The P-38 is a legend and hardly needs an introduction for many. Even during WWII it received the nickname ‘the fork-tailed devil’. Its missions varied wide from frontline combat roles like interception, dive bombing, level bombing, ground attacks, long-range escort fighter and night fighting to less action packed things like photo reconnaissance, evacuation missions and as radar and visual pathfinder for bombers. Thanks to its long combat range the aircraft was a favorite amongst pilots and brass in the Pacific, the China-Burma-India and North African theater. In the European theater the P-38 proved less popular due to sluggish performance at high altitude, suffering heavy losses against Luftwaffe fighters in the bomber escort role.

None-the-less the aircraft remained popular throughout the war as a whole and has several milestones written to its name like having several of the highest US scoring aces like Richard Bong with 40 confirmed kills and Thomas McGuire with 38 while only flying P-38’s. In 1943 a flight of 16 P-38 intercepted and shoot down Admiral Yamato’s G4M Betty (found in this kit) and even Charles Lindbergh flew the type in the Pacific to improve the type’s range and performance, flying 50 combat mission as a civilian and scoring a victory. It was also the only US aircraft that was in large scale production throughout the entire war.

But once that same war was won and the looming of the jet age, the aircraft was soon considered obsolete by the USAF with the last retired in 1949. Some of the airframes were sold to civil contractors while others were sold to the Italian, Dominican and Chinese air forces to just name a few. Honduras was the last military operator to retire the type in 1965.


The kit

  • Subject: Lockheed P-38F/G Lightning
  • Manufacturer: Tamiya
  • Scale: 1/48
  • Parts count: 228 (207 styrene, 18 clear, 3 ball bearings), Masking sheet
  • Serial: 61120
  • Price: ¥4360 JDM (suspected unconfirmed retail ~ €60 – EUDM / ~ $70 – USDM)
    Please note: Price can differ between pre-poduction kit and final retail boxing.
  • Personal rating: ✭✭✭✭ ✭✭✭
  • Pros: The best P-38 kit, Canopy design, internal wing spar, landing gear door design
  • Cons: Wrong wheel type for variants, some design choices, plastic might cause problems with natural metal finishes, no gun bay or engines to show off, export price(?)
  • Jump to final verdict/synopsis

Please note!
The kit (p)reviewed here is a pre-production kit. Things here will vary from the final production run boxing. This review will focus on the contents of the kit itself,  a build review will follow later on Facebook.

So here we finally have it, the long rumored Tamiya P-38. I was lucky enough to pick one of these up at a special event in Tokyo on the way to work. Now I would like to share it with you guys so you know what to expect. With tax included I paid a total of ¥ 4360. Using other Tamiya kits as a reference point, we can make an educated guess that the kit will cost somewhere near 60EUR or 70USD in their respective markets.

As this is a pre-production kit, the packaging has not been printed yet. Instead I got a cardboard white box with a black and white sticker on top. Other than however, this kit is supposed to be identical to the final production version.

Opening the kit we are greeted by a decently filled box with seven styrene frames, one clear frame, three metal weights, a kabuki tape masking sheet, a small decal sheet and several of the typical Tamiya booklets.

Sadly it seems that the plastic used is created of the same compound of their Ki-61 kit. People (myself included) have noticed that marks inside the compound actually show through shiny/natural metal finishes. I hope that Tamiya is actually aware of this problem and working on a fix for this.


The A & B frames
The first sprue is basically one single part, being the top wing and upper front fuselage half. Looking at the instructions this part will serve as the basis around which the whole model is build. If the we turn the part upside down we can see something which kind of represents the wing spars.

Budging the part it feels like these ‘spars’ adds some overall rigidness and strength to the part. This should come in handy given the added weights to prevent the model from tail sitting and overall weight of the model itself.

The B sprue carries some more generic parts like the bottom part of the outer wings, the propellers, the gun bay cover panels, hard points, horizontal stabilizer and a couple of cockpit parts. Overall the detail looks just as good as all other recent Tamiya kits, but as mentioned before there are marks on the outer wings that stem from the plastic compound. Several people have stated and shown proof that these marks will show through on metal finishes, even despite the usage of a primer, so please be aware of this.

Other small things I can note here are that the hard points will probably need some rescribing once assembled and that the machine gun parts lack hole indications on the barrels.


The C frame
The third sprue is dominated by a large piece that will act as a large wing spar for the kit. This is a good thing, because some other P-38 kit start to stand crooked after a while. This part should somewhat prevent that from happening.

This sprue also carries some of my favorite things about this kit, and it’s all about the main landing gear doors. First of all you can paint the inside and outside part separately without having to mask these uneven areas, after which you can glue them together via areas that will be hidden. The second point is that once you have finished painting and preparing, you can simply slide the parts into place in between the panels and the landing gear bay area.

This will prove to be stronger while minimizing the risk that you screw up trying to glue this thin strip of styrene inside and while attempting to hold everything it in place while the glue is curing.

Trust me when I say that the Academy and Monogram P-38 kits suffer greatly from this problem.

