P-38E Lightning

1/48 P-38E Lightning by Pat Camp

This 1:48 scale kit is having a few additions made along the way using Squadron/Signal’s Walk Around book as my main reference. There is also a CD-ROM containing photos of a restored P-38 (an L version) that was issued free with SAMI a while back. The kit is ex- Mick Burton (IPMS Portsmouth) loft insulation and use has been made of a True-Details photoetch set (intended for the Monogram kit) that came from the late Brian Press.

The kit parts are cleanly moulded and fit together well. There are a couple of large ejector pin marks on the bulkhead and these I filled with Mr Surfacer 500 (wonderful stuff, along with the 1000 grade variety). Various electrical boxes were added from cropped Evergreen plastic strip, switches from fine copper wire, hoses from (wrapped) guitar strings and items from the etched metal set using cockpit photographs in the reference as a guide. Blobs of PVA glue were used to form knobs on the various levers, switches and window winders. The electrical boxes in the compartment behind the seat don’t match up with the photos too well, so I only carried out one or two additions here. I did toy with building it all from scratch but decided against it as this is to be a relatively quick build.

The cockpit had been given a spray coat of Alclad primer. The early versions of the Lightning had the cockpit finished in Interior Green (later versions were zinc chromate as used for all other internal spaces on the aircraft). I used Humbrol Forest Green 150 as a dark undercoat followed by a topcoat of Interior Green 151 with a touch of yellow added, applied where the light would catch through the cockpit opening. This was not light enough, so I added a little Forest Green 150 to WEM ACUS11 chrome yellow and airbrushed this to the highlighted areas. The various consoles and panels are finished in black, so I applied Tamiya Panzer Grey to these and used Lifecolor black to shade. The next step was to pick out details and sharpen edges by applying paint using a hand brush

The seat cushion was painted in olive drab and the seat belts in Citadel Colour’s Kommando Khaki and highlighted and shaded with oils. Buckles were picked out in dark grey enamel and silver applied here and there, where you would expect some reflection from the light. The headrest was blocked in with Humbrol 62 Leather and then highlighted & shaded with oils.

I was also very pleased with how well the instrument combing had come out. I used the kit decal for the instruments as they are buried well forward and can’t be seen easily. Just as well, as I then discovered another combing on the sprues and found I had used the wrong one. So I had to soften and lift the decal from the one part and transfer it to the other. It only split in five places and refused to stay in place in its new home, so I suppose it could have been worse! Johnsons Klear was used to seal it in place and then the various greens and greys were airbrushed on. I suppose it’s obvious, but I discovered it is a lot easier to apply the decals after painting than to do it the other way round!

The various boxes and cabling in the radio compartment were finished in a way that represented photographs of the aircraft in my “Walk Around” book. For example, cylindrical items that were moulded square were painted to try and give them the correct shape.

Prior to installing the cockpit, the trailing edges of the upper and lower wing halves were sanded to give a sharp edge. This took quite a time to do. There is a light beneath the port wing and the transparent part supplied in the kit was the usual sort that you glue in place from the inside so that it is flush with the outside surface of the wing. Only in this case it wasn’t. It was too shallow. I therefore glued it in place from the outside so I could sand and polish it flush later on. A piece of aluminium foil was glued in place on the inside to represent the light’s reflector.

I’ve mentioned before that I often have problems gluing wing halves together. I had a disaster with the Curtiss Goshawk. The wings of the P-38 were too distorted and did not want to go together in one hit. I glued them along the leading edge inboard of the engines and held them in position until fully set. I then used Revell Contacta liquid cement on the port wing half and clamped it in position using clothes pegs. To stop them from sliding off and to keep the tailing edge straight, I had taped in place some strips of wood just short of the trailing edge. This worked very well apart from the inboard trailing edge where I had used a jubilee clip. This turned out to be too strong and caused the wing surfaces to distort a bit. I didn’t notice it at first so went and did the very same thing when I glued the starboard wing halves together!

The nose comes as three pieces which are very nearly quite unlike the size and shape of the fuselage behind. Before gluing in place I decided to add some weight (to the aircraft, not myself). Completely ignoring the kit instructions, I epoxied in place seven broken tungsten drill bits. I then dry assembled the booms and tail and decided it was a bit marginal. Then I read the instructions and it said to add 20 grams. As I didn’t know how much I had already added, I decided to put this amount of lead into the nose and have the tungsten drills as a bonus. The first piece of lead I cut was a little on the small side, at 15 gram, so I supplemented it with another piece that came out at 10 gram. I decided that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble of trimming it back, so epoxied these in place alongside the tungsten drills. My worry now is that the undercarriage is going to collapse under all the weight!

