-The P-38 Lightning-

At the beginning of 1937, when Lockheed received the USAAC's proposals, the company did
not have any previous experience in the design and construction of military aircraft. With this
in mind you would think this would be a major disadvantage, but actually it was completely
the opposite. The design team of H.L. Hibbard were able to conceive a design without any
preconceived ideas. The USAAC was looking for a long-range fighter that could obtain a
maximum speed of 360 mph and be able to climb to a altitude of 20,000 ft in six minutes.
Using the contenders in this category as an example like the Hawker Hurricane and the
BF-109 Messerscmitt they came to the conclusion that no single engine then in existence
could meet the specification, but that two engines would , and at the same time improving
better armament, and fuel payload. After the proposals for the aircraft were given to
Lockheed by the USAAC in 1937, the team decided on twin-engined configuration, the
designers were faced with the problem of how best to mount the two engines. Among some
of the possibilities were conventional wing mounted engines, in both tractor and pusher
arrangements: engines within the fuselage driving two tractor propellers via co-axial shafts,
or wing mounted propellers via complex transmission; and a twin-boom structure between
which could be mounts a central nacelle with push and pull engines. The last proposal was
the most attractive, for if the tail unit was designed to link the aft end of the booms the
resulting structure could be comparatively light in weight and also very strong. This was
three basic layout of Lockheed's Model 22, details of which were submitted to the USAAC in
the spring of 1937. On June 23, 1937, the company was awarded the contract for the
construction of a prototype under the designation XP-38, and was also required to construct
a mock-up for equipment and cockpit layout to the requirements of the Army Air Corps. After
the inspection and final approval Lockheed was able to begin detail design, but it was not
until a year later in July 1938 that the construction of the first prototype was started. The
aircraft rolled off the line just after Christmas in that same year, with engine ground tests
made in early January, the XP-38 was flown for the first time on the 27th of January 1939.
The XP-38 prototype was powered by two 960-hp Allison V-1710-11/15 inline engines, that
turned the propellers each in a opposite direction to neutralize the effect of engine torque.

Initial testing of the XP-38 ran so well that the aircraft was dispatched on a transcontinental
flight from March Airfield in California to Mitchell Field in New York. The flight took place on
February 11, 1939 and produced a flight time with two en-route refueling stops in 7 hours 2
minutes. Despite the breath taking performance of the aircraft upon landing a undershoot of
the runway caused the plane to crash and was written off. However, early testing and the
Trans-America flight prompted the USAAC to order a service batch of 13 YP-38s on April 27,
1939, and followed after by a production order for 66 P-38s on the 10th of August. Based on
early flight test results it was possible to incorporate certain modifications to the
pre-production Lockheed Model 222, this including the introduction of 1,150-hp
V-1710-27/29engines as well as different propeller rotation from XP-38. In addition the nose
mounted armament was changed from the 23-mm cannon and four .50-in machine-guns of
the prototype to one 37-mm cannon, two .50-in machine-guns, and two .30-in machine-guns.
There was a long wait between the time the YP-38 flew on the 16th of September in 1940 till
it was handed over to the USAAC for evaluation in early March 1941. By early June there
was a total of 13 YP-38s that had been delivered. There was no doubt what so ever that
Lockheed had produced a remarkable aircraft, for early testing showed a maximum speed of
405 mph at 20,000 ft, an altitude to which it would climb to in the required 6 minutes. One
major problem was discovered during service trials, namely buffeting of the tail unit, and
early attempts to eliminate this by introducing unswept booms, to lift the tail unit above the
disturbed airflow aft the engines and wings, were un-successful. The solution came when an
adjustment to the tailplane incidence and changes to the elevator mass balancing, these
modifications being incorporated on the last 36 aircraft of the first order, were designated
P-38D. The first thirty aircraft were delivered as P-38s(Lockheed Model 222), with delivery
starting in mid-1941. These were similar to the YP-38s but had armament much like the
prototype, plus the provision of armor protection for the pilot. Their basic structure was the
same of the whole family of P-38s which followed throughout the Was until terminated finally
by the contract on VJ-Day. Of all-metal construction, the wing was the mid-set and consisted
of a centre-section on which was mounted the central nacelle structure to accommodate the
pilot, and node wheel unit when contracted. Mountings for the engine nacelles/tail booms
were integral with the wing centre-section structure, and outboard of these were the wing
outer panels. Fuel tanks were housed in the wing centre section, and trailing-edge flaps of
the Lockheed-Fowler type were installed. The tail booms, which could be considered to start
from the fire proof bulkheads aft of each engine, provided housing for the main landing gear
units when retracted, the General Electric engine turbochargers, cooling radiators and, at
their extremities, the twin fins and rudder; they were rigidly braced together the aft end by a
continuous tailplane structure, with the single elevator inset in the tailplane trailing edge
between the rudders. The powerplant compromised two Allison V-1710 inline engines, each
driving a constant speed and fully-feathering propeller.

