P-38 Lightning
Overview
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 American fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 built by Lockheed
Lockheed Corporation
The Lockheed Corporation was an American aerospace company. Lockheed was founded in 1912 and later merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.-Origins:...

. Developed to a United States Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Corps
The United States Army Air Corps was a forerunner of the United States Air Force. Renamed from the Air Service on 2 July 1926, it was part of the United States Army and the predecessor of the United States Army Air Forces , established in 1941...

 requirement, the P-38 had distinctive twin boom
Twin boom
Twin-boom aircraft have their tailplanes and vertical stabilizers mounted on the tail of either two fuselages or on two booms fixed to either both sides of the single fuselage, the wings or the engine nacelles.The reason for this design choice may be:...

s and a single, central nacelle
Nacelle
The nacelle is a cover housing that holds engines, fuel, or equipment on an aircraft. In some cases—for instance in the typical "Farman" type "pusher" aircraft, or the World War II-era P-38 Lightning—an aircraft's cockpit may also be housed in a nacelle, which essentially fills the...

 containing the cockpit and armament. Named "fork-tailed devil" by the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

and "two planes, one pilot" by the Japanese, the P-38 was used in a number of roles, including dive bombing
Dive bomber
A dive bomber is a bomber aircraft that dives directly at its targets in order to provide greater accuracy for the bomb it drops. Diving towards the target reduces the distance the bomb has to fall, which is the primary factor in determining the accuracy of the drop...

, level bombing
Level bomber
High level bombing is a tactic of dropping bombs while in high altitude. The term is used as a counterpart to both World War II dive bombing and low-level bombing. Before the age of precision guided munitions , it was mostly used for strategic bombing, in other words to damage enemy's economy and...

, ground-attack, photo reconnaissance
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 missions, and extensively as a long-range
Range (aircraft)
The maximal total range is the distance an aircraft can fly between takeoff and landing, as limited by fuel capacity in powered aircraft, or cross-country speed and environmental conditions in unpowered aircraft....

 escort fighter when equipped with drop tank
Drop tank
In aeronautics, a drop tank is used to describe auxiliary fuel tanks externally carried by aircraft. A drop tank is expendable and often jettisonable...

s under its wings.

The P-38 was used most successfully in the Pacific Theater of Operations
Pacific Theater of Operations
The Pacific Theater of Operations was the World War II area of military activity in the Pacific Ocean and the countries bordering it, a geographic scope that reflected the operational and administrative command structures of the American forces during that period...

 and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations
China Burma India Theater of World War II
China Burma India Theater was the name used by the United States Army for its forces operating in conjunction with British and Chinese Allied air and land forces in China, Burma, and India during World War II...

 as the mount of America's top ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

s, Richard Bong
Richard Bong
Richard Ira "Dick" Bong is the United States' highest-scoring air ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces and a recipient of the Medal of Honor...

 (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire
Thomas McGuire
Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was the second highest scoring American ace during World War II, whose memory was preserved by the naming of McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, New Jersey.-Early years:...

 (38 victories).
Encyclopedia
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 American fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 built by Lockheed
Lockheed Corporation
The Lockheed Corporation was an American aerospace company. Lockheed was founded in 1912 and later merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.-Origins:...

. Developed to a United States Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Corps
The United States Army Air Corps was a forerunner of the United States Air Force. Renamed from the Air Service on 2 July 1926, it was part of the United States Army and the predecessor of the United States Army Air Forces , established in 1941...

 requirement, the P-38 had distinctive twin boom
Twin boom
Twin-boom aircraft have their tailplanes and vertical stabilizers mounted on the tail of either two fuselages or on two booms fixed to either both sides of the single fuselage, the wings or the engine nacelles.The reason for this design choice may be:...

s and a single, central nacelle
Nacelle
The nacelle is a cover housing that holds engines, fuel, or equipment on an aircraft. In some cases—for instance in the typical "Farman" type "pusher" aircraft, or the World War II-era P-38 Lightning—an aircraft's cockpit may also be housed in a nacelle, which essentially fills the...

 containing the cockpit and armament. Named "fork-tailed devil" by the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

and "two planes, one pilot" by the Japanese, the P-38 was used in a number of roles, including dive bombing
Dive bomber
A dive bomber is a bomber aircraft that dives directly at its targets in order to provide greater accuracy for the bomb it drops. Diving towards the target reduces the distance the bomb has to fall, which is the primary factor in determining the accuracy of the drop...

, level bombing
Level bomber
High level bombing is a tactic of dropping bombs while in high altitude. The term is used as a counterpart to both World War II dive bombing and low-level bombing. Before the age of precision guided munitions , it was mostly used for strategic bombing, in other words to damage enemy's economy and...

, ground-attack, photo reconnaissance
Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 missions, and extensively as a long-range
Range (aircraft)
The maximal total range is the distance an aircraft can fly between takeoff and landing, as limited by fuel capacity in powered aircraft, or cross-country speed and environmental conditions in unpowered aircraft....

 escort fighter when equipped with drop tank
Drop tank
In aeronautics, a drop tank is used to describe auxiliary fuel tanks externally carried by aircraft. A drop tank is expendable and often jettisonable...

s under its wings.

The P-38 was used most successfully in the Pacific Theater of Operations
Pacific Theater of Operations
The Pacific Theater of Operations was the World War II area of military activity in the Pacific Ocean and the countries bordering it, a geographic scope that reflected the operational and administrative command structures of the American forces during that period...

 and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations
China Burma India Theater of World War II
China Burma India Theater was the name used by the United States Army for its forces operating in conjunction with British and Chinese Allied air and land forces in China, Burma, and India during World War II...

 as the mount of America's top ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

s, Richard Bong
Richard Bong
Richard Ira "Dick" Bong is the United States' highest-scoring air ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces and a recipient of the Medal of Honor...

 (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire
Thomas McGuire
Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was the second highest scoring American ace during World War II, whose memory was preserved by the naming of McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, New Jersey.-Early years:...

 (38 victories). In the South West Pacific theater
South West Pacific theatre of World War II
The South West Pacific Theatre, technically the South West Pacific Area, between 1942 and 1945, was one of two designated area commands and war theatres enumerated by the Combined Chiefs of Staff of World War II in the Pacific region....

, the P-38 was the primary long-range fighter of United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 until the appearance of large numbers of P-51D Mustangs toward the end of the war.
The P-38 was unusually quiet for a fighter, the exhaust muffled by the turbo-superchargers. It was extremely forgiving, and could be mishandled in many ways, but the rate of roll was too slow for it to excel as a dogfighter.
The P-38 was the only American fighter aircraft in production throughout American involvement in the war, from Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 to Victory over Japan Day
Victory over Japan Day
Victory over Japan Day is a name chosen for the day on which the Surrender of Japan occurred, effectively ending World War II, and subsequent anniversaries of that event...

.

Design and development

Lockheed
Lockheed Corporation
The Lockheed Corporation was an American aerospace company. Lockheed was founded in 1912 and later merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.-Origins:...

 designed the P-38 in response to a February 1937 specification from the United States Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Corps
The United States Army Air Corps was a forerunner of the United States Air Force. Renamed from the Air Service on 2 July 1926, it was part of the United States Army and the predecessor of the United States Army Air Forces , established in 1941...

. Circular Proposal X-608 was a set of aircraft performance goals authored by First Lieutenant
First Lieutenant
First lieutenant is a military rank and, in some forces, an appointment.The rank of lieutenant has different meanings in different military formations , but the majority of cases it is common for it to be sub-divided into a senior and junior rank...

 Benjamin S. Kelsey
Benjamin S. Kelsey
Benjamin Scovill "Ben" Kelsey was an American aeronautical engineer and test pilot who brought success in World War II to the United States Army Air Forces by initiating the manufacture of innovative fighter aircraft designs, and by working to quickly increase American fighter production to meet...

 (later Brigadier General
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

) and First Lieutenant Gordon P. Saville
Gordon P. Saville
Gordon Philip Saville was a United States Air Force major general who was an outspoken proponent of tactical aviation amidst a brotherhood of airmen who promoted strategic bombing. With Benjamin S. Kelsey, Saville co-wrote the technical specifications which led to the P-38 Lightning and the P-39...

 (later General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

) for a twin-engine, high-altitude "interceptor" having "the tactical mission of interception and attack of hostile aircraft at high altitude." Kelsey recalled in 1977 that he and Saville drew up the specification using the word interceptor as a way to bypass the inflexible Army Air Corps requirement for pursuit aircraft to carry no more than 500 lb (227 kg) of armament including ammunition, as well as the restriction of single-seat aircraft to one engine. Kelsey was looking for a minimum of 1,000 lb (454 kg) of armament. Kelsey and Saville aimed to get a more capable fighter; better at dog-fighting and at high-altitude combat. Specifications called for a maximum airspeed of at least 360 mph (580 km/h) at altitude, and a climb to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) within six minutes; the toughest set of specifications USAAC had presented to that date. The unbuilt Vultee
Vultee Aircraft
The Vultee Aircraft Corporation became an independent company in 1939 and had limited success before merging with the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation in 1943 to form the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, or Convair.-History:...

 XP1015 was designed to the same requirement, but was not advanced enough to merit further investigation. A similar single-engine proposal was issued at the same time: Circular Proposal X-609, in response to which the Bell P-39 Airacobra was designed. Both proposals required liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 engines with turbo-superchargers and both gave extra points for tricycle landing gear.

The Lockheed design team, under the direction of Hall Hibbard
Hall Hibbard
Hall Livingstone Hibbard was an engineer and administrator of the Lockheed Corporation beginning with the company's purchase by a board of investors led by Robert E. Gross in 1932. Born in Kansas, he received a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics at the College of Emporia in 1925...

 and Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, considered a range of twin-engine configurations including both engines in a central fuselage with push-pull propellers.

The eventual configuration was rare in terms of contemporary fighter aircraft design, with only the preceding Fokker G.1 and later Northrop P-61 Black Widow
P-61 Black Widow
The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was the first operational U.S. military aircraft designed specifically for night interception of aircraft, and was the first aircraft specifically designed to use radar. It was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom design developed during World War II...

 having a similar planform
Planform
In aviation, a planform is the shape and layout of a fixed-wing aircraft's fuselage and wing. Of all the myriad planforms used, they can typically be grouped into those used for low-speed flight, found on general aviation aircraft, and those used for high-speed flight, found on many military...

. The Lockheed team chose twin booms to accommodate the tail assembly, engines, and turbo-superchargers, with a central nacelle for the pilot and armament. The XP-38 gondola mock-up was designed to mount two .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns, with 200 rpg, two .30 in (7.62 mm) Brownings, with 500 rpg, and a T1 Army Ordnance .90 in (23 mm) autocannon
Autocannon
An autocannon or automatic cannon is a rapid-fire projectile weapon firing a shell as opposed to the bullet fired by a machine gun. Autocannons often have a larger caliber than a machine gun . Usually, autocannons are smaller than a field gun or other artillery, and are mechanically loaded for a...

 with a rotary magazine as a substitute for the non-existent 25 mm Hotchkiss
Hotchkiss et Cie
Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Hotchkiss et Cie was a French arms and car company established by United States engineer Benjamin B. Hotchkiss, who was born in Watertown, Connecticut. He moved to France and set up a factory, first at Viviez near Rodez in 1867, then at Saint-Denis near...

 aircraft autocannon specified by Kelsey and Saville. In the YP-38s, a larger John Browning
John Browning
John Moses Browning , born in Ogden, Utah, was an American firearms designer who developed many varieties of military and civilian firearms, cartridges, and gun mechanisms, many of which are still in use around the world...

-designed, Colt
Colt's Manufacturing Company
Colt's Manufacturing Company is a United States firearms manufacturer, whose first predecessor corporation was founded in 1836 by Sam Colt. Colt is best known for the engineering, production, and marketing of firearms over the later half of the 19th and the 20th century...