A lot of sanding and filling was needed around the nose and I managed to loose lots of surface detail, which is a shame. I used a needle to score in some lines, but was still a disappointing result.

The booms had various inlet / outlets reshaped & thinned as the mouldings are a little heavy in these areas. Plasticard was added to the inside to block off the clear view through the radiator openings into the inside of the model. This is a weakness of this kit as I think these should have been supplied as parts to include some radiator detail. The main wheel wells are supposed to be sandwiched between the tail boom halves when gluing together, but I found it better to fit them afterwards so as to make sure they went in squarely. Again, the parts had to be glued in sections owing to distortion. The lower portion of the cowling comes as a separate piece (the later P-38 models having a much deeper intake). The fit of these was not ideal and I tried two approaches to fitting them. The first was to apply plenty of glue and follow up with Mr Surfacer to fill the gaps. The other was to apply three of four spots of glue to hold the part and then apply Mr Surfacer to the inside surface where it would get drawn into the gap by capillary action. This was an infinitely better result and one I’ll use again when it is possible to get at the inside of the join.

Academy supply a part for the coolant line that runs the length of the main wheel well but it is a poor fit and shape. I made replacements from thick garden wire (the plastic covered stuff) using the kit parts and reference photos as a guide. There are numerous hydraulic lines that run the length of the well and these are absent from the kit parts. I made a simple bending jig for copper wire so that each piece would be bent identically. Five lines were positioned on the workbench before trimming to length at each end. I purchased some Micro Liquitape when I last placed an order with Roll Models. It is a contact adhesive that lets you attach, remove and refix parts in position. I applied a couple of streaks of this to the wheel bay roof and found I was able to adjust the position of each wire and then secure it in place by pressing the wire into the Liquitape. When each set of five wires were in place, I followed up with thin superglue.

The wheel well subassemblies were glued into the booms. The side walls look all wrong so I think this model is one destined to be screwed firmly down to a base. The booms were attached to the wings trapping the tailplane between them. I guess you won’t be surprised to hear that the fit is poor and a lot of filling is going to be needed, although some gaps are due to my having thinned the wing trailing edges. This kit certainly is one that does not “fall together” like the Tamiya variety!

I had now reached the point where paint is to be daubed on. This aircraft sports the olive drab over neutral grey scheme and should be a simple progression on my first attempts at pre-shading carried out on the overall grey Rafale model. I also assembled the 1/72 Hobbyboss kit of the Curtiss P-40N Warhawk to use as a trial piece to help guide me during the painting process. Not that this avoided me stumbling into pitfalls though!

The Warhawk assembled quickly and easily. The only problem found was with an insert at the rear of the cockpit that should have been flush with the fuselage but was actually well beneath it. It would have been a simple enough to rectify by gluing in place plasticard of appropriate thickness and then re-scribing panel lines. However, as I was using the kit for paint trials I didn’t bother to do this.

The cockpit of the P-38 had been polished and dipped in Johnson’s Klear. The windscreen and rear section were glued onto the model by first using Microscale Liquitape (you could equally use ordinary white PVA glue, Humbrol Clearfix or Micro Klear for this) followed by thin Superglue once correctly positioned. I used Mr Surfacer to seal the join and then masked the parts for painting. I used the Eduard mask set, but it turned out to be for Academy’s “G” version that had different framing around the windscreen. In other areas the mask fit was “so-so” and, quite honestly, it would have been just as easy to apply Tamiya tape and trim around the frames with a new scalpel blade. Incidentally, the Eduard masks I used for Tamiya’s Shiden were also not that brilliant (and the paint job turned out a disaster, which may explain why you’ve not seen anything written about it), but those for the Eurofighter Typhoon were superb, so I guess they tend to be a bit variable in fit.

The completed airframes from both kits had the seams filled and sanded where necessary. A handling jig made for an earlier model (Tamiya’s He219 Uhu) was adapted to hold the P-38 for painting. The P-40 was held using a pin drill attached to the propeller shaft. Painting commenced by applying Alclad grey primer all over. Some Humbrol Dark Grey 67 was added to this and applied to the undersides to pre-shade this area. From my own point of view, I think this general type of pre-shading adds greatly to the realism of the completed model. I was discussing this with Ben on the way back from our visit to Yeovilton and mentioned that one of the problems when spraying the pre-shade is that you get overspray onto the light areas, particularly when you have things like weapons pylons beneath the wings. So a better way is to spray the shade colour first of all and then to do the light colour. This should be directed onto the upward facing surfaces with a little going onto the sides to give to emphasise the 3-d shape. (I used this method on painting the Eurofighter Typhoon and it came out well, despite making a “right pigs-ear” of the top coat which I’ll tell you about in another article).

