Revell | 4749: Lockheed P-38J

Reviewed by Rato Marczak

ANOTHER REVELL OLD BEAST

The P-38J is part of the Revell family of twin-engined fighter kits released during the seventies, and as such, these models are impressively large. The P-38 was released in 1970 and reissued a number of times since then. Although not as large as the Bf 110, this kit surely caused some excitement when it first appeared. After more than thirty years later, it remains the only 1/32 injected kit on the market, and it can be easily converted to a P-38L.

Contrary to some previous Revell releases of that time, this one has no movable parts. The shape and dimensions are good in general, and the surface is plagued by thousands of oversized rivets. A serious modeler will have to perform a formidable job to bring this model to competition standards. The other choice is to partially sand off the rivets and go out-of-the-box with a good paint job. Considering the size and the forms of this bird, I'm sure most will stop to take a second look at the model...

The original 1970 kit came with Richard Bong's "Marge" P-38 artwork (do you remember that box?). The present review sample is a 1992 re-release by Revell-Monogram, still widely available. I'm not aware of more recent reissues.

The box art.

OPENING THE BOX

The kit comes in large box with the artwork depicting Maj. Thomas McGuire's "Pudgy IV" in combat against a IJA Ki-43. This is the only decal option you get. The instructions come as a six pages folded sheet covering the 13 assembly steps and cammouflage/decal application (the old booklet style was much more interesting). Color specs are given by generic names without any references to FS codes or a particular paint manufacturer.

The kit comprises around 115 silver styrene parts split into seven sprues, plus 3 clear pieces for the canopy and landing light. The sprues are not individually bagged, so the large parts suffer from some surface scratch due to the friction between them. The plastic is of a soft type, typical of Revell (good news for you thinking about rescribing). The molds are showing their age because you will find a lot of flash. Virtually any part has at least one ejection pin marks, and in some cases they will visible once the model is assembled.

This is what you get once you open the box.

One of the major problems with 1/48 kits of the P-38 is the problematic alignment of the wings and booms. This 1/32 kit is well engineered, and this sort of problem is not expected. Besides the cockpit, the only other detailed area is the port engine which can be showed removing its access panel. Many details are a bit crude for today's standards, but the basic shape is well captured, and you won't need to worry about reshaping noses, wings or fins.

The finished model spans almost 50 cm with a length of +36 cm. To give you an idea, this is about the same span of the Mosquito. Take a look at sprues:

Sprue 1

Sprue 2

Sprue 3

Sprue 4

Sprue 5

Sprue 6

Sprue 7

I've checked some overall dimensions to conclude that this kit is dimensionally very accurate. Considering the scale and the size of the actual aircraft this is remarkable. Using some enlarged drawings from the Detail & Scale book, by Bert Kinzey, it is also possible to assert that the shape of the main parts is almost perfect (contrary to some other Revell kits of the same vintage). Here are some examples:

Checking outer wing shape.

Checking center wing shape.

Checking pod shape.

Checking vertical stabilizer shape.

MAIN PARTS

The basic airframe is formed by a complicated assembly, as you can guess from the sprues: one semi fuselage, two tails, inner and outer wings. Just remember that the P-38 had a unique design, too. A simplified parts breakdown would lead to large pieces prone to warping. Revell certainly anticipated the point and I can't imagine a much different design. Yet, there is some warping in the wings and booms but it disappears once the halves are glued.

Panel lines, access panels and rivets are all made in a raised fashion, except for a few inspection doors. The placement of the panel lines are accurate in general. I've compared them with the drawings found in the Detail & Scale book. Although one could live with the raised panel lines, the size of the rivets make the wings seem a cheese grater. A possible solution is to downgrade the raised details using some gentle sanding or a fine steel wool, but it is difficult to be consistent using this technique. On the other hand, the fasteners around the guns bay, engine panels and some other access panels are very convincing. Unfortunately there's no easy way to preserve them after sanding the panel lines and rivets.

The fit of the main parts is good, considering their size. Some filler will be required, however, no matter how well you glue the parts.

