Tamiya  1/48 P-38J Lightning
KIT #: 61123
PRICE: $50.00 delivered
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: 2022 release


The P-38J was introduced in August 1943. The turbosupercharger intercooler system on previous variants had been housed in the leading edges of the wings and had proven vulnerable to combat damage and could burst if the wrong series of controls was mistakenly activated. In the P-38J series, the streamlined engine nacelles of previous Lightnings were changed to fit the intercooler radiator between the oil coolers, forming a "chin" that visually distinguished the J model from its predecessors. While the P-38J used the same V-1710-89/91 engines as the H model, the new core-type intercooler more efficiently lowered intake manifold temperatures and permitted a substantial increase in rated power. The leading edge of the outer wing was fitted with 55 US gal (210 L) fuel tanks, filling the space formerly occupied by intercooler tunnels, but these were omitted on early P-38J blocks due to limited availability.

The final 210 J models, designated P-38J-25-LO, alleviated the compressibility problem through the addition of a set of electrically actuated dive recovery flaps just outboard of the engines on the bottom centerline of the wings. With these improvements, a USAAF pilot reported a dive speed of almost 600 mph (970 km/h), although the indicated air speed was later corrected for compressibility error, and the actual dive speed was lower. Lockheed manufactured over 200 retrofit modification kits to be installed on P-38J-10-LO and J-20-LO already in Europe, but the USAAF C-54 carrying them was shot down by an RAF pilot who mistook the Douglas transport for a German Focke-Wulf Condor. Unfortunately, the loss of the kits came during Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier's four-month morale-boosting tour of P-38 bases. Flying a new Lightning named Snafuperman, modified to full P-38J-25-LO specifications at Lockheed's modification center near Belfast, LeVier captured the pilots' full attention by routinely performing maneuvers during March 1944 that common 8th Air Force wisdom held to be suicidal. It proved too little, too late, because the decision had already been made to re-equip with Mustangs.

The P-38J-25-LO production block also introduced hydraulically boosted ailerons, one of the first times such a system was fitted to a fighter. This significantly improved the Lightning's rate of roll and reduced control forces for the pilot. This production block and the following P-38L model are considered the definitive Lightnings, and Lockheed ramped up production, working with subcontractors across the country to produce hundreds of Lightnings each month.


A few years back, Tamiya released a 1/48 P-38F/G to the delight of modelers everywhere. Until then, the options for an early P-38 were limited to Academy and Hasegawa. Both were decent models in their own right, but were not the easiest to build. From what I've read, the Tamiya kit is well engineered and while still not a throw together kit, takes care of all the issues that were found in other kits. Since the release of the F/G, a limited release of the similar H was made until last year, the J was finally produced.

The kit is superbly detailed as only Tamiya can produce. It has a full cockpit with sidewalls that fits into the upper fuselage section. This section also includes the upper wings so no worries about the proper dihedral. Onto this wing fits a long wing spar that also provides for the nose gear well. This then fits into the lower fuselage that contains the inner wing stubs. Holes can be opened for drop tanks if one wishes. In the front of this assembly is a place to put a large ball bearing for weight.

After the fuselage is closed, more work is done on the wings and the nose section. Lower wing pieces are installed, followed by the ailerons and wing tips. The turbocharger section is next and then installed. Following this, construction moves on to booms and tail section.

Each of the main gear wells are built up and then, after another large ball bearing is installed, trapped between the tail boom halves. Tamiya has left the lower boom sections as separate pieces so that they can incorporate the different radiator assemblies. When that is done, various scoops and fairings are attached. The assembly is repeated for the other side. With both sides done, they are attached. This is followed by the horizontal stab, which is slotted in place followed by the rudders.

Landing gear are then constructed and installed into the gear wells. This is followed by the gear doors and pylons. A boarding ladder piece is provided and you can pose it lowered or retracted. Moving to the interior, the radio compartment is constructed and installed, followed by the armor plating, seat and, if you choose, a pilot figure. A decal is provided for the seat harness if you don't use the pilot.

The final steps consist of masking the clear bits (a set of cut out masks is provided), installing them, and then building up and installing the props. These are held on the shaft by polycaps. There is also the option of open or closed canopy.

Instructions are a large booklet with Tamiya paint number references. The 55 construction steps are clearly drawn with hints where needed. Three markings options are provided and the placement instructions are huge fold out sheets. All three are overall unpainted metal with olive drab nose anti-glare panels. The planes are all flown by aces. There is Richard Bong's "Marge", Charles McDonald's "PuttPutt Maru", and Tommy McGuire's "Pudgy III". The decals are very nicely done and include chrome markings (which show up as black on the scan). On some of the options, the red trim must be painted.

This one will be every bit as nice as the two previous releases and provide a canvas for a lot more aftermarket decals. The J was not the end of the line and it will be interesting to see if Tamiya continues with the series and produces an L. Meanwhile P-38 fans should be very happy with what has been produced so far.


January 2023

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