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  • Writer's pictureJ.K. Caldwell

ScaleWings SW-51 Mustang

Double O Seven

First Impressions:  You know all those feelings that you get when beholding a P-51 Mustang?  Awe. Nostalgia. Inspiration. But mostly awe.  Perhaps your heart beats a little faster and your palms sweat a little?  Well, these are the same feelings you get when you look at the SW-51.  Those responses alone are a testament to how well this 70% replica was designed and manufactured.  It looks like a real P-51D from a distance; even more remarkably, it looks like one close up! 


Background:  ScaleWings was founded in 2017 by a team of passionate aviators from Germany and Austria with backgrounds in innovation, engineering, finance and management.  Their mission was to utilize breakthroughs in carbon fiber technologies, CAD programming and advanced avionics in the art of aircraft model making.  Their goal was to excite the General Aviation world by providing a realistic and practical 70% scale Mustang at a significantly more affordable price than an actual P-51.  With their headquarters near Munich and their factory in the “Aviation Valley” of Poland, today, ScaleWings employs more than 70 designers and artisans. 


Purchasing a ready-to-fly SW-51 is the start of an enjoyable and memorable adventure that combines a streamlined build experience at their Krosno, Poland factory with a culturally rich travel experience to Krakow (one of the most beautiful cities in the world). 


In the scale replica world, it’s all about percentages.  A SW-51 can be acquired for about 10% of the cost of a real P-51.  The real kicker is you can operate a SW-51 for below 5% of the operating costs of a real Mustang while enjoying 90% of the fun.  (Ok, I made the fun percentage up, but it’s probably close!)


Design Characteristics:  This SW-51, serial number 007, definitely has that James Bond vibe.  Gunmetal grey and black, this 70% scale Mustang is a Walther PPK with wings.  The first time I saw the rivets and screw heads in the wings, it was difficult to convince my brain that the wings are completely carbon fiber.  Even the tail feathers appear to be fabric-covered, complete with pinked tape and rib-stitching details.  They’ve even perfected a paint that looks indistinguishable from polished aluminum.  Over 100,000 details are pre-formed in the molds.  As far as I am aware, this level of detail in a composite aircraft is found nowhere else.  Of course, with a scaled replica, there will be some compromises, but they are well-handled in the SW-51 design.  The canopy slides aft about 8-inches and then swings open to the right for easy access to the rear cockpit.  ScaleWings now offers a locking position 4-inches aft of the canopy bow, which allows the canopy to be partially open inflight.  Everything on this airplane is designed and built with precision.  Even the three .50 caliber gun ports on each wing serve as landing lights and are HOTAS-selectable to flicker if you’d like to simulate spitting lead at a Focke-Wulf. 


Powerplant:  There is no 70% scale Merlin (engine) hiding under the cowling, as the six exhaust stacks per side suggest.  There are plenty of other scaled P-51 designs on the market, many with modified automotive engines, but ScaleWings purposely steered away from such designs to give customers a reliable, less maintenance-intensive powerplant.  The turbocharged Rotax 915is was an easy choice and it fits nicely, requiring no cowling modifications. Even the P-51’s distinctive radiator belly scoop is used for the Rotax radiator.  One difference from a full-scale Mustang is the prop diameter.  A 70% scaled propeller would measure 94-inches, which a Rotax was not designed to turn.  An MT four-bladed, hydraulicly controlled 71-inch constant speed propeller was chosen because, well, a Mustang must have a four-bladed prop!  When turning, the diameter difference is not noticeable. 

There is a 12.5-gallon fuel tank in each wing.  Although the outer wing tank caps on 007 are not real, a buyer can opt for an additional tank in each wing for a total of 47 gallons.  Depending on the cruise power setting, this will provide about five hours of endurance, with reserves. 


