lightplanes and ScaleWings looks hard to beat.
Jon Hansen and the folks in Poland believe most SW51s will sell in the USA. The first example in America should be available for close-up viewing at SUN ‘n FUN. This is one you won’t want to miss.