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P-38F Lightning

Tamiya 1/48 P-38F Lightning Build Review

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review May 2020 Manufacturer Tamiya
Subject P-38F Lightning Scale 1/48
Kit Number 61120 Primary Media Styrene
Pros One of the best-fitting kits on the market Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $79.95

Build Review

When Tamiya had their 1/48 P-38F/G Lightning kit on display at the IPMS/USA National Convention last year, I knew that I wanted to build a few of them. Last month, I had the bright idea to attempt grafting the Minicraft F-5E nose onto this kit to render an F-5A, but alas, that did not end well. What did work very well was the Yahu 1/48 P-38G instrument panel (the F-5A is a converted P-38G), so for the do-over build, I am doing the P-38F using the sharkmouth markings out of the kit. Another area that is worth mentioning is the fit of this kit. This is one of the best-fitting models I have built in some time and it was so enjoyable (despite the nose disaster with the F-5A) that I wanted to jump back in with another build rather than wait a while.

As with the previous project, the build starts with the instrument panel. Again, I used my Sujiburido planing file to clean the molded-on details off the kit panel. This time, I also drilled out the lightening holes in the rudder pedals. Using cyano, I laminated the Yahu P-38F panel into place.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

Here's a look at three options for the instrument panel. On the left are the kit's decals for the instrument panel, in the middle is Eduard's panel that comes with their cockpit detail set, and on the right is Yahu's panel (mounted on the kit panel). With a little work, you can render a nice panel using the kit decals as the instrument faces are sharp. Eduard's panel is the typical two-layer design with the instruments printed on the lower panel and the upper layer is painted and printed with placards. My problem with the Eduard panel is twofold: first, the instrument faces have a clear drop applied as a dome over each face, so you have the illusion of glass (which we used to simulate by putting a drop of Future over each face). The domes are not at all accurate as it would drive any pilot crazy when the dome would reflect light regardless of position of the sun/moon. Second, Eduard replicates the crinkled black paint seen on many instrument panels of the past, but the crinkle texture is 1:1 scale while the rest of the panel is 1/48. The Yahu panel is designed similarly to the Eduard panel except it has flat glass and no surface texture (out of scale). Moreover, the panel is pre-laminated - it comes out of the package as one piece, while there is also a fret of photo-etch also included to replicate the lower sub-panel. My vote is for the Yahu panel.

P-38F Lightning

While I didn't use the Eduard instrument panel, I am using the other parts out of their cockpit detail set that provides color-printed faces for the various sidewall sub-panels, placards, radio faces, etc. I did consider using their throttle quadrant, but that was too much work for too little return. I like the look of this cockpit tub. The pilot's seat goes in at a later step in this build.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

Once the cockpit was completed, the model starts to go together rather quickly. Here I'm setting the foundation with the fuselage and inboard wing sections.

P-38F Lightning

With the nose and gun panel doors installed, the outboard wing sections go together so smoothly.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

Setting the wing/fuselage assembly aside, the next objectives are the twin booms. First up are the main wheel wells. These are the most intricate wheel wells I can recall building with small linkage assemblies in addition to the main plumbing. I can recall the last major P-38 kit where we were thrilled that the kit included the main plumbing! This took a little time and patience to assemble and I highly recommend a set of good quality tweezers to get the small parts into place. To break-up the otherwide monotone bare metal wells, I used a combination of .15mm and .2mm Sakura Pigma black and sepia markers to outline structural details in the well without making them overdone as might happen with a wash.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

The completed wheel wells mount into their respective tail booms along with the chin intakes and internal intake ducts. The booms are then mounted to the wing fuselage assembly and as with the previous steps, the fit is nearly perfect. I added the horizontal stabilizer and this is starting to look like a P-38. Be careful when setting this assembly on the bench as those delicate gear door linkages are all that are holding up the model. Best to rest it on its back for now. I'm leaving the superchargers off the model until after painting, but I do need to add the radiator decals to the front/rear of the radiators on both sides of each boom before adding the side scoops. Once that is done, it will be time to mask off the various openings and apply the base coat.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

One last detail is adding the radiator grill decals to the booms before enclosing them.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

We're at that magic moment in an aircraft build when the model sits on its landing gear for the first time. In this case, the struts are not yet glued in, but you can see that with Tamiya's ballast, the model sits firmly on its nose gear. I began the basecoat using Hataka's lacquer-based acrylics, OD Green 41 for the upper surfaces and Neutral Gray 43 underneath.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

I like the look of these colors as they are warmer than the ANA equivalents for OD Green and Neutral Gray. Once these had dried, I modified the landing gear axles to accept the Reskit resin wheels as well as drilled out the axle holes in the resin wheel hubs. At this point, I decided to apply the decals for the P-38F example included in the kit. I was pleasantly surprised just how well these decals worked as I still have vivid memories of the decals included in Tamiya's 1/48 F4D Skyray that not only would not conform to the surfaces, they laughed at the Solvaset I resorted to using since nothing else was working. Eventually Solvaset did work, but it was a process. In this case, I used GSI's Mr.Mark Setter and then Mr.Mark Softer. Before applying these decals, I applied a clear coat of Future thinned with Isopropyl Alcohol, and in a few cases, the paint under the decals clouded into a milky white using the setting solution, but thankfully cleared up after applying the softening solution.

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Even though I've got some variation in the OD Green to add visual detail to the model, the paint still looks too new. I grabbed a .15mm Pigma Sepia marker and began to trace out all of the panel lines in the model. While I used to use black, I like the sepia because it isn't quite as bold as black and dirt does get into the airframe.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

The Sepia marker works just as well with the Neutral Gray on the underside. Once this was finished, I installed the landing gear doors. This is one of my least favorite tasks in an aircraft build, but Tamiya engineered this so well that even I enjoyed it!

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

Next came the propellers and remember that the P-38 had counter-rotating propellers to minimize torque. The downward stroking blade should be on the outboard side of each boom.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

The avioinics tray that mounts behind the pilot was next and I followed the painting instructions, then removed the molded-on details and replaced them with the radio faces from the Eduard cockpit set. The seatbelts are from Eduard's P-38 seatbelt set.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

The final steps are to mask and paint the cockpit transparencies. I used the Tamiya masks and applied an initial coat of the interior color followed by OD Green. At some point in the war, the canopy frames were painted black, but evidently the P-38 pre-dated that detail.

P-38F LightningP-38F Lightning

Here is the completed model and this build was so enjoyable, I want to do another one. I'm waiting to see what subjects are coming from the upcoming fundekals sheet for the P-38F/G/H and I won't hesitate to do another one of these kits. Tamiya's engineering is quite remarkable and I also look forward to their P-38L when it comes to market!

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