FINISHED – Tamiya’s “White Box” 1/48 P-38F/G – First Thoughts, Part 4, The finale.

Before we get started, see part 1, part 2, and part 3 to get caught up.

It’s been exactly a month since I posted part 3 of the initial build review. The build was substantially complete then but over the intervening weeks, when life wasn’t getting in the way, time was spent painting and weathering.

As this is a build review of an as yet unreleased kit I won’t focus too much, if at all, on the techniques used to paint and weather the build. The question that must be asked, then, are what are the thoughts on the entire build now that it is complete.

This is a truly stunning kit on par, if not superior to, the best Tamiya has ever released. The parts were well molded, flash free, and the engineering is superb. Before this kit is released the Academy kit has been regarded as generally the best in the scale. I’ve built two of the Academy lightnings and while they weren’t as difficult as some other bloggers would lead you to believe, they have difficulties especially with the wing to boom joint. Tamiya has fixed that, and more. This build is trouble free with little or no filler required. In fact, I probably spent less than an hour on dealing with all seams, a chore that on previous Lightnings took multiple sittings to fill, sand, fill more, then re-scribe.

As good as it is, there is always room for improvement. I won’t discuss accuracy as I’m not a rivet counter, and the detail was close enough to my references to satisfy my needs.

  1. The cockpit. The cockpit is well detailed out of the box, but I would love to see Eduard release a Brassin cockpit set to step the game up a level. The only real complaint I have, typical with Tamiya kits, is that the seat-belts are decals. I would have liked to have seen some PE belts with the kit. I used some HGW fabric belts and is as per usual, this made a huge difference. The other critique of the cockpit is the extremely tricky way that the armored glass and gun-sight are connected to the windscreen and each other. This is one of the few times I’ve ever thought the Tamiya engineering was less than perfection. There really is not any way to help you out with this except to say to take a deep breath and go slowly.
  2. The guns. Tamiya made a head scratching decision to mold the barrels as smooth (likely correct for later versions of the -38) but then wants you to use decals to simulate the holes in the cooling jacket. I opted to use the Master Model brass barrels and cooling jacket. This upped the difficulty level considerably, but was worth the effort.
  3. Prop/Spinners. These build beautifully but are overly complicated. The prop is one piece with the spinner being four pieces plus a nylon bushing. This wasn’t really an issue as they fit together perfectly, but it seems overly complicated and wholly unnecessary.
  4. Turbo-Superchargers. Multiple options are included in the kit and I think they are as well done as the Eduard resin that I used in the previous Academy builds. That said, Tamiya decided to mold part of the skin of the lightning in with the superchargers themselves. I didn’t particularly like this as it made painting and weathering everything in a unified way more difficult. All things considered, this is not a big deal but is surprising given how well almost everything else is designed.
  5. Radiators. The fact that Tamiya wanted to rely on decals for the radiator faces felt like a bit like they gave up, even if you can’t see them at all. The construction of the radiators is an interesting solution that produced the only place on the kit where I had to use a bit of filler. No big deal at all but certainly a unique if imperfect approach.
  6. Wheels. I’ve never had a great deal of luck with getting wheel halves with tread assembled in a way that doesn’t end up affecting the look of the tread and the wheel itself. For this reason, I opted for Eduard wheels intended for the Academy kit. It just required a slight bit of drilling out the hubs to match the size of the Tamiya parts.
  7. Decals. Typical Tamiya and I avoided using them whenever I could. Tamiya included chrome decals to use for the oleos on the landing gear, the rear view mirror, and the polished areas on the interior of the nacelle. As a test I tried to use them on the landing gear and was horrified at the results. It was easier and provided a better result to just use my go-to Testor’s enamel chrome for the oleos and bare metal foil for the reflector ovals on the nacelles. The Kagero decals of “Nulli Secundus” were fantastic in all regards.
  8. Weight. Believe it or not Tamiya provided just enough weight in the box to allow the finished model to sit on its nose wheel, barely. If you slightly tilt the model it will rock back onto it’s tail. I would recommend putting just a bit more weight in the very tip of the nose in front of the gun assembly just to make it sit a bit more firmly.

There really isn’t much I can say about this build beyond the fact that it was the most fun I have ever had building a P-38. It’s a paradigm shift in what was once a subject avoided by some due to the rumored difficulty of the kits on the market. Even better is that I am certain given the parts breakdown that Tamiya plans to release the later versions of this iconic aircraft, and I can’t wait. Heaven help my wallet if they decide to do a 1/32 version (don’t make me beg, because I will).

I highly recommend this kit without reservation.

