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F-5A Lightning

Tamiya 1/48 F-5A Lightning Build Review

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review April 2020 Manufacturer Tamiya
Subject F-5A Lightning Scale 1/48
Kit Number 61120x Primary Media Styrene
Pros Seemed like good idea at the time Cons See text
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. One project i wanted to explore was converting the kit into an F-5A reconnaissance aircraft. After putting two of the Tamiya kits into my stash, I started searching for a resin conversion that I had from the days of old that converted the Academy or Hasegawa kits into a recce bird, but alas, I couldn't find those noses in my stash. More recently, one of my favorite online retailers put the Minicraft 1/48 F-5E Lightning on sale for $15 and the project was a go.

I primed the model with Mission Models Zinc Chromate since many of the internal spaces would remain that color. Initial dry-fitting of the Minicraft nose to the Tamiya fuselage looked promising given that they both broke at the gun bay doors ahead of the windscreen. To reach a point where I could do proper fitting and modifications, I needed to complete the first several steps to have a nose section to work with. As with any good aircraft kit, work starts in the cockpit.

Another objective in this build was to finally try out one of the Yahu instrument panels and they produced the P-38F, P-38G, and P-38H panels for the Tamiya kit. Since the F-5A is a variation of the P-38G, I selected that panel for this build. To use the panel and subpanel parts, you need to remove the molded-on details on the instrument panel as well as the subpanel that mounts below the main panel. With those parts prepared, I simply used cyano to mount the main panel, folded the subpanel part to conform to the plastic subpanel, then added two small switch panels to their locations on the kit part. You can see in the photo below just how nice these Yahu instrument panels look. The main panel does not require any work aside from gluing the panel into place. The panel comes pre-laminated with the instrument faces, glass faces, and top panel face with placards, all color printed. The subpanel has two instruments printed onto acetate that need to be laminated to the rear of the photo-etched part and the rear of the acetate painted white to match the instruments on the main panel. Once that lamination is done, the subpanel and switch panels are mounted with cyano as well. These Yahu panels look better than any of the other aftermarket options available.

F-5A Lightning

With the instrument panel completed, it was time to do the detail painting inside the cockpit according to the instructions before assembling the tub.

F-5A LightningF-5A Lightning

The cockpit tub mounts into the upper fuselage/wing half.

F-5A Lightning

The main spar and nosewheel well mount to the lower fuselage/inboard wing sections. The engineering and fit of this kit is stunning and is one of those kits where you can achieve a beautiful model without any effort. I began to modify the nose at this point to accommodate the Minicraft nose.

F-5A Lightning

Dry-fitting the Minicraft nose revealed that the nose is wider than Tamiya fuselage, so I thinned one half by a few millimeters and was rewarded with a good match along the gun door diagonals. I also modified the nose by removing the lower bulkhead so the nose will allow the front bulkhead of the nosewheel well to fit inside. With that, I used 5-minute epoxy to mount the ballast weight inside the nose, and once that had set up, I attempted to mount the nose.

F-5A Lightning

Even though the upper half of the nose fitted the Tamiya fuselage, the lower half requires significant thinning which would obliterate the ventral camera ports. For a moment, I considered pulling the nose apart to see what could be done, but it dawned on me that each modification further damages the basic Tamiya kit while the cross-section of the Minicraft kit is just too stout. I'm sure that someone could make that nose work, but I still have a few other projects that have their own engineering modifications to be completed. Any hope that this project would be easy is now gone and it is time to cut my losses.

While many modelers don't write (or share) their failures, I thought it would be worthwhile to share this one in case anyone else was considering grafting the Minicraft nose onto the Tamiya Lightning kit. I also wanted to show how awesome the Yahu instrument panels look in the cockpit. The one thing that isn't a failure is the basic Tamiya kit. The model just falls together, and I am wanting to have a do-over by building my other kit the sharkmouth P-38F. Stay tuned!