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Trumpeter 1/32 P-38L Lightning Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2005 Manufacturer Trumpeter
Subject Lockheed P-38L Lightning Scale 1/32
Kit Number 2227 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Nice exterior and interior details, superdetailed engines Cons No provision to display the superdetailed engines
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $119.95

First Look


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. The P-38L was the final production version of the Lightning that standardized rocket loads with Lockheed's new five-round "Rocket Tree" in addition to other avionics updates. A total of 3,924 P-38Ls were produced before production was halted with the end of the war.

Trumpeter has released the Lockheed P-38L Lightning in 1/32 scale and it is magnificent! Out of the box, you can see that the parts trees are crammed full of details, but there are some interesting twists to this story.

The kit is molded in the usual Trumpeter light gray styrene, and of course the scribed detailing is well done. There are 18 parts trees in this kit (duplicate trees not shown) comprising 362 parts! The engineers have taken care with the parts layout to keep the ejector pin marks away from areas that would be visible after assembly.

As with other Trumpeter kits in this scale, the flaps and flight control surfaces are positionable using the photo-etched hinges. Another photo-etched fret is also included containing intake and exhaust radiator grilles.

And as with other Trumpeter kits in this scale, the two Allison engines are highly detailed models unto themselves, complete with all of the plumbing to/from the detailed radiators and superchargers. The level of detail under both cowlings is some of the best yet from Trumpeter, but once again, there is no provision in the kit for any open cowl panels nor clear panels to see into the engine. The modeler will have to do a little surgery to the kit's booms in order to display one or both engines, and with this detail, you're going to want these cowlings open!

As with the real aircraft, the cockpit builds atop the nosewheel well. The kit features photo-etched throttle, mixture and propeller pitch levers for the nicely detailed throttle quadrant, and an equally detailed avionics tray behind the pilot's seat. Even the unique boarding ladder that retracts into the bottom of the fuselage is included.

A detailed gun bay that can be displayed with a removable panel rounds out this highly detailed aircraft. External loadout is your choice of drop tanks or bombs on the inboard pylons and the P-38L signature five-shot rocket trees on the outboard wing panels. Given that these rocket launchers are the main visible difference between the P-38L and the late-model P-38J, it would be a simple matter to backdate the kit to a P-38J with the addition of bazooka rocket launchers and/or whatever standard ordnance your P-38J might carry.

Markings are provided for two aircraft:

  • P-38L-5-LO, 36 FS/8 FG as flown by Major Donald Campbell
  • P-38L-5-LO, 425568, 54 FS/343 FG, 'Itsy Bitsy II', as flown by Major George Lavin Jr

The color profiles in the kit (and likely all research for the decals) were done by Eagle Editions.

I know, you don't want to hear this, but WOW! It is hard to fathom how Trumpeter can top itself with many of these releases, but this P-38L is a beauty. I poked around at some of the key parts to see if there are other variants on the horizon, but the wings don't have any additional flashed over holes indicating a P-38J. The nose layout is such, however, that an F-5E Recce Lightning might be possible - if not from Trumpeter, I'd bet that an aftermarket house will conjure up a resin conversion. As beautiful a kit as this is, I'll be we'll see the contest tables turn into Lightning flightlines at Nationals this year.

My sincere thanks to Stevens International for this review sample!