The story of the Lockheed P-38 is well-known to readers of sites such as this one. The mount of America's greatest fighter ace, its twin-boom silhouette was as distinctive to friend and foe during the war as it is to us aero-buffs ever since.
What is less known is its uniqueness beyond the shape: The Lightning was the only WWII fighter of its class to actually succeed in its design role. While the concept of a 'heavy escort'--a twin-engine aircraft packing significant punch not to defend a single point on the ground but possessing the range to instead hang with vulnerable bombers all the way to and from their targets--was very much in vogue in the late 1930s, only the P-38 would actually be successful as a daytime 'scrapper'. This was on account of its single-seat, high-wing-loading design formula, and a good set of supercharged engines. In contrast, its contemporaries in other air forces, the Beaufighter, Ki-45, Bf-110, Potez 630, and the like, saddled with multiple crewmembers and more conservative aerodynamics, would only achieve greatness by being adapted to other roles. Only the RAF's rakish Westland Whirlwind might have achieved similar success as a pure fighter, but was never really given the chance with a proper development program.
A minor point of nomenclature: there were no A through C -series aircraft, the first production model being the D, which was still effectively a development batch. Only with the E , which began trickling out of Lockheed's factory doors in Burbank two months before Pearl Harbor, would an actual combat-ready product finally reach the squadrons. While the many imperfections were being wrassle'd out in dozens of these prototype aircraft which had meanwhile been spurting off the line in fits and starts, the basic excellence of the design was never in doubt, the wing even being scaled up to serve as the basis for the Constellation airliner--another classic Lockheed product.
While produced in six major lettered variants, the basic airframe remained unchanged throughout. Differences were mostly in minor improvements, and can be generalized as 'late' with the functionally-definitive blunt oil/intercooler combination intakes behind the propellers and 'early' with the sleeker, prettier engine cowlings.
These 'early' versions--the E thru H--have not been well-served in any scale. In 1/72, we had the old Revell and Airfix offerings. These weren't bad, but were products of their time with boiler-plate rivets on the Airfix offering and opened engine and gun bay panels on the Revell kit that were hard to model closed. Worse, both featured incorrectly the 'late'-style bulbous radiator housing on the aft booms, a more subtle goof. Hasegawa in the mid-70s made a brave attempt to cover both early and late versions with a kit featuring optional canopies and lower cowls, but again missed the different radiators aft.
About 2009, RS Models of the Czech Republic changed all that with this release. At least eight different boxings cover all early versions plus the recon F-4/5. A soft-mold short run kit, three sprues of matte grey parts, a little baggie of resin, instructions, decals, and an injection molded canopy greet you upon popping open the flimsy end-opening box and spilling the contents. Two of the cowlings suffer from apparently damaged molds and replacements are supplied. Surface detail is beautifully recessed, petite, and consistent. Booms are split for some reason not only laterally but also for some malevolent reason fore and aft. Kit is otherwise engineered like Hasegawa's, and comparing the parts revealed an almost perfect match. Might we have a derivative on our hands?
I had read a review or two absolutely slamming this kit for its "unbuildability" shortly after its release. Wanting an early Lightning in my lineup and seeing that this was nonetheless probably my best option, I ordered one to see if it was as bad as all that.
Spoiler alert: it turned out to be a good kit in the end. But a thorough inspection and test-fit revealed three problems which I believe were the genesis of said reviewers' Tragic Modeling Experiences: 1) Cowl parts are reverse-numbered in the instructions and "handed", 2) an illogical assembly sequence virtually guaranteeing failure, and 3)--discovered as assembly commenced--a cockpit vs. nose wheel well conflict of nearly 3/16". These are in addition to the inherent challenge already organic to modeling any pod-and-boom aircraft, threatening alignment issues!
