Tamiya P-38 Lightning is not only among the newest airplane releases from the Japanese manufacturer, but as the rumors go – it is one of their best. Although almost all Tamiya releases are usually held to very high standards, there were some issues with Tamiya kits in the past. Maybe nothing too bad, usually decals, but nevertheless, modelers complained for this and that. Out of curiosity, as well as love for the legendary twin boom Lightning, we decided to take a peek inside of its box and decide for ourselves – is Tamiya P-38 is really their best quarter scale kit so far?
Tamiya P-38 was something that modelers longed for for quite some time. Although most of us expected it in 32nd scale, accompanying their brilliant Mosquito, Mustang and Corsair, Tamiya decided to do it in the smaller scale. Maybe this is not their last word, but we’ll see in time. P-38 Lightning is a legend. Not only because it was designed by the genius Kelly Johnson or that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry vanished without a trace in one, but because this was an extraordinary machine by all means.
For its time, the lightning was quite ahead in many terms, but none more important than its visual appearance. P-38 Lightning was famous for speed and it was loved by many, even though being outflown by other aircraft by the end of the war. Little more than 10 000 were built, which is quite a number. Much can be said about its history, but let’s focus on the Tamiya P-38 kit here.
Boxing and Boxart
The kit comes in a medium sized box, typical for Tamiya, with light green on its sides and wrapped in a tight cellophane for protection. Once you open it, it is not crammed like many of the new kits that you get to see nowadays. Of course, you can expect certain finesse when it comes down to Tamiya. After all, they are best among them all! Everything inside is packed in separate envelopes, transparent and thick enough to protect the contents. There are metal weights, instructions and more, but we will talk about each down below.
The boxart features a Lockheed P-38 Lightning in flight, over an island, supposedly somewhere in the Pacific. At least color-wise, that is the first impression you get. The camouflage is nothing special, green on top, with lighter blueish-gray color on the belly. Only a small nose art with yellow letters “Miss Virginia” is visible with a number “147” beneath it. In front of that there are two aerial victories and one more, which isn’t exactly clear on the boxart. Probably a ship. The plane wears the old round stars, which are more discrete and somehow more subtle looking than the ones used later on. This Lightning clearly shows wire antennae, which are many and …well, they are about to be your problem. The description beneath is in blue letters, saying P-38F/G, hence – two versions are doable using this release.
So far, a great start!
Tamiya P-38 Lightning comes with close to the standard leaflet type of instructions that you usually get with Tamiya’s 48th scale kits. It is close, because at first sight it looks like one of their leaflets, but when you get your hands on it, it is actually a booklet. Everything inside is thoroughly described with Japanese precision and represents one of the best instruction sheets on the market today. Simple, easy to understand and easy to follow.
It is only in black and white, but that is due to the fact, that you actually don’t need color for the building process. That doesn’t go for the huge paint options guide, which we will discuss further down. We are talking only building instructions here.
Alongside with those two mentioned above, you get a small leaflet /the old style/ featuring some history fragments about the Lightning. Tamiya did a great job separating it from the instructions, and adding it to the kit in the first place. Lately, many manufacturers forget about this important add-on, which sometimes help young modelers develop affinity towards learning and exploring the real subject.
Lastly, there is a small single sheet showing how to use tools when you deal with scale models, which is another add-on oriented towards younger generation of model builders. Nothing overly important, just some nice fine touches from the Japanese model maker. However, sometimes – as we all know – small touches are everything!
Material of the sprues is medium grey in color and at first glance it is nothing special. Tamiya are known for yellow, light grey or medium grey plastic, but whatever the color you might be getting, one thing is certain – quality of it is second to none. Same here. It just doesn’t get any better.
The detail of the surface is very good. Perfect would be too strong, considering the fact that some minor details can be eventually added. But it is darn close. Maybe some rivets and maybe some photo-etch elements might be added. But hey, let’s not forget about aftermarket companies that deal with PE and the fact that some modelers actually enjoy re-riveting their kits.
The cockpit details are very close to what you might get with a resin substitute, practically eliminating the need of one. The pilot included represents the same case – resin figure is not needed. Of course, some might feel the need to add wires and cables here and there, but in general, for OOTB, this kit is a pure gem.
The wings, the upper parts of the engine nacelles and the nose are molded into one piece, which guarantees proper geometry. If you look closely, you will see details that are not visible at first glance, catching up perfectly the scale of things. Each of the twin booms are engineered to be a separate module, and this is only fraction of the small tricks that Tamiya used to make this kit a pleasure ride for the builder. Most definitely, they factored the alignment in that too.
Of course, the sophistication that we see with their 32nd scale kits is missing to some extent, but let’s not forget that we are talking quarter scale here. Besides, there are already companies that are aiming to produce resin parts, like superchargers and wheels, and we will eventually see more. Engines, open sections, etc.