The last nifty part here is that the landing gear bay has a space designed to hold the provided weights into place. This way you don’t need to drop a ton of glue into the fuselage to hold the whole thing into place with the risk of it becoming lose halfway the build.

Not everything is perfect though. Some of the parts are very thin and brittle without any surrounding plastic to protect them. I can definitely see a couple of kits suffering damage here after making it halfway around the world to your doorstep, or by sheer clumsiness by some builders.

We can also find the front steering wheel on this sprue, which is not exactly accurate for this variant of the P-38, but I will keep that for the next sprue.


The D & E frames
The D and E frames hold all the ‘double’ parts like wheels, rudders, propeller hubs, radiator parts, two types of drop tanks and some other things. Interestingly enough Tamiya has decided to split the propeller hub into four parts that will fit around the propeller itself found on frame B.

Honestly I’m not sure wether I’m a fan of this design decision, and I would hate it if any other company tried to do something like this. However, if any company would be able to pull off a seamlessly fitting four part propeller hub, it would be Tamiya. My main concern with this sprue actually lays another part entirely, namely the wheels.

See, what Tamiya provides us with are cross-tread tires. Now, while the later P-38 variants and modern day warbirds are commonly outfitted with this type, war-time photographs show that the F and G variants were widely outfitted with block tread tires or even bald tires instead. From hundreds of images I was only able to find one single war-time instance where an earlier variant had rear tires with cross treads, however even here the front steering wheel was still a block tread tire. There was also one other photograph that had a p-38 with a front cross tread tire but bald main tires.

For those a bit confused about the situation, below you can see the difference between the block tread tires on a P-38G variant, bald tires on an F4 variant and then the cross tread tires provided with the kit as seen above.


Besides that I also feel a bit disappointed that Tamiya opted to cut the tire in half as opposite to molding the tire and rim separately, as they’ve done this with several of their previous releases (the Bf-109G-6 comes to mind). Now the P-38 the builder will have to sand down and rescribe part of the tires to remove the seam and blemishes left behind by the glue.


The F frame
F is the largest sprue and features what is probably the P-38’s most famous design aspect, the twin boom tail parts. Opposite to other P-38 kits, Tamiya has molded the radiator covers separately, providing for more detail in this area.

Another part which I really like is the separate molding of the landing gear bay doors.

Now what I don’t like is that the leading edge on the upper wing has been molded in a separate part. I would have liked this design choice if the part went all around the leading edge. I know this is probably to accomodate future releases of other variants, but this part only covers the upper part of the leading edge. So in the end you will have to sand away a seam on the leading edge just like any other kit, but with the added risk of creating a gap between the panels.

We can also find the iconic nose section which started all the Tamiya P-38 rumors. Here you can compare the part versus the real thing on the picture below.

Sadly I have to end the last styrene one bad note, that being the supercharger and exhaust parts. Now I don’t know why but Tamiya seems to have picked up this tendency to mold aircraft panels together with exhausts, or in this case part of the turbocharger (see part 10-11 on the picture below). Although it isn’t extremely dramatic, it does make painting and weathering this part needlessly more complicated.

Now if you build the F variant you have to use different parts which don’t suffer from this problem. However the G variant turbochargers are molded together with part of the panel in front of it. While just a detail, it is just a design choice that didn’t have to be made.

Luckily it seems that you can easily separate the part and put the F variant turbocharger underneath the front panel of the G variant, since both turbocharger parts look identical. I will test this myself when I get to building the kit.


The G frame
The last styrene sprue is divided into two parts. The main area holds most of the cockpit parts and a pilot figurine, while the latter is the lower portion of the center fuselage area. Detail overall is crisp, although not the best (nor worst) I’ve seen from Tamiya. The instrument panels do seem to vary a bit from those seen in wartime photographs like the ones below.

Now in all honesty, unless you’re really being anal about accuracy it’s not really a big deal. I’ve seen the build prototype at a Tamiya event and must say that the cockpit really looks amazing straight from the box. Unless you’re dealing with an expert on the P-38, nobody will be able to tell the tiny differences anyway. Especially once you put the pilot figurine in its place.


The clear H frame
Our eight and final sprue is the clear one. Naturally we can find the cockpit windows and navigation lights here, as well as the bulletproof glass plate mounted in the cockpit.

Here is where Tamiya definitely scores big points over all the other P-38 kits. Tamiya provides different parts for all the ways the canopy can be opened or closed.

None of the other 1/48 or even 1/32 kits provided solid canopy bits. It made constructing the cockpit a real pain and the final result quite fragile, causing masking all the small windows to be a nerve-wrecking experience.

Additionally we get the usual Tamiya kabuki masking tape which has all the canopy parts already drawn out on it, which should make masking the canopy even more of a breeze.


Instructions and printed material
So with all the frames finally out of the way let’s focus on the other items. Opposite to the usual folding leaflet type, we actually get a stapled booklet this time. I assume this is because the construction is split up into no less than 54 steps with optional steps in between. Only 4 of these focus on the cockpit, while everything else is about the construction of the airframe itself. Additionally the paper does feel sturdier than usual, which I hope will remain with future kits as well.