The fuselage pod lacks some important details. The three identification lights are not represented and can be scratchbuilt punching some tinted clear sheets. They are red, blue-green and amber from front to rear. The ejection ports for the empty shell casings are raised and should be opened for a better aspect. Also, there's no hint of the retractable boarding ladder. If you are planning to make your own in lowered position, don't forget the corresponding slots on the lower and upper fuselage. We included a wartime photo showing how the pilots used the ladder.

The panel lines and rivets at a glance (left pod).

Wartime photo illustrating how to climb the P-38 using the retractable ladder.

The housings for the glycol radiators on the sides of the booms are devoid of any detail. This areas deserve some attention to eliminate the see-through appearance. Detailers can rework the radiator flaps, too. The air intake scoops for the turbo-supercharger come as separated parts but can be also refined. The photo below of the P-38L on display at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh shows what these details look like.

Detail shot of the glycol radiators area on the port boom.

P-38L in the EAA Museum (details in the aft area of the glycol radiators). Photo: David Copley.

The control surfaces have are all recessed on the hinge lines, and a dedicated modeler may want to remove them for repositioning. Most versions of the P-38 had a curved fairing blending the leading wing roots to the fuselage. This effect crudely captured on the model, and is is not as subtle as it should be. On the real aircraft these fairing were very difficult to maintain in position and shape, so that it was common to find some metal stripes riveted on the joints by the crewmen.

The wings don't come with the compressibility dive flaps under the outer wings. This feature was standard from the last P-38J batch (P-38J-25-LO) on. Check your references carefully to assert that the aircraft you are building is not included in the serial numbers lot AF44-23559 through AF44-23768. If so, you have to add them using plastic card. When retracted these flaps are not flush with the wing surface. Then, to include the flaps just a matter of cutting some plastic card and gluing them over the lower outer wings. Bert Quinsy's Detail & Scale book brings good 1/72 scale drawings to help you here. This is obligatory for the P-38L.

On the other hand, the ailerons don't come with the movable trim tabs, indicating that the version depicted by Revell had hydraulically aided ailerons. I can't tell you during which batch this feature was standardized, so check the photos or you may incur in an inconsistency here (not many P-38J had hydraulically boosted ailerons without the compressibility flaps).

Detail view of the vertical stabilizer.

The raised panel lines and rivets at a glance (lower port wing). Note the hole for the landing light. The square recess is a slot to install the pitot tube.

The raised panel lines and rivets at a glance (upper starboard wing).

Surface detail on the elevator. Note the annoying Revell-Monogram copyright notice molded on the trim tab. The detail shows the useless "pilot killer" mass balance, arguably used to reduce the tail flutter problems.

COCKPIT

The cockpit comes with the floor, sidewalls, control panel, seat and some other smaller details. It will suffice as a fake interior if you are going to install the canopy closed. Just do a good paint job and highlight the raised details with a gentle drybrushing. As for an authentic replica, however, the kit parts are only symbolic and virtually useless. The floor depicts an approximation of the complex shape of the prototype and can be used as a base for a new one, but you will need to sand off all raised details and add your own. The remaining parts should go to the spare box.

So, if you are going to a detailed model project, forget about the kit's cockpit. And as a twin-engined aircraft, the office of the P-38 is cramped of dual instruments - surely more complex than a Spitfire cockpit - and to scratchbuild everything seems a colossal work. Fortunately, this is one of those rare 1/32 cases in which the modeler have more than one accessory option to choose from:

- Jerry Rutman's P-38J detail set: An excellent detail set. Besides a detailed resin cockpit, the set comes with metal landing gear struts, resin wheels and many other parts designed to replace the kit parts without surgery. You can check the excellent review of this set here at LSP, by Mark Proulx.

- Waldron Model Products: They produce a highly detailed P-38J/L cockpit designed for this kit. The set comes with the control panel instruments printed in silver foil to be punched and installed on a new panel. Seat buckles, radio fronts, switch panels, and each one of those small cockpit placards are also provided. No internet address.

