By: Jeff Brundt – November 2019
If there was any subject that was crying out for a new tool injection molded model it was the P-38 Lightning. Prior to today the choices the modeler had for a Lightning were limited to the ancient Monogram kit, the newer Hasegawa, Academy versions that where then followed by Hobby Boss. While the Hasegawa and Academy kits are both are quite serviceable they still have a reputation for difficult alignment and poor fit. The Hobby Boss kit really has too many inaccuracies to even consider. Tamiya’s recent release however, leaves all those previous kits in the dust, in terms of engineering, fit, detail and ease of assembly. From start to finish it’s a joy.
Tamiya engineering has overcome many of the issues that have plagued other P-38 kits. Firstly the fit between the booms and wing has parts joined along natural panel lines. Parts interlock and fit without the need for glue to hold them together. Tamiya’s ingenious use of ball bearings and how they mount solve the ever present issue of tail sitting on this aircraft.
There are 207 parts, molded in Tamiya’s typical grey plastic, 18 clear parts with self-adhesive masks included, three chrome ball bearings for weight to prevent tail sitting and a decal sheet with markings for two aircraft. Surface texture is very nice with finely recessed panel lines and no pebbly finish. There are no gimmicks, open doors, moveable parts or photo etch to worry about. There are some inserts to allow future variants but these inserts fit beautifully due to Tamiya’s excellent engineering.
You have options for building either the F or G variant. The instructions are clearly marked for so you do have to worry about a mix up when building. There are two canopy options depending on which version you choose. You can display either the opened canopy or closed canopy. You have the option of a boarding ladder to be displayed opened or closed, but will need to decide which you want early in the build, so plan accordingly. A seated pilot is also included. There are two full size color sheets that printed on both sides; one for each version with painting and markings.
The cockpit and wheel wells are very detailed for a kit straight from the box. There are decals for the instrument panel, one for each depending on which version you build. The doors for the main landing gear are cleverly designed so they can be installed later, after you paint. They simply slot into the booms. The doors fit into the slots well enough you don’t even have to glue them. The door parts are marked and keyed so you don’t have the risk of installing them incorrectly. The decal sheet includes small chrome pieces to simulate the chromed cylinders on the gear struts. That is a first.
Masking clear parts with lots of glazing frames is never fun but Tamiya’s masks make the job very easy. Just use a sharp knife to cut them out and place per the instructions. Each mask is labeled with an ID and orientation arrow. The fit of the clear parts was well enough I was able to use the closed canopy and temporarily glue it in place with white glue to use as a mask instead of having to mask the cockpit opening. Tamiya has also correctly depicted the counter rotating propellers. The propellers mount using nylon bushings in the hub and have the ability to turn. Just make sure to put the correct prop on the correct side of the plane.
With all the good that’s not to say there aren’t some issues. For some reason Tamiya chose not to depict the cooling holes in the nose mounted .50’s. They opted to use decals to represent the gun barrels. I can honestly say this is a first that I have seen this in all my years of modeling. I opted to use the Master Barrels P-38 early brass gun barrel set to replace the kit offering. Another minor issue is the tread pattern on the tires. Early Lightnings had a block tread on the nose and main wheels but the kit wheels have a diamond tread. I thought this was odd but after doing some Google searching and seeing the exact plane that Tamiya used for reference during their design I can see why they did the tread the way they did.
Tamiya is always faithful to the research subject they use. Lastly, Tamiya chose to use decals to depict the seat belts. I can see why they do this. It’s easy and to be frank, nicer than molded in belts (which would not easily allow a seated pilot which is included). Some modelers will want to replace the belt decals with either photo etch or fabric belts for added realism. These issues are minor and in no way lessen the enjoyment of this kit.
Both depicted versions in the kit are in the early version of OD on the topside with neutral grey underside. I chose the P-38F, White 33, 39th FS, 35th FG, 5th Air Force, Port Moresby, late 1942. This aircraft features sharks mouths and eyes on the engine nacelles. The other included markings are for a P-38G Lightning – White 147 of 339th FS, 347th FG, 13th Air Force, Operation Vengeance (attack on Admiral Yamamoto’s aircraft based on Guadacanal in April 1943).
I used MRP paint for my model for the main airframe colors but the instructions call out all the required Tamiya colors. There are a lot of stencil data decals to apply (over 100) so be prepared. Don’t worry though, the marking guide shows where they all go. It is just very time consuming to put them all on if that’s what you choose to do. I used Solvaset sparingly as Mark Fit Strong didn’t seem to affect them. The shark mouth decals fit very well with little fuss.
Assembly of the kit is straightforward. The cockpit is first. I was able to do most of the part painting while they were still on the sprue trees. For the supercharger exhausts I did not glue those in early as the instructions would have. That was so I could paint them their rusty color separate and install later once the airframe was painted. If you keep the pieces separate you can fit them later and they will drop right in. There are some holes that need to be drilled for the aux fuel tank mounts and these are different depending on which tanks you decide to use. The larger tanks have additional sway brace mounting holes and if you forget those, it will be harder to figure out where they need to be drilled once the wing halves are joined.
I also left off the landing gear and gear doors until after the main colors were painted. You will have some gear door link rods that are thin and fragile to deal with so try not to set the plane down on them during the build and painting process. Care is also required when masking the main gear bays with these rods because they can be easily damaged. The only real tricky part was the armored glass behind the wind screen. The instructions were a bit unclear to me at least, on how to go about the installation. I did some Google image searching and was able to see how the real thing looked and that helped a lot. Since these parts have to be glued to the clear windscreen piece I used Micro Krystal Klear for these parts. It helps that the IP coaming cover is part of this and helps hold things together but anytime clear parts and plastic cement meet anxiety levels increase.
So there you have the high points. I cannot state enough how well engineered this kit is. Tamiya seems to out do themselves with each new release lately. If you love the P-38, World War II warbirds or are just a fan of great kits then this one is for you. The phrase ‘highly recommended’ is greatly overused in the model review world but in this case it is justly deserved.
Many thanks to Kevin and Mark Twain Hobby for the kit.