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The Lockheed P-65 Lightning

The Lockheed P-65 Lightning Space Superiority Fighter

Yee Ha! My first new build model kit in over twenty years!

I am very happy about this model kit.  The last time I took a kit from purchase to completion was well over twenty years ago.  This was when I was still living at home and had only just started college.  My family still had a house out in Lynnfield which was big enough to have basement that was itself big enough to have a little room which I converted into my own private model making center.  Once I moved off to DC I no longer had a place in which I could make my models.  Nor did I have any space to make my models while I lived in Atlanta.   Once I moved out here to San Diego things did not improve either.  Initially I was too busy getting going here and then I was living in too small a place to have such a space of my own.  So, it has only been in the past two or three years that I have even actively started beginning to prepare to initially set up to lay the groundwork for the eventual beginning of renewing the start of my interest in making models once again.  I think you get the point that it's been a while!

Previously, I had simply unearthed the unfinished models which I had left undone some two decades ago but had lugged along with me from Lynnfield, to DC, to Atlanta, and then out here to San Diego where they continued to sit undone for all of the 90's.  The work I started on them was really just to "get my feet wet" in the art of plastic model making.  This effort here though was the very first time in which I'd taken a completely new kit and worked it over from start to finish.  And I'm very happy with that fact as well as with how this kit has turned out.

The Start of it all

This is the start of it all.  About a year or so ago a company called Fine Molds issued two new kits that were the first of their Star Wars line and also the first time that such a subject had been rendered in 1/72nd scale.  AMT/ERTL had been the company which had previously had the rights to produce such kits and their rendering left much to be desired.  It was done at a larger and non-standard size.  It was also done rather crudely and seemed more toylike than anything else.   I think some other "garage" company put out a limited run version of the X-Wing and rendered it in resin and did so more accurately than what AMT/ERTL came out with.  Aside from being out of production, this resin kit was also rather expensive.

So, the news that a modern injection molded kit of this would be produced by a company with a good reputation for rendering accurate and nicely detailed plastic model kits was news much appreciate by genre model makers.  Fine Molds put out both the X-Wing and the TIE fighter.  I bought three; two X-Wings and one TIE.  I had plans for the X-Wings.

My idea in buying the X-Wing and TIE fighters was to make a stock version of each and then to go on with the second copy of the X-Wing I purchased so as to be able to do something special with it.  I've long kicked around the idea of rendering craft from science fiction tales as being contemporary USAF flying machines from the 1950's.  This, replete with shiny metal finishes and everything.  So, even before anyone even thought of this contest the fate of the other X-Wing kit was sealed.

When the idea for this particular contest came up though, I knew that now was the time to get going.  Life, as usual, got in the way.  But that was alright for I knew I'd have the time to build this kit up as the contest wouldn't be until the end of May.  In this I was both right and wrong.  The contest is indeed ending on May 30th.  The deadline for entries however, was May 18th.  At Midnight.  When I found this out I despaired as I thought it too late for me to even make the attempt.

Then on eBay I picked up a lot of pre-assembled Star Wars kits among which was a smaller AMT/ERTL X-Wing.  This one was almost 72nd scale.  I toyed with the idea of using that as the basis for my entry as a means to save time.  When I looked at it further though, I realized that if I used metal foil for the finish, as I intended, I would be able to complete the kit far faster than if I painted it as the ensuing waiting periods for the individual coats to fully dry before moving on with the rest of the kit would kill me for time.  So, I decided on the 12th of May to give it a go and do so with the Fine Molds kit as it would be my kit from the word go and not just one that I'd slapped a new finish on in an attempt to call it mine.

All the parts

So the first thing I did was to look at all the parts.  As I did this I was impressed by the design of this kit.  It is one thing to produce a plastic model kit that looks good once assembled.  Given enough skill and time an expert model builder can work wonders with even the worst designed kits. 

