Bill Cross reviews "P-38 Lightning In Detail & Scale. Part 1: XP-38 Prototype Through P-38H Variants."


One of the most-iconic aircraft of WW2 was the P-38 Lightning with all its colorful names like the "forked-tail devil" to the Germans and "two planes, one pilot" to the Japanese." While less than a raging success in the ETO, where problems with its turbosuper-charged Allison engines caused crashes and failures, the Lightning still has the distinction of being the first escort fighter to reach all the way to Berlin and back. The plane proved to be a game-changer in the warmer skies of the Pacific, where combat tended to take place at lower altitudes and in less-frigid weather, and where the vast distances played to the airplane's strengths. Many aces were made in P-38s, including Dick Bong, the overall "Ace of Aces" with 40 kills. The plane took on other roles, including reconnaissance, but is probably most-famous for the pinpoint raid that flew hundreds of mile over water, intercepted and then shot down the plane carrying IJN Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943.

The amazing "In Detail & Scale" series of books covered the P-38 in the past with two volumes published in 1998. Both are out-of-print, and so the publisher has freshened the material with the first of two new volumes about this iconic airplane. The company has been updating the legendary Bert Kinzey's work for some time, and the Lightning has now received its treatment with a co-author, Haagen Klaus, added. This review is on Part 1: XP-38 Prototype Through P-38H Variants, and covers both the F-4A and F-5A photo reconnaissance versions.


The 102-page soft-cover large scale book is divided into twenty-one sections covering the early developmental history of the Lightning, followed by sections for P-38-LO, E and F models, G and H. Then the book moves off into detailed sections of the aircraft

  • Cockpit
  • Canopy
  • Fuselage & gun bay
  • Wing
  • Engine
  • Twin booms
  • Tail
  • Landing gear
  • External stores

The book then ends with a section devoted to modelers.

The Review

I can't imagine starting a build without the relevant In Detail & Scale book at my workbench, and these two volumes are no exception. The book offers a nice balance between historical information about the plane and nuts & bolts detailing for modelers.

For one thing, the amount of photos of both period aircraft and modern restored air frames is simply sumptuous. "Glacier Girl," a P-38 extracted from a glacier in Greenland, has been extensively photographed by co-author Bert Kinzey, and we benefit from the access he was granted.

There is no part of the Lightning not covered, and the amount of photos leave nothing out.

One of the delights of the book is the detail it goes into about the 1:1 aircraft. I did not know, for example, that photo recon versions were fitted with wooden gun barrels to scare of enemy fighters. Quite a bit is provided about the development of the aircraft, including the early problems of tail buffeting causing air speeds over the wing root to approach Mach 1. The authors debunk the blaming the weather for the Lightning's problems in the ETO by insisting it was British av-gas with high concentrations of tetraethyl lead which caused problems not found in the PTO where, above 25,000 feet, temps are the same as in Northern Europe.

These are the kinds of information and anecdotes that make the volume more than just a photographic walk-around.

Despite the profusion of detail, the text is delightfully readable with none of the dullness of many military volumes. And let us not forget the scale drawings throughout the book.

Section for Modelers

At the end of the book is an eleven-page section for modelers that reviews the kits in all popular scales. Since the Trumpeter P-38 is the only major kit in 1/32nd scale, and since it is the L variant covered in volume 2, it is not mentioned here. Braille Scale and Quarter Scale kits discussed include the popular Tamiya ones, with the F/G "Bat out of Hell" built by co-author Haagen Klaus.


Even if you are not a super-detailer, the In Detail & Scale books are simply about the best resource you can have for creating an outstanding model. The amount of information, level of detail in the photographs, the sharpness and clarity of said photos, and the tailoring of the books to the wants and needs of modelers means that you can't go wrong with one of these volumes. Builders of P-38s in any scale will appreciate the material on the cockpit and other points of interest. Highly-recommended.

Thanks to Detail & Scale Publications for this review copy. Be sure to mention you saw the book reviewed here on Aeroscale when ordering your own copy.



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