-made M9 37 mm (1.46 in) autocannon
M4 cannon
The 37 mm Automatic Gun, M4, known as the T9 during development, was a 37 mm autocannon designed by John Browning and used in the Bell P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra fighters, as well as experimentally on other designs. It provided interceptors with a weapon that could shoot down any...

 with 15 rounds replaced the T1. The 15 rounds were in three 5-round clips, an unsatisfactory arrangement according to Kelsey, and the M9 did not perform reliably in flight. Further armament experiments from March to June 1941 resulted in the P-38E combat configuration of four M2 Browning machine guns, and one Hispano
Hispano-Suiza HS.404
The Hispano-Suiza HS.404 was an autocannon widely used as both an aircraft and land weapon in the 20th century by British, American, French, and numerous other military services. The cannon is also referred to as Birkigt type 404, after its designer. Firing a 20 mm caliber projectile, it delivered...

 20 mm (.79 in) autocannon with 150 rounds.
Clustering all the armament in the nose was unlike most other U.S. aircraft which used wing-mounted guns with trajectories set up to crisscross at one or more points in a "convergence zone." Guns mounted in the nose did not suffer from having their useful ranges limited by pattern convergence, meaning good pilots could shoot much farther. A Lightning could reliably hit targets at any range up to 1000 yd (914.4 m), whereas other fighters had to pick a single convergence range between 100 and 250 yd (228.6 m). The clustered weapons had a "buzz saw" effect on any target at the receiving end, making the aircraft effective for strafing as well. The rate of fire
Rate of fire
Rate of fire is the frequency at which a specific weapon can fire or launch its projectiles. It is usually measured in rounds per minute , or per second .-Overview:...

 on the guns was about 650 rounds per minute for the 20×110 mm cannon round (130 gram shell) at a muzzle velocity of about 2887 ft/s (880 m/s), and for the .50 inch machine guns (43–48 gram rounds), about 850 rpm at 2756 ft/s (840 m/s) velocity. Combined rate of fire was over 4,000 rpm with roughly every sixth projectile a 20 mm. The duration of sustained firing for the 20 mm cannon and .50 caliber machine guns was approximately 14 seconds and 35 seconds respectively.

The Lockheed design incorporated tricycle undercarriage and a bubble canopy, and featured two 1,000 hp
Horsepower
Horsepower is the name of several units of measurement of power. The most common definitions equal between 735.5 and 750 watts.Horsepower was originally defined to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses in continuous operation. The unit was widely adopted to measure the...

 (746 kW) turbo
Turbocharger
A turbocharger, or turbo , from the Greek "τύρβη" is a centrifugal compressor powered by a turbine that is driven by an engine's exhaust gases. Its benefit lies with the compressor increasing the mass of air entering the engine , thereby resulting in greater performance...

-supercharged
Supercharger
A supercharger is an air compressor used for forced induction of an internal combustion engine.The greater mass flow-rate provides more oxygen to support combustion than would be available in a naturally aspirated engine, which allows more fuel to be burned and more work to be done per cycle,...

 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 engines fitted with counter-rotating propellers
Counter-rotating propellers
Counter-rotating propellers, found on twin- and multi-engine propeller-driven aircraft, spin in directions opposite one another.The propellers on both engines of most conventional twin-engined aircraft spin clockwise . Counter-rotating propellers generally spin clockwise on the left engine and...

 to eliminate the effect of engine torque
Torque
Torque, moment or moment of force , is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot. Just as a force is a push or a pull, a torque can be thought of as a twist....

, with the superchargers positioned behind the engines in the booms. Counter-rotation was achieved with the use of "handed" engines, which meant that the crankshaft of each engine turned in the opposite direction of its counterpart. The V-12 engines only required that the spark plug firing order be changed in order for the direction of the crank shaft to be reversed, according to the General Motors Allison V1710 Service School Handbook.

It was the first American fighter to make extensive use of stainless steel and smooth, flush-riveted butt-jointed aluminum skin panels. It was also the first fighter to fly faster than 400 mph (643.7 km/h).

XP-38 and YP-38 prototypes

Lockheed won the competition on 23 June 1937 with its Model 22 and was contracted to build a prototype XP-38 for US$163,000, though Lockheed's own costs on the prototype would add up to US$761,000. Construction began in July 1938 and the XP-38 first flew on 27 January 1939 at the hands of Ben Kelsey.

Kelsey then proposed a speed dash to Wright Field
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base in Greene and Montgomery counties in the state of Ohio. It includes both Wright and Patterson Fields, which were originally Wilbur Wright Field and Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot. Patterson Field is located approximately...

 on 11 February 1939 to relocate the aircraft for further testing. General Henry "Hap" Arnold, commander of the USAAC, approved of the record attempt, and recommended a cross-country flight to New York. The flight set a speed record by flying from California to New York in seven hours and two minutes, not counting two refueling stops, but the aircraft was downed by carburetor icing short of the Mitchel Field runway in Hempstead, New York, and was wrecked. However, on the basis of the record flight, the Air Corps ordered 13 YP-38s on 27 April 1939 for US$134,284 apiece. (The initial "Y" in "YP" was the USAAC's designation for a prototype
Prototype
A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from.The word prototype derives from the Greek πρωτότυπον , "primitive form", neutral of πρωτότυπος , "original, primitive", from πρῶτος , "first" and τύπος ,...

 while the "X" in "XP" was for experimental
Experimental aircraft
An experimental aircraft is an aircraft that has not yet been fully proven in flight. Often, this implies that new aerospace technologies are being tested on the aircraft, though the label is more broad....

.) Lockheed's Chief test pilot
Test pilot
A test pilot is an aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers, known as flight test techniques or FTTs, allowing the results to be measured and the design to be evaluated....

 Tony LeVier
Tony LeVier
Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier was an air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s.- Early life :...

 angrily characterized the accident as an unnecessary publicity stunt, but according to Kelsey the loss of the prototype, instead of hampering the program, speeded the process by cutting short the initial test series. The success of the aircraft design contributed to Kelsey's promotion to captain in May, 1939.

Manufacture of the YP-38s fell behind schedule, at least partly due to the need for mass-production suitability making them substantially different in construction than the prototype. Another factor was the sudden required facility expansion of Lockheed in Burbank
Burbank, California
Burbank is a city in Los Angeles County in Southern California, United States, north of downtown Los Angeles. The estimated population in 2010 was 103,340....

, taking it from a specialized civilian firm dealing with small orders to a large government defense contractor making Venturas, Harpoons
Lockheed Ventura
The Lockheed Ventura was a bomber and patrol aircraft of World War II, used by United States and British Commonwealth forces in several guises...

, Lodestars, Hudson
Lockheed Hudson
The Lockheed Hudson was an American-built light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft built initially for the Royal Air Force shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and primarily operated by the RAF thereafter...

s, and designing the Constellation
Lockheed Constellation
The Lockheed Constellation was a propeller-driven airliner powered by four 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 engines. It was built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958 at its Burbank, California, USA, facility. A total of 856 aircraft were produced in numerous models, all distinguished by a...

 airliner for TWA
Trans World Airlines
Trans World Airlines was an American airline that existed from 1925 until it was bought out by and merged with American Airlines in 2001. It was a major domestic airline in the United States and the main U.S.-based competitor of Pan American World Airways on intercontinental routes from 1946...

. The first YP-38 was not completed until September 1940, with its maiden flight on 17 September. The 13th and final YP-38 was delivered to the Air Corps in June 1941; 12 aircraft were retained for flight testing and one for destructive stress testing. The YPs were substantially redesigned and differed greatly in detail from the hand-built XP-38. They were lighter, included changes in engine fit, and the propeller rotation was reversed, with the blades rotating outwards (away) from the cockpit at the top of their arc rather than inwards as before. This improved the aircraft's stability as a gunnery platform.

High-speed compressibility problems

Test flights revealed problems initially believed to be tail flutter. During high-speed flight approaching Mach 0.68, especially during dives, the aircraft's tail would begin to shake violently and the nose would tuck under, steepening the dive. Once caught in this dive, the fighter would enter a high-speed compressibility stall and the controls would lock up, leaving the pilot no option but to bail out (if possible) or remain with the aircraft until it got down to denser air, where he might have a chance to pull out. During a test flight in May 1941, USAAC Major Signa Gilkey managed to stay with a YP-38 in a compressibility lockup, riding it out until he recovered gradually using elevator trim. Lockheed engineers were very concerned at this limitation, but first they had to concentrate on filling the current order of aircraft. In June 1941, the Army Air Corps was renamed the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) and a total of 65 Lightnings were finished for the service by September 1941 with more on the way for the USAAF, the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) and the Free French Air Force operating from England.

By November 1941, many of the initial assembly line challenges had been met and there was some breathing room for the engineering team to tackle the problem of frozen controls in a dive. Lockheed had a few ideas for tests that would help them find an answer. The first solution tried was the fitting of spring-loaded servo tabs on the elevator trailing edge; tabs that were designed to aid the pilot when control yoke forces rose over 30 pound-forces (133.4 N), as would be expected in a high-speed dive. At that point, the tabs would begin to multiply the effort of the pilot's actions. The expert test pilot, 43-year-old Ralph Virden, was given a specific high-altitude test sequence to follow, and was told to restrict his speed and fast maneuvering in denser air at low altitudes since the new mechanism could exert tremendous leverage under those conditions. A note was taped to the instrument panel of the test craft, underscoring this instruction. On 4 November 1941, Virden climbed into YP-38 #1 and completed the test sequence successfully, but 15 minutes later was seen in a steep dive followed by a high-G pullout. The tail unit of the aircraft failed at about 3000 ft (914.4 m) during the high-speed dive recovery; Virden was killed in the subsequent crash. The Lockheed design office was justifiably upset, but their design engineers could only conclude that servo tabs were not the solution for loss of control in a dive. Lockheed still had to find the problem; the Army Air Forces personnel were sure it was flutter, and ordered Lockheed to look more closely at the tail.

Although the P-38's empennage
Empennage
The empennage , also known as the tail or tail assembly, of most aircraft gives stability to the aircraft, in a similar way to the feathers on an arrow...

 was completely skinned in aluminum (not fabric) and was quite rigid, in 1941, flutter was a familiar engineering problem related to a too-flexible tail. At no time did the P-38 suffer from true flutter. To prove a point, one elevator and its vertical stabilizers were skinned with metal 63% thicker than standard, but the increase in rigidity made no difference in vibration. Army Lieutenant Colonel
Lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies and most marine forces and some air forces of the world, typically ranking above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence...

 Kenneth B. Wolfe (head of Army Production Engineering) asked Lockheed to try external mass balances above and below the elevator, though the P-38 already had large mass balances elegantly placed within each vertical stabilizer. Various configurations of external mass balances were equipped and dangerously steep test flights flown to document their performance. Explaining to Wolfe in Report No. 2414, Kelly Johnson wrote "... the violence of the vibration was unchanged and the diving tendency was naturally the same for all conditions." The external mass balances did not help at all. Nonetheless, at Wolfe's insistence, the additional external balances were a feature of every P-38 built from then on.

After months of pushing NACA
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a U.S. federal agency founded on March 3, 1915 to undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research. On October 1, 1958 the agency was dissolved, and its assets and personnel transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and...

 to provide Mach 0.75 wind tunnel speeds (and finally succeeding), the compressibility problem was revealed to be the center of lift moving back toward the tail when in high-speed airflow. The compressibility problem was solved by changing the geometry of the wing's underside when diving so as to keep lift within bounds of the top of the wing. In February 1943, quick-acting dive flaps were tried and proven by Lockheed test pilots. The dive flaps were installed outboard of the engine nacelles and in action they extended downward 35° in 1½ seconds. The flaps did not act as a speed brake, they affected the center of pressure distribution so that the wing would not lose its lift.

