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Academy P-38 Lightning

Academy 1/72 P-38J Lightning Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2005 Manufacturer Academy
Subject P-38J Lightning Scale 1/72
Kit Number 12405 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Very nicely tooled and detailed kit Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $22.00

First Look

Academy P-38 Lightning
Academy P-38 Lightning
Academy P-38 Lightning
Academy P-38 Lightning
Academy P-38 Lightning

The P-38 Lightning started life as the Lockheed Model 22, the inspiration of a young engineer by the name of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, who would later become Lockheed's chief engineer. The Army issued a 1935 requirement for an interceptor aircraft that could fly over 360 mph at 20,000 feet, fly at full throttle for over an hour, carry twice the armament of current aircraft, and still operate from relatively short runways. Johnson's XP-38 had a top speed of 417 mph at 20,000 feet, a range of almost 1,400 miles, and could climb to 20,000 feet in an impressive (for that time) 4.5 minutes.

The P-38 would grow and improve through operational experience. The Luftwaffe dubbed the aircraft "The Fork-Tailed Devil" due to their encounters with the Lightning. The Lightning was so fast that compressibility flaps had to be added to late-model Lightnings to counter the adverse affects of approaching the speed of sound during dives.

With its twin engines and long range, the P-38 was a natural for the Pacific theater. The P-38J would become the high-altitude workhorse of both theaters. Carrying a wide variety of air-to-ground armament, the P-38J Lightning was a true 'swing fighter' able to sweep the skies of enemy aircraft and tackle ground targets as well.

If you could have a completely new-tool P-38 Lightning in 1/72 scale, what features would you want? Academy has developed a new P-38 for the 1/72 scale builder that is similar in design and parts breakdown as their 1/48 scale Lightning. This means that we'll be seeing a variety of 1/72 P-38 variants in our future.

The kit is molded in light gray styrene and is presented on four parts trees, plus a single tree of clear parts. Surface detailing is scribed and nicely done, not too coarse.

Like any good aircraft kit, construction begins with the cockpit. In this case, you assemble a complete cockpit tub that has some nice detailing straight from the box. The completed tub mounts to the top of the nosewheel well on the lower wing half.

Next come the main wheel wells. One of the big criticisms of Lightning kits has been the lack of details/plumbing in the main wheel wells. Not to worry in this case, this kit has the plumbing and duct details present.

The main wheel wells are next installed into the boom halves along with the radiator details. With the twin booms assembled, the upper and lower wing halves come together, the booms are installed with the horizontal stabilizer, and now the model is starting to look like a P-38.

Now the nosegear and engine air intakes are installed along with the landing gear doors. Almost there!

Now we get into some armament options. The kit comes with bazooka rocket launchers, bombs, and external fuel tanks. If you're sweeping the Luftwaffe from the sky, stick with the external fuel tanks, but if the mission of the day is to plink tanks, go for the rockets and bombs.

Another nice option that really isn't discussed in the instructions are the propellers. You assemble the blades onto the prop hubs/spinners. The one thing you won't see on a single-engine flightline is a feathered propeller. When the single engine quits, the pilot gets out and walks home. With multi-engine aircraft like the P-38, when the occasional engine quits, the propeller is feathered (the leading edges of the blades are turned parallel to the airflow to eliminate drag). With these separate blades, you can depict your model with one engine caged.

Yet another nice touch in this kit is the canopy. The P-38 canopy is actually rather complicated. It consists of a windscreen, rear window, a rear-hinged overhead section, and two side windows that slide up and down like car windows. The kit provides your choice of an 'open' canopy with all six parts separate or 'closed' canopy with the windscreen, overhead section and rear window as one part. The side windows are still separate.

The kit even includes the folding boarding ladder!

Not shown in these images is another interesting detail included in the kit. A small piece of what appears to be bare metal foil. On this sheet are a pair of pre-cut ovals that represent the polished mirror surfaces on the inboard sides of the engine nacelles, whether the aircraft is painted or bare metal. Why? These 'mirrors' allowed the pilot to see if his landing gear was down through the reflections on these mirrored surfaces of the cowlings.

I'm a little surprised to see no indication of ballast requirements in this kit, and given how other Lightnings have gone together, this kit will need some weight in the nose to keep it from sitting on its tail. The nose cap is one of the last items to get installed, so there is time to get the model together and then begin the challenge of weight and balance.

The issue of weight in the nose isn't a defect of the kit, this is a common problem with virtually all P-38 models of all scales. The real aircraft had two heavy Allison engines ahead of the wing and lots of guns and ammunition in the nose, whereas these kits have empty cowlings and gun bay, but lots of styrene behind the wing to alter the aircraft's balance.

Markings are provided for two aircraft:

  • P-38J-10-LO, 42-67916, 55 FS/20 FG, 'California Cutie'
  • P-38J-20-LO, 44-23511, 392 FS/367 FG, 'Arkansas Traveler'

This is a nicely molded and detailed kit that provides you with two attractive nose art options. One for the bare metal 'Alclad' modeler and a camouflaged example for the rest of us. This should be a big hit with 1/72 scale modelers and we'll definitely be seeing more versions of the Lightning in our future.

My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!