Don Gentile’s North American P-51B Mustang “Shangri-La” Color Photographs

P-51 B/C Mustang kits in 1/72 scale all have had some nagging inaccuracies, usually in the cowling and / or leading edge of the wings. Modelers have long awaited an accurate kit, and now Arma from Poland has announced a new tool offering. Given their previous releases and the CAD renders, hopes are high that their kit will fill the void. In anticipation, I have begun researching the high-backed Mustangs. One of the more interesting and better documented subjects is Don Gentile’s “Shangri-La”.
Major Dominic “Don” Salvatore Gentile was one of the leading American aces in the European Theater. Ground kills were credited to a pilot’s totals in the ETO.  Including those some sources credit Gentile with thirty victories. Here Gentile poses for the press in his cockpit, Shangri-La displays twenty-one victory symbols.
Crew chief John Ferra helps Gentile with his seat harness straps. Several details are visible in this photograph. Gentile’s P-51B was serial number 43-6913, coded VF-T. Gentile volunteered for the RCAF and flew Spitfires the RAF’s Eagle Squadron, scoring his first two victories during Operation Jubilee.
Photographs from the starboard side are comparatively rare, the press preferring to include the artwork and scoreboard painted on the port side. Note the white recognition stripe on the wing, and the unpainted edge of the flap. The flaps and inner wheelwell doors on the P-51 were held in position with hydraulic pressure. When the engine was off the hydraulic pump was off and the pressure in the system dropped, causing the flaps and wheel covers to droop when the aircraft was parked.
Gentile poses by the nose. The ragged edge of the red paint on the spinner presents a quandary for modelers – an accurate depiction can be mistaken for sloppy modeling. Fortunately there is a way to avoid the issue in this case as the spinner was later painted entirely red as can be seen in the first photograph.
Gentile with his wingman John Godfrey. An ace in his own right, Godfrey named his Mustang “Reggie’s Reply” and was credited with 16.33 victories.
Another view from the same series of photographs, this one showing the identification stripe on the wheel cover and the red wheel hub.
Gentile_08_P-51 B Don Gentile
A beautiful color profile of 43-6913 by aviation artist Claes Sundin. If you are not familiar with Sundin’s work, you may view samples and order his books here:
The Press were very interested in Gentile’s accomplishments, and he played up the swashbuckling fighter pilot image. Returning to Debden from the last scheduled mission of his combat tour on 13APR44 the Press were waiting and Gentile put on a show, making several low passes for the photographers gathered below.
Gentile miscalculated his height and his propeller struck the ground. Shangri-La was destroyed, but Gentile walked away. 4th Fighter Group CO Colonel Don Blakeslee grounded Gentile on the spot.
Back in the U.S. the public affairs types were not yet finished with Gentile. He received a new “Shangri-La”, this time a P-51D, and went on a War Bonds tour. This aircraft displayed a wrap-around checkerboard on the nose and thirty victories.
Gentile in his dress uniform poses with his P-51D. Gentile survived the war but was killed in January 1951 while flying a T-33 Shooting Star trainer.