Dragon Models Ltd
1/72 Lockheed P-38L "Pathfinder"
Kit Number: 5032
Reviewed by  Brian R. Baker, IPMS# 43146

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MSRP: $24.70

The P-38L "Pathfinder" was a modification based on P-38J and L airframes intended for radar bombing and mapping missions. The aircraft was unarmed, and featured a completely new forward nose section which provided room for an AN/APS-15 Bombing Through Overcast (BTO) radar installation, also known as "Mickey Radar" and an operator. The nose was opaque, and side windows were provided for the second crew member. Although the prototype was a P-38J, the production conversions, which were done by Lockheed's Dallas Modification Center, were P-38L's. These were believed to have been designated P-38L-3-LO. Only a small number was produced, but most of these were sent to Europe where they were used operationally during 1945.

Opening the Box
The kit itself contains 7 sprues and one photo etched sheet. In the box, the molding looks excellent. This kit obviously is a development of a previous kit that I have not seen, probably of a P-38J or L. A few parts, notably a set of "Christmas Tree" rockets and their racks, are extra, and will not be used.

The kit comes with 8 pages of instructions on an accordion-type paper. These contain a good perspective drawing, sprue diagram, a paint color guide, thirteen exploded assembly drawings, and two plan view pages, showing two different aircraft. There is no real documentation on the color schemes provided, and I have not been able to find a photo of one of these aircraft, except for two photos of "Pathfinders", apparently taken at the Dallas modification Center, in factory finish.

The decal sheet is quite small, but contains insignias, a lot of maintenance and "no-step" markings, and unit codes. Markings are provided for an all-silver aircraft, 44-23878, coded "AX" in a black square, listed as being assigned to the 9th Air Force, ETO, 1945. The alternative is 44-23880, coded "Q3-0", which has a more interesting color scheme, with silver topsides and black underneath. This aircraft is listed as "Unidentified Unit, ETO, 1945". Both aircraft have olive drab anti-glare panels on the nose and engine cowlings. The decals are of good quality, and don't require trimming.

Building The Kit
For this variant, the clear nose section replaces the standard nose, and has to be trimmed off precisely on the panel lines. The instructions are unclear as to exactly where the parts are to be cut, but an experienced modeler should have no problem with this. I did have to use a considerable amount of filler to get it right. One fact NOT mentioned in the instructions is the need for a LOT of weight in the nose. I filled the nose section with shot, along with the forward parts of the engine nacelles, and the airplane balanced fine when I finally set it on its wheels.

Cockpit detail is adequate, with a tub, instrument panel, rudder pedals, two piece control column and wheel; rear armored headrest, and a radio unit which mounts behind the pilot. A forward portion is done in photo-etch, consisting of a floor and a sight for the radar unit. Little of this is visible once the model is completed. One problem on the fuselage is the radio mast, probably a VHF antenna, which is already mounted on the bottom of the pod. It would be easy to break off during assembly and handling, but I managed not to. Sometimes the Dragon loses.

Basic assembly is not complicated, although the landing gear wheel wells have to be mounted before the fuselage halves are joined. The instructions say to install the landing gear struts and wheels before this step, but I simplified things by waiting until after painting before attaching these. I would suggest drilling out the holes for the drop tank racks before joining the wing panels, as you'll never find the holes from the outside. Once the major components are joined, attaching them to the center pod is easy, and everything lines up perfectly. Even the horizontal stabilizer fits in with no problems, although the tabs are a little too large for the holes. The little stub stabilizers outside of the rudders are worse, as the stubs need some trimming to fit in the proper location.

Now the fun begins. There is a LOT of filling required on this kit. Fuselage seams, wing joints, and fillets nearly all require some filler and sanding, as everything doesn't fit completely right. This was probably the most time consuming job of all.

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Once the airframe was assembled, I painted the plane. I chose the black and silver variant because of its uniqueness. After masking the glass areas, I gave the cockpit a shot of interior green before painting on the OD anti-glare panels. After masking these, I did the silver upper surfaces. The black undersides were last. Small parts, such as the prop blades, spinners, landing gear struts, landing gear cover doors, elevator balances, and wheels were done as the basic colors were sprayed.

Final Assembly
The landing gear and doors were then installed. The gear struts seem to line up properly, although the doors have no real means of support, and have to be placed in position carefully. The main landing gear support struts didn't fit at all, and needed to be trimmed down to get it in place. The wheels went on readily, and didn't need the usual alignment. The prop spinners need to be glued together (this should be done before painting) and the blades are then inserted into little holes in the hub. The job was easier than I had anticipated, as I'm not too fond of multi-piece propellers. The props just stick onto the front of the engine cowling, and have to be glued in place. They won't turn. There is no pitot tube included with the kit, but that can be made easily with a piece of thin rod. In addition, the low frequency antenna wires need to be added. They are alluded to in a drawing on the plan sheet, but aren't mentioned in the instruction sheet.

This would be a very involved conversion to make from another P-38L or L kit, so this is a welcome addition to the family of 1/72 scale P-38 kits. It is a rare and unusual modification, and certainly belongs in any collection of 1/72 scale P-38's and World War II fighters. References are scarce, and the only illustrations I found were in the Squadron "In Action" series. I suspect that Dragon or someone will soon come out with the "Droop Snoot" model, which will complete the collection of P-38 variants available in 1/72 scale. Although it has problems, and what kit doesn't, it is certainly worth getting. Recommended for experienced modelers.

Thanks to Dragon and IPMS/USA for the review sample.

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