Late in 1943, a few hundred dive flap field modification kits were assembled to give North African, European and Pacific P-38s a chance to withstand compressibility and expand their combat tactics. Unfortunately, these crucial flaps did not always reach their destination. In March 1944, 200 dive flap kits intended for European Theater of Operations
European Theater of Operations
The European Theater of Operations, United States Army was a United States Army formation which directed U.S. Army operations in parts of Europe from 1942 to 1945. It referred to Army Ground Forces, United States Army Air Forces, and Army Service Forces operations north of Italy and the...

 (ETO) P-38Js were destroyed in a mistaken identification
Identification friend or foe
In telecommunications, identification, friend or foe is an identification system designed for command and control. It is a system that enables military and national interrogation systems to identify aircraft, vehicles, or forces as friendly and to determine their bearing and range from the...

 incident in which a RAF fighter shot down the Douglas
Douglas Aircraft Company
The Douglas Aircraft Company was an American aerospace manufacturer, based in Long Beach, California. It was founded in 1921 by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. and later merged with McDonnell Aircraft in 1967 to form McDonnell Douglas...

 C-54 Skymaster
C-54 Skymaster
The Douglas C-54 Skymaster was a four-engined transport aircraft used by the United States Army Air Forces and British forces in World War II and the Korean War. Besides transport of cargo, it also carried presidents, British heads of government, and military staff...

 taking the shipment to England. Back in Burbank, P-38Js coming off the assembly line in spring 1944 were towed out to the tarmac and modified in the open air. The flaps were finally incorporated into the production line in June 1944 on the last 210 P-38Js. Despite testing having proved the dive flaps were effective in improving tactical maneuvers, a 14-month delay in production limited their implementation with only the final 50% of all Lightnings built having the dive flaps installed as an assembly line sequence.

Johnson later recalled:
Buffeting was another early aerodynamic problem, difficult to sort out from compressibility as both were reported by test pilots as "tail shake". Buffeting came about from airflow disturbances ahead of the tail; the airplane would shake at high speed. Leading edge wing slots were tried as were combinations of filleting between the wing, cockpit and engine nacelles. Air tunnel test number 15 solved the buffeting completely and its fillet solution was fitted to every subsequent P-38 airframe. Fillet kits were sent out to every squadron flying Lightnings. The problem was traced to a 40% increase in air speed at the wing-fuselage junction where the chord/thickness ratio was highest. An airspeed of 500 mph (804.7 km/h) at 25000 ft (7,620 m) could push airflow at the wing-fuselage junction close to the speed of sound. Filleting forever solved the buffeting problem for the P-38E and later models.

Another issue with the P-38 arose from its unique design feature of outwardly rotating (at the "tops" of the propeller arcs) counter-rotating propellers. Losing one of two engines in any twin engine non-centerline thrust aircraft on takeoff creates sudden drag, yawing the nose toward the dead engine and rolling the wingtip down on the side of the dead engine. Normal training in flying twin-engine aircraft when losing an engine on takeoff would be to push the remaining engine to full throttle; if a pilot did that in the P-38, regardless of which engine had failed, the resulting engine torque and p-factor
P-factor
P-factor, also known as asymmetric blade effect and asymmetric disc effect, is an aerodynamic phenomenon experienced by a moving propeller, that is responsible for asymmetrical relocation of the propeller's center of thrust when aircraft is at a high angle of attack.- Causes :When an aircraft is in...

 force produced a sudden uncontrollable yawing roll and the aircraft would flip over and slam into the ground. Eventually, procedures were taught to allow a pilot to deal with the situation by reducing power on the running engine, feathering the prop on the dead engine, and then increasing power gradually until the aircraft was in stable flight. Single-engine takeoffs were possible, though not with a full fuel and ammunition load.

The engines were unusually quiet because the exhaust
Exhaust system
An exhaust system is usually tubing used to guide reaction exhaust gases away from a controlled combustion inside an engine or stove. The entire system conveys burnt gases from the engine and includes one or more exhaust pipes...

s were muffled
Muffler
A muffler is a device for reducing the amount of noise emitted by the exhaust of an internal combustion engine. A US Patent for an Exhaust muffler for engines was granted to Milton and Marshall Reeves in 1897....

 by the General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

 turbo-superchargers on the twin Allison V12s. There were early problems with cockpit temperature regulation; pilots were often too hot in the tropical sun as the canopy could not be fully opened without severe buffeting, and were often too cold in northern Europe and at high altitude, as the distance of the engines from the cockpit prevented easy heat transfer. Later variants received modifications (such as electrically-heated flight suits) to solve these problems.

On 20 September 1939, before the YP-38s had been built and flight tested, the USAAF ordered 66 initial production P-38 Lightnings, 30 of which were delivered to the USAAF in mid-1941, but not all these aircraft were armed. The unarmed aircraft were subsequently fitted with four .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns (instead of the two .50 in/12.7 mm and two .30 in/7.62 mm of their predecessors) and a 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon. They also had armor glass, cockpit armor and fluorescent
Fluorescence
Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation of a different wavelength. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation...

 cockpit controls. One was completed with a pressurized cabin on an experimental basis and designated XP-38A. Due to reports the USAAF was receiving from Europe, the remaining 36 in the batch were upgraded with small improvements such as self-sealing fuel tank
Self-sealing fuel tank
In aviation, self-sealing fuel tank is a fuel tank technology in wide use since World War II that prevents fuel tanks primarily on aircraft from leaking fuel and igniting after being damaged by enemy fire....

s and enhanced armor protection to make them combat-capable. The USAAF specified that these 36 aircraft were to be designated P-38D. As a result, there never were any P-38Bs or P-38Cs. The P-38D's main role was to work out bugs and give the USAAF experience with handling the type.

In March 1940, the French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 ordered a total of 667 P-38s for US$100M, designated Model 322F for the French and Model 322B for the British. The aircraft would be a variant of the P-38E. The overseas Allies wished for complete commonality of Allison engines with the large numbers of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk
Curtiss P-40
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational...

s both nations had on order, and thus ordered for the Model 322 twin right-handed engines instead of counter-rotating ones, and without turbo-superchargers. After the fall of France in June 1940, the British took over the entire order and christened the aircraft "Lightning". By June 1941, the War Ministry had cause to reconsider their earlier aircraft specifications, based on experience gathered in the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

 and The Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

. British displeasure with the Lockheed order came to the fore in July, and on 5 August 1941 they modified the contract such that 143 aircraft would be delivered as previously ordered, to be known as "Lightning (Mark) I", and 524 would be upgraded to US-standard P-38E specifications, to be called "Lightning II" for British service. Later that summer, an RAF test pilot reported back from Burbank with a poor assessment of the 'tail flutter' situation, bringing the British to cancel all but three of the 143 Lightning Is. Because a loss of approximately US$15M was involved, Lockheed reviewed their contracts and decided to hold the British to the original order. Negotiations grew bitter and stalled. Everything changed after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 when the United States government seized some 40 of the Model 322s for West Coast
West Coast of the United States
West Coast or Pacific Coast are terms for the westernmost coastal states of the United States. The term most often refers to the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Although not part of the contiguous United States, Alaska and Hawaii do border the Pacific Ocean but can't be included in...

 defense, subsequently all British Lightnings were delivered to the USAAF starting in January 1942. The USAAF lent the RAF three of the aircraft which were delivered by sea in March 1942 and were test flown no earlier than May at Swaythling, Boscombe Down
Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment
The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment was a research facility for British military aviation from 1918 to 1992.-History:...

 and Farnborough
Royal Aircraft Establishment
The Royal Aircraft Establishment , was a British research establishment, known by several different names during its history, that eventually came under the aegis of the UK Ministry of Defence , before finally losing its identity in mergers with other institutions.The first site was at Farnborough...

. These three were subsequently returned to the USAAF; one in December 1942 and the others in July 1943. Of the remaining 140 Lightning Is, 19 were not modified and were designated the USAAF as RP-322-I ('R' for 'Restricted', because non-counter-rotating props were considered more dangerous at takeoff), while 121 were converted to non-turbo-supercharged counter-rotating V-1710F-2 engines and were designated P-322-II. All 121 were used as advanced trainers
Trainer (aircraft)
A trainer is a class of aircraft designed specifically to facilitate in-flight training of pilots and aircrews. The use of a dedicated trainer aircraft with additional safety features—such as tandem flight controls, forgiving flight characteristics and a simplified cockpit arrangement—allows...

; a few were still serving that role in 1945. A few RP-322s were later used as test modification platforms such as for smoke-laying canisters. The RP-322 was a fairly fast aircraft under 16000 ft (4,876.8 m) and well-behaved as a trainer.

One positive result of the failed British/French order was to give the aircraft its name. Lockheed had originally dubbed the aircraft Atalanta
Atalanta
Atalanta is a character in Greek mythology.-Legend:Atalanta was the daughter of Iasus , a Boeotian or an Arcadian princess . She is often described as a goddess. Apollodorus is the only one who gives an account of Atalanta’s birth and upbringing...

 in the company tradition of naming planes after mythological and celestial figures, but the RAF name won out.

Operational service

The first unit to receive P-38s was the 1st Fighter Group. After the attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

, the unit joined the 14th Pursuit Group in San Diego to provide West Coast defense.

Entry to the war

The first Lightning to see active service was the F-4 version, a P-38E in which the guns were replaced by four K17 cameras. They joined the 8th Photographic Squadron out of Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 on 4 April 1942. Three F-4s were operated by the Royal Australian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force is the air force branch of the Australian Defence Force. The RAAF was formed in March 1921. It continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps , which was formed on 22 October 1912. The RAAF has taken part in many of the 20th century's major conflicts...

 in this theater for a short period beginning in September 1942.

On 29 May 1942, 25 P-38s began operating in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

. The fighter's long range made it well-suited to the campaign over the almost 1,200 mi (2,000 km)–long island chain, and it would be flown there for the rest of the war. The Aleutians were one of the most rugged environments available for testing the new aircraft under combat conditions. More Lightnings were lost due to severe weather and other conditions than enemy action, and there were cases where Lightning pilots, mesmerized by flying for hours over gray seas under gray skies, simply flew into the water. On 9 August 1942, two P-38Es of the 343rd Fighter Group, 11th Air Force
Eleventh Air Force
The Eleventh Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Pacific Air Forces . It is headquartered at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska....

, at the end of a 1,000 mi (1,609 km) long-range patrol, happened upon a pair of Japanese Kawanishi H6K
Kawanishi H6K
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Doubilet, David. "The Flying Boat". Sport Diver Magazine. Volume 15, Number 8, September 2007.* Francillon, Ph.D., René J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. Annapolis, Maryland, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.* Green, William. Warplanes of the Second...

 "Mavis" flying boats and destroyed them, making them the first Japanese aircraft to be shot down by Lightnings.

European theater

After the Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway is widely regarded as the most important naval battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea and six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy decisively defeated...

, the USAAF began redeploying fighter groups to Britain as part of Operation Bolero
Operation Bolero
Operation Bolero was the commonly used reference for the code name of the United States military troop buildup in Great Britain during World War II in preparation for the initial cross-channel invasion plan known as Operation Roundup...

, and Lightnings of the 1st Fighter Group were flown across the Atlantic via Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

. On 14 August, Second Lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces.- United Kingdom and Commonwealth :The rank second lieutenant was introduced throughout the British Army in 1871 to replace the rank of ensign , although it had long been used in the Royal Artillery, Royal...

 Elza Shahan of the 27th Fighter Squadron, and Second Lieutenant Joseph Shaffer of the 33rd Squadron operating out of Iceland shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200
Focke-Wulf Fw 200
The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, also known as Kurier to the Allies was a German all-metal four-engine monoplane originally developed by Focke-Wulf as a long-range airliner...

