Tamiya’s 1:48 scale P-38F/G Lightning kit comes on seven injection molded polystyrene sprues containing 206 parts. Another 18 clear parts come on one clear sprue. Additionally, a self-adhesive canopy masking set, three polycaps, and three large ball bearings used as counterweights in the nose and nacelles are included. The black-and-white instruction booklet organizes the build over 54 steps. Markings for two airplanes are included:
- P-38G Lightning, S/N 43-2256, “Miss Virginia,” 339th FS, 347th FG, 13th Air Force, Operation VENGEANCE (attack on Admiral Yamamoto’s aircraft), Guadalcanal, April 1943
- P-38F Lightning, 39th FS, 35th FG, 5th Air Force, Port Moresby, late 1942.
Strengths: Tamiya has been at the top of their game for many years now, and with every new release, they seem to define another standard or benchmark in the hobby. In this kit, Tamiya has produced the best P-38 in 1:48 scale, or in any scale, for that matter. This is better than any Hasegawa, Academy, or Hobby Boss P-38. Here, comparisons will be naturally made with the Hasegawa Lightnings, which are closest in quality to Tamiya’s P-38. Hasegawa’s kits were a bit notorious regarding their tricky fits of the nacelles, wings, and tail booms. Here, Tamiya has figured out the intricacies of P-38 kit design and assembly. More on this below.
The quality of molding is both sublime and exquisite. The recessed panel, rivet, and fastener detail is among the best we’ve ever seen from Tamiya. The parts breakdown is carefully conceived, and it’s all done to make sure the complex and unconventional airframe comes together seamlessly – literally. The top of the cockpit pod and upper wings are molded as a single part. The ceiling of the nose gear well extends to a single internal wing spar extending well into the interior of both wings. This feature will ensure perfect wing alignment. Another other real complicated spot could be the fit between the booms, tail assembly, and engine nacelles. Here, the booms and nacelles lock precisely into place and the horizontal stabilizer is then added and will slide right into position. The P-38 is a tail-sitter, but the three metal ball bearings are intended to be placed with within carefully positioned cradles buried deep (and which are invisible) inside the nose and both engine nacelles.
Tamiya also appears to have nailed the different features of the P-38F and P-38G. Here, these involve alternate parts for the instrument panels and turbosuperchargers. The cockpit is really very nice and features awesome detail, just below the level of detail that a cast resin set could offer. The cockpit builds up as a complete unit (firewall, sidewalls) with the control column, throttle quadrant, mixture controls, side consoles, and the P-38’s uniquely configured control column all being very well represented. Instrument dial faces are represented by decals. The seat and headrest/armor plating assembly look great, and shoulder harnesses and lap belts are also represented by decals. And a well-sculpted and molded pilot figure is provided. The parts for the SCR-274 radio stack on the cockpit decking behind the pilot are impressive, and even the small map case is included. The gunsight assembly also seems just about perfect. The boarding ladder can be positioned either extended or retracted. Detail on the nose guns are good, too.
The gear wells and landing gear are another highlight of the kit. The wells possess an unusual degree of detail for an injection-molded kit. They include various large pipes, gear door actuators, linkages, and other features. Sure, the finer wiring and cables might be absent, but what’s in the box gets most builders pretty far along in terms of detail.
External stores are provided in the form of two 150-gallon or two 300-gallon external fuel tanks. If tanks are not fitted, the covers for the stub pylons are included (a nice touch!). There are also two styles of main wheels: covered or exposed wheel hubs. Also, while the rudders and ailerons are separate parts, they are designed to go straight-in via mounting tabs. An even slightly enterprising scale modeler can modify them and make those control surfaces positionable.
The clear parts are absolutely beautiful. Their optical quality is flawless, and I would be almost afraid to dip them in future or polish them any further. There is also an extended fairing around the windscreen to make painting and masking easier. And speaking of masking, the kit-supplied masking set is there to assist that task.
The decals were printed in-house by Tamiya and they appear to be technically flawless. The markings options are fairly similar in overall look and paint scheme, but the option for “Miss Virginia” is historically quite notable.
Weaknesses: There are very few potential shortcomings, and some of which boil down to my own personal preferences. For example, I wish there was something on those instrument panel parts for the detail painter, rather than simple raised instrument dial bezels. Optional dropped landing flaps would have been a nice touch, too. I’m also not a huge fan of decal seatbelts or the tail boom’s radiator grills as being represented by decals. Both work better as photoetched parts for most builders. While the pilot figure is very well made, he is also fairly undynamic, sitting there with hands on his legs and looking blankly ahead in what I can only call a “meditative gaze.” Finally, do keep your eyes out for ejection pin markings. There are not all that many in this kit, but there are some shallow pin markings on the inside surfaces of the main gear well walls. They will be hard to see in the completed model, but they will be there, nonetheless. Though do please note: while your reviewer might ponder these points, they really do not detract from how thoroughly excellent this kit is. I’m rather in love with this thing.