Lockheed P-38 Lightning


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Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The P-38 was the only American fighter built before World War II to be still in production on VJ Day. Developed through many successively improved versions, the Lightning was used in all US combat zones as a high- and low-altitude fighter, fighter escort, bomber, photographic-reconnaissance aircraft, low-level attack and rocket fighter, and smoke-screen layer.

The first aeroplane developed from the start as a military type by Lockheed, the P-38 was designed to meet an Air Corps specification issued in 1936. The XP-38 prototype flew for the first time on 27 January 1939 and the first YP-38 service-evaluation aircraft of a limited procure-ment order for 13 was delivered to the USAAF in March 1941.

The P-38D was the first version of the Lightning to go into service in the war - an aircraft of this mark was the first American fighter to shoot down an enemy aeroplane, flying over Iceland a few minutes after the US declared war on Germany. The P-38L was the last fighter version to see combat service, which took in the final stages of the Pacific War. Two P-38L Lightnings escorting a Boeing Fortress were actually the first Allied fighters to land on Japanese soil after the surrender.

Built in large numbers throughout the war, the Lightning - as the type was first named by the RAF- appeared in 18 variants. The RAF, however, received only three of 143 aircraft similar to the P-38D which followed the P-38 into production - their performance being unacceptable to the RAF. This resulted from the fact that Lockheed were not permitted to export aircraft with turbocharged engines, making it necessary to install the unsupercharged 775kW Allison V-1710-33 engines which had proved to be underpowered in the XP-38 prototype.

P-38D in US service differed from the original P-38 by introducing self-sealing tanks and tail-unit revisions to overcome buffeting. P-38E had armament changes and were followed by the P-38F with more powerful engines and underwing racks (between engines and fuselage nacelle) for drop-tanks or weapons: late production examples introduced Fowler-type flaps which had a 'droop' setting to enhance manoeuvrability. P-38G had more powerful engines, as did the P-38H and -38J - the latter introduced an improved cooling system and powered ailerons. Most extensively built version was the P-38L (3,923), equipped to carry rocket projectiles beneath the outer-wing panels. Some P-38J were converted to serve as two-seat 'Pathfinders'; some P-38L as P-38M night fighters or TP-38L two-seat trainers; and other versions included F-4 and F-5 photo-reconnaissance aircraft.

The Lightning is remembered especially as a long-range escort for Eighth Air Force bombers making deep-penetration daylight attacks on targets in Germany, as well as for the long-range interception and destruction of the Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty) bomber carrying Japan's Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

 ENGINE2 x Allison V-1710-111/113 V-12, 1100kW
  Take-off weight9798 kg21601 lb
  Empty weight5806 kg12800 lb
  Wingspan15.85 m52 ft 0 in
  Length11.53 m38 ft 10 in
  Height3.91 m13 ft 10 in
  Wing area30.47 m2327.98 sq ft
  Max. speed666 km/h414 mph
  Ceiling13410 m44000 ft
  Range724 km450 miles
  Range w/max.fuel3640 km2262 miles
 ARMAMENT1 x 20mm cannon, 4 x 12.7mm machine-guns, 1451kg of bombs

Lockheed P-38 LightningA three-view drawing (1697 x 1063)

Comments1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100
douglas weishar, e-mail, 13.10.2017 21:14

My father repaired these planes in the south Pacific after dog fights and he always told me that they were far superior to the Zero's in manuvering.


ron, e-mail, 27.07.2017 03:17

The P-38 was able to recharge a jammed 20mm Hispano M2 cannon in flight. This helped address the unreliability problem due to light striking of the firing pin on the cartridge. The firing chamber was 2cm too long on the M2 vs the improved RAF Mk II Hispano cannons on the Spitfire.