Also provided is the usual leaflet which focuses on the history of the model type. Luckily for me the English part is already in place, which is something that usually isn’t the case when Tamiya hasn’t exported the kit yet.

Finally we can also find a sheet called ‘techtips’ with some basic modelling techniques. Although interesting, it does seem to be more of a promotional leaflet for a Tamiya modeling-techniques book.


Now there aren’t a lot of fans of Tamiya’s kit provided decals, and I’m one of those people. While silvering isn’t prominent here, the ‘bonding’ overspray is quite large and in some areas not well alined with the inks.

However, credit where credit is due, Tamiya has provided high sheen metal decals (lower left corner) to imitate the rear-view mirrors on the canopy and polished mirror surfaces on the inner tail booms. The latter were used by the pilot as a visual aid to check whether or not the landing gear is in the correct position. No matter whether you will buy an aftermarket sheet or not, you’ll definitely want to use these and will add an extra layer of realism to your model.


In total we get the option of two markings of rather well known aircraft, one being famous for a certain mission while the other was recovered in the 90’s and now on display in a museum.

Option A
The first marking choice is the one found on the box art and a rather surprising choice for a Japanese company (though I have heard from Japanese friend that the aircraft in question sparks a lot of interest with builders here). Anyway the first is the P-38G s/n 43-2264 ‘Miss Virginia’ assigned to Capt. Bob Petit. However in regards to its claim to fame it was piloted by Lt Rex Barber, shooting down Japanese Admiral Isoroky Yamamoto G4M Betty on the way to Bougainville on the 18th of April, 1943.

With the Japanese Navy codes broken, the G4M was intercepted by Sixteen P-38Gs which made the 1,000-mile roundtrip from Guadalcanal, a feat that at the time was only made possible thanks to he P-38’s massive combat range. Upon returning to the base it was found that ‘Miss Virginia’ had been riddled with more than 100 bullet holes from defending zeroes. Despite a damaged intercooler the aircraft was able to safely make the 500 mile return trip. Yamamoto’s crashed aircraft was also found, with the deceased admiral still clenching to his katana with his one hand.

Later that same year the aircraft made a belly landing due to a landing gear malfunction, causing the aircraft to be written off and salvaged for parts.


Option B
The second option is P-38F Lightning s/n 42-12652, ‘White 33’ as they call it at the museum. This aircraft was flown by 2nd Lt. Kenneth Sparks of the 39th FS in 1942. On the 31st of December, 1942, the aircraft collided with a Ki-43 during a dogfight, cutting off the tip of the right wing on the P-38. Sparks was able to safely return to 14-Mile Drome (nicknamed “Schwimmer Drome”) and the aircraft was eventually repaired. It was later reassigned to the 475th FG in 1943, where it was considered damaged beyond repair and written off at Finschafen Airfield after a mission in early 1944. The airframe remained there abandoned until it was recovered in the late 90’s and restored to its original paint scheme. It is now part of the National Museum of World War II Aviation found in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.

Above is a photograph of a different 39th FS P-38 showing the prominent shark mouth typically found on the 39th Fighter Squadron aircraft. It also shows the weathering effects usually found on painted P-38’s used in the Pacific and North African theaters. (Note also again the block tread tires).


Final verdict / synopsis
To be brute, this is Tamiya. You’ll buy it regardless of what I write. While they have made some good design choices, there are other things that suffer from poor design choices or are just incorrect. Strong points are the pre-designed areas to hold nose weights, separate molding of the landing gear inner and outer cargo doors and the wing spar like parts which provide additional rigidness and make building the kit an easier experience. The combination of single piece canopy parts and pre-indicated masking tape will easily make this the most enjoyable P-38 to build out there.

The bad is Tamiya’s tendency to mold exhausts (in this case turbochargers) together with aircraft panels, which is the case here for the G variant. It’s not a kit killer but does implicate painting and weathering. Other points are the lack of detail on the gun barrels and non-presence of gun and engine bays to show off, which is disappointing for a kit of this price point. The overall design of the kit does also complicate the installation of any aftermarket material for these areas. The biggest drawback however is the inaccuracy and dated engineering of the tire design. So here is a call to Tamiya, please address this issue before the full release this coming fall. Adding a small sprue of the correct tires really shouldn’t prove much of an issue with those several months left to go.

The last issue will probably be the price outside of Japan. Knowing that the Ki-61 was 2800 yen in Japan but 50EUR/60USD overseas, we can expect this 4300 yen kit to easily cost 60EUR/70USD or more at retail overseas.

None-the-less, I am looking forward to building this kit soon. If you are willing to pay the retail price, you will own what is probably the best P-38 kit in 1/48 or even any other scale. I hope that we will see more P-38 releases from Tamiya like the chin-radiator J/L variants in combination with the night fighter and non-combat variants like the pathfinder and photo-recon versions.

If you want to see how the kit builds, follow me over on the Ninetalis Facebook page where I will soon share a build using this kit.