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A moment of 1/72 scale P-38 madness
Five Lightning Strikes
in Eight Weeks

by Mark Davies


P-38 Lightning Collection in 1/72 scale


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My modelling club, IPMS Auckland (New Zealand), decided to run a “Build the Same Kit in 2 Months” competition. The Tamiya P-47 and Trumpeter Ferdinand were chosen as the 1:48 aircraft and 1:72 armour subjects respectively, and the new Academy P-38 was the 1:72 scale aircraft choice. The deal was that all finished entries would receive a $10.00 kit voucher, and the winner would be reimbursed the cost of their kit. As I only build the one true scale I put my hand up for a P-38 and Ferdinand.

Having got my Academy P-38 I soon realised that my Airfix, Hasegawa and Dragon P-38 kits had been thoroughly eclipsed in terms of modernity, and it seemed in quality too. Thoughts of selling my “babies” for bargain prices were briefly reviewed and promptly rejected for the following reasons:

  • I’d never built the Airfix kit, even in the 1960’s when it was released, yet it offers the only reasonably accurate source of an F or H airframe (The Hasegawa H option doesn’t get around the later style boom radiators which are too large for an H).

  • My Dragon kit was of the two seat P-38M night fighter. Like most Dragon kits, I expected it would fit where it touched, and touch where it fitted, but detail was reasonable and it was after all an impressive looking beast.

  • The Hasegawa kit showed its age in terms of design, but for all that looked simple to build and offered the usual fundamental Hasegawa quality. Besides which, it offered parts for both the P-38 H and J/L. I could use Hasegawa’s superior H intercooler intakes (Lower front cowl parts) on my Airfix kit, plus replace the Airfix canopy which seemed too small compared to Hasegawa’s and Academy’s.

Following this appreciation process my thoughts returned to what to do with the Academy kit if I was going to build something a bit different form the box offering of a Pacific Theatre P-38J. I’d just read a review of Contact Resine’s F-5B reconnaissance nose conversion (plus a set of wheels), and a mate had decals for a USAAF F-5 I could use, so I ordered one from an internet stockist and started the kit.

My Contact Resine nose arrived and I soon found that it was too narrow for the Academy kit! I’d delayed my build and wasn’t in a good frame of mind, especially when I found that it was about the right width for the Dragon kit. Anyway, I have to confess to sending a not very pleasant and accusatory email late at night to roMarc Guerrero of Contact Resine about my concerns. I was shamed by the very pleasant reply I got from Marc Guerrero and the offer to send me a free replacement ASAP from France. I accepted this offer and shortly after received a more expensive edition of the F-5 nose and wheels that included decals for some French machines. This nose was a fraction wider than the first which must have suffered from shrinkage, and fitted fine to the Academy kit. I can’t speak highly enough of Contact Resine’s response and a series of very helpful emails. In recognition of this I chose to build an overall Haze Blue French F-5B (although not the one of those covered by the Contact Resine decals).



My plans were almost complete, when I thought that it was a pity not to be using the Academy kit for a natural metal machine as it was likely to go together with the minium of fit problems. The solution? Buy another one and build two. Then I realised that once I built the two Academy kits I’d never resort to building the other three older P-38 kits I had, so obviously I’d have to build them all at once! Foolishly I though of the time I’d save production-lining fives of everything like cockpit interiors, wheel-wells and props etc. So now I had five P-38’s and one Ferdinand to build in two months and I was three weeks into the project.



Having decided on this mad course of action I did a final review of my plans concerning schemes and versions. I’d build the two Academy kits as a haze blue French F-5 and a natural metal P-38L using my Hasegawa kit’s “Putt Putt Maru” decals. The Dragon p-38M would be a black night-fighter using kit decals, and the Hasegawa kit would be an olive drab over neutral grey P-38J with bright green dragons down the booms using some Aeromaster decals donated by a friend. The problem was that the Airfix kit would also need to be an olive drab machine too if I was to use the decals I had available. Then I remembered the spare and slightly skinny Contact Resine F-5 recon nose I had. I could build an RAAF F-4 with green, dark earth and azure blue camouflage which was a scheme I’d always liked.



To save time, (yeah right!), I build the F-4 wheels up and do my first flying model, plus it would save room in the display cabinet by flying over my wheels-down models.




So to get on with recounting the construction of the five kits, here’s a quick summary of each build and accompanying photos of the finished products:

Academy Conversion - French F-5



Saw off the kit nose and replace with Contact Resine nose. Scratch-build some cameras and glaze with clear plastic sheet, replace the seat with a resin one and add radio wires to the boxes behind the pilot’s seat. Overcome the front cowl fit problem (a bit oversize), and slightly enlarge the radiator cowl openings, plus thin the wing trailing edges. Remove undercarriage door hinges to make doors sit at correct angle, and shorten the front door retraction jack for the same reason. Next time remember cutting out the slot for the retractable step is easier before assembling the kit!