 Condor over the Atlantic. Shahan in his P-38F downed the Condor; Shaffer, flying either a P-40C or a P-39, had already set an engine on fire. This was the first Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed by the USAAF.

After 347 sorties with no enemy contact, the 1st, 14th and 82nd Fighter Groups were transferred to the 12th Air Force in North Africa as part of the force being built up for Operation Torch
Operation Torch
Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942....

. On 19 November 1942, Lightnings escorted a group of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers on a raid over Tunis. On 5 April 1943, 26 P-38Fs of the 82nd claimed 31 enemy aircraft destroyed, helping to establish air superiority in the area, and earning it the German nickname "der Gabelschwanzteufel" – the Fork-Tailed Devil. The P-38 remained active in the Mediterranean for the rest of the war.
It was in this theatre that the P-38 suffered its heaviest losses in the air. On 25 August 1943, 13 P-38s were shot down in a single sortie by Jagdgeschwader 53
Jagdgeschwader 53
Jagdgeschwader 53 Pik-As was a Luftwaffe fighter-wing of World War II. It operated in Western Europe and in the Mediterranean.Jagdgeschwader 53 - or as it was better known, the "Pik As" Geschwader - was one of the oldest German fighter units of World War II with its origins going back to 1937...

 Bf 109
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, often called Me 109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid 1930s...

s without achieving a single kill. On 2 September, 10 P-38s were shot down, in return for a single kill, the 67-victory ace Franz Schiess
Franz Schiess
Franz Schieß was a German fighter ace. He scored 67 victories in 657 missions, whilst flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109.-War time service:...

 (who was also the leading "Lightning" killer in the Luftwaffe with 17 destroyed).
Kurt Bühligen, third highest scoring German pilot on Western front with 112 victories, recalled later: “The P-38 fighter (and the B-24) were easy to burn. Once in Africa we were six and met eight P-38s and shot down seven. One sees a great distance in Africa and our observers and flak people called in sightings and we could get altitude first and they were low and slow.” General der Jagdflieger Adolf Galland was unimpressed with the P-38, declaring, "it had similar shortcomings in combat to our ME-110, our fighters were clearly superior to it." Experiences over Germany had shown a need for long-range escort fighters to protect the Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

's heavy bomber operations. The P-38Hs of the 55th Fighter Group were transferred to the Eighth in England in September 1943, and were joined by the 20th, 364th and 479th Fighter Groups soon after. P-38s soon joined Spitfires in escorting the early Fortress raids over Europe.

Because its distinctive shape was less prone to cases of mistaken identity and friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

, Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

 Jimmy Doolittle
Jimmy Doolittle
General James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAF was an American aviation pioneer. Doolittle served as a brigadier general, major general and lieutenant general in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War...

, Commander 8th Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

, chose to pilot a P-38 during the Invasion of Normandy so that he could personally assess the progress of the air offensive over France. At one point in the mission, Doolittle flick-rolled through a hole in the cloud cover but his wingman
Wingman
A wingman is a pilot who supports another in a potentially dangerous flying environment. Wingman was originally a term referring to the plane flying beside and slightly behind the lead plane in an aircraft formation....

, Earle E. Partridge
Earle E. Partridge
Earle Everard "Pat" Partridge was an United States Air Force general.Partridge enlisted in the United States Army in July 1918 at Fort Slocum, New York, and was assigned to the 5th Engineer Training Regiment...

 (later General), was looking elsewhere and failed to notice Doolittle's quick maneuver, leaving Doolittle to continue alone on his survey of the crucial battle. Of the P-38, Doolittle said that it was "the sweetest-flying plane in the sky".

A little-known role of the P-38 in the European theater was that of fighter-bomber during the invasion of Normandy and the Allied advance across France into Germany. Assigned to the IX Tactical Air Command, the 370th Fighter Group
370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group
The 370th Air Expeditionary Group is a provisional United States Air Force unit assigned to Air Education and Training Command. It may be activated or inactivated at any time. Currently, the unit is stationed in Southwest Asia...

 and its P-38s initially flew missions from England, dive-bombing radar installations, enemy armor, troop concentrations, and flak tower
Flak tower
Flak towers were 8 complexes of large, above-ground, anti-aircraft gun blockhouse towers constructed in the cities of Berlin , Hamburg , and Vienna from 1940 onwards....

s. The 370th's group commander Howard F. Nichols and a squadron of his P-38 Lightnings attacked Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 Günther von Kluge
Günther von Kluge
Günther Adolf Ferdinand “Hans” von Kluge was a German military leader. He was born in Posen into a Prussian military family. Kluge rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

's headquarters in July 1944; Nichols himself skipped a 500 lb (227 kg) bomb through the front door. The 370th later operated from Cardonville
Cardonville
Cardonville is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-World War II:After the liberation of the area by Allied Forces in early June 1944, engineers of the Ninth Air Force IX Engineering Command began construction of a combat Advanced Landing Ground...

 France, flying ground attack missions against gun emplacements, troops, supply dumps and tanks near Saint-Lô
Saint-Lô
Saint-Lô is a commune in north-western France, the capital of the Manche department in Normandy.-History:Originally called Briovère , the town is built on and around ramparts. Originally it was a Gaul fortified settlement...

 in July and in the Falaise
Falaise pocket
The battle of the Falaise Pocket, fought during the Second World War from 12 to 21 August 1944, was the decisive engagement of the Battle of Normandy...

-Argentan
Argentan
Argentan is a commune, and the seat of two cantons and of an arrondissement in the Orne department in north-western France.Argentan is located NE of Rennes, ENE of the Mont Saint-Michel, SE of Cherbourg, SSE of Caen, SW of Rouen and N of Le Mans....

 area in August 1944. The 370th participated in ground attack missions across Europe until February 1945 when the unit changed over to the P-51 Mustang.

Italian pilots in the Mediterranean theatre started to face P-38s from late 1942 and considered it a formidable foe compared to other fighters, including the Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

. A small number of P-38s fell into the hands of German and Italian units and were subsequently tested and used in combat.

On 12 June 1943, a P-38G, while flying a special mission between Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 and Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, landed on the airfield of Capoterra (Cagliari
Cagliari
Cagliari is the capital of the island of Sardinia, a region of Italy. Cagliari's Sardinian name Casteddu literally means castle. It has about 156,000 inhabitants, or about 480,000 including the outlying townships : Elmas, Assemini, Capoterra, Selargius, Sestu, Monserrato, Quartucciu, Quartu...

), in Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

, from navigation error due to a compass failure. Regia Aeronautica
Regia Aeronautica
The Italian Royal Air Force was the name of the air force of the Kingdom of Italy. It was established as a service independent of the Royal Italian Army from 1923 until 1946...

chief test pilot colonnello Lieutenant Colonel
Lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies and most marine forces and some air forces of the world, typically ranking above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence...

 Angelo Tondi flew the aircraft to Guidonia
Guidonia Montecelio
Guidonia Montecelio is a town and comune in the province of Rome, Lazio, central Italy.- Geography :The community of Guidonia Montecelio lies to the north-east of Rome, some kilometres from the Grande Raccordo Anulare - a ring-shaped motorway which forms a circle around the capital...

 airfield where the P-38G was evaluated. On 11 August 1943, Tondi took off to intercept a formation of about 50 B-24s, returning from the bombing of Terni
Terni
Terni is a city in southern Umbria, central Italy, capital of the province of Terni, located in the plain of the Nera river. It is 104 km N of Rome, 36 km NW of Rieti, and 29 km S of Spoleto.-History:...

 (Umbria
Umbria
Umbria is a region of modern central Italy. It is one of the smallest Italian regions and the only peninsular region that is landlocked.Its capital is Perugia.Assisi and Norcia are historical towns associated with St. Francis of Assisi, and St...

). Tondi attacked a bomber that fell off the shore of Torvaianica
Torvaianica
Torvaianica or Torvajanica is a frazione of the commune of Pomezia, in the province of Rome, central Italy. Counting some 12,700 inhabitants, it extends for some 8 kilometers on central Lazio's littoral.-Overview:...

, near Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, while six airmen were parachuting. That was the first and last war mission for the plane, as the Italian petrol was too corrosive for the Lockheed tanks. Other Lightnings were eventually acquired by Italy for postwar service.

If faced by more agile fighters at low altitudes in a constricted valley, Lightnings could suffer heavy losses. On the morning of 10 June 1944, 96 P-38Js of the 1st and 82nd Fighter Groups took off from Italy for Ploiești
Ploiesti
Ploiești is the county seat of Prahova County and lies in the historical region of Wallachia in Romania. The city is located north of Bucharest....

, the third-most heavily defended target in Europe, after Berlin and Vienna. Instead of bombing from high altitude as had been tried by the Fifteenth Air Force, USAAF planning had determined that a dive-bombing surprise attack, beginning at about 7000 feet (2,133.6 m) with bomb release at or below 3000 feet (914.4 m), performed by 46 82nd Fighter Group
82d Operations Group
The 82d Operations Group is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 82d Training Wing, being assigned to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona...

 P-38s, each carrying one 1000 pounds (453.6 kg) bomb, would yield more accurate results. All of 1st Fighter Group and a few aircraft in 82nd Fighter Group were to fly cover, and all fighters were to strafe targets of opportunity on the return trip; a distance of some 1255 miles (2,019.7 km), including a circuitous outward route made in an attempt to achieve surprise.

Some 85–86 fighters arrived in Romania to find enemy airfields alerted, with a wide assortment of aircraft scrambling for safety. P-38s shot down several enemy including heavy fighters, transports and observation aircraft. At Ploiești, defense forces were fully alert, the target was concealed by smoke screen, and anti-aircraft fire
Anti-aircraft warfare
NATO defines air defence as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action." They include ground and air based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be to protect naval, ground and air forces...

 was very heavy—seven Lightnings were lost to it at the target, and two more during strafing attacks on the return flight. German Bf 109 fighters from I./JG 53 and 2./JG 77 fought the Americans. One flight of 16, the 71st Fighter Squadron, was challenged by a large formation of Romanian single-seater IAR.81C fighters. The fight took place at and below 300 feet (91.4 m) in a narrow valley. Herbert Hatch saw two IAR 81Cs that he misidentified as Focke-Wulf Fw 190
Focke-Wulf Fw 190
The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger was a German Second World War single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank in the late 1930s. Powered by a radial engine, the 190 had ample power and was able to lift larger loads than its well-known counterpart, the Messerschmitt Bf 109...

s hit the ground after taking fire from his guns, and his fellow pilots confirmed three more of his kills. However, the outnumbered 71st Fighter Squadron took more damage than it dished out, losing nine aircraft. In all, the USAAF lost 22 aircraft on the mission. The Americans claimed 23 aerial victories, though Romanian and German fighter units admitted losing only one aircraft each. Eleven enemy locomotives were strafed and left burning, and flak emplacements were destroyed, along with fuel trucks and other targets. Results of the bombing were not observed by the USAAF pilots because of the smoke. The dive-bombing mission profile was not repeated, though the 82nd Fighter Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their part.
After some disastrous raids in 1944 with B-17s escorted by P-38s and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, Jimmy Doolittle, then head of the U.S. Eighth Air Force, went to the Royal Aircraft Establishment
Royal Aircraft Establishment
The Royal Aircraft Establishment , was a British research establishment, known by several different names during its history, that eventually came under the aegis of the UK Ministry of Defence , before finally losing its identity in mergers with other institutions.The first site was at Farnborough...

 (RAE), Farnborough, asking for an evaluation of the various American fighters. Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

 Captain and test pilot
Test pilot
A test pilot is an aviator who flies new and modified aircraft in specific maneuvers, known as flight test techniques or FTTs, allowing the results to be measured and the design to be evaluated....