P-38G-13-LO “Nulli Secundus” of the 80th FS, 8th FG, as flown out of New Guinea, winter 1943.

You can see my build album with a smattering of reference photographs here.

Tamiya’s “White Box” 1/48 P-38F/G – First Thoughts, Part 3.

See part 1 and part 2 to get caught up to what has brought us here.

This update took a little longer than expected as life and a drive for perfection got in the way. Most of the delay cannot be attributed to Tamiya, as the kit is as close to perfection as I have encountered, especially for a twin boom aircraft.

The first place for some delay was my decision to replace the kit barrels, modeled as smooth, with better turned brass barrels. This is such a prominent feature on the P-38 that it deserves better than some decals to indicate the holes in the cooling jacket. I wanted to do this before I installed the nose to try to use the locating mechanism provided in the kit to help with alignment. It turned out surprisingly well, I think.

The second place where delay crept in was with the masking the canopy and windscreen. Before I talk about masking I must discuss the kit clear plastic. The fit, engineering, and clarity, are above reproach. The kit even has a closed window option that is three pieces instead of the 5 pieces required for an open canopy. I decided for the closed option as I wanted a cleaner and quicker build and review, and because the plastic is so clear that the work put into the cockpit will still be very visible.

Insofar as the masking, Tamiya (as per their large scale kits) provides a sheet of the masking paper with the masks drawn on. The modeler is expected to cut these out and apply. For kits like a P-51 with a bubble canopy, and in large scale, this is not a terrible issue. For a smaller scale P-38 with the deceptively complicated cross bracing of the side windows, and the compound curves and bracing on the canopy top, this can become an unnecessarily complicated effort. Before I began, I scanned in the masking sheet so to have a duplicate pattern should I destroy mine. I then sent to a friend who had a Cricut and he duplicated the sheet with beautiful pre-cut vinyl and tape. While I was waiting on that, I attempted to carefully cut out the masks. I didn’t particularly like they way the masks fit, but with some extra care and multiple iterations of trimming, I got them to a place that was serviceable. When I got the pre cut masks, I abandoned my attempt at cutting, trimming, and burnishing, to use the pre-cut masks hoping for better results. They had a similar issue as the lines printed by Tamiya have enough slop as to make cutting them an art more than a science. After several hours I had an idea…bare metal foil. I jettisoned the Tamiya masks and just used bare metal foil and a sharp blade. The results, at least from what I can see, are much better and will probably remain the best option until the kit is released and the aftermarket steps in with pre-cut masks. One would think Tamiya could afford a Cricut and solve this issue, but like their decals, Tamiya holds on to surprisingly primitive and lack-luster additions to kits that are otherwise stellar.

After several days of wrestling with those masking issues, I finally got the Lightning under a coat of primer. I was absolutely unsurprising to see that there were no seams or issues that appeared to need further cleaning, filling or sanding.

Then it was time to paint.

Mr. Paint Laquer “Neutral Gray” was painted on the bottom, and Tamiya”Olive Drab” on top. Both mottled over a dark grey base of Mr. Finishing surfacer, sanded with 1500 grit sanding sponge. Before the OD, I applied some Alclad Aluminum and chipping fluid around the cockpit for some heavy wear and chipping. The OD was post shaded with various amounts of yellows and whites mixed in with the paint to represent fading under the intense pacific sun. The camo pattern is tricky, so using references I sketched it on the primer and free handed the camo with my Sotar 20/20.

After a few minutes with a toothpick and stiff brush, I had the area chipped around the cockpit in a way that resembled my references. I find that with Tamiya, especially their OD, that the paint is very fragile and likes to rub off, chip off, or discolor with handling. In this case, I applied some Future across the OD to seal it in to prepare for decals. In my experience, this ameliorates those issues.

I’m waiting on some green to paint the stripes on the tail, but in the meantime I will be working on decals on the remainder of the kit. Then, the fun part…weathering.

My picture build log is always updated, here.

Tamiya’s “White Box” 1/48 P-38F/G – First Thoughts, Part 2.

Last week I began the build of Tamiya’s new tool P-38 (see: Part 1). With only a few hours invested I had gotten the build to the point that it was time to start assembly of the twin booms, a place in the construction that makes most who have ever cracked the box of a P-38 model at least a bit anxious. But, this is Tamiya, and Tamiya doesn’t allow for antiquated ideas of fit and engineering.

Since my return to the hobby, I have built two 1/48 P-38 kits, both Academy plastic and generally regarded (until now) as the best in this scale. Much has been written about the difficulty of alignment of the booms to the wing, to the tail, and each other. Otherwise well regarded builders have found these kits to be tricky. In fact, Paul Budzik’s alignment jig instructions were a necessity. Needless to say, getting an above average result of the complicated alignment has been a tricky process, until now.

