21st Century Toys P-38J-15-LO “Lucky Lady” in 1/18 Scale – Part 6

By Jay Wheaton

As you can see, this is a long story – I hope I still have your interest! To review I am showing the build (or rebuild) history of P-38J Lucky Lady in 1/18 scale. Part 5 took us through all that was done to the center fuselage pod, and the inner wings. Next on the docket would be the engine cowlings and the area where the turbo-superchargers are situated above the wheel wells.

Here is the unmodified area in the vicinity of the superchargers:

The actual supercharger has been removed, and I would use it practically unmodified. It was reasonably well represented. But the other stuff, not so much. The worst details were the inlets on either side of the supercharger. Here is what this area is supposed to look like (photo of an actual aircraft):

To duplicate that semi-circular shaped inlet, I did some out-of-the-box thinking and decided to lathe turn some aluminum rod into a bullet shape, as shown here:

Then I would line drill holes in these shapes:

Then I would sand flats in them, at an angle:

Can you say sore fingers? Anyway, glue these details onto some flat plastic plates, fillet the corners with epoxy, and you get this:

Later after final finish and other work, this is what the final product looks like:

Both sides:

Realism here was greatly enhanced, on an area that is distinctly P-38. I was most pleased.

But now came the engine cowlings. They would have to be a compromise. Unfortunately the 21CT model missed the correct shaping of the engine cowl and its radiator inlets. It’s a bit hard to explain except to say the shape of the chin intakes is off. This feature is the most inaccurate of the entire model. Fixing that was well beyond my capabilities, so I accepted the shape errors, and set out to at least make it look as real as possible. That meant fixing the spark plug cooler inlets somewhat similar to what I did with the inlets adjacent to the supercharger, redoing panel lines, creating new radiator outlet doors, and creating Dzus fasteners – hundreds of them. That last task practically drove me to madness.

First let us take a quick look at the unmodified engine cowlings:

So much to do – panel lines, Dzus fasteners, oil cooler outlet flaps, exhaust shroud cooling inlets, and the spark plug cooling inlet. None are properly represented here. So first it had to get ugly:

I began with panels lines and the oil cooler outlet flaps which were straight forward. Most pictures I have seen of P-38s have these flaps closed. Why do P-38 model manufacturers often have them open (like Trumpeter)? Well, not Lucky Lady:

For the exhaust shroud inlets, I Dremmeled away the forward portion and replaced it with aluminum tube (I think 3/8 inch diameter), cut to shape. It worked adequately:

You also see the small white spark plug cooler inlets. Yes, P-38s actually had these. The many many .047 inch holes you see would be filled with rod, meant to better represent the scads of Dzus fasteners which held the various cowling panels in place. I drilled and filled approximately 500 holes total. You also see that panel lines have been filled in with putty, awaiting re-scribing.

Further back there was less to do. Part of it was painting the US insignia. Here I used a masking set supplied to me by the kind Mr Randy Tailon – a LSP member. Thanks Randy – they worked great! See?

After painting the entire cowling and surrounding area, it looked a lot better:

And the paint scheme for the 20th FG P-38Js is now very much in evidence – natural metal, yellow spinners, white stripe on nose. Pretty simple.

I had been waiting quite a while to final install the nose gear door which was sitting around gathering dust. Now was the time:

If you will, take a hard look at those Studebaker hinge linkages, and the door actuator on the aft bulkhead. 1/18 scale allows these things to be modelled with great realism.

I am now going to take you through one of the most excruciating (and also gratifying) parts of the entire build – the main landing gear doors and Studebaker hinge linkages. It was excruciating because of part count, and doing the same thing 4 times. It was gratifying because the end product is more realistic looking than I have seen on any other P-38 model. Let’s get started.

Here are unmodified doors, with special designed protuberances to allow the doors to open or close. The real airplane’s doors look nothing like this:

Similar to other LG doors I have done, I utilized the original parts to generate the shape only. So gone are the protuberances and other details, and I now had an inner door to which I could attach a scratch built outer skin, and also some more plastic sheet on the inside to build up the thickness more accurately:

Each door has five hinge linkages. Each linkage has many parts some of which are shown here:

The links are actually smaller than those for the nose LG door. And that is accurate. That made them harder to fabricate and control tolerances. And similar to the NLG door, the linkages are identical but the end fittings are all different from one another to account for the contour variations at each support location.

Here is a collection of other scratch built details for a door assembly. Some are .005 inch plastic bent-up parts used for the actuator rod support frames at the aft end of the door:

Add it all up and you get this complete MLG door assembly:

Now that one is minus its hinge linkages. Here it is with the linkages:

That assembly has slightly less than 250 individual parts, counting nuts and bolts, links, and all the other door assembly parts. Four doors, then, is approaching 1000 parts. And that my friends is why this part of the build was excruciating. Installation of the doors onto the aircraft was relatively simple. But it involved not just gluing the hinge linkages to the sides of the wheel well, but also installing the drive links at the forward and aft ends. Recall the wheel well build, where I had four rod ends on trolleys, waiting for the door actuator push-rods. Well here they are:

To my eye, this was a critical part of the build if it was to really look like a P-38. Now, if you will indulge me, I will show the progression:

Now there were two:

Then three:

And all four:

Progress on the aircraft would now look like this:

At this point, the model was getting quite large and fragile, but not too bad. It actually fit on the modeling table, sort of. You may have noticed I made a wood cradle of sorts to hold the model. A very good idea. Later, with the addition of the tail booms and outer wings – wow; my modeling table was just too small. But first I had to tackle the exterior fuel tanks and the bomb pylons.

As usual, the unmodified parts were unacceptable:

The tanks are oriented in a ridiculous nose-down position, and there is no realism. I would heavily modify the pylons to correct that. But the tank shape was actually pretty good. So I used them with little change. What I did do was replace the filler caps with lathe turned details identical to what I used for the wings:

Take a look at the finished tanks, with home-made decals:

Here is a shot of the modified pylon. I essentially “re-skinned” it:

These pylons have hidden shackles, which makes them fairly easy to make, as opposed to P-47 or P-51 pylons. I have no pictures of the under-wing work to relocate the attach points of the pylons. The original locations were too close to the landing gear, and needed to be more centered. I discovered the error after I had already finished the inner wings, so had to mess them up pretty good and repaint. But it all worked out OK. Here is the aircraft with tanks:

Perhaps I could be forgiven for thinking she was almost done at this point. It sure felt that way! And it had been two-plus years of work. But it was not. The tail booms, empennage, and outer wings would prove large projects as well. You will see that in my next installment (Part 7). Until then!

© Jay Wheaton 2016

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This article was published on Sunday, September 25 2016; Last modified on Wednesday, October 26 2016