P-38J Lightning – Twin-Tailed Dragons 1/32
Here is Trumpeter’s massive, over-engineered, but still impressive P-38J Lightning in 1/32nd scale. Some of you may know that this is not an easy kit. The sheer size of it, coupled with the fact that you need a ton a weight in the nose to get it to sit up, means that it keeps trying to twist itself apart in the painting and detailing process. I put months of work into this back in 2016 and actually just returned to it for about 16hrs this week to finish off some key details. The markings represent the aircraft of Major Willard Webb of the 459th FS (Twin- Tailed Dragons) in Chittagong, India, 1944, with all main details of the “dragon” motif masked and airbrushed with home-made stencils.
Here is a brief summary of the work I did, overall. I used the full-sized Eduard detail set to detail the cockpit but also added details using styrene, solder wire, decals, paper, masking tape, bare metal foil and other bits and pieces. I completely redid the throttle quadrant with photo etch and used blobs of white glue for knobs on the throttles. I really liked the radios that came with the kit but also detailed these somewhat by adding wiring, photo-etch segments and data plates. The Detail and Scale volume on the P-38 (vol. 58) by Bert Kinzey was really helpful as a reference. I actually did a lot of work on the gun bay too, only to find that the access panels did not close properly over the detail. There also wasn’t enough space for adequate nose weight unless the bays were closed up so that decided that! What I really wanted was a big realistic P-38 and not a toy with loose paneling sagging all over the place. I wish that Trumpeter would learn from Hasegawa how to simplify and keep costs and headaches down.
I turned next to the masking job for the dragons. This I did in layers, beginning with the white of the teeth then doing the red and finally the black segments. I masked over the mouths and eyes to do the garish green head and body of each dragon, inside and outside the booms. I did this to match available photos as closely as possible. The camo came last. I went with Tamiya Neutral Gray undersides and Gunze OD #1 over a dark pre-shade of dirty grey-black – this gave good panel line enhancement and streaking effects before the final oil wash. After many, many hours of work, the most intimidating subsequent task was how to do the yellow broken line all around the edge of each dragon. I decided to do each little dash mark with a separate piece of decal! I think it worked pretty well but I felt like an aging surgeon with my teasers and visor. Too bad nobody pays us for this stuff. BTW photos and profiles appeared to show no check marks for the dragons on the inside of the booms, so I didn’t just give up on those.
Eventually, I had to repair and repaint all the little details that got damaged in the completion process (sigh). I originally used the kit landing gear only to have it snap off mid-build. I cut the plastic gear off and replaced it with aftermarket gear struts in white metal, which I don’t like working with but can’t fault for strength. I was surprised that the replacement gear didn’t give the typical high nosed sit of a p-38 at rest, but I imagine that this a/c is just fully loaded with ammo in the nose but not yet gassed up in the wing tanks. When the model was sitting nicely for me on solid gear, I worked on sinking the rolled down cockpit window on the port side and detailing the rolled up window on the starboard side. I used bare metal foil for this inside back of the cross frame and OD painted strips of decal for the outside. I detailed the sealing strips and latch mechanism on the edge of the windscreen with similar materials and methods. Chipping and scratches around the cockpit were done with a silver pencil.
This last week and a half in lockdown brought closure. I finally scratch built the L3 gunsight and inserted it into the cockpit to attach to the previously installed photo-etch mounting arm. This was almost the only way to go about it but so delicate and nerve wracking I put it off for four years (I didn’t want blobs of glue or a runway gunsight messing up the super-detailed cockpit, particular if it broke off the photo etch arm)! Anyway it is done. I then applied stenciling to the fuselage and wings using Hobby Decal dry transfers. These worked really well on matt coated paint but man they are labor intensive and time-consuming to rub on!
That’s it. I hope this doesn’t seem like a litany of complaints because I really like the kit. I will just know enough next time to build it simply from the start. I have another one waiting to do in European Theater markings – maybe of Robin Olds machine to put next to his F-4C in 1/32. The P-38 is my favorite fighter plane of World War II and I am really happy to have one in my favorite scale. It even fits (just) in my Ikea glass cabinet! I hope you guys find I did it justice.
Added a few new pics with more natural light (less grainy). Comments welcome as always.
37 additional images. Click to enlarge.