Tamiya’s fit and design is so spectacular as to be unspectacular. Everything fits, and there are no alignment issues. Those who have never built a P-38 in 1/48 before will wonder why people had so many problems. This is a game changer for P-38s and I hope it portends a 1/32 kit in the near future.

The wheel bays are well detailed, but the linkages for the main gear will be difficult to protect from breakage during painting and handling.

That said, there is always room for improvement. I am not a fan of kits that require building up parts that dangle outside of the wheel bays throughout construction. Tamiya has done that here. If I had another one to build I would experiment to see if you could wait until after paint to get the linkage arms and other bits into the wheel bays. I think you can. The wheel bays are beautifully detailed and have pre made weights that fit into cups in what would be the engine compartment. Based on my unscientific balance tests, I think it’s safe to assume this will not be a tail setter.

Further, to pose the canopy open on the G (if you build the F, the canopy has a particularly interesting and easy to build option) to show off all of the exquisite interior detail (as long as you use some good seat-belts and not the kit decals) requires installing the headrest with a part that protrudes outside of the cockpit and canopy. This is the attachment point for the open canopy on the G but complicates masking during paint. I elected to cut that piece off and for masking will temporarily use the closed canopy option to cover and protect the exposed cockpit. I will manufacture a hinge from some spare photo-etch later. It goes without saying the clear parts are beautiful, distortion free, and fit perfectly with no effort.

The clear parts are beautiful, and I highly recommend HGW fabric belts for WW2 American fighters.

The most difficult part of the construction, to date, has been fitting the armored glass to the gun-sight and that assembly to the wind screen in a way that is a strong bond but doesn’t mar the crystal clear plastic. I used super thin CA a glue looper, and prayer.

It feels weird complaining about these issues, given the substantial ease of construction of the rest of the kit. The perfection of the boom to wing and tail fit is enough to make up for any of the other minor flaws I’ve noted here.

In less than two weeks linear time, and only a handful of hours invested (I’ve spent significantly more time painting and weathering the cockpit and wheel bays than I have for construction of the entirety of the model), I have a P-38. In other builds, at this point, I’d still be building jigs, arguing with boom alignment, and getting ready for significant filling and sanding. Here, I’m looking at a bit of Mr. Surfacer 500 on a few spots, and some primer.

Note: test fitting of the nose/gun assembly shows a typical clean fit, but I am trying to determine if I want to replace the barrels or move forward with the kit barrels and decals.

Unless there are some unforeseen issues, update 3 will be beginning paint and the multi-step process to heavily weather the whole thing.

As always, I keep the photo build log updated in real time.

The Airfix Spitfire FR Mk XIV: The First Few Days

When I first saw the photos of the Spitfire FR Mk XIV from Airfix, I wanted to build it. The mark fourteen is arguably the best looking Spitfire that was ever produced. The clipped wings, bubble canopy (on the later XIVs), Rolls Royce Griffon in the nose, and 5-blade Rotol propellor made it one of the sexiest aircraft in the sky and deadly at lower altitudes. It was also a quick and stable photo reconnaissance platform, which is what this kit represents.

This is now the fourth Spitfire I’ve built so I have some experience with them. I built the Eduard Mk VIII (1/48) a few years ago as Lonesome Polecat. Then in 2017 I built the Tamiya Mk IXc (1/32) as Pierre Clostermann’s Normandy ride with Invasion Stripes. 2018 saw me build Lonesome Polecat again, though this time with the Tamiya Mk VIII in 1/32.  Airfix’s offering is the weakest out of this bunch, but these other kits are really just outstanding.

The Airfix kit is pretty simple out of the box. It actually is very reminiscent of the “two sprue wonders” – the older, but excellent, Tamiya boxing’s in 1/48. 4 gray sprues (that really should have been 3) and one clear make up the entirety of the kit. The clear parts aren’t as clear as what came in the Airfix Blenheim, however. The gray sprues all have a little bit of flash that I’m noticing to be typical of Airfix. Also some significant ejector pin flash on a few pieces but they were on areas that would eventually be hidden.

The cockpit comprises 17 parts, 8 of which are for the seat alone. Also included with the cockpit assembly is the camera since this is the FR version of the Spitfire. I painted everything with AMMO of Mig “interior grey-green” over a base of black Mr. Surfacer 1500. AMMO paints don’t have the durability of lacquers like Mr. Color or MRP but I like having the ability to touch up areas with a brush and I can also achieve some interesting effects while brushing the paint. I also used metallic colored AK Interactive weathering pencils for some chipping and wiring.