Up until I'd started this one the most I had been putzing around with was an old Monogram P-51B kit which I'd partially assembled back in the late 70's/ early 80's when last I left of making plastic models.  I also was slowly working along with a XP-77 limited run kit that was proving very tedious to buildup as it is so crudely manufactured.  This Fine Molds' X-Wing kit was leagues ahead of either of the two kits I was working on when it came terms with how the kit was designed to be manufactured. 

The Fine Molds design team not only designed a kit that would look great once assembled but they also designed one for ease of assembly.  Those are two different things and I really appreciate what Fine Molds did here.  For one thing there's the attachment points of each kit piece to the plastic sprue carrier.  Looking at the photo above here you can see the various individual kit pieces and surrounding them are what looks to be thin plastic rods.  That's the sprue.  The sprue is actually the channel within the mold through which the plastic is injected into the mold and then flows into the casting areas for each piece.

Generally speaking, the thicker the sprue and the thicker the sprue's attachment points to each piece then the easier the plastic will flow through the mold into each piece's casting chamber.  The downside of this is that the thicker sprue attachment points are much harder to remove the individual pieces from.  Fine Molds has taken the approach to make the sprue attachment points very, very small and thin.  This makes them very each to cut off without damaging the kit parts.  This also means that Fine Molds has to use a higher pressure injection system in their molds and most likely a higher tempurature molding system in general. 

Another indication of the quality of this kit was the layout of the individual pieces themselves.  The Fine Molds folks set things up such that any sprue attachment point of any mold seam or injection mark would only be in areas which would either not be visible in the assembled kit or would be in easily accessible areas such that they could be handled without destroying the detailing of the kit's surface.  This can be a tough thing to design and not every company gets it all right.  Fine Molds did.

After looking over the parts for a while and pondering through the kit's instruction sheet, I decided to give the kit a bath.  Literally.

The X-Wing gets wet

A common technique in making items out of molds is to coat the inside of the mold with a release agent.  Typically this is a fine layer of oil or silicon.  This keeps the injected plastic from sticking to the insides of the mold.  That's a good thing.  However, one thing you want as a plastic kit model maker is to be able to glue and paint the kit plastic and any remaining mold release agent left on the plastic parts will prevent this.  So it is a good idea to wash this stuff off and a soaking in warm soapy water is just the thing.  I opted to leave all the parts on their sprues as I did this so I wouldn't lose those parts and I also had plans for them on those sprues.

Prepainting the parts on their sprues.

This was the plan for those sprues.  As you can see there are a lot of small parts to this kit and it was much more convenient for me to paint them while they were still solidly attached to their sprue carrier rather than cut them off, hold them steady whilst slathering the paint on them, and then hope I didn't lose the parts in between then and when I later needed them.  The painting I did here was of the engines, the guns, the landing gear, the pilot figures, and the exposed inner paneling of the kit.  As I was going to foil the surface of this puppy I left those areas untouched.

The first kit part I started work on was the fuselage.  Fine Molds had split this top and bottom to make use of the extended "lip" X-Wing fuselage which runs down its sides.  This was a smart move on their part as it is a built-in seam and thus would be the perfect place to make a molding joint.  Most fuselages are molded in left and right halves.  Fine Molds paid attention to the details by doing otherwise.

The fuselage with the first piece of foil on it.

This shot shows the first piece of foil I applied to the model.  This is a bit of Reynolds Rap aluminium foil, the same stuff you buy in a supermarket.  Cheap, readily available, and it does a good job.  Mostly.  I use Microscale Foil Adhesive to get the foil to stick to the kit.  This stuff works just fine.  You burnish out the foil on the part of the model you wish to cover, then you trim the foil to that shape, paint the adhesive on the foil, wait for it to dry a bit, then reapply the foil to the model and burnish it all down.  You can get pretty good results with that and I was generally pleased by it.