If you can afford both sets, I would suggest to combine the JR resin parts together with the Waldron placards. The result is worth of every cent. In case you decide for the Jerry Rutman set, you may want a set of photoetched buckles, and Eduard does a very good one:

- Eduard USAF Buckles Set (product #32-008), also reviewed at LSP.

With these options available, don't even think about scratchbuilding the entire cockpit (if you are Mr Rodney Williams or Mr Scott Murphy, please disregard this warning...)

Cockpit floor and sidewalls.

Control panel, switch box, seat and the control yoke.

In any case, here is a photo of a P-38J or L showing the correct colors for the cockpit. I also included two B&W pictures of the instruments layout from the P-38 Pilot's Manual and it will help you to locate some smaller details. There were some slight factory variations on the general layout, depending on the P-38 batch, but the basic arrangement is shown in these pictures.

Instrument panel

Instrument panel layout (P-38 Pilot's Manual)

Left sidewall (P-38 Pilot's Manual)

ENGINE

The kit comes with a fair representation of the Allison V1710-89/91 engine to be installed in the port nacelle, only. It lacks details like ignition wires and plumbing. There are some raised details molded inside the booms halves, although not convincing. Not much of it is visible with the kit engine panel open. Now if you want to remove a few other panels, start to gather some photos right now...

This is one of the engine halves. The other one is mirror-like.

From top left, clockwise: crankcase, engine mount, engine top and turbo-supercharger.

Molded-in details inside the engine nacelle.

Top view of the turbo-supercharger slot (upper center wing).

The front cowling part depicts the characteristic chin of the P-38J and L. The three air intake divisions (outer for oil coolers and center for the intercooler) are too thick and there is no representation of the grilles inside. Consider adding these details because you will see everything inside the booms from these openings.

The propeller comes in a single part and can be used after removing the flash around the blades. It is sandwiched between the front and the back spinner parts.

Front cowling and cooling flaps / exhaust stacks.

The P-38 had a number of scoops and movable doors around the engine nacelles. These details are solid molded and their substitution won't be a simple task, but could add a lot of realism to the model. The picture below is of a P-38 at the Lone Star Flight Museum, showing the nacelle scoops that provided air to the exhaust manifold and shroud. Note also the quite visible fasteners of the engine panels.

P-38 at Lone Star Flight Museum (port engine).

LANDING GEAR

The Lightning tricycle type landing gear is one of its characteristic points. The Revell offering brings usable landing gear parts. The wheel wells are provided as single parts that enclose the area eliminating the see-through. On the real machine these areas were replete of plumbing and hydraulic devices, and their addition to the kit parts using solder wire will improve their appearance considerably. The wheel doors are good in shape but don't have the inner details and need a decent representation of the hinges.

The gear struts are well done and fairly accurate. Unfortunately the brake lines are molded with the struts, making parts cleaning very difficult to accomplish. Each of the wheels are molded in halves, and they are of the slick type. The wheels are good and can be used straightforward, but the shape of the spokes in the nose hub is oversimplified.

Jerry Rutman's set can be used here as a complete replacement for the kit parts. Besides the wheels bays with a very detailed interior, the set comes with white metal landing gear struts, separated resin torque links and tread type wheels. You will save dozens of scratchbuilding hours using this set, literally.

We included below a picture of the nose wheel in the LSFM P-38. From this photo it is clear that the kit part is not bad at all for a 1970 kit.

The wheel bay parts.

The main (left) and the nose (right) landing gear struts.

Detail shot of the main (left) and the nose (right) landing gear struts.

Nose (left) and main wheel parts.

P-38 at Lone Star Flight Museum (nose landing gear). Note the disk cover attached to keep dirt out of the hub. Many later P-38 were fit with with the cover, so check your references.

CLEAR PARTS

There are 2 clear parts for the canopy and a landing light lens. The canopy parts are designed to open, but the hinge area has nothing to do with the real thing. Also, the frame lines are a bit on the heavy side. These parts are somewhat opaque, and fine sanding / Future Floor bath will improve them, as usual. The fit of the canopy with the center fuselage pod will require filling, and this is always critical near clear parts. On the other hand, the canopy has the flat bulletproof front windscreen, which is correct for the J model.