Academy P-38L



Build out the box with the same modifications as the F-5 build, other than the nose of course. Add wing lights and other changes like the gun camera stores pylon (donated from the Dragon kit) to make a P-38 J from an L. Go through two sets of dreadful old Hasegawa kit decals, and had-paint the yellow trim lines, plus mask and spray the tail fin and spinner stripes after failing with the kit decals (in part because the Hasegawa spinners have a different taper to Academy’s).

Hasegawa P-38J



Replace seat and add radio wires etc, add radiator inserts to avoid a see-through effect on the tail-booms. Use the kit’s P-38 F canopy as the P-38J I was building had this early style canopy. Paint and apply decals. Start over again because the Aeromaster decals are some of the worst I’ve ever used (they were thick, inflexible and wouldn’t react to decal softener). Having painted the final colours spray the booms green, cut templates from the decal instructions and mask out the dragons, re-spray the olive drab and neutral grey. Make own brew of decal softener from Acetic Acid Glacial (a benefit of working for a lab suppliers wholesaler), and add the yellow dashed outlines to the dragons having trimmed the carrier film as much as a I can and using my decal softener. Touch up with hand painting as necessary. Add Academy bombs.

Airfix Conversion – F-4



Fill Contact Resine F-5B nose camera ports, and Dremmel out new F-4 ports. Saw off the nose and replace with modified Contact Resine nose. Dremmel away the rear cockpit coaming to fit the spare Hasegawa P-38J canopy (after sanding off the front canopy framing and reshaping to P-38E shape as the F-4 was based on a P-38E). Add radiator inserts to avoid a see-through effect on the tail-booms. Then add the early-style control wheel and a pilot from the spares box. Saw off the lower cowls and replace with those from the P-38 H parts left over from Hasegawa kit. Use heaps of filler and sand the rivets off. Add an underwing landing light having filled in the leading-edge light. Use the Hasegawa drop tanks as the Airfix pylons are for a P-38L with the gun camera fitted.

Dragon P-38M



Struggle with atrocious fit and dreadfully complex design of centre fuselage and wings, booms and outer wing panels. Add radiator inserts to avoid a see-through effect on the tail-booms. Replace nose cone with Academy part left over from the F-5 conversion to build a “bit of meat” into the skinny Dragon nose. Add seat belts and heaps of filler, plus Academy fuel tanks. Paint in a hurry and be surprised to find I quite like it! Also decide that the brief idea of buying another Academy kit to convert to a P-38M using the Dragon centre fuselage wouldn’t have been worth the trouble after all! Although given time, a kit-bash of the Dragon P-38M and Academy P-38J would result in a better night fighter model for competition purposes.

And the Trumpeter Ferdinand? This very complex kit was being built in the background on and off when I needed a break from the P-38’s. I fair bit of work had gone into overcoming the fit problems of the track links when I dropped it about three days before the deadline. Some rack links flew off and disappeared in carpet and it now awaits another day to be finished.



General Conclusions


Having built the five kits I can make the some general comments about them. Academy need to learn to mould wing trailing edges with the top wing for a thinner trailing edge. The Hasegawa kit was significantly superior in this respect. Academy and Dragon both have awkward undercarriage doors that don’t sit right unless modified at the hinges. Airfix managed to mix some P-38 H, J and L features into the one airframe, but all in all it still the basis of a nice model, although I feel their canopy is too small. Dragon’s kit is over-engineered and very hard to build with everything in proper alignment as there is no one-piece upper-wing to brace and brace everything. I was amazed at the different interpretations of things like overall kit parts breakdown, cockpit coaming interpretation, taper of spinners, and sit on the undercarriage (my Hasegawa P-38J really needs the sit corrected to more of a squat on the rear wheels). Suffice to say, kit-bashing around the Academy kit will give the best results for all versions, although I’m happy enough with what can be achieved with the Hasegawa and Dragon products. For a really nice P-38 F or H you could take an Academy P-38J, use Hasegawa’s P-38 H intercooler cowls and canopy, plus sacrifice an Airfix kit for its boom radiators (wish I’d thought of this before).

Finally, I’ve concluded that production-lining only works if you’re building the same brand kit. I may has well been building five different aircraft makes for all the good it did me on this occasion. Would I build another P-38? Definitely one day; but not for a decade or so at least!



Additional Images


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Images and Text Copyright © 2005 by Mark Davies
Page Created 15 May, 2005
Last Updated 15 May, 2005

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