I knew however, that I wanted some parts of my "P-65 Lightning Space Superiority fighter" to be shinier than others while some parts I wanted to be more of a matt finish.  Real world aircraft are this way as well due to the different types of metal used in their construction, the different heat treatments the metal was produced with, and the different finishes the metal is left with.  Next time you happen to see an "unpainted" jetliner look to see how different the various pieces of the bare metal are.  That's the effect I wanted here.  So, I sought to use the foil in different ways and to use different foils.  The piece I applied here was using the shiny side of the aluminium foil.  Elsewhere I would use the dull side of it as well as changing the orientation of the foil as I applied each piece thus getting different effect from the grain of the foil.  One thing which I wanted to try was to have some really shiny parts and to get that I thought I'd try some Bare Metal Foil.

Bare Metal Foil is some pretty unique stuff.  This foil is very, very thin.  Thinner than the Reynolds Rap ever could be.  Bare Metal Foil also already comes with an adhesive backing.  You simply size up the area you want to cover, cut out enough BMF (Bare Metal Foil) to do that, peel off the BMF from its carrier sheet, place it on that area, burnish it down and trim off any excess.  The stuff sticks well but not so well you can't pull it off to make adjustments or scrape away any excess that also got burnished down.

From the first moment I tried a piece of BMF on this kit I was sold.  This stuff is awesome!  Very thin, very burnishable, and easy to work with.  The stuff is so thin it readily showed all the faint surface detailing that was molded into the kit.  As soon as I got one piece down I set aside the Reynolds Rap and the glue and used BMF for the rest of the model.  The stuff is that good.

In short order I had both the top and the bottom fuselage halves foiled with BMF.

Fuselage halves foiled.

Next I set to work on assembling the cockpit and placing that into the upper fuselage half.

Cockpit installed.

This required some fiddling but not a whole lot and soon enough this subassembly was fully in place.  Then I moved on to assembling the fuselage halves themselves.

Assembled fuselage.

This went together pretty well but there seemed a gap between the upper and lower halves along the nose.  No problem, I just squirted some superglue into it and pressed the halves together for a few seconds.  Problem solved!  Well, not quite.  I learned the hard way that Bare Metal Foil does not like even the fumes from superglue drying.

Superglue damaged foil

It was if someone had taken a scouring pad to the BMF in places and removed the metal part entirely in those places.  I was disappointed by this but it was no biggie as I simply splapped another piece of BMF right atop the damaged ones.  The stuff is that thin.

After I had the cockpit installed and the fuselage halves joined I turned my attentions to the wings.  The kit is designed to be built in subassemblies and that was very helpful.

Starting with one of the wings.

This is a nicely illustrative shot.  On the left you can see where I painted the inner paneling detail.  This would be visible only from the inner sides of the X-Wings and I reasoned that it would not be finished as the rest of the craft as it was an interior portion.  So, as this was supposed to be set back in the 1940's and as the US Army Air Force slapped Zinc Chromate over the interiors of
all their aircraft I therefore thought that this too should be painted in that fashion.  As it is not part of the cockpit interior though it got a coat of Model Masters Zinc Chromate Yellow.  The cockpit interior got the Zinc Chromate Green.  On the right you can see the BMF which I've already applied around the engine mount on that side.  I used the BMF with the matt finish as I reasoned that being that close to the heat of the engine would leave it with such a surface tone.  This also served to break up the tonality of the wing's surface since I'd be using Bright Chrome BMF for the rest of it.  At least on the outer surfaces.  The inner wing panels also got the matt BMF.

Wings and engines.

Here you can see the wings fully assembled with the engine parts painted and ready for final assembly.  The surfaces of the wings have now been fully covered in the various foils and all the relevant parts have been glued together using Tenex liquid cement so as not to craze the finish of the foils.

Things jumped ahead here, at least as far as the photos go, as I was so busy trying to meet the deadline I wasn't taking as many photos of each step in the assembly process.  That's why this next photo shows such a difference in the state of the various pieces.

The major subassemblies assembled.