A number of smaller details are missing, and it's up to you if they really need to be added. But you can't escape from adding a USAAF Type N-3 gunsight. We added a picture from the Pilot's Manual to prove that the gunsight is really prominent. Scratchbuilders (I mean the company) comes in help here, as they produce a wonderful set of resin gunsights (these are from the defunct InSight Accessories). Here is the LSP complete review by Saso Knez.

The simple installment of the clear lens won't make a nice rendition of the landing light. I've read somewhere in the web that the new Revell (ex-Hasegawa) Spitfire landing light is a perfect replacement.

The clear parts.

Windscreen details and gunsight (P-38 Pilot's Manual).

WEAPONS AND ORDNANCE

The Revell 1/72 P-38 comes with a complete gun bay, but the 1/32 one brings only the 20 mm cannon and the Browning .50 M2HB machine guns muzzles to be installed in the nose cone. No doubt that detailers will think about adding a complete gun bay. It is not a bad idea, but I'm not aware of any accessory to simplify the job. A tough job, by the way. However, the muzzles are well molded and need only drilling to represent the openings. These were designed to be slotted in the nose cone leaving the characteristic offset between each other. We included another photo of the LSFM P-38 here to show the correct configuration, just in case.

The belly tank and underwing ordnance.

P-38 at Lone Star Flight Museum (guns arrangement).

Our 1992 sample comes with external fuel tanks and the HVAR to be installed under the wings. These options were not present in the original release, and both need the corresponding openings be drilled before assembling the center wing halves. This is clearly noted in the instructions.

The underwing pylons are molded together with the external fuel tanks. The pylons are incorrectly depicted, because both pylons have the gun camera fairing attached to their front, but this should be installed only on the left pylon. Even so, the pylon mounted gun camera was standard in the P-38L and its derivatives, not in the P-38J. However, it is possible that a number of P-38J were field retrofitted with them. In case of doubt, you can use the kit parts after sanding off the camera fairing from the front of both pylons. The use of a pair of 1000 lb bombs from your spare box is another alternative. Just cut carefully the tanks off the pylons and install the bombs.

The HVAR are mounted with the so called "Christmas tree" support configuration. The rockets are decent and can be used throughout. A nice touch would be to add the ignition lines with some fine wire. Again, the HVAR are standard only for the P-38L, but there are plenty photographic evidences of their use in retrofitted P-38J. Check your references...

The underwing tanks.

The "Christmas tree" HVAR parts.

DECALS

Sorry, no option here. The only markings with the kit are for "Pudgy IV", the last but one mount of Maj. Thomas McGuire, the second ranking American ace of all time with 38 confirmed victories, which excuses any introduction, I'm sure.

The decals are very well printed and each stencil is perfectly readable, but I suspect they are not all there. McGuire's tally and the hand painted texts match B&W wartime photos. As a late Revell decal, it will probably go well without any silvering. The only concern is the demon's face to be applied to the nose, which will need some careful cutting (as recommended in the decal sheet) and generous amounts of setting solution. Don't forget to trim the excess of clear film on the "no step" warnings of the canopy frames.

This sheet doesn't come with the factory stencils applied in front of the windscreen. This is correct for "Pudgy IV", but you will need it in case of depicting other planes.

As far as accuracy is concerned, this sheet has a few inconsistencies. "Pudgy IV" should be a P-38L-1 received by the 431st FS during the second half of 1944, and so the model need corrections to portray a dash-L, not a dash-J. In addition, the tally shows 25 victories with a surrounding yellow box with a black background, as wore by "Pudgy IV" in October, 1944. On the other hand, the demon painted on the nose wouldn't be applied to the machines of the 431st until January 1945.

The decal sheet.

A zoom on the decal sheet.

FINAL COMMENTS

Now for some humor, let me quote my friend modeler Steve Simms about the P-38:

"...the P-38 is a pitch fork, plain and simple. It's made out of a bunch of left over airplane parts nobody wanted. I'm sure the guy that designed it was a farmer."

