Profile Photo
david leigh-smith
283 articles

Lightning in June

May 13, 2017 · in Aviation · · 35 · 3.6K

We have all been there. A model just fights and fights every inch of the way and sometimes just seems to say, "you aren't really much good at this hobby, why not try golf, or knitting? Something less... skillful".

This was that model for me. This is the scale (very) old offering. It's a , and I love a P38. I really do. But this kit did not reciprocate that love in any way, any shape, and in no form whatsoever. When I say it fought me, it bit, it kicked me where no one wants to be kicked, and it scratched. Although the nose art refers to 'California Cutie' it really should read 'Iron Mike Tyson'

However, I wasn't going down without a fight. In my corner I had Mr. Surfacer, Milliput, plasticard, and a host of other allies. Even so it was a close call. It's taking a leap of faith sharing this build and the final result as I'm not really very happy with it; the fact I am going 'public' how much trust I have in my fellow 'imodelers'.

And so as time went by the Lightning and I came to a kind of truce; both of us on the ropes, tired and fighting on autopilot. This was no knockout.

Although the Lightning carries the name 'California Cutie' I admit that I took some liberties. The real aircraft did in fact take part in that June of 1944 but was mainly in standard olive drab, and was not a 'droop snoot'. However, this was a sneaky bird; the ground crew actually painted the snout silver to mimick a droop snoop model in the hope that the Luftwaffe would think her unarmed. There's no record to show if this actually worked - but this kite survived the assault.

The model took a lot of building; details are few and the fit was appalling. But with a few rudimentary additions I got her almost looking how I imagined on that innocent day when I opened the box.

I made the bombardier' hatch, added some details to the interior (there is a build post on this aircraft if anyone's interested), made an access ladder, and did some basic riveting.

I'm happiest with the upper surfaces paint job. The Alclad paints look authentic (well, to me anyway) and I enjoyed painting and weathering the invasion stripes. The general shape is good and I think she looks like a hard ridden plane at a very tough time.

There are a few things I'd definitely do differently (not least to get a good camera), but to carry on the boxing metaphor, we were two old pros locked in attrition rather than any attempt to dazzle with the noble art. And in the end I think I shaded a decision on points. As I say, it's testimony to the esteem I hold this forum in that I feel confident in sharing the process and the result. Comments, suggestions, and tips would be really welcome. Despite the struggle I have to say that I loved making this plane. We are a crazy bunch, no?

In one or two of the comments I've written on imodeler I have said how much respect I have of the men who flew these aircraft and sacrificed everything for us. There are still men who die flying the beautiful aircraft we make, and on July 14th, 1996, Michael Proudfoot perished when he crashed in the only flying P38 in Europe at an air show. The plan was marked 'California Cutie' - rest in peace, Michael.

Reader reactions:
9  Awesome

2 additional images. Click to enlarge.

35 responses

  1. I had to do a little "backtracking" to discover just what scale and kit this was...but I found it. The Revell 32nd offering, huh...? Well I must say, despite the horrors described, it turned out quite well in my estimation. In fact, it turned out extremely well from what I can see. Nice work, sir.

  2. Hi Craig.
    I edited the post to make it clearer, so thanks for a helpful hint already!

  3. And Jeff, if you are reading I have raised a glass of Scotland's finest for you this evening.


    • Yes, David - I AM reading & you deserve the libation & thanks for your dedication to my suggestions!

      I'm not familiar with "Slainte!" I presume it goes right along with Cheers, or Skol, or Prosst! Cheers to you, Sir & as tomorrow is the American Mother's Day, I'm sure there will be a few adult beverages available, I'll raise a glass of Scottish lifeblood to you! (Actually today is Mum's Day as it's 04:00 here in Indy.)

      Well done, David. Cheers!

  4. Interesting story. I guess that all Lightning kits are more or less tricky to build, and for the moment I thought that this was a 1/48 Academy that I'm still considering... Anyway, a good test of modeling perseverance, I'm glad you prevailed. It's looking great

  5. Thank you very much. I think we all come to modeling for different reasons but the common denominators are love of our subjects, the challenge of recreating a piece of history, and creativity. In all three areas I scored with this model despite the frustrations.
    I really appreciate the feedback - and yes, build the academy kit! Would love to see it.

  6. Looks great despite the kit 🙂 I had some old 1:32 Revells back then (the P-38 too) but I quickly sold them.

    • Hey, Gabor.
      Technically those old Revell kits are awful, but it's like women describe childbirth; unimaginable pain at the time - but given time it fades and you end up doing it again.

      Hope you are having a great weekend.

  7. Looks a great build to me,I would be proud of it,They did call them widow makers in ww2,could still be the case.

    • Jim, you are right - they did call the P38 'widowmaker', mainly (I think, need to google this) because of problems stalling in dive conditions. When Michael Proudfoot died in '96 he was executing a low level roll. By all accounts he was a larger than life character but very humble. There are countless stories about him but my favourite is how he had to "force himself" not to barrel roll his 737 to control drunk and rowdy passengers on a skiing trip to Switzerland. That would have been something.

  8. David, it really looks great, particularly given what you had to work with. Plus, it's a real different version than what you usually see built.

    • Thanks for that, Bernard. It kind of feels like I took a pig's ear and made... a not so bad pig's ear. But overall, I had a 'look' that I wanted and think I got it - and more importantly I enjoyed it.