The fuselage here is essentially done.  This even includes the anti-glare strip painted ahead of the cockpit - just like on WWII aircraft.  I also have finished the wings to the point that I realized that they would not come completely closed.  Whether this was due to the plastic being warped or due to some detail parts being incorrectly placed and therefore in the way I don't know.  I do know that at this point I didn't have time to putz with it.  So, sucking it up, I decided to simply glue the wings in their closed configuration - as they would be when the craft was on the ground - even if this meant that all that detailing I'd done on the wing's
interior would now become invisible.

One good thing about gluing the wings closed together was that it made putting on their invasion stripes much easier.  To do this I simply painted down the white background color and then cut out stripes of the BMF Black Chrome foil and laid those out.  The BMF worked like a charm here too.

In the background you can also see the remaining bits of the kit.  The canopy has been mostly framed in by now and the BMF worked just great for that.  The engine parts and the landing gear parts, as well as the four wingtip laser cannons, were all "fiddly bits" that didn't make sense to attach until the last minute.  They all stick out and are all fairly fragile so they'd most likely get broken or bent in the process of working on the rest of the kit.  So, off they stayed.  The next step was decaling this bird!

Nothing major here.  Although the decals would really help "make" the model as being a US warbird from WWII and not from Star Wars they were also rather simple.  Given how little time I had at this point that was a good thing.  So I went through my stock of decal sheets, some of which I'd been buying on eBay, and selected the ones which I thought were most useful.  I found one set which was for an Air National Guard F-84 that had the lettering I needed and another sheet which had the national insignia of the right size.   I carefully trimmed those out and set them to soaking in some warm water.

Soaking decals.

The first ones I started with were the instrument face plates that came with the X-Wing kit.  These proved a bit problematic.  First off they were very small and they tended to fold over onto themselves.

Folded over decals

I was also surprised by the amount of carrier film which surrounded them.  I'd thought the Fine Molds decals would be as advanced as the plastic pieces in their kit.  Not so.  However, after some fussing and cussing I had them in place on the cockpit instrument panel.  I slathered on some Microset and that served to snug them down onto the piece.  The next time I'll take care to trim them more closely.

The other decals went on fairly directly.  The national insignias were the stickiest and it took some longer soaking and gentle prodding to get them off their paper sheet with out shredding them apart in the process.  In short order though, I had them on and lined up.  Putting on the spacecraft's call letters, the ones which were an obvious sight gag, proved a bit more difficult to line up and snug down.  I am also not too happy with how the carrier film on those is showing through.  I'd trimmed them as closely as I could but they still appear to be very clearly on film and not "painted" onto the sides of the model.  Perhaps had I the time to have sprayed a coat of Future floor polish onto the model that would have provided enough of a backing to have rendered those film invisible.  Such a spraying would have taken too long and I was doing all this in the eleventh hour - actually, in the twenty third hour - so I went with what I could.  Live and learn.

Finally though, I had all the decals on.  Then I quickly attached the engine nozzles to the engine assemblies on the wing, attached the laser cannon onto the wings, and then inserted the wing landing gear into their positions.  Next I slid the wings into place and secured the endcap into its place, thus holding the wings in theirs.  Lastly I flipped my model over and glued the nose landing gear into place using more superglue.  A bit of aligning, some pressure, and that gap filling superglue (Zap-A-Gap) set up and bonded the gear into place.

I flipped the model back right side up and gently placed it on its three landing gear pads.  I placed the cockpit canopy into place and... was done.  That was it.  The kit was finished.

Freshly done!

Forty hours - at least - of work later, here it is - at 23:28 Sunday evening.  This capped a marathon model making session which I'd started early Saturday morning and worked mostly straight through on that day and all the way through on Sunday as well.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief and smiled a big smile.  I also realized I had but a few more minutes to get everything else done in order to meet the deadline.

Once the kit was done I quickly got the camera set up to take the pictures.  In one of the too few breaks I taken that day, I'd run down to a Michael's crafts store and found myself a good sized piece of medium gray construction paper.  I'd planned on marking up one side of it as if it were a concrete flight line ramp while leaving the other its neutral gray.  Well, no time for that now!  I got out my extra light, clamped that to its stand, mounted my camera to its tripod, and fired it all up. 

