Paragon/Xtraparts P-38 Photo Recon Conversions

KIT #:
REVIEWER: Andrew Garcia
NOTES: 1/48 Scale. Issued initially under Xtraparts label and now OOP. Included clear plastic sheet for the camera windows. Well cast, bubble free resin. Excellent shape and dimensions.


There are two subjects that need to be covered in conjunction with this review. First is the resin product line from Xtraparts/Paragon Design’s and second is the evolution of the P-38 Lighting photo reconnaissance airframe that this series of products are closely tied to.

 A short time after Hasegawa released its P-38 Lightning kits in 1/48th scale, circa 2003, I found Xtraparts resin conversion sets that would enable me to model some 1/48th scale P-38 photo recon Lightning’s.  Xtraparts was the initial branding for some superb conversion resin parts that came to my attention in the 1990’s. It was the same product sold as Paragon Designs which went on and off dormant around 2002 finally announcing a business closing on 2-16-2011. Xtraparts was an early name for Paragon Designs, or were made by Paragon Designs for Hannants.  I think Xtraparts was a very nice "house brand", like Xtracolor and Xtradecals.

Paragon Designs/Xtraparts resin sets were superb products. The parts were well designed and accurate in shape and form. The resin castings were flawless without any bubbles or pitting. The surface seemed polished and the parts were always a perfect fit lending themselves to some very nice enhancements. You could now create models for unavailable versions of many aircraft or for those who wanted improved detailing for a plastic part lacking shape accuracy – this was your go-to solution. Then a retailer sent out a message “PARAGON OUT OF BUSINESS”, this news seen on or about April 18, 2002. The message was: “You've probably heard by now that Paragon Designs from England has shut down and no more stock will be available.” Bad news travels fast.

Sad, actually terrible news, since I had used a number of their sets and they were world class. To say I was very disappointed to hear they were no longer in business was shared by many other modelers around the world. On many modeling forums we shared any news or insight with those asking how and where they could get a resin part that was no longer available from Paragon or under the Xtraparts label.

Then, I found a posting labeled “Good news: Paragon back in business” on September 11, 2004.  The bearer of good news stated: “According to a posting by Neil himself on ARC: Paragon will we back in a facility in Norwich on or about the first of December. He said he will "re-launch the Paragon range of aftermarket items. The vast majority of the old range will be available again with some new stuff in the pipeline also. If this is old news, sorry, but I haven't seen it posted here yet. Can’t wait to get the OV-10 sets! "

Great news and happiness prevailed in my household. My fondness was especially caused by the unique P-38 Lightning resin parts that Paragon Designs had provided. With the release of the 1/48th scale Hasegawa P-38 Lightning series in the fall of 2003, my desire to build some P-38 Photo Recon Lightning’s was rekindled. However, the unique P-38 photo recon noses and lack of decals for these versions were an obstacle. Then good luck prevailed.  I first found what I was looking for quite by accident. During a visit to the Hannant’s store near the underground stop in Colindale, Hendon, I found some resin bits for the photo recon lightning. I was on a business trip from the USA accompanied by my wife. She was left to travel and sightsee during the week while I tended to business. On that fateful Saturday, since she was now an “expert” in traveling the underground tube with her faithful color coded pocket map in hand she took me from central London to the Hannant’s Colindale, Hendon, UK location. Plastic nirvana and just a wonderful place to visit for a plastic modeler. There I found many P-38 Lightning related resin bits like an open front compartment exposing the inner workings of the nose gun bay, a droopsnoot, night lightning and pathfinder BTO conversion sets for the new Hasegawa release.

 I could not wait to get home and put these resin parts to good use. It has been some time since that event and only a few P-38 photo recon decals have been released, mainly for the Academy/Minicraft F-5E Photo Recon Lightning and not the many other versions. So, I am going to list here those F-4 and F-5 Lighting versions in the hope some decal maker will fill in the gaps with some colorful and at times not so colorful P-38 photo recon Lightning markings. Maybe the resin bits will get re-released or Eduard and Aires/Quickboost can take a look at adding these as part of their extensive aftermarket resin range.

There are a wide variety of nose shapes used by the P-38 for their photo recon versions. The P-38 was found to be an excellent platform for photo reconnaissance due to the large nose gun bay serving as a perfect housing for multiple cameras. Add to this the long range, speed and high altitude capability of the P-38 Lightning and it is no surprise they were converted for use as photo reconnaissance platforms starting from the initial introduction of the P-38 into the USAAF and United Kingdom (Model 322).

Here’s a quick summary of the versions with some illustrations. You will notice the Paragon Designs (and when released as Xtraparts resin) products cover the range of P-38 photo recon versions except for the F-5F version. There are a wide variety of nose shapes used by the P-38 for their photo recon versions.

P-38E airframe used for F-4-1. A total of 99 units were built all using two K-17 fixed vertical cameras.

P-38F airframe used for F-4A. A total of 20 units were built.

P-38G airframe used for F-5A. A total of 180 units were built.

P-38H airframe was not used for photo-recon. No units ordered or built.

P-38J airframe used for F-5B, F-5C & F-5E. A total of 200 F-5B units built, 128 F-5C, and 713 F-5E built.

P-38L airframe used for F-5F and F-5G. Production numbers for the F-5F airframes is unknown but the numbers built were small. A total of 63 F-5G units were built.


Xtraparts/Paragon Part #, Description and early pricing guide

XP48024         P-38E/F-4-1                $5.50

XP48025         P-38F/F-4A                 $5.50

XP48026         P-38G/F-5A                 $5.50


XP48027         P-38J/F-5C                 $5.50


XP48028         P-38L/F-5G                 $7.00 

XP48024    P-38E airframe for building an F-4-1-LO       

Editor's Note: The author did not include images of the actual resin parts, just the diagram which shows what part of the nose to cut. I have included that diagram for this entry only as an example of what is typically provided with the set. For the others, the drawing that shows the nose of the different variants is provided.