Safety:  Carbon fiber is not just light; it is also strong, which is why it has gained popularity in aviation in recent years.  Furthermore, it is highly resistant to corrosion - a huge factor to those who live near coastlines.  Should the engine fail, the SW-51 not only has a generous glide ratio of 11:1, but it has the option to deploy a GRS (Galaxy Recovery System) parachute.  Each landing gear has its own electric motor to extend the main landing gear in about 2.5 seconds and the tailwheel about one second later.  Should one of the electric motors fail, one of three corresponding red handles, located at the bottom of the center console in the front seat, can be pulled to extend that gear.  This ingenious design uses a coiled spring, mounted directly behind each electric motor.  When the appropriate handle is pulled, a cable releases a pin that allows the tensioned spring to uncoil and turn the rotary gear until the over-center mechanism locks the landing gear into place. 


Ergonomics:  Both the front and aft rudder pedals are adjustable, and seat height is adjustable by adding or removing a cushion.  The layout includes a circuit breaker panel on the right, and throttle, prop control, and tailwheel lock handle on the left.  The shielded instrument panel contains a full Garmin suite with the G3X multi-function display as the centerpiece.  Even though the SW-51 is certified as experimental, all switches, wiring, and hardware are certified aircraft parts.  The cockpit layout makes sense, but doing a blind cockpit check is a good idea in any plane in which you don’t want to spend a lot of “heads down time” in…which, in my opinion, is all of them.


Taxi/Takeoff:  Turn master, EFIS, fuel pump, and both lane switches on.  Push the start button and even a cold Rotax will roar to life.  A unique feature that makes taxiing easier is a small camera, mounted in the belly scoop.  You can select the camera’s video display on the G3X for a quick scan of what is in front of you while taxiing, eliminating the need to make large swerves to clear the way visually.  The tailwheel locks by pulling and twisting a lever mounted under the throttle, making it easy to taxi in a straight line.  Unlock the lever to make sharp turns, using differential braking.  After the pre-takeoff checks are completed, line-up on centerline, and ensure the tailwheel is locked.  Smoothly add full power and work the rudders as required.  At about 40 knots, you can push the tail up for a better view.  After lift-off, the gear is retracted with a switch at the top of the instrument panel.  Once clean, the SW-51 accelerates fast.  Even at max gross weight, you will see nearly a 2,000 feet-per-minute climb rate. 


Flight Characteristics:  The SW-51 is 70% the size of a P-51, but only 16% of the weight. This means performance!  The roll rate and elevator authority make the SW-51 fly like the sub-scale fighter it is.  Scaled from arguably the best fighter ever built, the fact it can turn, roll, loop and dive with grace is no big shocker.  The SW-51 can turn on a dime, thanks to its light weight and wing-loading.  Surprisingly, the roll rate feels as responsive during slow flight as it does during high speed.  All flight regimes offer very smooth control due in part to the carbon-fiber pushrods and precision-balanced controls.


This aircraft is a fun weekend flyer, perfect for giving Young Eagle rides or just decompressing from a long work week.  But it is actually a very practical and efficient cross-country machine.  You can cruise above 155 KTAS at 10,000 to 12,000 feet burning only 8 to 9 gph.  Oh, and there’s plenty of room behind the aft seat for a few days’ worth of luggage. 


Landing:  Manage your speed to arrive less than 90-knots abeam the numbers.  The panel-mounted flap switch is selectable from 0 to 30 degrees in 10-degree increments.  The landing gear is extended via an electrical switch at the top of the panel.  If you have the belly scoop-mounted camera selected on the split screen G3X display, you can watch the main gear swing out. Three green lights illuminate when the gear is down and locked.  Use 75-knots on final and transition to the flare while reducing power to idle.  I can personally attest that the SW-51 handles a direct 15-knot crosswind well.  As with a real P-51, a wheel landing is the preferred choice.  The tailwheel can remain locked as you exit the runway, unless you need to make a 90-degree turn.  After shutting down in the line, it’ll be hard to not pat yourself on the back for being a Mustang pilot!


Wrap-up:  This beautiful plane is a meticulously built and functional piece of art but let’s not forget that the SW-51 Mustang is a modern tribute to an incredible piece of history.  It’s also insanely cool!

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