Antennae, mentioned above will be something that you will have to figure out by yourself. This is challenging, but on the other hand it gives an opportunity to recreate especially interesting and delicate kit if you do it properly. Luckily for the masters of the wiring, P-38 is abundant of those, and you will be able to make it shine. For everybody else, you can always leave those aside, and it is guaranteed, that the kit will look brilliantly even without them.
Are really impressive. Those look somewhat better than what we are used to see with Tamiya. Maybe it was a false feeling, but we share nothing more than an opinion, and we thought that they look fantastic. There are two companies that we know of, that make superb clear parts. One is MiniArt, the other is Zoukei-Mura. This Tamiya P-38 Lightning seems to have beaten those two with this clear sprue. There is very /very!/ good transparency and the detail around the canopy is second to none. An option for open window is present and in general, if you manage to mask them out properly and work clean and careful around them, the end results will be fantastic.
There is everything that you might wish for in a kit, especially considering the size of the canopy of P-38, plus the fact that its side windows not only look odd in reality, but are tricky to replicate in scale. Maybe that is why Tamiya put effort in this clear sprue. Or maybe they are just stepping up their game slowly but steadily, with each and every new release. Whatever the case is, this clear sprue is one of the best features of the kit according to our perception.
Decals & Paint Masks
Tamiya P-38 Lightning comes with a small sheet of decals, which feature an interesting add-on. Those are mirror-like elements, which are embedded into the decal sheet. Other companies have done this too, but when it comes down to decal sheets, Tamiya have always experienced some issues with thickness. However, despite those mirror-like elements, the decals are pretty thin, even though we all know it could’ve been better.
In the same translucent envelope one can find a mask set, with all the outlines of the windows, however you should be aware that they are not pre-cut. One should use very sharp knife and cut the masks by oneself. That is done by cutting over the lines that are very clearly shown and in straight and firm cuts, so to keep the alignment proper. Overall, having those is a good add-on to any kit, however there are better options for that as well.
Speaking of which, both mentioned above are covered by DN Models already. Decals are always best substituted with masks. The reason is that the real-life way of painting aircraft was done exactly that way – using stencils. And windows paint masks from DN Models always comes already precisely cut. It is up to you to decide whether to use Tamiya’s decals and masks, or to go aftermarket for maximum realism, especially with the insignia and markings.
But back to the subject of Tamiya’s decals and paint masks – they are good for those who would like to stick to OOTB contents. There are many modelers devoted to building kits exactly as the manufacturer provided them, which is – of course – a great option. And Tamiya provided plenty to satisfy the needs for all – from beginners to the experts.
First one is “White 147”, the one depicted on the boxart. Here /remember the boxart description?/, on the color profiles you can see more clearly that the victories are two aerials /Japanese aircraft/ and one battleship. Simple camo scheme – top is green, bottom is grey. The plane belonged to 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force, Guadalcanal, April 1943.
The second one is ”White 33”, 39th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force, Port Moresby, late 1942. Again, same colors, but this time with prop spinners painted in blue and beneath them and on both engines, shark mouths. Again, if you remember the boxart section of this review – as expected, both aircraft were Pacific planes. So Tamiya’s first impression from the boxart is spot on.
The most interesting thing to mention about this color guide is the size. It is folded and it looks like it is A4 or Folio, but actually when you unfold it is double sided, full color close to A2 in size. It represents the size of the kit exactly, which helps in many ways. First, you can use it to create your own stencils, in case Tamiya decals or DN Models masks isn’t gonna cut it for you. Second, you can easily prep a base, knowing the exact appearance of the airplane, which quite often spares time and is less risky for the built model. In addition to that, you get to see how it will look actually, because apparently, there are still manufacturers that present only one of the sides and some even go that far, that forget to put colors on their color paint schemes. Not here. Tamiya did it perfectly.
Well, this is all about Tamiya P-38 Lightning in 48th scale. Or at least this is their first option from the line that might evolve from that bird. Tamiya are not like Hasegawa, so they won’t go bananas releasing every possible variant and paint scheme out there, however we can expect couple more at the very least.
As far as the quality goes, this might not be the best Tamiya kit ever, because it can hardly compete with their larger scale options, but if we talk strictly 48th scale, this is very close to perfection. Let’s not forget, that Tamiya’s Thunderbolts, their Me-109 and their fresh Spitfire were also considered “the very best in scale” once. The truth is, that this is a unicorn kind of a thing. There is no “best”. For anything.
However, this Tamiya P-38 Lightning is most definitely the ultimate P-38 in any scale up to this point, and it is damn well guaranteed, that the quality is here. The fit will be perfect, the engineering will be at the highest level possible and the price is very acceptable. Besides, let’s not forget that once you get used to Tamiya quality, everything else will present unwanted challenges and will most likely be laughed at.
So if you wanna build a P-38 Lightning, Tamiya is your answer. If you are flexible in scale – this kit will be our nicest option of them all too. Most accurate too. As with most Tamiya releases, this is extremely highly recommended. From beginners to pro’s, this kits delivers and will leave you with pleasant experience and satisfaction, still unmatched by any other manufacturer on the planet.