 A total of 210 P-38E’s were produced. An additional 99 were F-4-1 photo recon airframes, S/N 41-2098-2099, 2121 to 2156, 2158 to 2171, 2173 to 2218 and 2220. The F-4-1 also had an additional provision for external fuel drop tanks. The F-4-1 was produced by a simple replacement of the nose section deleting the nose guns and adding two K-14 vertical mount cameras. The airframe was also changed by the addition of extra camera controls and instruments in the cockpit in front of the control column. Unlike subsequent photo recon lightning’s, the F-4-1 were not conversions from completed fighter airframes but were in fact dedicated to the purpose while on the assembly line. In April of 1942 the first photo recon missions were flown by the 8th PRS in Port Moresby, the capital and largest city of Papua New Guinea using the F-4-1. From a modelers perspective some additional airframe details need to be kept in mind. The canopy top opens to the right and there were no identification lights under the fuselage pod. The canopy access approach limited access from only one side of the cockpit. Later P-38’s, starting during P-38F production had the canopy opening rearwards with a hinge behind the pilot’s headrest. See P-38 In Action # 1109 Squadron Signal Publications 1990 page 21. Modelers need to add a whip antenna to the top of the fuselage nose, fair over the gun ports and spent shell ejection ports.

The landing light for P-38E’s is under left wing and only this wing. The F/G/H versions had a landing light under each wing. The SRC-552-A antenna mast which appeared on the bottom of the nose of the P-38F had to be mounted on the top to avoid obstructing the view for the cameras. Three P-38E’s were delivered to the RAAF and converted by the RAAF to a photo-recon configuration similar to the F-4A version. The RAAF airframes camera ports were significantly different in shape and size to the F-4A, however. A nice conversion for this is available from Red Roo Models #RRR48145.

XP48025    P-38F airframe for building an F-4A    

A total of 527 P-38F’s were produced. In the P-38F order there were 20 F-4A-1 photo recon airframes s/n 41-2362 to 2381. The F-4A-1 photo recon was similar to the F-4-1 but it had an additional ability to mount cameras at oblique angles, and one in the nose facing forward, as well as vertically. Most were delivered in haze camouflage.


XP48026    P-38G airframe for building an F-5A    

                        P-38J airframe for building an F-5B

A total of 1082 P-38G’s were produced and 180 F-5A photo recon airframes were built from this version (F-5A-1 20 units S/N 42-12667 to 12686,; F-5A-3 20 units; F-5A-10 140 units S/N 42-12967 to 12986, 42-13067 to 13126, and 42-13267 to 13326). Most were delivered in haze camouflage. There were several F-5B camera configurations.








XP48027    P-38J airframe for building an F-5C & F-5E 

A total of 601 P-38H’s were produced and no additional photo recon airframes were built from this version according to one reference. Another text stated 128 P-38H’s were converted to F-5C-LO photo-recon aircraft so I will include it here as a FYI to keep in mind.

A total of 2,970 P-38J’s were produced. An additional 200 were F-5B-LO photo recon airframes. An unrecorded number of P-38J airframes were converted to F-5C-1-LO, F-5E-2-LO and F-5E-3-LO aircraft. The F-5B had the same camera port layout as the F-5A, but was made from the P-38J-1 airframe while the F-5C also used the same camera port layout as the F-5A but was based on the P-38J-5 series. 

To build the F-5F you would have to modify the Xtraparts/Paragon designs XP-4826 resin to get the three lower windows with the need to adapt the side windows for an F-5F configuration.


XP48028    P-38L airframe for building an F-5G    

A total of 3,923 P-38L’s were produced (3,810 by Lockheed and 113 by Consolidated Vultee). No dedicated phot-recon airframes were ordered using the P-38L platform but several recon types were converted after delivery into F-5E-4-LO, F-5F-LO, F-5F-3-LO, and 63 F-5G-6-LO were also converted from P-38L airframes.


The moral of this story – stop by your favorite retailer or on-line hobby shop, whenever you can and keep the faith, old stuff will come back if you are hopeful. Also, if you like something buy it when it comes out and put it in the stash – it will be the best investment you ever made!

There are a few changes you should make to the Hasegawa P-38 cockpit and airframe for P-38 photo recon airframes. Below is a suggested reference for the P-38 F-4/F-5 series from the Technical Order T.O. No. 01-75F-1 Section IV Operational Equipment showing the specific additions to the P-38 for the F-4 through F-5A photo-recon aircraft. Use of the Modelers’ Guide to the P-38 Lightning by Jay Sherlock from Aero Research is highly recommended.


The Eight Ballers: Eyes of the Fifth Air Force by John Stanaway & Bob Rocker Schiffer Books 1999

P-38 In Action # 1025 Squadron Signal Publications 1976 (no photo recon information in this volume)

P-38 In Action # 1109 Squadron Signal Publications 1990 by Larry Davis pgs. 48 -54

P-38 In Action # 1222 Squadron Signal Publications 2011 by David Doyle (many color photos)

P-38 Lightning Part 1  In Detail & Scale Vol. 57 by Bert Kinzey 1998

P-38 Lightning Part 2  In Detail & Scale Vol. 58  by Bert Kinzey1998

Technical Order T.O. No. 01-75F-1 Section IV Operational Equipment for P-38D through P-38G Series and F-4, F-4A and F-5A Series Airplanes

P-38 Lightning Production Line to Front Line # 3 Osprey Books 1999 pg. 98 to 107 plus Appendices

 Andrew Garcia

July 2015

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