The P-38s were followed into service by the 36 P-38Ds, beginning in August of 1941, and
these could be regarded as the first combat-worthy examples of the P-38. In addition to the
tail unit modifications mentioned above, they were provided with a low-pressure oxygen
system, a retractable landing light, and self-sealing fuel tanks. The p-38Ds were also the first
to bear the name Lightning, which was the designation allocated to this aircraft when
ordered for the RAF by the British Purchasing Commission of 1940. There were 667
ordered, these being Lockheed model 322, and either because of an oversight on the part of
the Commission, or because of a export ban on the engine/turbocharger combination, the
first three examples, supplied to Britain as model 322-61s, were considered to have
inadequate performance when tested and the entire order was cancelled. The Lightning Is,
as designated by the RAF, and two 1,150-hp Allison V-1710-C15 (R) engines without
turbochargers and, as indicated by the R suffix, both were of right hand rotation. Testing by
the USAAF, following their acceptance of the 140 outstanding on the first British order,
confirmed the RAF's findings and were only used as various training and experimental
purposes under the designation P-322. The balance of 524, representing the second British
order, which were to have the standard P-38 engine installation were absorbed into USAAF
contracts and were produced as either P-38F or P-38G Lightnings. The P-38E was the last
version to enter production for the USAAF before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the type
differed form the P-38D in having changed electrical and hydraulic systems, the 37-mm nose
cannon replaced by one of 20-mm caliber, and the provision of additional ammunition
capacity for the nose guns. There were 210 of the version contracted, but before they were
completed 99 were converted for a photo reconnaissance role under the designation F-4,
with the nose armament replaced by a cluster of four cameras. About 507 P-38Fs which
entered service in February 1942, and a number of changes which were introduced
progressively to different production batches . These included the installation of 1,225-hp
V-1710-49/53 engines, changed oxygen equipment, and the provision of so-called
maneuvering flaps. By this time USAAF Lightnings had become heavily engaged in the war,
and a P-38 of the 50th Fighter Squadron, a unit of the 342nd Composite Group based in
Iceland, recorded the the first operational success for a Lightning a few days after arriving on
the island on 14 August 1942, destroying a German Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor over the
Atlantic. In November 1942 P-38Fs saw their first-large scale use during the North Africa
Campaign. Their wholesale destruction of German cargo and transport aircraft over the
Mediterranean quickly earned them the nickname der Gabelschwanz Teufel(the forked tail
devil) from the Luftwaffe, but in this theatre also came the first appreciation that in its
intended fighter role there were shortcomings. Not only was the wide span, twin engined
P-38 less manoeuvrable then the Messerschmitt fighters which it was in combat against, but
it did not take long for Axis pilots to discover that high performance was limited to high
altitude. If the P-38s could be forced to fight at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 ft, then
the odds were in favor of the enemy BF-109s. Prior to the above encounters, however, the
next production version had begun to enter service, during June 1942. This was the P-38G
(1,082 built), which introduced the 1,325-hp V-1710-51/55 engine. The aircraft also was
fitted with improved turbochargers, oxygen system, and also a radio was incorporated into
the variant. In August of 1942 the 1st Fighter Group's 71st and 94th Fighter Squadrons
arrived in England after ferrying their aircraft across the Atlantic, and were joined almost
immediately by the 37th,49th,and 50th Squadrons of the 14th Fighter Group. The 94th
Fighter Squadron was, incidentally, the famous 'Hat in the Ring' squadron which had fought
alongside the allies in Europe during World War I.