  9. David, it turned out looking really nice, and "Yes" I too feel your pain battling a kit. I've junked two models recently and they weren't even P-38s. I'm going to go out on the edge here and say , I don't think a really good P-38 kit exist yet, and that is way too bad. So when I see a well built model out of whats available today, I have to give notice and applause. Well done here, a battle well fought !

    • I hate junking models. I had an experience last year making Revell's great 1/32 Ju88 A4 - I made a great model and I was so pleased with the 'Tolga Ulgur' desert colour scheme. I had a disaster that I just couldn't recover from - first the kids trashed the AM landing gear in a fight and then I made the worst decision ever with a wash that just stuck to every surface. I quietly and gently crushed her to pieces. I literally could not bear to spend another second on that kite. Be a good post topic - 'Worst modelling disaster'.

      Thanks for the comments.

  10. I agree David. Your Lightning really turned out very nice. add in the fact that you don't normally see too many P-38's, then add in the scale plus the fact it is a scratch built conversion... You get the idea.

    Well done sir. Two thumbs up ! I really like it.

    • Hi Louis.
      The lightning's a great subject and it's really satisfying to get that distinctive shape.
      Thanks for the kind words, Louis. Given that I'm a real admirer of your work it means a lot.

  11. It's simple, you picked one of the worst kits to build. This kit is promoted way beyond its "Peter Principle" level to be a doorstop.

    Amazingly, you made it look like an actual model. Kudos to you, none to the kit.

    • Confession time; I had to google the 'Peter principle' - and boy does the description fit!
      I really appreciate the feedback, Tom. Not least because it's easy to beat yourself up a bit with some builds; its a hobby where sometimes you gain confidence in inches and lose it in feet.

  12. Excellent, David. I built the Trumpeter version in this scale, with the Big Ed set. It wasn't a bad kit, but it's an awkward shape and difficult at the best of times. You've done a grand job.

    • Rob, I actually thought of buying the Trumpeter kit just before I took the plunge (based on the fact the Revell kit was the equivalent of 12 US dollars on eBay). It'd be easy to say I made the wrong choice but I can say this build has made me a better modeler.
      Thank you for the comments!

  13. It's certainly a very attractive aircraft, but I can see that it might be difficult to design an "easy to build kit". Whatever, you've persevered and come up with a great looking model, I love the weathered invasion stripes and the open canopy.

    • I guess technically the Lightning may be difficult to mould (maybe other members with more knowledge could comment) which would explain the lack of a 'definitive' kit?
      George, thank you for taking the time to look and comment, I really appreciate it.

  14. It is a well told story David. Perseverance is a little measured attribute these days and yours must be high on the scale. The great majority would be extremely proud of the outcome given the nature of what went before. I guess the interesting historical element must certainly have added to the drive to complete this unique build! Overall I think you've been hard on yourself! Here's hoping you avoided 'Dementia pugilistica' and get back in the ring with a beautifully-fitting kit. Sounds like you deserve it!

    • I agree, Paul. I think generally we live in a time when immediate gratification is hot currency. This hobby of ours is a great way of staying in the moment, working in small increments, and graduating toward a payoff. I mentioned earlier my fight last year with a Ju88, I definitely lost that one - so this is progress. And no dementia...yet.

  15. Thumbs up for your perseverance David.
    You learn a lot from these kind of projects.

  16. Thanks, Ulf. I've learned a lot from this kit and it's definitely not put me off more 'projects' in the future. The main things I took from this build are;

    • keep working, even if it's a tiny amount - positive momentum will always outweigh setbacks.

    • for me the feel and look of a project is more important than absolute accuracy. I'm not against 'rivet counting'; but if you have a vision then let that guide you.

    • keeping a build in progress post is really helpful for motivation.

    • imodelers are a real inspiration. If you lose your mojo there's always something here to get you going again.

    • Alclad paints are fantastic to work with and look amazing.

    Sorry to go on!

  17. I followed this project with great interest in the past weeks. Some of the pictures in the forum section gave me the feeling of being set back in time, especially the ones that show the green-brownish plastic of the kit. The only thing missing for my personal seventies feeling: glue-made finger prints all over the surfaces and decals applied directly to the plastic.

    Such an incredible result, David and such a cool project.

    • Yes, the 'glue prints'... I remember those very well. So do my parents because the glue prints were not confined to the planes!

      I loved your 1/32 Birdcage (and the Spitfire in the same scale) and hope that I can work on getting my builds to that level of skill - you are an artist.

  18. Despite the contest, I think you came out well ahead! I'd be proud to display it in my cabinets (except that at 1/32, it probably wouldn't fit!).

  19. Looks great to me!

  20. Thanks, Robert! Appreciated.

  21. I like weathering, excellent !

  22. Thank you, Christian!

  23. David, It looks fine to me! I like the weathering you did. I completed a 1:48 scale Revell P-38 this last summer. It too kicked my rear severely. Nothing fit and I had to rebuild quite a lot, typical of that time period when this kit came out. I have had it for years, just begging me to attempt it. I got brave and dove in. I may post photos later but like you, I'm hesitant to do so. I'm my own worst critic! My build was the gun nose J version. I was so glad to finish that model that I took a break from least for a few weeks! Lol! Yours looks just fine, and I thank you for posting it!

Leave a Reply