RCU Review: NitroModels P-38 Lightning

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    Contributed by: Mike Buzzeo | Published: September 2006 | Views: 76454 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon

    Review by: Mike Buzzeo (MinnFlyer) Email Me

    Nitro Model Planes
    PO Box 3382
    Alhambra, CA 91803
    Phone: 626-261-4960
    Fax: 626-628-3388

    Window Media Player
    NitroModels P-38


    Ease of Assembly:
    Completeness of Kit:
    Covering Quality:
    Basic Flight:
    Advanced Flight:


    Stall Characteristics:

    • Great Looks
    • Fiberglass Cowls
    • Smooth Flight Characteristics

    • Severe Lack Of Instruction In Manual
    • With The Two-Piece Wing Removed, Booms Have No Support (See Text)
    • Both Landing Gear Blocks Broke Loose
      (See Text)
    • All Three Landing Gear Wires Need To Be Replaced
      (See Text)
    • Fuel Lines Need To Be Replaced
      (See Text)

    I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "Twin Engine", only a handful of planes immediately come to my mind. At the top of that list is Lockheed's illustrious P-38 Lightning. Throw the term "WWII Fighter" into the equation and I can't think of another.

    It's also one of those planes that I have always wanted to model, but too often it was either cost, or labor prohibitive.

    The "Forked-Tail Devil" In All Its Glory

    Now NitroModels has rendered the peerless "Forked-Tail Devil" in ARF form for under $250. This is no small feat. It's scale appearance is not perfect, but it's pretty good, and hard to beat for that price.

    The NitroModels website claims this plane is for twin .46 or .52 size 2-Cycle engines, or a pair of .60 size 4-strokes. I used two OS 70 Surpass engines and found them to be an excellent match. More on that later, for now, let's take a closer look.

    Name: NitroModels 90" P-38

    Price: $249.00

    Wingspan: 90 in / 2300mm

    Wing Area: 1085 sq in / 70sq dm

    Length: 71 in (180.3 cm)

    Flying Weight (advertised): 12 lb / 5500g

    Flying Weight: (actual) 15 lb

    Engine: (2) .52 (2-stroke); .60 (4-stroke)

    Engine Used: (2) O.S. FS-70 II Surpass

    Radio Used: JR 6102 Transmitter w/ JR R700 7 Channel FM Slimline Rx

    Servos: (11) JR DS811 - Elevator (2), Aileron (2), Rudder (3), Throttle (2), Flaps (2)

    Channels Used: 5 total - Elevator, Aileron, Rudder, Throttle, Flaps

    Items Needed To Complete

    • 5 Channel Radio w/ 11 Standard High-Torque Servos
    • Two .46 - .52 2-stroke or Two .60 - .70 4-Stroke Glow Engines
    • Eight 24" Servo Extensions (* See Note)
    • Two 36" Servo Extensions (* See Note)
    • Six "Y" Cords (* See Note)
    • 2 Spinners (2 1/2")
    • Fuel Line
    • CA Glue
    • 30-min Epoxy
    • Various Standard Shop Tools

    *Note: The P-38 lends itself nicely to a 2 Receiver configuration. This would eliminate many of the required "Y" Cords and Extensions.

    The packaging was really good. All major components were well secured and individually wrapped. Lots of cardboard dividers kept things in their places.

    First impressions are important, and at first glance, the P-38 gooks great. The quality of the wood is very good, and the construction is excellent. The Canopy, Superchargers and Air Scoops are all vacu-formed plastic, and the Cowls are made of a good sturdy fiberglass.


    Once again the Manual is the weakest link. And I have to say that I have seen some bad manuals, but this is the worst I've seen in a long time.

    For those of us that build from Kits, the term "Builder's Kit" is a well-known phrase. These are Kits that require a lot of building skills and have very vague instructions. Well, I'm going to coin a new phrase right here and now - "Builder's ARF".

    The NitroModels P-38 turned out to be a good quality plane that flies very well, but you can plan on replacing some hardware and doing a lot of the "Think Work" to get it built.


    The P-38 starts by gluing the Aileron and Flap hinges with Thin CA. Once hinged, 4 servos are mounted in the wings, Controls Horns are installed, and pushrods are cut to size. Then each wing gets 3 dowel pins for Center Pod, and Boom mounts.

    Next the Landing Gear are attached. An interesting note here is that as you can see in the pictures, the Main Gear Struts have a bend in them. Most of the Manual's pictures show straight struts, except for one picture that shows the bent struts - But in that picture, the Struts are bent toward the rear (As you see them in the picture above). But once assembly was complete, I realized that this brings the main gear too far back, which would make it difficult for the P-38 to rotate on take off. So before the maiden flight, I switched the gear so they were swept forward which put them much closer to the CG.