 Eric Brown recalled:
"We had found out that the Bf 109 and the Fw 190 could fight up to a Mach of 0.75, three-quarters the speed of sound. We checked the Lightning and it couldn't fly in combat faster than 0.68. So it was useless. We told Doolittle that all it was good for was photo-reconnaissance and had to be withdrawn from escort duties. And the funny thing is that the Americans had great difficulty understanding this because the Lightning had the two top aces in the Far East."

After evaluation tests at Farnborough, the P-38 was kept in fighting service in Europe for a while longer. However, even if many of the aircraft's problems were fixed with the introduction of the P-38J, by September 1944, all but one of the Lightning groups in the Eighth Air Force had converted to the P-51 Mustang. The Eighth Air Force continued to conduct reconnaissance missions using the F-5 variant.

Pacific theater

The P-38 was used most extensively and successfully in the Pacific theater, where it proved ideally suited, combining excellent performance with very long range. The P-38 was used in a variety of roles, especially escorting bombers at altitudes between 18-25,000 ft (5,500-7,600 m). The P-38 was credited with destroying more Japanese aircraft than any other USAAF fighter. Freezing cockpits were not a problem at low altitude in the tropics. In fact, since there was no way to open a window while in flight as it caused buffeting by setting up turbulence through the tailplane
Tailplane
A tailplane, also known as horizontal stabilizer , is a small lifting surface located on the tail behind the main lifting surfaces of a fixed-wing aircraft as well as other non-fixed wing aircraft such as helicopters and gyroplanes...

, it was often too hot; pilots taking low altitude assignments would often fly stripped down to shorts, tennis shoes, and parachute. While the P-38 could not out-turn the A6M Zero
A6M Zero
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long-range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the , and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the...

 and most other Japanese fighters, its superior speed coupled with a good rate of climb meant that it could utilize energy tactics, making multiple high-speed passes at its target. Also, its focused firepower was even more deadly to lightly armored Japanese warplanes than to the Germans'. The concentrated, parallel stream of bullets allowed aerial victory at much longer distances than fighters carrying wing guns. It is therefore ironic that Dick Bong, the United States' highest-scoring World War II air ace (40 victories solely in P-38s), would fly directly at his targets to make sure he hit them (as he himself acknowledged his poor shooting ability), in some cases flying through the debris of his target (and on one occasion colliding with an enemy aircraft which was claimed as a "probable" victory). The twin Allison engines performed admirably in the Pacific.

On 2–4 March 1943, P-38s flew top cover for 5th Air Force
Fifth Air Force
The Fifth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Pacific Air Forces . It is headquartered at Yokota Air Base, Japan....

 and Australian bombers and attack-planes during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea
Battle of the Bismarck Sea
The Battle of the Bismarck Sea took place in the South West Pacific Area during World War II. During the course of the battle, aircraft of the U.S. 5th Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force attacked a Japanese convoy that was carrying troops to Lae, New Guinea...

, a crushing defeat for the Japanese. Two P-38 aces from the 39th Fighter Squadron were killed on the second day of the battle: Bob Faurot and Hoyt "Curley" Eason (a veteran with five victories who had trained hundreds of pilots, including Dick Bong).

General George C. Kenney, commander of the USAAF Fifth Air Force operating in New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

, could not get enough P-38s, though since they were replacing serviceable but inadequate P-39s and P-40s, this might seem like guarded praise. Lightning pilots began to compete in racking up scores against Japanese aircraft.

Isoroku Yamamoto

The Lightning figured in one of the most significant operations in the Pacific theater: the interception, on 18 April 1943, of Admiral
Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

, the architect of Japan's naval strategy in the Pacific including the attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

. When American codebreaker
Cryptanalysis
Cryptanalysis is the study of methods for obtaining the meaning of encrypted information, without access to the secret information that is normally required to do so. Typically, this involves knowing how the system works and finding a secret key...

s found out that he was flying to Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island
Bougainville Island is the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea. This region is also known as Bougainville Province or the North Solomons. The population of the province is 175,160 , which includes the adjacent island of Buka and assorted outlying islands...

 to conduct a front-line inspection, 16 P-38G Lightnings were sent on a long-range fighter-intercept mission, flying 435 miles (700.1 km) from Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

 at heights from 10–50 ft (3–15 m) above the ocean to avoid detection. The Lightnings met Yamamoto's two Mitsubishi G4M
Mitsubishi G4M
The Mitsubishi G4M 一式陸上攻撃機, 一式陸攻 Isshiki rikujō kōgeki ki, Isshikirikkō was the main twin-engine, land-based bomber used by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in World War II. The Allies gave the G4M the reporting name Betty...

 "Betty" fast bomber transports and six escorting Zeros just as they arrived. The first Betty crashed in the jungle and the second ditched near the coast. Two Zeros were also claimed by the American fighters with the loss of one P-38. Japanese searchers found Yamamoto's body at the jungle crash site the next day.

Service record

The P-38's service record shows mixed results, but usually because of misinformation. P-38s have been described as being harder to fly than single-engined planes, but this was because of inadequate training in the first few months of the war. The P-38's engine troubles at high altitudes only occurred with the Eighth Air Force. One reason for this was the inadequate cooling systems of the G and H models; the improved P-38 J and L had tremendous success flying out of Italy into Germany at all altitudes. Up until the -J-25 variant, P-38s were easily avoided by German fighters because of the lack of dive flaps to counter compressibility in dives. German fighter pilots not wishing to fight would perform the first half of a Split S
Split S
The Split S is an air combat maneuver mostly used to disengage from combat. To execute a Split S, the pilot half-rolls his aircraft inverted and executes a descending half-loop, resulting in level flight in the exact opposite direction at a lower altitude....

 and continue into steep dives because they knew the Lightnings would be reluctant to follow.

On the positive side, having two engines was a built-in insurance policy. Many pilots made it safely back to base after having an engine fail en route or in combat. On 3 March 1944, the first Allied fighters reached Berlin on a frustrated escort mission. Lieutenant Colonel Jack Jenkins of 55FG led the group of P-38H pilots, arriving with only half his force after flak damage and engine trouble took their toll. On the way in to Berlin, Jenkins reported one rough-running engine and one good one, causing him to wonder if he'd ever make it back. The B-17s he was supposed to escort never showed up, having turned back at Hamburg. Jenkins and his wingman were able to drop tanks and outrun enemy fighters to return home with three good engines between them.

In the ETO, P-38s made 130,000 sorties with a loss of 1.3% overall, comparing favorably with ETO P-51s which posted a 1.1% loss, considering that the P-38s were vastly outnumbered and suffered from poorly thought-out tactics. The majority of the P-38 sorties were made in the period prior to Allied air superiority in Europe when pilots fought against a very determined and skilled enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Hubbard, a vocal critic of the aircraft, rated it third best Allied fighter in Europe. The Lightning's greatest virtues were long range, heavy payload, high speed, fast climb, and concentrated firepower. The P-38 was a formidable fighter, interceptor and attack aircraft.

In the Pacific theater, the P-38 downed over 1,800 Japanese aircraft, with more than 100 pilots becoming aces by downing five or more enemy aircraft. American fuel supplies contributed to a better engine performance and maintenance record, and range was increased with leaner mixtures. In the second half of 1944, the P-38L pilots out of Dutch New Guinea were flying 950 mi (1,528.9 km), fighting for 15 minutes and returning to base. Such long legs were invaluable until the P-47N and P-51D entered service.

Postwar operations

The end of the war left the USAAF with thousands of P-38s rendered obsolete by the jet age. The last P-38s in service with the United States Air Force were retired in 1949. A total of 100 late-model P-38L and F-5 Lightnings were acquired by Italy through an agreement dated April 1946. Delivered, after refurbishing, at the rate of one per month, they finally were all sent to the AMI by 1952. The Lightnings served in 4 Stormo and other units including 3 Stormo, flying reconnaissance over the Balkans, ground attack, naval cooperation and air superiority missions. Due to unfamiliarity in operating heavy fighters, old engines, and pilot errors, a large number of P-38s were lost in at least 30 accidents, many of them fatal. Despite this, many Italian pilots liked the P-38 because of its excellent visibility on the ground and stability at takeoff. The Italian P-38s were phased out in 1956; none survived the inevitable scrapyard.

Surplus P-38s were also used by other foreign air forces with 12 sold to Honduras
Honduras
Honduras is a republic in Central America. It was previously known as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize...

 and fifteen retained by China. Six F-5s and two unarmed black two-seater P-38s were operated by the Dominican Air Force based in San Isidro Airbase, Dominican Republic in 1947. The majority of wartime Lightnings present in the continental U.S. at the end of the war were put up for sale for US$1,200 apiece; the rest were scrapped. P-38s in distant theaters of war were bulldozed into piles and abandoned or scrapped; very few avoided that fate.

A single P-38M was used by the CIA during the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'etat. During the conflict this aircraft bombed and sank the British cargo ship SS Springfjord, carrying Czech armaments. The Guatemalan conflict was the last known combat seen by the P-38.

P-38s were popular contenders in the air races from 1946 through 1949, with brightly colored Lightnings making screaming turns around the pylons at Reno
Reno Air Races
The Reno Air Races, also known as the National Championship Air Races, take place each September at the Reno Stead Airport a few miles north of Reno, Nevada, USA...

 and Cleveland
National Air Races
The National Air Races were a series of pylon and cross-country races that took place in the United States from 1920 to 1949. The science of aviation, and the speed and reliability of aircraft and engines grew rapidly during this period; the National Air Races were both a proving ground and...

. Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier
Tony LeVier
Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier was an air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s.- Early life :...

 was among those who bought a Lightning, choosing a P-38J model and painting it red to make it stand out as an air racer
Air racing
- History :The first ever air race was held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1908. The participants piloted the only 4 airships in the U.S. around a course located at Forest Park...

 and stunt flyer
Competition aerobatics
Competition aerobatics is an air sport in which judges rate the skill of pilots performing aerobatic flying. It is practiced in both piston-powered single-engine airplanes and gliders....

. Lefty Gardner, former B-24 and B-17 pilot and associate of the Confederate Air Force, bought a mid-1944 P-38L-1-LO that had been modified into an F-5G. Gardner painted it white with red and blue trim and named it White Lightnin; he reworked its turbo systems and intercoolers for optimum low-altitude performance and gave it P-38F style air intakes for better streamlining. White Lightnin was severely damaged in a crash landing during an air show demonstration, and has since been bought, restored, and repainted with a brilliant chrome finish by the company that owns Red Bull
Red Bull
Red Bull is an energy drink sold by the Austrian Red Bull GmbH, created in 1987 by the Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz. In terms of market share, Red Bull is the most popular energy drink in the world, with 3 billion cans sold each year. Dietrich Mateschitz was inspired by an already...

. The plane is now located in Austria.

F-5s were bought by aerial survey
Aerial survey
Aerial survey is a geomatics method of collecting information by using aerial photography, LiDAR or from remote sensing imagery using other bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as infrared, gamma, or ultraviolet. It can also refer to the chart or map made by analysing a region from the air...

 companies and employed for mapping. From the 1950s on, the use of the Lightning steadily declined, and only a little more than two dozen still exist, with few still flying. One example is a P-38L owned by the Lone Star Flight Museum
Lone Star Flight Museum
The Lone Star Flight Museum, located in Galveston, Texas, USA, is an aerospace museum that displays more than 40 historically significant aircraft and many hundreds of artifacts related to the history of flight. The museum's collection is rare because most of the aircraft are flyable...

 in Galveston, Texas
Galveston, Texas
Galveston is a coastal city located on Galveston Island in the U.S. state of Texas. , the city had a total population of 47,743 within an area of...

, painted in the colors of Charles H. MacDonald
Charles H. MacDonald
-Web:*-Further reading:...

