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Chuck A. Villanueva
122 articles

Academy 1/48 Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning USAAF

February 25, 2017 · in Aviation · · 23 · 3.5K

Late August 1945, as Capt McLaughlin (fictional) views the moonlit Pacific out of the cockpit of his P-38M. The drones of the supercharged Allisons like music in his ears. The war is over, though being in the war zone since mid summer, despite flying patrols no opportunities ever came to show off the capabilities of his mount. With his radar operator sitting right behind him never calling out a threat. Late in the war the Japanese really did not have much left for night operations much less daytime threats. The P-38M became operational in January 1945, training of aircrews for this type of special mission took time to stand up the squadron for actual combat. By the time they were in theater the war was almost over. Very little if any contact of enemy aircraft at night. The few patrols flown yielded nothing. Faster than the P-61, only 75 were modified from the P-38L for the night mission (though 80 bureau numbers are listed for the conversion). As far as I know only 1 still survives. Painted glossy black, with the AN/APS-4 radar pod under the nose, the nose guns had flash suppressors installed to protect for night vision, HVAR rockets were carried on the outer wing racks, and of course the very distinctive bubble rear compartment for the radar operator very cramped. Flying for the the 418th Night Fighter Squadron in Okinawa, providing escort for B-29 night missions. Very late in the war. Already a capable aircraft throughout the war, the fork-tailed devil was more sinister in appearance in black.

The kit first appeared in 1991 as a J, which soon after Hasegawa released their J/L kit as well. Not since Monograms from the 60's, which you can build several variants including the "M" there was really nothing else in this scale (Aurora also had a kit in 1/48th from the 50's). I will not compare the Hase kit as I have never had or built one to compare it with. I built Monograms kit many years ago as an M, don't remember how it was just know I finished it. I bought this kit from Discount Hobbies in Utica,NY remember them? It was a dedicated Night so I bought it initially for the stash. I built this back around 99/00 or so. Only using Eduards cockpit set and the kit decals as there were no aftermarket decals for a P-38M at the time. Straight Model Master gloss black. Being a steady and methodical builder I didn't have trouble with the tail boom alignment I have read about or maybe felt it was the nature of the kit, the only issue was cleaning up the seams around the nose. I used the vinyl tires that were provided though True Detail resin wheels were available at the time. They have been on the model over 15 years they look fine with no lasting issues as you can see in the Pics. It builds to an impressive model. This is the first time I have posted this particular model. Thanks for viewing.

Reader reactions:
11  Awesome

28 additional images. Click to enlarge.

23 responses

  1. Nice job...don't see very many of these builds.

  2. Very cool build my friend. I really like the original color photo. I'm really surprised that this one still has the original rubber tires. I had a bad experience with rubber tires on my AMT kit. The rubber actually ate into the plastic where it was stored in the box. The parts were simply touching against each other. Maybe I just had a set that had some type of caustic release agent ? Who knows for sure what caused this to happen. Maybe since yours was an Academy kit it had different compositions?

    Anyhow enough about the tires on my old kit.

    Yours really looks great. I like it ! Two thumbs up Sir !

    • Thanks Louis, Academy uses a vinyl which will not have any trouble with styrene. AMT's Tigercat, uses rubber for their tires, which I also had trouble with when I first got the kit, one of the tires had been on one of the tail stabs and left a mark where it rested, so I had to fix that. If you have any of Academy's armor soft skin kits, like let say the Hummer, it is the same material they use for the tires in that kit. Now waiting for some goodies for the P-38E and Devastator so I can get started on them.

  3. A nice contrast to the usual OD or NMF Lightening finishes, and a nice clean build.

  4. Chuck that P-38M looks fantastic 🙂 One of those NF planes your rarely seen built these day !

  5. I always love your write-ups, Chuck, and they are perfectly complemented by your models, this one has obviously stood the test of time very well.

  6. Thanks George, just a little history I try to employ with the model. Even if it didn't get a chance to see any action. This has survived several moves, losing the barrels of the guns in the nose and one gear door.

  7. Chuck, I built the Monogram as an M, too. A relative P-38 rarity. Some were in the Phillipines at wars end, and ended up being scrapped there a couple of years later, as the war and the need were both over. I wouldn't have wanted to be the radar backseat guy, which must have been like doing the same thing in a Tigercat. later on.

    Nicely done. I always wondered why they retained the rocket trees, as I figured they'd slow it down, and rocketry at night seemed counterproductive. Kill that night vision.

    • Thanks Bernard, seems that at the end of the war some were in the Philippines, and some were also in Japan at Kadena AB. Sadly there is only one in Arizona, at the Champlin Fighter Museum in Mesa. It no longer has the pod under the nose, but the distinctive radar operator compartment is there. Good point about the rockets. The thought may have been for raids on ground targets with the rockets which that tactic was used in the Korean war with the Tigercats and Corsairs.

  8. Beautiful! You are right about the black scheme, it is more sinister looking.

    • Thanks Robert, love those night intruder black schemed aircraft. In this case glossy black, which only being in theater for a very short time, not much weathering if any was done on this model.

  9. The P38 was one of those WW II aircraft that served on nearly every front and adaptable for many different missions: fighter, fighter bomber, night fighter, recon. You did a splendid job on this one!

  10. Thanks Morne, not only was it one of the first multi role aircraft in service, it was the only aircraft to see service from start to finish in WWII for the USAAF.

    • The list of airplanes in service in the USAAF on 7 December 1941 still in first-line service at the end of the war includes: B-17, B-24, B-25, B-26, C-47, P-47, and the P-40, the only one to have gone out of production (1944) before war's end but still serving at the end. There were in fact more of each of these in service on 7 December than there were P-38s (45 total, including the 14 YP's). Just sayin'...

  11. Nice work on an interesting airplane, but the squadron never got further west than Fresno. Never went overseas (another myth punctured) I remember a very respected author saying 50 years ago that the airplanes had seen combat over Japan, where that came from outside of his imagination is beyond me. Sadly, a lot of aviation history nowadays consists of debunking the "alternate facts" people like Martin Caidin came up with that we all believed as kids.

  12. I didn't ask for your opinion,

  13. Beauty Chuck! 😉
    Plane's very nice too!

  14. Chuck, you've done a great job. I'm in this project right now and have a question: Perhaps I am spoiled by the Tamiya P-51B I just finished, but I am finding the Academy P-38M pretty dicey when it comes to the cockpit placement (or perhaps my Ebay-purchased kit has some warping). Either way, I am wrestling a bit with how the cockpit assembly should sit in the lower wing/pod piece and (more to the point) how the upper wing/pod piece settles into it. Since this is fresh for you, I thought I'd hit you up for some advice.

    Here's my question: The back of the radar operator's seat has a little lip that sticks up higher than the backrest proper. Does that lip go in front of the headrest that is part of the upper wing/pod assembly, or does it go just behind it? The instructions are pretty vague on this point, as as you know the only guide for cockpit placement is a tiny "stop" on the underside--not very precise.

    I am really taking my time with this one, doing careful cockpit painting and prep work. But if I get this part wrong it can mess up the entire thing. Help me out if you can, and I will be much obliged.



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