GERALD LINDAHL, e-mail, 16.02.2017 21:49

Major Richard Bong, Ace of Aces grew up on the farm across from us in Poplar Wisconsin I always remember him flying over our house while he was doing his stunts above his home when he was learning to fly. When he returned stateside while on the war bond tour after shouting down I think his 26th enemy aircraft. He flew over his home in the p-38 and i looked up and he came over the big elm trees and pulled up and climbed up a few thousand feet and came down and over our house and did a few more times. I was in high school then and will always remember him as my idol growing up. He returned state side before the war ended and he was attached to Lockheed testing the new jet P-80 in which he was killed in an accident on one of his test runs.If you want lots of info on his life there is so much on the internet so just type in Major Richard Bong and you will enjoy all his history..I joined the Air Force in 1948 after high school and ended up as a radio operator on B-29s..Great web site you have...


Scott, e-mail, 19.11.2016 04:17

When I was a line boy at Centennial airport a 172 ran into the nose of a privately owned P-38. It tore the right wing off the Cessna but, pretty much just scratched the paint on the P-38.


Paul Scott, e-mail, 18.11.2016 21:19

Typical Americans - a fine 'plane, but not allowing the Brits to purchase it /the better version due to the turbocharger, when both were allies, defies belief.


Oldgysgt, e-mail, 01.11.2015 23:42

My drafting teacher in college was Mr. Gibbs. He had been in charge of designing the landing gear for the P38 before retiring from Lockheed in the 1950's. He told me that because the XP38 had crashed while attempting to land in New York state, he, as the designer of the landing gear, was the first to inspect the wreckage after it was sent back to California. He said that the wire fence from Mitchel Field in Hempstead, New York was still wrapped around the remains of the aircraft when they opened the railroad boxcar.


RB, e-mail, 15.03.2015 02:19

The 20mm Mk2 Hispano could fire 650 rpm and I believe the Colt .50 Cals fired 850 rpm each.


Jack Nebel, e-mail, 06.03.2015 22:10

I lived in a small community in northern Wyoming and worked for William C. Powell who was a P-38 pilot who flew recon out of England. He flew over the beach heads of Normandy and into the interior of Normandy. In 1951 they declassified all the photos of the pre-D-Day invasion and he received an apple box full of these photos. His son John and I would spend hours looking at these photos.


Ron, e-mail, 11.02.2015 05:23

Does someone know if the Hispano 20mm x110 APT projectile was 168 g and if it was the APT used in P-38 and RAF fighters?

If so, that beefs up the 130 g AP and HEI shell ammo WoF.
that reminds me of the Ho-3 in many Nakajima Ki 44-IIc with a 20mm shell in the same weight class.

I figure a P-38F had a WoF of about 3.513 kg per sec. if I'm not mistaken.


Jetcopters Inc., e-mail, 22.01.2015 03:08

We have one of these for sale. Never used. If interested contact me.


Scott Langdon, e-mail, 14.01.2015 19:09

My father flew a p 38 during the war. As i understood it he flew in India. I got these facts from my grandmother as, upon his return to the states he died in
june 1949. I was 2. His name was Maj Charles "Rex" Langdon


Robert Vrilakas, e-mail, 08.08.2014 03:01

I flew 51 P-38combat missions in the MTO with the 94rh "Hat-In-the Ring" squadron. 1943 /44
I have published a book entitled "Look Mom -- I Can Fly" It's about my military training and combat. More info. is available on my web site: p38book.com
The book has received 17 5 star ratings on Amazon. Signed copies are available from my web site.


John Howell, e-mail, 13.05.2014 02:08

I lived with my family near Lockeed Aircraft and we would see the P-38's all the time during WW2. We would watch 5 or 6 P- 38'practicing "dog fighting" high in the sky. It was something to see. I was 8 years old


Ron Beauchamp, e-mail, 18.12.2013 19:51

Any info on a WW11 ace named Bong who flew P38's and was from Wisconsin?


Gene Kershner, e-mail, 01.11.2013 00:00

The 339th Fighter Squadron Association was formed in the 1970's to commemorate the World War squadron that flew the mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto. The Association is alive and kicking and meets once a year to swap stories. Anyone interested can contact me at the above email or call Robert Murphy at 386-364-1454.