's Putt Putt Maru. Two other examples are F-5Gs which were owned and operated by Kargl Aerial Surveys in 1946, and are now located in Chino, California
Chino, California
Chino is a city in San Bernardino County, California, United States. It is located in the western end of the Riverside-San Bernardino Area and it is easily accessible via the Chino Valley and Pomona freeways....

 at Yanks Air Museum, and in McMinnville, Oregon
McMinnville, Oregon
McMinnville is the county seat and largest city of Yamhill County, Oregon, United States. According to Oregon Geographic Names, it was named by its founder, William T. Newby , an early immigrant on the Oregon Trail, for his hometown of McMinnville, Tennessee...

 at Evergreen Aviation Museum
Evergreen Aviation Museum
The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is an aviation museum which displays a number of military and civilian aircraft and spacecraft, most notably, the Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose". The museum is located in McMinnville, Oregon, across the street from the headquarters of Evergreen...

.

Variants

Version and total manufactured
Variant Produced Comment
XP-38 1 Prototype
YP-38 13 Evaluation aircraft
P-38 30 Initial production aircraft
XP-38A 1 Pressurized cockpit
P-38D 36 Fitted with self-sealing fuel tanks/armored windshield
P-38E 210 First combat-ready variant, revised armament
F-4 100+ reconnaissance planes based on P-38E
Model 322 3 RAF order: twin right-hand props and no turbo
RP-322 147 USAAF trainers
P-38F 527 First-fully combat-capable P-38 fighter
F-4A 20 reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38F
P-38G 1,082 Improved P-38F fighter
F-5A 180 reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38G
XF-5D 1 a one-off converted F-5A
P-38H 601 Automatic cooling system; Improved P-38G fighter
F-5C 123 based on P-38H
P-38J 2,970 new cooling and electrical systems
F-5B 200 reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38J
F-5E 605 P-38J/L conversion
P-38K 1 paddle props; new engines
P-38L-LO 3,810 Improved P-38J new engines; new rocket pylons
P-38L-VN 113 P-38L built by Vultee
F-5F - reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38L
P-38M 75 night-fighter
F-5G -


Over 10,000 Lightnings were manufactured in all; becoming the only U.S. combat aircraft that remained in continuous production throughout the duration of American participation in World War II. The Lightning had a major effect on other aircraft; its wing, in a scaled-up form, was used on the L-049 Constellation
Lockheed Constellation
The Lockheed Constellation was a propeller-driven airliner powered by four 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 engines. It was built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958 at its Burbank, California, USA, facility. A total of 856 aircraft were produced in numerous models, all distinguished by a...

.

P-38D and P-38Es

Delivered and accepted Lightning production variants began with the P38-D model. The few "hand made" YP-38s initially contracted were used as trainers and test aircraft. There were no Bs or Cs delivered to the government as the USAAF allocated the 'D' suffix to all aircraft with self-sealing fuel tanks and armor. Many secondary but still initial teething tests were conducted utilizing the earliest D variants.

The first combat-capable Lightning was the P-38E (and its photo-recon variant the F-4) which featured improved instruments, electrical, and hydraulic systems. Part-way through production, the older Hamilton Standard
Hamilton Standard
Hamilton Standard, an aircraft propeller parts supplier, was formed in 1929 when United Aircraft and Transport Corporation consolidated Hamilton Aero Manufacturing and Standard Steel Propeller into the Hamilton Standard Propeller Corporation. Other members of the corporation included Boeing,...

 Hydromatic hollow steel propellers were replaced by new Curtiss Electric duraluminum propellers. The definitive (and now famous) armament configuration was settled upon, featuring four .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns with 500 rpg, and a 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano autocannon with 150 rounds.

While the machine guns had been arranged symmetrically in the nose on the P-38D, they were "staggered" in the P-38E and later versions, with the muzzles protruding from the nose in the relative lengths of roughly 1:4:6:2. This was done to ensure a straight ammunition-belt feed into the weapons, as the earlier arrangement led to jamming.

The first P-38E rolled out of the factory in October 1941 as the Battle of Moscow
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow is the name given by Soviet historians to two periods of strategically significant fighting on a sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, capital of...

 in the Eastern Front Campaign of World War II filled the news wires of the world. Because of the versatility, redundant engines, and especially high speed and high altitude characteristics of the aircraft, as with later variants over a hundred P-38Es were completed in the factory or converted in the field to a photo-reconnaissance variant, the F-4, in which the guns were replaced by four cameras. Most of these early reconnaissance Lightnings were retained stateside for training, but the F-4 was the first Lightning to be used in action in April 1942.

P-38Fs and P-38Gs

After 210 P-38Es were built, they were followed, starting in April 1942, by the P-38F, which incorporated racks inboard of the engines for fuel tanks or a total of 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bomb
Bomb
A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

s. Early variants did not enjoy a high reputation for maneuverability, though they could be agile at low altitudes if flown by a capable pilot, using the P-38's forgiving stall characteristics to their best advantage. From the P-38F-15 model onwards, a "combat maneuver" setting was added to the P-38's Fowler flap
Flap (aircraft)
Flaps are normally hinged surfaces mounted on the trailing edges of the wings of a fixed-wing aircraft to reduce the speed an aircraft can be safely flown at and to increase the angle of descent for landing without increasing air speed. They shorten takeoff and landing distances as well as...

s. When deployed at the 8° maneuver setting, the flaps allowed the P-38 to out-turn many contemporary single-engined fighters at the cost of some added drag. However, early variants were hampered by high aileron control forces and a low initial rate of roll, and all such features required a pilot to gain experience with the aircraft, which in part was an additional reason Lockheed sent its representative to England, and later to the Pacific Theater. The aircraft was still experiencing extensive teething troubles as well as being victimized by "urban legends", mostly involving inapplicable twin engine factors which had been designed out of the aircraft by Lockheed. In addition to these, the early versions had a reputation as a "widow maker" as it could enter an unrecoverable dive due to a sonic surface effect at high sub-sonic speeds. The 527 P-38Fs were heavier, with more powerful engines that used more fuel, and were unpopular in the air war in Northern Europe. Since the heavier engines were having reliability problems and with them, without external fuel tanks, the range of the P-38F was reduced, and since drop tanks themselves were in short supply as the fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic had not yet swung the Allies' way, the aircraft became relatively unpopular in minds of the bomber command planning staffs despite being the longest ranged fighter first available to the 8th Air Force in sufficient numbers for long range escort duties. Nonetheless, General Spaatz, then commander of the 8th Air Force in the UK, said of the P-38F: "I'd rather have an airplane that goes like hell and has a few things wrong with it, than one that won't go like hell and has a few things wrong with it."

The P-38F was followed in early 1943 by the P-38G, utilizing more powerful Allisons of 1,400 hp (1,040 kW) each and equipped with a better radio. A dozen of the planned P-38G production was set aside to serve as prototypes for what would become the P-38J with further uprated Allison V-1710F-17 engines (1,425 hp/1,060 kW each) in redesigned booms which featured chin-mounted intercoolers in place of the original system in the leading edge of the wings and more efficient radiators. Lockheed subcontractors, however, were initially unable to supply both of Burbank's twin production lines with a sufficient quantity of new core intercoolers and radiators. War Production Board planners were unwilling to sacrifice production, and one of the two remaining prototypes received the new engines but retained the old leading edge intercoolers and radiators. As the P-38H, 600 of these stop-gap Lightnings with an improved 20 mm cannon and a bomb capacity of 3,200 lb (1,450 kg).were produced on one line while the near-definitive P-38J began production on the second line. The Eighth Air Force was experiencing high altitude and cold weather issues which, while not unique to the plane, were perhaps more severe as the turbo-superchargers upgrading the Allisons were having their own reliability issues making the planes more unpopular with senior officers out of the line This was a situation unduplicated on all other fronts where the commands were clamoring for as many P-38s as they could get. Both the P-38G and P-38H models' performance was restricted by an intercooler system integral to the wing's leading edge which had been designed for the YP-38's less powerful engines. At the higher boost levels, the new engine's charge air temperature would increase above the limits recommended by Allison and would be subject to detonation if operated at high power for extended periods of time. Reliability was not the only issue, either. For example, the reduced power settings required by the P-38H did not allow the maneuvering flap to be used to good advantage at high altitude. All these problems really came to a head in the unplanned P-38H and sped the Lightning's eventual replacement in the Eighth Air Force; fortunately the Fifteenth Air Force were glad to get them.

Some P-38G and H production was diverted on the assembly line to F-5A and F-5B reconnaissance aircraft
Surveillance aircraft
A surveillance aircraft is an aircraft used for surveillance — collecting information over time. They are operated by military forces and other government agencies in roles such as intelligence gathering, battlefield surveillance, airspace surveillance, observation , border patrol and fishery...

. An F-5A was modified to an experimental two-seat reconnaissance configuration as the XF-5D, with a plexiglas nose, two machine guns and additional cameras in the tail booms.

Lightning in maturity: P-38J, P-38L

The P-38J was introduced in August 1943. The turbo-supercharger intercooler
Intercooler
An intercooler , or charge air cooler, is an air-to-air or air-to-liquid heat exchange device used on turbocharged and supercharged internal combustion engines to improve their volumetric efficiency by increasing intake air charge density through nearly isobaric cooling, which removes...

 system on previous variants had been housed in the leading edges of the wings and had proven vulnerable to combat damage and could burst if the wrong series of controls were mistakenly activated. In the P-38J model, the streamlined engine nacelles of previous Lightnings were changed to fit the intercooler radiator between the oil coolers, forming a "chin" that visually distinguished the J model from its predecessors. While the P-38J used the same V-1710-89/91 engines as the H model, the new core-type intercooler more efficiently lowered intake manifold temperatures and permitted a substantial increase in rated power. The leading edge of the outer wing was fitted with 55 gal (208 l) fuel tanks, filling the space formerly occupied by intercooler tunnels, but these were omitted on early P-38J blocks due to limited availability.

The final 210 J models, designated P-38J-25-LO, alleviated the compressibility problem through the addition of a set of electrically-actuated dive recovery flaps just outboard of the engines on the bottom centerline of the wings. With these improvements, a USAAF pilot reported a dive speed of almost 600 mph (970 km/h), although the indicated air speed was later corrected for compressibility error, and the actual dive speed was lower. Lockheed manufactured over 200 retrofit modification kits to be installed on P-38J-10-LO and J-20-LO already in Europe, but the USAAF C-54 carrying them was shot down by an RAF pilot who mistook the Douglas transport for a German Focke-Wulf Condor. Unfortunately the loss of the kits came during Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier
Tony LeVier
Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier was an air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s.- Early life :...

's four-month morale-boosting tour of P-38 bases. Flying a new Lightning named "Snafuperman" modified to full P-38J-25-LO specs at Lockheed's modification center near Belfast, LeVier captured the pilots' full attention by routinely performing maneuvers during March 1944 that common Eighth Air Force wisdom held to be suicidal. It proved too little too late because the decision had already been made to re-equip with Mustangs.

The P-38J-25-LO production block also introduced hydraulically-boosted ailerons, one of the first times such a system was fitted to a fighter. This significantly improved the Lightning's rate of roll and reduced control forces for the pilot. This production block and the following P-38L model are considered the definitive Lightnings, and Lockheed ramped up production, working with subcontractors across the country to produce hundreds of Lightnings each month.

There were two P-38Ks developed in 1942–1943, one official and one an internal Lockheed experiment. The first was actually a battered RP-38E "piggyback" test mule previously used by Lockheed to test the P-38J chin intercooler installation, now fitted with paddle-bladed "high activity" Hamilton Standard
Hamilton Standard
Hamilton Standard, an aircraft propeller parts supplier, was formed in 1929 when United Aircraft and Transport Corporation consolidated Hamilton Aero Manufacturing and Standard Steel Propeller into the Hamilton Standard Propeller Corporation. Other members of the corporation included Boeing,...

