Lightning fit for a little prince
Building Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Lockheed P-38/F5 Lightning in 1/72nd scale, by Everard Cunion, September 2019
The RS Models 1/72nd scale kit of the Lockheed F5A version of the twin-engine P-38 Lightning is based on the fighter version, but it is supplied with an additional nose (in transparent plastic) and decals for four photo reconnaissance examples in markedly different colour schemes. One of those decal sets and schemes is that of an F5 flown by pioneering aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Wind, Sand and Stars, Flight to Arras, and The Little Prince) shortly before he was killed (in another F5) in 1944. Exupéry was, arguably, the greatest writer of the 20th century. The Little Prince is calculated by some to have been translated into more languages than any book except the bible. (It is a lot shorter and more readable!)
After washing all the parts on their runners (sprues) in detergent, I painted all exterior surfaces matt sky (Valejo 70.885 acrylic pastel green) because that is the finished underside colour and the plastic is dark grey and easier to see and work with when painted a lighter colour.
The paint scheme of RAF dark green, dark earth, and ‘sky’ (duck egg green) is what historians believe the evidence indicates. Coincidentally, it is the same colour scheme used for daytime RAF fighters during the Battle of Britain, four years earlier. For dawn and dusk, which is when lighting conditions can be conducive to photography, these colours strike me as being ideal. Together with the French roundels, fin flashes, and other markings on this aircraft, it was a colourful airplane.
Unlike more common kits, this has no lugs (pins and recesses) to help position the parts being glued together. It is not a beginner kit.
I painted the transparent nose halves inside, first sky – carefully avoiding the camera windows – then black; not avoiding the windows.
The reason for painting sky first is to avoid any show-through of the black when the exterior (mainly sky) is painted. In other words, so the nose looks the same colour as the fuselage to which it is joined. The reason for painting the inside black is for a combination of realism and expediency, primarily the latter. If you want to put tiny cameras in and leave the windows unpainted, good luck and I’ll see you on the other side.
I glued the photo nose halves using polystyrene cement at the top, for strength, and transparency glue at the bottom. (Polystyrene cement vapour fogs transparent plastic.)
The fighter nose has to be removed by sawing. I find a mini hack saw blade held in the hand is best for this size of work. Then file it, glue it, and fill the gaps with ‘body putty’ or polystyrene filler.
The accompanying photo, which looks peculiar because of the transparent plastic of the nose, brought to my attention that I had overlooked the side panels inside the cockpit. Because a pilot was to go in there, that did not matter, but it would have been a major oversight otherwise. (There are at least two cockpit upgrades for this kit, one by RS Models themselves, for detail fanatics.)
Several things led me to opt for an in-flight model rather than wheels down, apart from speed of building. The canopy is closed and, in this scale, you cannot see much through it anyway. In addition, the weighting of the nose in such a small model might not succeed in preventing this nose-wheel aircraft from sitting on its tail.
Add the control column after the pilot is in place.
The runners (sprues) have no part numbers, so you need to refer to the layout diagrams. The engine cowling parts (three each side) are numbered incorrectly. That is, the instructions give them certain numbers, but the runner layout diagrams show wildly different numbers for those parts. They are asymmetrical, so you can differentiate between the main halves, fortunately.
I read that Exupéry wore the parachute only for the publicity photos. In addition, I read that on the day he died, he selected an aircraft that had been declared non-airworthy by the mechanics. (That was not the aircraft depicted in this model.) Major X, as his comrades called him, had difficulty adapting to the complex twin-engine combat aircraft, doubtless not helped by individual aircraft tending to be different from one another.
Each was unique, with instruments never in the same location, the throttles, mixture, and rpm controls mixed around on the power quadrant, and switches all over the place. Each switch had a placard that hinted at a bewildering variety of functions, mostly mysterious to us, and I suspect also to our instructors, as they seldom mentioned them.
— From Fighter Pilot, the Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds by Robin Olds with Christina Olds and Ed Rasimus, 2010
The kit does not include a pilot, so I obtained the 1/72nd scale U.S. WW2 pilot, a ‘resin’ figure, from Hannants. In this scale, I felt it not worth attempting to change the leather helmet into a cap and earphones. ‘Resin’ (a very hard plastic) requires Superglue, which is dangerous stuff, so if you use such add-ons, wear rubber/plastic gloves.
This and other photos available on the web show that this aircraft, like others in the same squadron, was well scuffed and stained.
The drop tanks are darker even than a jeep in another photo of this aircraft. Maybe they were ‘Synthetic haze’ blue-grey or PR blue. My tin of PR blue solidified a while ago, so I mixed dark sea grey and blue.
I used the Montex paint masks (available from Hannants). The set includes internal masks for the canopy bows at the rear as well as the obvious external ones.
Some retouching to be done here, but the paint masks are a big help, especially with the P-38’s distinctive canopy.
The accompanying photo of the underside provides an indication of the amount of filler needed to fill the gaps. In addition, I used balsa wood to fill the main wheel bays and I used filler around the edges. Fixing closed main wheel doors is almost impossible in this scale, particularly of the subtle contours here. The end result is not great. (The nose gear door is OK.)
The white paint where the roundels and fin flashes go (on the rudders) is to help the light colours in those decals show up by preventing show-through of darker camouflage paint underneath. Not strictly necessary in a battered and stained airplane as this was. The decals’ colour density is good anyway. The black discs are from the paint mask set for this kit (for the wheels I assume) and from another kit. (The fuselage masks needed to be moved forward from their positions visible in this photo, which I did.) They are a tad too large, so after painting the camouflage and peeling off the masks I had to paint around the edges.
The decal sheet is outstanding. The decal placement instructions for the stencils (common to all paint schemes provided for) are similarly outstanding, with numbered large illustrations, in black and white, of each tiny decal. The larger decal placements are illustrated in beautiful colour art on the back of the box. In this scale, at least the way mine came out, those decals are like polishing a turd, but a highly skilled modeller might create a museum piece.
I had to hope that the sticky tape would not pull the paint and decals off when I removed it. I should have used the more benign masking tape to be sure. (I was lucky and it didn’t.)
Somehow the canopy slipped forward and I had to fill the resulting gap…
This once common scale, 1/72nd scale, really is too small for aircraft of this size, in my opinion. I find that I can hardly hold the smaller parts and, if I drop one on the floor, it is gone for good. (Notice the absence of the underside elevator mass balance.) Nevertheless, for the experienced modeller prepared to do a lot of work, the RS Models kit of this airplane is the only game in town.
World War 2 plastic models part 2 including my 1/48th scale P-38/F5
Inside The Cockpit, P-38 Lightning 360 degree view in Air & Space