Academy 1/72 P-38J Lightning "European Theater"

Reviewed by Chris Banyai-Riepl

Overview

Next to the P-51 Mustang, the P-38 is probably the most recognizable World War Two American fighter. As such, there really is no reason to write up an in-depth history, as that has been done repeatedly over the last 50+ years.

The Kit

Academy's 1/72 P-38J kit is the first new injection-molded 1/72 P-38 kit since the DML/Dragon kit came out many years ago, and this is the second release of that fine model. Although I personally have not built one of the DML kits, I have heard nearly all of the profanities associated with it. Luckily, this new Academy kit fares far better. The kit is molded in a light gray plastic, with finely recessed panel lines. The clear parts provide two canopies, one with the top portion open and the other with it down, each with the side panels separate. The decal sheet provides markings for two P-38s, both from the same unit in the Pacific.

Taking a closer look at the kit, the interior is fairly decent, with a one-piece floor incorporating a center raised section and the rear decking. Onto this fits the seat, which has a separate piece for the headrest and bracing. The control wheel is in two pieces, with the wheel fitting onto a separate control column. The sidewalls are also separate, as is the instrument panel. Finally, there is a separate gunsight, making this a busy interior out of the box. This finished tub then fits onto the top of the nose wheel well that is molded into the bottom half of the wing/fuselage piece.

Setting that aside, the kit instructions turn to the twin booms next. These feature separate main wheel wells, which have some intricate detailing. Separate parts for various wheel well plumbing are provided, as well as the main strut. The kit also provides separate oleo scissors. This completed main wheel well then fits inside the two-piece boom assembly. The radiator scoops have separate intake lips, interior grillwork, and separate flaps at the rear. Also separate are the engine faces.

The completed booms then fit onto the lower wing/fuselage piece, with the horizontal stabilizer trapped between. The upper wing/fuselage piece then drops down, blending with the booms and the lower fuselage. This is probably the most tricky part of building any P-38 model, and Academy looks like they have put lots of thought and effort into making this as good a fit as possible.

Another area that has always been problematic with P-38 kits has been the supercharger area on top of the boom. Academy answers this issue by not only providing separate supercharger pieces, but also separate inserts for the area that the supercharger fits over. This will result in a much more realistic looking boom top, and the painting of the supercharger itself will be much simpler now. A separate nose piece makes adding nose weight much easier as well. Final details include propellers with separate blades (which are properly handed for each side, so my advice is to assemble each propeller separately to avoid mixing the blades up). Underwing armament includes bombs, fuel tanks and rocket pods.

The decals are nicely printed and offer a couple of options of P-38s flying over Europe. First up is the boxtop scheme, that being "California Cutie," a P-38J-10-LO flown by Lt. Richard O. Loehnert of the 55th FS, 20th FG in June of 1944. This plane is camouflaged olive drab and gray, with invasion stripes everywhere. On the nose is the name, a gal, and an impressive tally of mission marks. The second option is "Arkansas Traveler," an overall natural metal P-38J-20-LO flown by Lt. Owen Fincher of the 392nd FS, 367th FG in 1945. This aircraft is pretty plain, other than the nose art. Finally, there is a piece of metal foil, die cut, providing the mirror ovals on the engine nacelles.

Conclusion

This kit should make 1/72 modelers quite happy, as it is a much better fitting kit than the DML kit. Out of box detailing is outstanding and it will not be long before we see lots of aftermarket decal options for this kit. Here's hoping that Academy continues with the P-38 series and comes out with other variants such as the reconnaissance types. My thanks to MRC for the review sample.

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