 Hydromatic propellers similar to those used on the P-47. The new propellers required spinners of greater diameter, and the mule's crude, hand-formed sheet steel cowlings were further stretched to blend the spinners into the nacelles. It retained its "piggyback" configuration that allowed an observer to ride behind the pilot. With Lockheed's AAF representative as a passenger and the maneuvering flap deployed to offset Army Hot Day conditions, the old "K-Mule" still climbed to 45000 feet (13,716 m). With a fresh coat of paint covering its crude handformed steel cowlings, this RP-38E acts as stand-in for the "P-38K-1-LO" in the model's only picture.

The 12th G model originally set aside as a P-38J prototype was re-designated P-38K-1-LO and fitted with the aforementioned paddle-blade propellers and new Allison V-1710-75/77 (F15R/L) powerplants rated at 1875 bhp at War Emergency Power. These engines were geared 2.36 to 1, unlike the standard P-38 ratio of 2 to 1. The AAF took delivery in September 1943, at Eglin Field
Eglin Air Force Base
Eglin Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base located approximately 3 miles southwest of Valparaiso, Florida in Okaloosa County....

. In tests, the P-38K-1 achieved 432 mph (695.2 km/h) at military power and was predicted to exceed 450 mph (724.2 km/h) at War Emergency Power with a similar increase in load and range. The initial climb rate was 4800 ft (1,463 m)/min and the ceiling was 46000 ft (14,020.8 m). It reached 20000 ft (6,096 m) in five minutes flat; this with a coat of camouflage paint which added weight and drag. Although it was judged superior in climb and speed to the latest and best fighters from all AAF manufacturers, the War Production Board refused to authorize P-38K production due to the two-to-three-week interruption in production necessary to implement cowling modifications for the revised spinners and higher thrust line. Some have also doubted Allison's ability to deliver the F15 engine in quantity. As promising as it had looked, the P-38K project came to a halt.

The P-38L was the most numerous variant of the Lightning, with 3,923 built, 113 by Consolidated-Vultee in their Nashville
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

 plant. It entered service with the USAAF in June 1944, in time to support the Allied invasion of France on D-Day
D-Day
D-Day is a term often used in military parlance to denote the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. "D-Day" often represents a variable, designating the day upon which some significant event will occur or has occurred; see Military designation of days and hours for similar...

. Lockheed production of the Lightning was distinguished by a suffix consisting of a production block number followed by "LO," for example "P-38L-1-LO", while Consolidated-Vultee production was distinguished by a block number followed by "VN," for example "P-38L-5-VN."

The P-38L was the first Lightning fitted with zero-length rocket launchers. Seven high velocity aircraft rocket
High velocity aircraft rocket
The High Velocity Aircraft Rocket, or HVAR, also known by the nickname Holy Moses, was an American unguided rocket developed during World War II to attack targets on the ground from aircraft...

s (HVARs) on pylons beneath each wing, and later, ten rockets on each wing on "Christmas tree" launch racks. The P-38L also had strengthened stores pylons to allow carriage of 2000 lb (907.2 kg) bombs or 300 gal drop tanks.

Lockheed modified 200 P-38J airframes in production to become unarmed F-5B photo-reconnaissance aircraft, while hundreds of other P-38Js and P-38Ls were field-modified to become F-5Es, F-5Fs, and F-5Gs. A few P-38Ls were field-modified to become two-seat TP-38L familiarization trainers.

Late model Lightnings were delivered unpainted, as per USAAF policy established in 1944. At first, field units tried to paint them, since pilots worried about being too visible to the enemy, but it turned out the reduction in weight and drag was a minor advantage in combat.

The P-38L-5, the most common sub-variant of the P-38L, had a modified cockpit heating system which consisted of a plug-socket in the cockpit into which the pilot could plug his heat-suit wire for improved comfort. These Lightnings also received the uprated V-1710-111/113 (F30R/L) engines, and this dramatically lowered the amount of engine failure problems experienced at high altitude so commonly associated with European operations.

Pathfinders, Night Fighter and other variants

The Lightning was modified for other roles. In addition to the F-4 and F-5 reconnaissance variants, a number of P-38Js and P-38Ls were field-modified as formation bombing "pathfinders" or "droopsnoots", fitted with a glazed nose with a Norden bombsight
Norden bombsight
The Norden bombsight was a tachometric bombsight used by the United States Army Air Forces and the United States Navy during World War II, and the United States Air Force in the Korean and the Vietnam Wars to aid the crew of bomber aircraft in dropping bombs accurately...

, or a H2X radar
H2X radar
H2X radar was an American development of the British H2S radar, the first ground mapping radar to be used in combat. It was used by the USAAF during World War II as a navigation system for daylight overcast and nighttime operations...

 "bombing through overcast" nose. A pathfinder would lead a formation of other P-38s, each overloaded with two 2000 lb (907 kg) bombs; the entire formation releasing when the pathfinder did.

A number of Lightnings were modified as night fighters. There were several field or experimental modifications with different equipment fits that finally led to the "formal" P-38M night fighter, or Night Lightning. 75 P-38Ls were modified to the Night Lightning configuration, painted flat-black with conical flash hiders on the guns, an AN/APS-6 radar pod below the nose, and a second cockpit with a raised canopy behind the pilot's canopy for the radar operator. The headroom in the rear cockpit was limited, requiring radar operators who were preferably short in stature.

The additional external clutter imposed surprisingly little penalty on the P-38M's performance, and it remained faster than the purpose-built P-61 Black Widow
P-61 Black Widow
The Northrop P-61 Black Widow was the first operational U.S. military aircraft designed specifically for night interception of aircraft, and was the first aircraft specifically designed to use radar. It was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom design developed during World War II...

 night fighter
Night fighter
A night fighter is a fighter aircraft adapted for use at night or in other times of bad visibility...

. The Night Lightnings saw some combat duty in the Pacific towards the end of the war, but none engaged in combat.

One of the initial production P-38s had its turbo-superchargers removed, with a secondary cockpit placed in one of the booms to examine how flightcrew would respond to such an "asymmetric" cockpit layout. One P-38E was fitted with an extended central nacelle to accommodate a tandem-seat cockpit with dual controls, and was later fitted with a laminar flow wing.

Very early in the Pacific War, a scheme was proposed to fit Lightnings with floats to allow them to make long-range ferry flights. The floats would be removed before the aircraft went into combat. There were concerns that saltwater spray would corrode the tailplane, and so in March 1942, P-38E c/n 5204 was modified with a tailplane raised some 16-18 in (41–46 cm), booms lengthened by two feet and a rearward-facing second seat added for an observer to monitor the effectiveness of the new arrangement. A second version was crafted on the same airframe with the twin booms given greater sideplane area to augment the vertical rudders. This arrangement was removed and a final third version was fabricated that had the booms returned to normal length but the tail raised 33 in (83.8 cm). All three tail modifications were designed by George H. "Bert" Estabrook. The final version was used for a quick series of dive tests on 7 December 1942 in which Milo Burcham performed the test maneuvers and Kelly Johnson observed from the rear seat. Johnson concluded that the raised floatplane tail gave no advantage in solving the problem of compressibility. At no time was this P-38E testbed airframe actually fitted with floats, and the idea was quickly abandoned as the U.S. Navy proved to have enough sealift
Sealift
Sealift is a term used predominantly in military logistics and refers to the use of cargo ships for the deployment of military assets, such as weaponry, vehicles, military personnel, and supplies...

 capacity to keep up with P-38 deliveries to the South Pacific.

Still another P-38E was used in 1942 to tow a Waco troop glider as a demonstration. However, there proved to be plenty of other aircraft, such as C-47s
Douglas DC-3
The Douglas DC-3 is an American fixed-wing propeller-driven aircraft whose speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made...

, available to tow gliders, and the Lightning was spared this duty.

Standard Lightnings were used as crew and cargo transports in the South Pacific. They were fitted with pods attached to the underwing pylons, replacing drop tanks or bombs, that could carry a single passenger in a lying-down position, or cargo. This was a very uncomfortable way to fly. Some of the pods were not even fitted with a window to let the passenger see out or bring in light, and one fellow who hitched a lift on a P-38 in one of these pods later said that "whoever designed the damn thing should have been forced to ride in it."

Lockheed proposed a carrier-based Model 822 version of the Lightning for the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

. The Model 822 would have featured folding wings, an arresting hook, and stronger undercarriage for carrier operations. The Navy was not interested, as they regarded the Lightning as too big for carrier operations and did not like liquid-cooled engines anyway, and the Model 822 never went beyond the paper stage. However, the Navy did operate four land-based F-5Bs in North Africa, inherited from the USAAF and redesignated FO-1.

A P-38J was used in experiments with an unusual scheme for mid-air refueling
Aerial refueling
Aerial refueling, also called air refueling, in-flight refueling , air-to-air refueling or tanking, is the process of transferring fuel from one aircraft to another during flight....

, in which the fighter snagged a drop tank trailed on a cable from a bomber. The USAAF managed to make this work, but decided it was not practical. A P-38J was also fitted with experimental retractable snow ski landing gear, but this idea never reached operational service either.

After the war, a P-38L was experimentally fitted with armament of three .60 in (15.2 mm) machine guns. The .60 in (15.2 mm) caliber cartridge had been developed early in the war for an infantry anti-tank rifle
Anti-tank rifle
An anti-tank rifle is a rifle designed to penetrate the armour of vehicles, particularly tanks. The usefulness of rifles for this purpose ran from the introduction of tanks in World War I and until the Korean War...

, a type of weapon developed by a number of nations in the 1930s when tanks were lighter but, by 1942, the idea of taking on a tank with a large-caliber rifle was considered to be somewhere between "outdated" and "suicidal".

The cartridge was not abandoned, with the Americans designing a derivative of the German 15 mm (.59 in) MG 151 cannon
MG 151 cannon
The MG 151 was a 15 mm autocannon produced by Waffenfabrik Mauser starting in 1940. It was in 1941 developed into the 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon which was widely used on many types of German Luftwaffe fighters, fighter bombers, night fighters, ground attack and even bombers as part of or as...

 around it and designating the weapon the "T17", but though 300 of these guns were built and over six million .60 in (15.2 mm) rounds were manufactured, they never worked out all the bugs, and the T17 never saw operational service. The cartridge was "necked up" to fit 20 mm projectiles and became a standard U.S. ammunition after the war. The T17-armed P-38L did not go beyond unsuccessful trials.

Another P-38L was modified after the war as a "super strafer," with eight .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the nose and a pod under each wing with two .50 in (12.7 mm) guns, for a total of 12 machine guns. Nothing came of this conversion, either.

A P-38L was modified by Hindustan Aeronautics in India as a fast VIP transport, with a comfortable seat in the nose, leather-lined walls, accommodations for refreshments and a glazed nose to give the passenger a spectacular view.

Operators

Military

Civil

YIPPEE

The 5,000th Lightning built, a P-38J-20-LO, 44-23296, was painted bright vermilion red, and had the name YIPPEE painted on the underside of the wings in big white letters as well as the signatures of hundreds of factory workers. This aircraft was used by Lockheed test pilots Milo Burcham
Milo Burcham
Milo Garrett Burcham was an American aviator. He worked as a stunt pilot, airshow pilot, and test pilot.Burcham was born in Cadiz, Indiana, and grew up in Whittier, California in the eastern Los Angeles basin...

 and Tony LeVier in remarkable flight demonstrations, performing such stunts as slow rolls at treetop level with one prop feathered to show that the P-38 was not the unmanageable beast of legend. Their exploits did much to reassure pilots that the Lightning might be a handful, but it was by no means a "widow maker."

In-flight footage of the YIPPEE P-38 can be seen in the pilot episode of the Green Acres
Green Acres
Green Acres is an American television series starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor as a couple who move from New York City to a country farm...

television series.

Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire

The American ace of aces and his closest competitor both flew Lightnings as they tallied 40 and 38 victories respectively. Majors Richard I. "Dick" Bong
Richard Bong
Richard Ira "Dick" Bong is the United States' highest-scoring air ace, having shot down at least 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II. He was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces and a recipient of the Medal of Honor...

 and Thomas J. "Tommy" McGuire
Thomas McGuire
Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr. was the second highest scoring American ace during World War II, whose memory was preserved by the naming of McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, New Jersey.-Early years:...

 of the USAAF competed for the top position. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

.

McGuire was killed in air combat in January 1945 over the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, after racking up 38 confirmed kills, making him the second-ranking American ace. Bong was rotated back to the United States as America's ace of aces, after making 40 kills, becoming a test pilot. He was killed on 6 August 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, when his P-80 Shooting Star
P-80 Shooting Star
The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the first jet fighter used operationally by the United States Army Air Forces. Designed in 1943 as a response to the German Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter, and delivered in just 143 days from the start of the design process, production models were flying but...

 jet fighter flamed out on takeoff
Takeoff
Takeoff is the phase of flight in which an aerospace vehicle goes from the ground to flying in the air.For horizontal takeoff aircraft this usually involves starting with a transition from moving along the ground on a runway. For balloons, helicopters and some specialized fixed-wing aircraft , no...

.

Charles Lindbergh

The famed aviator Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist.Lindbergh, a 25-year-old U.S...

 toured the South Pacific as a civilian contractor for United Aircraft Corporation
United Aircraft and Transport Corporation
The United Aircraft and Transport Corporation was formed in 1929, when William Boeing of the Boeing firms teamed up with Frederick Rentschler of Pratt & Whitney to form a large, amalgamated firm, uniting business interests in all aspects of aviation—a combination of aircraft engine and airframe...

, comparing and evaluating performance of single- and twin-engined fighters for Vought
Vought
Vought is the name of several related aerospace firms. These have included, in the past, Lewis and Vought Corporation, Chance Vought, Vought Sikorsky, LTV Aerospace , Vought Aircraft Companies, and the current Vought Aircraft Industries. The first incarnation of Vought was established by Chance M...

. He worked to improve range and load limits of the Vought F4U Corsair, flying both routine and combat strafing missions in Corsairs alongside Marine
United States Marine Corps Aviation
United States Marine Corps Aviation is the air component of the United States Marine Corps. Marine aviation has a very different mission and operation than its ground counterpart, and thus, has many of its own histories, traditions, terms, and procedures....

 pilots.

Everywhere Lindbergh went in the South Pacific, he was accorded the normal preferential treatment of a visiting colonel, although he had resigned his Air Corps Reserve colonel's commission three years before. In Hollandia, Lindbergh attached himself to the 475th FG, flying P-38s. Although new to the aircraft, Lindbergh was instrumental in extending the range of the P-38 through improved throttle settings, or engine-leaning techniques, notably by reducing engine speed to 1,600 rpm, setting the carburetors for auto-lean and flying at 185 mph (297.7 km/h) indicated airspeed
Indicated airspeed
Indicated airspeed is the airspeed read directly from the airspeed indicator on an aircraft, driven by the pitot-static system. IAS is directly related to calibrated airspeed , which is the IAS corrected for instrument and installation errors....

 which reduced fuel consumption to 70 gal/h, about 2.6 mpg. This combination of settings had been considered dangerous and would upset the fuel mixture, causing an explosion.

While with the 475th, he held training classes and took part in a number of Army Air Corps combat missions. On 28 July 1944, Lindbergh shot down a Mitsubishi Ki-51
Mitsubishi Ki-51
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Francillon, Ph.D., René J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970. ISBN 0-370-00033-1 .-External links:* * *...

 "Sonia" flown expertly by the veteran commander of 73rd Independent Flying Chutai, Imperial Japanese Army
Imperial Japanese Army
-Foundation:During the Meiji Restoration, the military forces loyal to the Emperor were samurai drawn primarily from the loyalist feudal domains of Satsuma and Chōshū...

 Captain Saburo Shimada. In an extended, twisting dogfight in which many of the participants ran out of ammunition, Shimada turned his aircraft directly toward Lindbergh who was just approaching the combat area. Lindbergh fired in a defensive reaction brought on by Shimada's apparent head-on ramming attack. Hit by cannon and machine gun fire, the "Sonia's" propeller visibly slowed, but Shimada held his course. Lindbergh pulled up at the last moment to avoid collision as the damaged "Sonia" went into a steep dive, hit the ocean and sank. Lindbergh's wingman, ace Joseph E. "Fishkiller" Miller, Jr., had also scored hits on the "Sonia" after it had begun its fatal dive, but Miller was certain the kill credit was Lindbergh's. The unofficial kill was not entered in the 475th's war record. On 12 August 1944, Lindbergh left Hollandia to return to the United States.

Charles MacDonald

The seventh-ranking American ace, Charles H. MacDonald
Charles H. MacDonald
-Web:*-Further reading:...

, flew a Lightning against the Japanese, scoring 27 kills in his famous aircraft, the Putt Putt Maru.

Robin Olds

Robin Olds was the last P-38 ace in the Eighth Air Force and the last in the ETO. Flying a P-38J, he downed five German fighters on two separate missions over France and Germany. He subsequently transitioned to P-51s to make seven more kills. After World War II, he flew F-4 Phantom IIs in Vietnam, ending his career as brigadier general with 16 kills.

Clay Tice

A P-38 piloted by Clay Tice was the first American aircraft to land in Japan after VJ-Day, when he and his wingman set down on Nitagahara because his wingman was low on fuel.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

At the midday of 31 July 1944, the noted aviation pioneer and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry , officially Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint Exupéry , was a French writer, poet and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of France's highest literary awards, and in 1939 was the winner of the U.S. National Book Award...

 (Night Flight
Night Flight
Night Flight may refer to:In music:* Night Flight , a 1980 album by Justin Hayward, frontman of the Moody Blues* Night Flight , a 1975 Led Zeppelin song* Nightflight, an album by BudgieIn film:...

, Wind, Sand and Stars
Wind, Sand and Stars
Wind, Sand and Stars is a memoir by Antoine de Saint Exupéry published in 1939. It was translated from the French by Lewis Galantière, and published in the US in November 1945....

and The Little Prince
The Little Prince
The Little Prince , first published in 1943, is a novella and the most famous work of the French aristocrat writer, poet and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ....

) vanished in his F-5B P-38J of the French Armée de l'Air's
French Air Force
The French Air Force , literally Army of the Air) is the air force of the French Armed Forces. It was formed in 1909 as the Service Aéronautique, a service arm of the French Army, then was made an independent military arm in 1933...

 Groupe de Chasse II/33, after departing Borgo-Porreta, Bastia
Bastia
Bastia is a commune in the Haute-Corse department of France located in the northeast of the island of Corsica at the base of Cap Corse. It is also the second-largest city in Corsica after Ajaccio and the capital of the department....

, Corsica
Corsica
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia....

. His health, both physically and mentally, had been deteriorating. Saint-Exupéry was said to be intermittently subject to depression. and there had been talk of taking him off flying status. He was on a flight over the Mediterranean, from Corsica to mainland France; his mount was an unarmed F-5B photo-reconnaissance variant of the P-38J, described as being a "war-weary, non-airworthy craft".

In 2000, a French scuba diver found the partial remnants of a Lightning spread over several thousand square meters of the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Marseille
Marseille
Marseille , known in antiquity as Massalia , is the second largest city in France, after Paris, with a population of 852,395 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Marseille extends beyond the city limits with a population of over 1,420,000 on an area of...

, indicating that the aircraft had hit the water at high velocity. In April 2004 the recovered component serial numbers were confirmed as being from of Saint-Exupéry's F-5B Lightning. Only a small amount of the aircraft's wreckage was recovered. In June 2004, the recovered parts and fragments were given to the Air and Space Museum of France
Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace
The French Air and Space Museum is a French museum, located in the south-eastern edge of Le Bourget Airport, north of Paris, and in the commune of Le Bourget. It was created in 1919 from a proposition of Albert Caquot .-Description:Occupying over of land and hangars, it is one of the oldest...

 in Le Bourget, Paris
Paris – Le Bourget Airport
Paris – Le Bourget Airport is an airport located in Le Bourget, Bonneuil-en-France, and Dugny, north-northeast of Paris, France. It is now used only for general aviation as well as air shows...

, where Saint-Exupéry's life is commemorated in a special exhibit.

In 1981 and also in 2008, two separate Luftwaffe fighter pilots, respectively Robert Heichele and Horst Rippert, claimed to have shot down Saint-Exupéry's P-38. Both claims were unverifiable and possibly self-promotional, as neither of their units' combat records of action from that period made any note of such a shoot-down.

Adrian Warburton

The RAF's legendary photo-reconnaissance pilot, Wing Commander Adrian Warburton
Adrian Warburton
Wing Commander Adrian "Warby" Warburton DSO & Bar, DFC & Two Bars was a Royal Air Force pilot during World War II. He became legendary in the RAF for his role in the defence of Malta...

 DSO DFC, was posted as the RAF Liaison Officer to the USSAF 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group. On 12 April 1944 he took off in a P-38 with others to photograph targets in Germany. W/C Warburton failed to arrive at the rendezvous point and was never seen again. In 2003, his remains were recovered in Germany from his wrecked aircraft.

Specifications (P-38L)

Popular culture

Harley Earl
Harley Earl
Harley J. Earl was first Vice President of Design at General Motors. He was an industrial designer and a pioneer of modern transportation design. A coachbuilder by trade, Earl pioneered the use of freeform sketching and hand sculpted clay models as design techniques...

 arranged for several of his designers to view a YP-38 prototype shortly before World War II, and its design directly inspired the tail fins of the 1948–1949 Cadillac
Cadillac
Cadillac is an American luxury vehicle marque owned by General Motors . Cadillac vehicles are sold in over 50 countries and territories, but mostly in North America. Cadillac is currently the second oldest American automobile manufacturer behind fellow GM marque Buick and is among the oldest...

.

The P-38 was also the inspiration for Raymond Loewy
Raymond Loewy
Raymond Loewy was an industrial designer, and the first to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine, on October 31, 1949. Born in France, he spent most of his professional career in the United States...

 and his design team at Studebaker
Studebaker
Studebaker Corporation was a United States wagon and automobile manufacturer based in South Bend, Indiana. Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 under the name of the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, the company was originally a producer of wagons for farmers, miners, and the...

 for the 1950 and 1951 model-year Studebakers.

Notable appearances in media

Documentaries

  • Flight Characteristics of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning (1943, color, 34:00). Lockheed's top World War II test pilots do the checkout on this very thorough pilot training film.
  • Sheet Metal Repairs to the P-38 Lightning (1945, b & w, 19:00). This educational production and training film from Lockheed shows standard aviation tooling and methods that are still used today for aluminum aircraft repair. Film by TM Technologies.
  • Yamamoto shot down! (1944, B&W, 4:00) The P-38 Squadron that shot down Admiral Yamamoto
    Isoroku Yamamoto
    was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

     in an incredible long distance interception in the Pacific, is depicted. The film includes purported P-38 gun camera footage of the Admiral's Betty bomber going down in flames.
  • Dick Bong: Pacific Ace (1944, B&W, 4:00) This short documentary film pays tribute to Richard "Dick" Bong, the leading American P-38 ace of World War II.
  • Angel in Overalls (1945, B&W, 15:00) This film was developed to show US Lockheed P-38 production line
    Production line
    A production line is a set of sequential operations established in a factory whereby materials are put through a refining process to produce an end-product that is suitable for onward consumption; or components are assembled to make a finished article....

     workers in a wide variety of roles.

See also

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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