I’m going to be finishing the build in a small vignette of Eindhoven airfield during the wet winter months of early 1945. Some of the photos I’ve seen of Eindhoven show tons of mud on the airfield so I dirtied up the cockpit floor with AMMO “airfield dust” pigments and a mix of oils to vary the final color.

One downfall to the kit is that it doesn’t include belts for the seat. This is fine if you include the pilot, but I don’t think I’ve ever included the pilot in one of my builds. So I purchased Eduard steel belts that also came with their LööK instrument panel. The panel is hard to see in the tiny cockpit but it’s still an improvement over the clunky kit panel. After attaching the belts I added some shading with oils.

As I mentioned earlier, the camera is included as part of the cockpit assembly so before I can close the fuselage, it needs to be dealt with. It’ll be next to impossible to see once closed so I didn’t go overboard. I simply painted the framework interior grey green and the camera black. I used some liquid mask to cover the lens of the camera, which comes as a clear part, just in case it could be seen.

Closing the fuselage came pretty easily. The fit is snug, but there were no real gaps anywhere. I did have to keep pressure on the nose while it dried but that was only to keep everything aligned. I’ll mention this now but didn’t notice it until later, but there is apparently a notable twist in the tail. I’ll go into more detail on that shortly.

Airfix, for some reason, decided to leave the fuel tank forward of the cockpit as a separate piece.  This would have been ok if the piece fit properly, but it doesn’t.  It sits skewed with the whole thing sitting slightly clockwise compared to the rest of the fuselage.  It’s also too narrow.  Holding pressure while MEK setup allowed me to force it a little bit wider, but I still needed some filler along the starboard side where it nears the cockpit.  I used Bondo Spot and Glazing Putty for this job.  I like Bondo because, once dry, it’s very similar to the plastic and, because of it’s lacquer base, it bonds well.  In addition to that, it scribes nicely with only a little bit of pressure.

I cleaned up the seams with CA glue and sanded everything smooth. The lower wing section was attached to the fuselage at this point. I noticed a section of the wing was warped as well. I found this before it was attached to anything so I was able to fix it with some heat and brute force. The joint between the lower wing and fuselage is, again, pretty tight and I had to keep my hands on it while the MEK set up, otherwise the wing would have pushed away from the fuselage. Once it was solid, I test fit the top wing sections before adding the wheel well walls that slot into the lower wing section. The upper wings appeared to mate well with only a small gap and an area at the trailing edge where some filler was needed to make the surface flush.

While waiting for glue to dry between the wing halves, I built the prop and spinner for the Griffon engine. It appeared that the molds for the prop weren’t polished very well and there were some machining marks that transferred to the plastic. With Airfix’s soft plastic it was a little bit challenging to sand the rotol prop without damaging anything. The five bladed propeller looks very mean once it’s together and gives the whole aircraft a rather stunning look.

At the same time I was able to start installing the gun barrels and clipped wing tips.  The shape of the 20mm barrel is a little questionable and it it needed a lot of filler where it meets the wing.  The clipped wing tips come as clear parts and, to attach them, you have to cut the original tips off of the upper wing sections.  I carefully cut the original tips off with a #11 blade and a razor saw. A quick test fit of the tips showed that I had to make the molded-in hole bigger to make the tip piece line up. The tip blended seamlessly into the wing.

This is where the tail twist was found. Because of the shape of the fuselage, the twist couldn’t be seen earlier. But at this point I attached the horizontal stabilizers to the tail. They should sit perpendicular to the vertical stab and they do. The fit is very good here (once you remove some flash from the holes). After getting the stabs located, I sat the plane on my bench and looked at it from the front to make sure they were aligned properly. The twist became clear as day here.

The only way I could think of to try to fix it would be to heat it up and bend it back where it should be. But at this point, with the fuselage glued and everything attached to it, I didn’t think the reward was worth the risk. It’s also not quite as noticeable with the elevator in position. I decided to drop the elevator a little bit just to give the plane a slightly dynamic pose.

I had already sprayed some seam lines with primer to check for seams, but now started putting it down on the rest of the plane. It took a few layers as I always seem to find a spot that needs to be fixed up as I prime. So I fixed the few spots and gave it a quick polish with a buffing stick.

And that’s where we stand. I’m ready to start laying paint which will start with aluminum in strategic areas for chipping. I’m happy to be at this point only a week into the build. It’s a nice change after spending months on my two previous builds. I’ll pick back up with part two once I get painting.

Stay tuned.