    The Nose Gear Mount bolts easily to the Front Nose Former. I eventually had to extend it as much as I dared go in order to get the P-38 to sit with a slight positive incidence. And that was measured with an incidence meter due to the fact that the plane has a slight optical illusion - It LOOKS like it's sitting slightly nose-down, but there was about 1 ½ degrees of positive in the wing

    Regardless, I later realized that the original Gear Wire was too soft and bent easily, so all 3 gear had to be replaced.

    For routing the Nose Wheel Pushrod, I added a plywood brace inside the Pod. This was not in the instructions, but it just looked like it was needed.


    At this point I reached a real dilemma. The manual has you epoxy the stab in place, but I realized that the 2-Piece Wing means that the booms would have no support once the Wing was removed. I seriously considered making the Stab removable, but instead, I built a PVC Cradle to hold the plane for transportation, or anytime the wing is removed.

    So with that problem solved, I proceeded to epoxy the Stab in place. The next problem was that the supplied pushrods had no threads on either end. Several "E-Z" Type connectors were included, but they had no set screws. I eventually soldered some Du-Bro Clevises to the ends of the pushrods, and E-Z Connectors to the servo arms.


    One of the few things the Manual was specific about was the Firewall-to-Thrust Plate dimension. In order to achieve it, I had to mount the OS 70s as far back as they could go. This created a problem with getting a Glow Igniter on the engine (Which was no big deal as I had already decided to use DuBro Remote Safety Igniters anyway). But what bugs me is that the cowls had about an extra 2" of room, and the plane needed a lot of nose weight. So I easily could have moved the engines forward by ½" or so. I thought about doing this after I realized it, but frankly, I didn't feel like removing two sets of engine mounts and re-drilling them.

    I connected the Throttle using a DuBro EZ Connector.

    You can see here how the two screws that bolt the cowl on are a good 2" forward of the rear of the cowl.

    OS FS-70 II Surpass Closer Look
    O.S. FS-70 II Surpass

    The First Choice for Quality, Durability and Performance

    • 1.02 in (26 mm)
    • Stroke: 0.87 in (22 mm)
    • Displacement: 0.702 cu in (11.5 cc)
    • Power Output: 1.6 BHP at 11,000 rpm
    • Practical RPM Range: 2,000-12,000 rpm
    • Crankshaft Thread Size: 5/16" x 24
    • Weight: 20.3 oz (580 g)

    Some of the advantages of the 4 stroke motors are fuel economy, their ability to swing a larger prop, and (My favorite) that cool 4-stroke sound!

    Props recommended by the mfg. for the OS 70II Surpass are:
    Stunt planes: 11X9-10, 12X7-8, 12.5X5-6
    Scale models: 13X8, 14X7 (11X7 - 3 blade)

    Per the recommendation in the manual I used a Graupner 12x7 Prop.

    The FS-70 Surpass II comes equipped with a newly designed carburetor with a new carb needle that provides smooth response throughout the power range especially from idle to running speed and the carb is positioned on the centerline for increased mounting flexibility. The throttle arm is mounted directly in line with the rotor to ensure that throttle inputs match carb response. To minimize the need to modify the cowl, the high- and low-speed adjustment screws are located on the same side.

    Performances on mine were excellent. They ran right out of the box and started easily by hand! I ran about 4 tanks of fuel through both engines, and then synchronized them. This is not my first Twin Engine plane, but it's the first time I've used Twin 4-Strokes, and all I can say is - the sound is amazing!

    Download the manual in PDF format - Click here


    The P-38 eats up a whopping 11 servos - I knew that before I started. What I hadn't considered were all of the "Y" and Extension cords! I seriously considered using a twin Rx configuration, which would have greatly simplified installation, but then I nixed the idea in favor of having only one battery pack to charge.

    So the final decision was to put three servos in each boom (Rudder, Elev, Throttle) and the Rx, Battery and Nose Wheel Servo in the Center Pod. This meant running three 24" extensions to each Boom (Not to mention the 4 wing servos).


    Once again, the Manual leaves something to the imagination when it comes to mounting the Canopy and Superchargers (Which act to cover the upper Wing-to-Boom attachment point). In the manual, there is a picture that LOOKS like someone is putting some sort of tape on the wing saddle. Now whether this is wing-seating tape, or a double-sided tape is anyone's guess. I opted to attach them with 4 screws each and I use a little Scotch Tape on the front of them just to be sure.

    I attached the Air Scoops with RC-56, and with the addition of two DuBro Remote Safety Igniters and one of their Kwik Switch & Charging Jacks, The P-38 was ready to maiden.

    And since it's a Twin, I got my favorite twins, Tessa and Pam to pose with her!

    Maiden flights often go off without a hitch - Not so in this case. After getting the OS 70's fired up, I did my usual taxi trial. During a short high-speed run, I noticed that one of the main Gear was dragging. Opening her up revealed that the vertical mounting block had broken loose. So I broke out the Zap and made a quick field repair.

    Wouldn't you know it, on the next high-speed run, the same block on the other main gear broke loose, so again, Zap to the rescue.