Therefore, follow my recommended assembly sequence:
1) The nose wheel well and cockpit were assembled and detailed (the kit's cockpit is reasonably represented, but a bit more effort adding wiring to the radio boxes aft and seatbelts up front goes a long way). I shaved a little off the cockpit sidewalls to reduce the assembly's height by 1/16". The nose wheel well halves were glued together and that assembly's height was reduced by 1/8". After test fitting, both were glued in place and test fit once more before being set aside to cure. This killed Problem #3 right out of the gate.
2) The left forward segments of the booms were glued to the left aft portions and allowed to fully cure taped to a flat surface. This gave me two left-hand boom halves. I did so over 1/72 plans to ensure nothing angled funny up or down, but you can achieve the same end by keeping in mind that the boom's upper surface was a straight line from the vertical fins almost to the propeller spinner. The right-hand pieces were similarly assembled against the left halves, but not to them at this time, taped, and allowed to cure. This gave me two sets of boom halves.
3) The boom halves were then glued together, but only aft of the main wheel wells at this time. Note that you'll need to eliminate a bunch of ejection-tower 'nubs' inside the boom halves to get the main wheel-well inserts to fit. This allowed me to deal with the fit against the wing fairings in a separate operation. The boom fronts were then glued to deal with the fit against the front wing fairings, checking the fit of the cowl 'chin' pieces which were glued at the same time.
I know this is all horribly pedantic reading, but do you see my tactic? By dealing with only one joint area per session, I isolated the fit and alignment problems and dealt with them one at a time, which kept them all from ganging up on me later. Divide and conquer!
4) I finished this search-and destroy sweep by then dry-fitting the completed booms to the wing/cockpit assembly, then test-fitting the horizontal stab between them. This only required a bit of sanding to be perfect. The lower pod half was dry-fit under the wing, squeezing the sides to achieve an almost perfect fit, then glued (Oh, yeah--and don't forget to pack as much bird-shot into that nose as you can manage! I underestimated and had to drill and insert some more after painting and finishing was done). Outer wing lowers were dry-fit. Canopy was glued and masked at this time.
5) Before general assembly, the radiators aft were fit and glued. This was the only area which required filler along the whole joint, and also I'd recommend sanding their widths down about 1/16": nothing major, but their intakes are a bit yawning compared to photos of the real thing.
6) Steps 1-5 above had sucked up about 20 hours of my life, but general assembly could now be done almost all at once, and it occurred without further draaama. Booms were glued to the wing and stab glued to the booms. This was allowed to cure before the outer wing lowers went on, also left to cure.
To make a correct "H" you need to add the colored signal lamps on the bottom of the fuselage pod. I also added a landing light under one wing, using an MV Products lens, following somewhat ambiguous information that H-models didn't always have them under both.
It all followed standard model-building procedure
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
White primer was applied, followed with a preshading. The effect of technique is somewhat lost in 1/72 owing to the P-38's petite proportions. Standard USAAF OD/Medium Grey camouflage then was sprayed using Testor's square-bottle enamels, lightened with a bit of white. Remember that USAAF underside grey was a much darker color than most modelers realize, being really close in shade to the OD. Two coats of Future prepped the surface for decals.
Five attractive marking options are supplied with the kit, one of these actually being a "G". The decals are among the best I've ever used out of the box. I selected Maj. Mark Shipman's Skylark IV because I didn't have a red-bordered US insignia in my lineup and liked the nose-art. Another coat of Future sealed these in, and I applied a wash of dark-grey enamel. I then finely shot a little off-white behind the superchargers to simulate the prominent exhaust staining the P-38 acquired very quickly in service.
Wheels, doors, drop tanks, and guns were then painted and attached. The resin .50 barrels are nice, but the longest one snapped off during my last finishing session. I replaced it with a milled-brass item from Master Models that I happened to have on hand, and you can just discern the superiority of this Polish company's product in the close-up shot.
I'm really pleased with the result. But don't try this one unless you've had a few limited-run kits under your belt!
One other thing: besides the aforementioned radiator
Highly recommended to the incorrigible among us.
P-38 Lightning in Detail and Scale (Part 1) Bert Kinzey. Squadron Signal Publications, 1998
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