I must agree that the description fits well, except for the claim that the legendary Kelly Johnson was a farmer (that I know). The point is that the P-38 was a unique aircraft, demanding a complex manufacturing, and then any good kit of the subject will reflect this. So, don't expect this one to be just a case of matting fuselage halves and upper/lower wings - remember that Revell's P-38 was released when many of us were still to be born.

The Lightning was the mount for the two all time top scoring American aces, the first allied plane able to escort the bombers deep in Germany, and it was present in all theaters of war. I guess only the P-51 is so plentiful of markings to choose. The problem of course is where to find decals, because many interesting paint schemes wore some sort of artwork. Superscale released several decal sheets for the P-38J/L a long time ago, but they are all out of production. With luck, you can still find one around. Otherwise, you can always use the kits insignias, spare decals and maybe a bit of hand painting to depict a given plane.

Considering the poor areas noted in the text, there is a lot of work to do. That makes it a model that most serious modelers won't touch. On the up side, there are the Jerry Rutman sets (you don't need to buy them all, because they are sold separately), and the Waldron cockpit bits, both made for this kit. That leaves us "only" in charge of a decent rescribing. That's OK if you want to scratchbuild everything, but those sets will save weeks of work that you could direct to other areas.

The potential of this kit is enormous. The impetuous modeler will install Jerry Rutman P-38 E/F conversion to backdate your version to an early ETO/MTO Lightning. Others will reposition control surfaces and open the guns bay with all details inside. Whatever the case, you have plenty of gray/green or aluminum aircraft to depict. Keep in mind that most wartime pictures reveal very weathered machines, regardless the theater of operations. The stains on the booms aft the turbo-supercharger were very characteristic on camouflaged machines, while the aluminum ones commonly showed many oxidized panels. If you want a P-38J, check your references about the compressibility flaps and the hydraulic ailerons. As for the P-38L, those items are mandatory and also:

The picture below shows some of these details in the EAAM P-38L.

P-38L in the EAA Museum (mandatory details on the L-version). Photo: David Copley.

There were the "Droop Snoot" and the “Pathfinder” versions too, not to mention the F-5 photo recon aircraft. The former was also released by Revell and will be the subject of a review it in the future. If you have a few conversions under your belt, you can even try a P-38M, the night-fighter derivative of the P-38L. I'm not joking, check here.

My main references for this review were:

  1. L. Davis, P-38 Lightning In Action, Aircraft Number 109, Squadron Signal Publications, 1990.
  2. B. Kinzey, P-38 Lightning in Detail & Scale, Part 1, XP-38 through P-38H, Squadron Signal Publications, 1998.
  3. B. Kinzey, P-38 Lightning in Detail & Scale, Part 2, P-38J through P-38M, Squadron Signal Publications, 1998.
  4. F.A. Johnsen, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Warbird Tech Series, vol.2, Specialty Press, 1996.
  5. J. L. Ethell, P-38 Lightning in World War II Color, Motorbooks Intl., 1994.
  6. J. Stanaway, P-38 Lightning Aces of the Pacific and CBI, Osprey Aircraft of Aces #14, Reed Intl. Books, 1997.
  7. J. Stanaway, P-38 Lightning Aces of the ETO/MTO, Osprey Aircraft of Aces #19, Reed Intl. Books, 1998.
  8. G. B. Stafford, Aces of the Southwest Pacific, Squadron Signal Publications, 1977.

SUMMARY

I recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind filling and sanding seams. Rescribing is up to you. Those who get used to the latest Tamigawa releases will probably keep a safe distance from this kit. But no doubt it is an eye catcher even out of the box, and dedicated detailers will be plenty of room to show their skills.

This kit is just fine for a beginner or a youngster too, and will make anyone happy for its impressive size. If you don't want to build yours, consider giving it as a gift to a young modeler, so few in these days.

As a kit of this vintage, it can't rank more than three stars, mostly for the lack of details. However, it is the only injected option of the P-38 in the big scale. The likelihood of a new 1/32 P-38 being released in a visible future is negligible, I guess. So, if you want it, go for it.

© Rato Marczak

This article created on Saturday, July 02 2011; Last modified on Friday, August 02 2013