    Third time's the charm! Her third sprint was as smooth as the first two, (but this time, everything stayed in place) and the Lightning slipped as sweetly into the sky as you could ever ask for. Once airborne, only minor trim was needed before she was flying "Hands Off".

    Ok, now I thought I'd be able to take a minute to catch my breath and calm down! No I can't? There's a P-38 up there, and I'm flying it! WOW!!!

    In retrospect, it was funny how I wouldn't let myself relax for a minute on that first flight. Very shortly after it was trimmed, I dropped the flaps and brought her in for a beautiful landing.

    Ok, NOW I can catch my breath!

    So I sat back and watched some of the other members fly for a while, and I increased the Aileron throws a little bit, then I took her up a second time.

    Now I was having some fun! The maiden flight jitters were gone and the P-38 flew like a dream. No bad habits at all. Rolls were clean, and loops tracked very well. I greased her in for a second landing and since the weather was so perfect, I decided that I'd fuel her up again and shoot some video.

    For the third flight, I had my brother fly it while I shot the tape. But as I watched through the viewfinder, I saw the nose start to sink as soon as the throttle was advanced. A few seconds later, the take off was aborted as the plane seemed to "Squat" lower and lower.

    At first I thought the landing gear blocks may have broken loose again, but upon further inspection we found that all 3 gear wires were severely bent.

    Back at the shop, I discovered why - the wire used for the gear is too soft for this application. I could actually bend it with my bare hands. So I was off to the hobby shop for some new wire.

    I bent a new nose strut from 3/16" music wire, and for the mains, I used 7/32". I had to enlarge the hole in the nose wheel steering arm for the new wire, and in the upright gear blocks for the mains, but the new wire fit nicely into the slot in the horizontal blocks.

    Maybe NOW I can get the video shot. And I did... And it looks great... And I thought I was done with this review...

    But wait! There's more!

    The next night I brought it out to the field again on the request of a few of the guys who didn't get to see it yet. So there I was flying it around when I pointed her up to do a Split "S". Suddenly, it just sort of rolled out of the maneuver, and for a minute, I thought I had radio problems, but no, a few seconds later my greatest fear was realized - I was flying on ONE ENGINE.

    "Ok, Calm down" I told myself, "I've had to do harder things than this." The good news is that it flies very well on only one engine - so well in fact, that I aborted my first landing attempt and went around for a second try. You DO need to avoid turning to the dead side, and really fly with the Rudder, but it is VERY manageable.

    Once on the ground I wanted to see WHY the Left engine quit. We started it up, pointed the nose in the air, and it quit again. Now these engines are barely broken in, and I'm still running them a touch on the rich side, so I KNOW it's not too lean. I figured that somehow the fuel line inside the Tank must have fallen off.

    Opening the Tank revealed yet one more item that needs replacing - The supplied fuel line had a severe split at three of the four connecting points. The line in the other tank had only one split, so that one got replaced also.

    NitroModels P-38 VIDEO
    6.1 Meg
    Large Format DELUX VIDEO
    14.7 Meg

    The P-38 is a difficult plane to model - which is the main reason that they are usually so expensive. It took much longer than I had anticipated to make it airworthy, but the end result is a very nice flying airplane. And what's more, it's a P-38!

    The overall construction and quality of this airframe is very good, but the lack of instruction, combined with the complicated design lead to some interesting decision making by the builder. Also, you will find that much of the hardware needs replacing, or modification.

    So beware - This is a "Builder's ARF" - If your building experience is limited, you'll be tearing your hair out in no time. However, if you've got lots of building experience, and want an inexpensive P-38, you've found it!

    Nitro Model Planes
    PO Box 3382
    Alhambra, CA 91803
    Phone: 626-261-4960
    Fax: 626-628-3388

    O.S. Engines
    Distributed Exclusively in the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico by:
    Great Planes Model Distributors
    P.O. Box 9021; Champaign, IL 61826-9021
    Website: www.osengines.com
    Available Through: Tower Hobbies

    JR Radios
    Distributed through:
    Horizon Hobby
    4105 Fieldstone Rd.
    Champaign, IL 61822
    Phone: (217) 352-1913
    Website: www.jrradios.com
    Available Through: Horizon Hobby

    NoBS Batteries, Inc..
    139 Oak St
    Patchogue NY 11772-2844
    Phone: 631-610-5169
    Website: www.hangtimes.com/nobsbatteries.html
    email: hangtimes@optonline.net

    Graupner Propellers
    Available Through: Hobby Lobby

    Everything For The R/C Hobbyist
    Phone: 1-800-848-9411
    Website: www.dubro.com

    Comments on RCU Review: NitroModels P-38 Lightning

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    The comments, observations and conclusions made in this review are solely with respect to the particular item the editor reviewed and may not apply generally to similar products by the manufacturer. We cannot be responsible for any manufacturer defects in workmanship or other deficiencies in products like the one featured in the review.

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