The last 200P-38Gs off the production line introduced underwing racks with a combined
stores capacity of 3,200 lb, and this became the standard on the P-38Hs which followed.
Production of the P-38Hs totaled 601, of which 128 were converted to photo reconnaissance
duties as F5Cs. All had 1,425-hp V-1710-89/91 engines, and late production examples had
improved turbochargers. There were,however, extensive changes in the P-38Js which
followed, for the wider use of P-38s in zones where high temperatures were a commonplace
had made it essential to eliminate the engine-overheating problem. This resulted in the
introduction of 'chin' radiators at the base of the engine nacelles, enabling this version to
develop its full take-off power to a height of 26,500 ft. Other improvements included
increased fuel capacity, power boosted controls, and hydraulically powered aileron boosters.
P-38J production totalled 2,970, and this version was in extensive use by early 1944. Three
fighter groups were operational in the Pacific, where Lightnings were accredited with the
destruction of more Japanese aircraft than any other fighter in the USAAF service. They are
all well recorded in the air forces's history for a string of memorable actions, including the
interception and and destruction, some 550 miles from their base, at Guadalcanal, of the
Mitsubishi GM4 carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. The flight was carried out by pilots from
the 70th,112th, and the 339th Fighter Squadrons, and included none other than the USAAF's
'aces of aces' of World War II, Major Richard I. Bong.(40 confirmed kills all in the P-38)

In Europe p-38s served mainly with the 9th Air Force as long-range fighter escort in support
of the 8th Air Force daylight bombing missions against German targets. There were no
production P-38Ks, the designation XP-38K being allocated to a single P-38J powered by a
Allison V-1710-75/77 engines with larger diameter propellers, and this was followed by the
most extensively built version, the P-38L. Lockheed produced no fewer than 3,810 of the
model , while an additional 113 were built by Consolidated-Vultee: the P-38L differed from
the P-38J in having 1,475-hp V-1710-111/113 engines which and a combat rating of
1,600-hp at 26,500 ft. Some of the batches had a mounting, dubbed 'Christmas tree',
beneath each outer wing panel for the carriage of five 5-in (127-mm) rocket projectiles. Well
over 700 reconnaissance aircraft with the designations F5E/5F/5G were converted from
P-38Js/38Ls, and 75 P-38M night fighters were also derived from P-38Ls. These latter, used
operationally during the closing stages of the war in the Pacific, carried a radar operator, his
equipment, and retained the full weapon load of the P-38L. Variants of the P-38 included
P-38Js modified in Europe to serve as 'lead bombers' or 'pathfinders'. In these aircraft the
standard nose was replaced by one with a bomb-aimer's posistion, which had a transparent
nose. Other variants for a similar role carried BTO ( Bomb Through Overcast) radar in the
nose, making it possible to attack a target that was obscured by clouds. With the end of the
war and the cancellations after VJ-Day most of the USAAF's Lightnings rapidly disappeared
from the scene , but a few P-38J/38Ls remained in service until 1949.


Span: 52 feet
Lenght; 37 ft. 10 in.
Height: 12 ft.
Weight: 17,500 lbs.
Armament: 4 .50 caliber machine guns and a 20 mm cannon
Engines: 2 Allison V-1710's each 1,475 hp


Max speed: 414 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,100 miles
Service Ceiling: 40,000 ft