A quick series of photos later, I was once again in front of my PC.  I quickly went through the pictures I'd taken and culled them down to the best ones.  Then I resized them for use on the SM (Starship Modeler) site and then I sent them off, noting that this was my official entry into the contest.

I hit the send button on this email at 23:57.  Yup, three minutes to Midnight and thus three minutes until the contest entry deadline.  I'd made it.  Just barely but I'd made it just the same!

And here they are:

Beauty shot 02

Beauty from the other side.

Beauty from the side.

Beauty from above.

I then quickly put to type what I'd already thought up for the model's description.  I sent that off shortly after, figuring that so long as I got my photos in it would suffice.  It did.  And two days later, John (the guy who runs the site) got my entry processed and put it up online.

Kits (Box Stock, Accurized, or Limited/commercially-Available Conversions) Kit 05 Lockheed P-65 Lightning

Here's the text of my writeup:

 Scale: 1/72

Date: June 7th 1944

Here we have photos of one of the more famous fightercraft in World War Two: the Lockheed P-65 Lightning. This space superiority fighter was the best the Allies had during World War Two and it gave Allied pilots a decided advantage over the Nazi's and their TIE fighters. This particular spacefighter is one of the more notable ones even among all the other Lightnings for this is the one that Captain Luke "Skywalker" Hamil (radio callsign "Red 5") flew in the daring raid against the Nazi's secret Lunar battlestation, the Death Star.

Flying his Lightning, which he nicknamed the "Princess Leia," through the trench-like canyons which made up the Death Star battlestation, Captain Hamil led his squadron (Fighter Squadron 277 - The "Rebels") in an attack which destroyed the Death Star's mega-laser cannon. The success of this raid allowed the Allies to successfully land their forces on Moon. The invasion forces which landed were then able to secure the rest of the Death Star and push the Nazis back. With the Moon once again in Allied hands the Nazis no longer held the high ground in war and the tide turned against them.

In the space combat which occurred during this daring raid there are reports that the Luftwaffe's top ace, Gruppenfuherer Darth Vader, may have actually been shot down by Captain Hamil. In the chaos of that day's combat however, no immediate confirmation of this victory was able to be made.

The Lockheed P-65 Lightning is equipped with the latest THX-1138 search and target LIDAR system in the nose of the craft, the Incom R2D2 astromech avionics system, and the quad mount of the ILM KX9 laser cannons which give the Lightning its blasting power. A fast and capable fighter, the P-65 Lightning is truly one of the greats!

I'm very pleased with all this.  First off, I'm quite pleased with myself that I was able to make this model in such a limited timeframe and thus was able to meet a self-imposed deadline.  I'm also pleased that I finally came to closure on one of the many projects I'd started.  I'm pleased to finally be back in the plastic model kit making business and am thus no longer simply spending too much money _collecting_ kits but am actually starting to turn them into finished items.  And I'm also pleased with the way the kit came out.

No, it's not perfect.  Far from it in fact.  I'm glad the kit is being judged only on the photos and not in person for there are a number of flaws nakedly visible - to my eye at least - which would be very painful ones to bear in any in person competition.  The fit and finish of my creation does leave much to be desired, in my opinion.  Had I more time I would never have let the model out of my hands with those decals being the way they are.  I'd have done a more precise paintjob and finishing job on the kit's surface before foiling it.  Live and learn.  Still though, even with the flaws, I'm happy with the results.

I'd like to do another X-Wing like this.  The next go 'round I'd take more time to insure the finish of the kit was even smoother and better than what I was able to achieve here.  I would also like to have more appropriate decals for it and perhaps some relevant nose art as well.  For this go 'round though, it will do.

I'm looking forward to this contest winding up.  I'll let you know the results.  So far, and in looking at the competition in the "Kit" category in which my entry falls, I think I've an excellent chance.  We'll see.

If you would like to know more about me, then ask me directly.  Just click on my email address here:
email me

In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!


This page was last updated on: 14 January 2005  

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.



In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!