Dragon 1/72 P-38M

KIT #: 5019
DECALS: One version


The dedicated night-fighter was born in World War II. Early efforts to attack the new breed of fast-flying bombers included ground controlled radar guiding a searchlight equipped plane towards enemy bombers, which would light up the targets for regular day fighters to attack.

Not surprisingly this wasn't very effective and it was the new invention of radar that made the night-fighter a real proposition.

By the end of the war a wide range of aircraft had been fitted with radar, and the roll-call of night-fighters includes the popular-with-modellers purpose-designed P-61, the modified work-horses like the Bf-110 and Ju-88, and tricked-out high performance fighters like the P-38 Lightning.

The P-38M was an interim solution - a small extra cockpit was built into the plane's central pod and a short guy could squeeze in there with his feet either side of the pilot sitting in front of him. A small AN/APS-6 radar apparatus was installed in a little pod under the nose. Apart from that and the bubble canopy over the new rear cockpit, the P-38M was basically a standard Lightning. It still carried the heavy armament of four .50 cal machine guns and a 20mm cannon. Apparently its performance was more or less the same as a regular Lightning.

There were 75 P-38Ms built and, according to Wikipedia, some of them served in World War II but didn't see combat. Tell that to the guy who painted the box art!

You can read more historical information about the P-38M right here on MM in a review of the Trumpeter 1/32 P-38 converted by Tom Cleaver to a P-38M.


This one is an older kit and my example showed it with a reasonable amount of flash.

The cockpit detail is quite sparse aside from a nice instrument panel for the pilot. Other detail is reasonable and the panel lines are nicely engraved.

It includes two drop tanks in that distinctive Lightning style and comes with underwing rocket launcher racks and the rockets to mount on them as well.

Another Dragon Lightning is previewed right here on Modeling Madness  The Night Fighter kit does not come with the PE that's in the previewed recon Lightning kit.


I bought this to join in the Modeling Madness "WW2 Twins" Group Build. I rarely build WW2 subjects, and when I do, they are normally "turn and burn" HobbyBoss easy kits. Naively I saw a Dragon kit on the shelf at my local shop and thought "Dragon, how bad can it be?". I stopped at a tiny fishing supplies place near my LHS and picked up a pocketful of little lead weights. It was pretty obvious that this model would need a ton of ballast up front.  Later I discovered that some people think this kit is not so hot, and that it is over-engineered.

Well, I didn't let that stop me and I began up front by putting together the cockpit. This happens with relative ease but there was some flash to clear out and also plenty of moulding artifacts which I didn't bother to fill on the grounds they would be invisible at the end. The detail in here is quite sparse - a nice raised instrument panel for the pilot and a barely detailed radar set with scope for the shrimp in the back.

I put a bucketload of lead in the nose to be sure I wouldn't get a tail-sitter.

Getting the cockpit into the central fuselage pod is fairly easy but it shows the overall fit of the kit to be less-than-perfect. I was a bit surprised, but then I haven't build a Dragon kit in a long time. I remembered them fitting better, but was probably comparing them to old-school Airfix.

Still, it isn't appalling. It's just that you need a bit of putty here and there.

Remember to put some kind of blanking inside the rear air intakes either side of each boom. I just used plastic card and painted it black.

I forgot to drill out the holes for the inboard drop tanks and for the outboard rocket launcher rails. Ooops.

The rest of the plane goes together fairly easily. There's a bit of filling to be done where the wings join the fuselage, but the twin booms fit nicely. Getting the tail together isn't too hard either. The undercarriage takes a bit of patience and I needed to trim the front parts to get them to fit into the nose bay. The main bays have a long bent pipe or tube running front-rear and it is quite hard to tell from the instructions how that should be installed. In the end I used my best guess, based on the idea that the big kink in the tube was meant to accommodate the main wheel when retracted.  I tried to line it up with that in mind. I put the doors on here too, which was delicate and took a few tries. They fell of several times during the rest of the build.

By that stage, you're basically done. Install the machine guns up front, which is easy. I drilled out the front of the 20mm cannon but didn't have a drill bit thin enough to do the machine guns. Now you need to add the canopy and propellers and you're ready to go.

Doing those last two steps isn't so easy though. My canopy didn't end up fitting perfectly, and it was hard to squeeze it down because there were so many breakable things in the way of getting a secure grip. I got it in the end but needed to fill the gaps either side with little bubbles of paint. The props are a mighty hassle. I much prefer a single-moulded prop than a two piece spinner to which you need to add each blade individually. Boring! And hard. Right at the end I had to actually sand down the mounting points so the prop unit would actually sit flush on the engine area. Doing so I broke off two of the very flimsy landing gear bay doors. Still, I got it in the end.

I decided to leave off the rocket racks and rockets.


Hmm. Once there were two kinds of black: matt and gloss. Now of course, in modeling's Golden Age, there are all kinds of blacks. Well, I decided on the middle ground - I used Tamiya Semi-gloss black (acrylic X-18). I figured that was about right. Two brush-coated coats was all I applied. Inside the wheel wells and cockpit I used the closest approximation I have to the colours I see in other people's builds.

I painted the area where the turbochargers are in accordance with this colour photo of the same aircraft:

The Dragon decals go on relatively easily but they are quite silvery despite the semi-gloss finish. It's only noticeable under direct harsh light, so I didn't worry too much. Apart from the US insignia and some numbering, there are just a large number of red stencils to apply. Unusually for me, I applied most of these, because the little splotches of red break up the otherwise pretty monotonous (but still good-looking) overall black finish.


A good kit that needed a bit more work than I might have expected from Dragon. Patience is called for on the undercarriage, canopy and props. Decals are a bit silvery.

Don't forget the nose weight!

Not a totally straightforward build, but easy enough. Recommended for anyone with a basic skill set and who won't freak out at the thought of 20 minutes of putty and sanding. Some steps require patience and a steady hand.


Wikipedia, and the following photographs of the aircraft 7234 represented by this kit:

Richard F

January 2012

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