Barry, 13.05.2013 11:46

It never fully overcame it's engine problems until the 'L' model,but it did shoot down more Japanese aircaft than any other allied aircraft.


Klaatu83, e-mail, 23.09.2012 17:00

A turbo-supercharger is a large and heavy piece of machinery that has to be located at a relatively remote distance from the engine in order to function properly. Due to the configuration of the aircraft's tail booms, the P-38 was one of the few single-seat fighters in which a turbo-supercharger could be effectively used (the other was the P-47, another large aircraft in which the turbo-supercharger was installed in the rear of the fuselage).

Unfortunately, the early P-38s (pre-H model) were very complex aircraft that were difficult and labor-intensive to maintain, and which suffered from many engine problems, particularly due to their complex cooling systems, which were somewhat simplified in later models. Another problem stemming from the P-38's peculiar configuration was the fact that the cockpit was remote from the engines, and thus became very cold and uncomfortable for the pilot during long, high-altitude escort missions over Europe. That was among the reasons why the 8th Air Force switched to P-51s for performing it's escort missions. That wasn't so much of an issue over the Pacific, where P-38s usually operated at somewhat lower altitudes.

The P-38 was also one of the first fighters to experience Compressibility problems due to it's ability to approach the speed of sound. That problem was also addressed in later P-38 models by means of the installation of air brakes under the wings, which could slow the plane down enough for the pilot to be able to regain control.


Larry Jozwik, e-mail, 15.05.2012 17:43

Does anyone know where I could get a complete set of engineering drawings for the P-38? I want to build a 2 /3 scale aircraft.


James Reed, e-mail, 17.03.2012 18:27

Charles Lindbergh shot down a Japanese Zero in July, 1944 while flying P-38s with the Army Air Corps 475th Fighter Group out of New Guinea. He actually flew about 50 combat missions in P-38s and Corsairs(with the Marines). This was against Washington's orders, but the operational troops liked him so and admired his abilities so, that they helped him bend the rules. His official mission was to help the forces find ways to extend fighter range(which he did). Details can be found in Lindbergh's Wartime Journals.


mike, e-mail, 16.02.2012 05:35

The P-38,P-47, and P-51 were all excellent weapons of war. My comments are for those who don't seem to have the facts about Maj. Thomas B. McGuire's last flight exactly correct. McGuire's flight of 4 P-38's were engaged by 2 Japanese fighters, a Ki-43 flown by WO Akira Sugimoto and a Ki-84 flown by Sgt Mizunori Fukuda. Both Japanese aviators were veterans flying highly manuverable aircraft at low altitude. They were in their element. Why McGuire didn't disengage, drop tanks, gain speed and altitude and re-engage we will never know. Maj. Jack Rittmayer was shot down, McGuire stalled and crashed both were killed. But the Japanese did not escape unscathed. Lt. Douglas Thropp hit Sugimoto's Oscar so heavily he was forced to crash land his fighter only a few miles from where the 2 Americans died. Capt Ed Weaver shot up Fukuda's Frank so badly it crash landed at Manalpa. Sugimoto was killed by Filippino guerillas at his crash site. The aerial battle was not a lopsided victory for the Japanese in fact considering that McGuire was killed accidentally one could almost rationalize that the Americans emerged victorious. Of course the loss of 2 highly experienced USAAF pilots (Note: Maj Rittmayer had 4 aerial victories and had flown numerous missions) for the destruction of 2 JAAF fighters can not be considered a victory especially since Maj McGuire's 38 victories made him the 2nd highest scoring ace in USAAF history. At the time of the tragic events of January 7th 1945 it was not known that 2 Japanese aircraft had also been destroyed. Perhaps this information might have lessened the pain felt by the 475thFG having lost 2 valuable leaders ,including the legendary "Iron Major" but probable not. At least we can now realize that on the evening of 1 /7 /45 the score was not JAAF 2-0 but 2-2.


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