The undersides were airbrushed with Humbrol Grey 165. Panel lines were then airbrushed with Tamiya German Grey and then by hand brushing. The surfaces were given a light going-over with Micromesh 6000 grade at each stage of painting [2, 3].

The grey areas were masked with Tamiya tape. The wavy transition between upper and lower colours was obtained by lightly applying a wide strip of tape and marking the line by marker pen. The tape was removed and cut along the line before finally attaching to the model. Once completed, the masking seams were sealed with liquid mask to eliminate the risk of colour bleed through during spraying [4].

The upper surfaces were sprayed with Lifecolor OD41 Faded, UA008 [5].  To pre-shade the panel lines I tried an experiment with different colours on an old business card [6]. A stripe of the Lifecolor paint was applied and then this was crossed with a selection of green and brown paints that I thought would make good candidates. Once dry, these were sprayed over with Humbrol Olive Drab 41. The best colour seemed to be Winsor & Newton Burnt Sienna and this was used on the P-40 first of all. However, when applied as a thinned colour it was too orange and so I added some burnt umber when I came to do the P-38. The paint was mixed with Liquin and Humbrol thinners and applied by hand as a thin glaze, resulting in a quilted effect [7]. I have decided that hand brushing the pre-shade around the panel lines is easier and quicker than airbrushing. I also like the idea of applying the pre-shade to the leading edges of panel lines and this is easy to do by hand brushing [8].

The following day I applied the top coat. The weather was nice so I set up my table and airbrush on the patio and worked outside [9]. Humbrol Olive Drab 41 (one of the old “Camouflage Colours”) was mixed with 50% Liquin and then thinned with Humbrol thinners for airbrushing. This was applied as thin layers over the model until the contrast with the pre-shading was just as I wanted it to be. I was really pleased with the finish [10] and began to think I liked this kit after all!

So, we are on the home run now so what can possibly go wrong? The next step was to gloss coat ready for decaling. I used Humbrol Gloss Cote that had to be well thinned with a lot of Humbrol thinners for it to airbrush well. It made the model look a whole lot darker [11] but the finish came up nice after a rub down with 8000 grade Micromesh. Also, the finish was tacky (and remained so for weeks afterwards!) and made handling of the model very tricky. Lesson 1: I don’t think I’ll be using Humbrol Gloss Cote again!

Now one of the jobs we all look forward to (or maybe Paul Adams isn’t so keen any more after his last motorbike!): putting the decals on. The kit ones looked good on paper, but were damned reluctant to come off it even after a long soak. And I guess it left the glue behind, because it sure had no intention of sticking to the aircraft. The yellow serials remind me of a woman’s wet tee shirt competition, but not as much fun [12, 13]. Lots of Micro Decal Set and Decal Sol were used, including stabbing the decals with a scalpel blade to get the stuff to flow through underneath.

 Something stronger than Microsol was needed to get the decals to settle and remove silvering, so out came the serious stuff: SOF Extra Strong Decal Softener. Handle this stuff at arms length using asbestos gloves! I tried this on the stars on the booms and disaster! Рthe colours ran and smeared the paintwork. What a mess! I cleaned up the areas as best I could and, after asking club members for some replacement, put some on even though they had a crescent of white showing at the outside edge: I was past caring. Lesson 2: avoid using Academy kit decals in future!

The model was airbrushed with Testors Dull Coat and weathered using various shades of yellow and brown (which all seemed to turn out grey on the model!) airbrushed to create streaks in the direction of air flow [14]. The worn metal areas were hand brushed using silver printer’s ink mixed with Liquin, following photographs for guidance [15]. I rested a pint brush against a straight edge to help keep the lines of wear marks nice and neat. The turbocharger was airbrushed with Alclad Dark Aluminium and shaded with a mix of Alclad and enamel Metalcoat paints [16]. The guns were coated with black oil paint over Alclad Dark Aluminium. This was removed by using a soft, dry brush until just the right effect was obtained [17].¬†

The kit tyres are made of rubber. The moulding seam was removed and the tyre given a worn look using coarse abrasive. It was painted as if it were a plastic part. The raised rim on the hubs was ground away so the tyres were an easy fit requiring no stretching.

The canopy masks were removed having first trimmed around the paint edge with a new scalpel blade. The completed model is shown in photos 18 – 21.

One Reply to “P-38E Lightning”

  1. I’m about to start a P 38 (Academy’s Glacier Girl). Your review has given me much inspiration, especially for the cockpit detailing. Excellent paint job.

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