Click Here  P-38 Lightning   Click Here  Richard Henry Dana    Click Here  Capt. James Cook  
Click Here  Dudley Pope    Click Here  Henderson Island   Click Here  Major John Pitcairn   

My Favourite Aircraft

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Stan Wood - P-38 Pilot in the Pacific Theater tells about the P-38
Art Heiden - P-38 Pilot in the European Theater tells about the P-38
Despite plans to re-vamp this P-38 website considerably, I haven't had the time to do so yet. However, the above three new sections are new additions.

By popular demand! Complete Scale Plans of the P-38!

Listen here! P-38 Flyby!
[RealAudio- Click Here]

WW2 Colour Training film of the P-38 !
( Length 34 minutes - Requires RealAudio G2)

Since I was a child the P-38 has always fascinated me. It looks very special both in the air and on the ground. I never thought of it as a war machine - I just was fascinated by it's appearance and I built a number of plastic models of this aircraft. The Lightning racked up an impressive series of "firsts" -- it was the first Lockheed-designed military aircraft to go into series production, it was the first twin-engined interceptor to serve with the USAAC, it was the first production fighter powered by the Allison V-1710 in-line engine, it was the first modern fighter equipped with a tricycle landing gear, it was the first American plane to use butt-jointed flush riveted external surfaces, it was the first to make extensive use of stainless steel, it was the first fighter to use a bubble canopy right from the start, it was the first fighter with speeds over 400 mph, it was the first US twin-boom fighter to go into production, it was the first USAAF fighter to shoot down a German aircraft, it was the first USAAF fighter to carry out an escort mission to Berlin, it was the first USAAF plane to land in Japan after that country had surrendered, it was the heaviest US single-seat fighter of World War 2, it was the only American fighter in production at the time of Pearl Harbor to be still in production at the war's end, and it shot down more Japanese planes during World War II than any other U.S. fighter.

Read a message I received from a real Rosie the Riveter who built P-38's!

Powered by two liquid-cooled engines, the P-38 had a top speed of 414 miles per hour and carried a 20-mm cannon and four machine guns in its nose.

The Lightning was designed in 1937 as a high-altitude "pursuit plane" = interceptor. The Lockheed design staff was headed by Hall L. Hibbard. Working with Hibbard was the soon-to-be famous Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson (famous for the U-2 and the SR-71). At 14,800 pounds, the XP-38 weighed more than a bombed-up Bristol Blenheim Mk. I, at that time the standard British medium bomber. It was decided to attempt a record transcontinental flight before delivering the XP-38 to the Army. At daybreak on February 11, 1939, Lt. Ben Kelsey left March Field, California destined for Mitchell Field, New York with two refueling stops. The XP-38 lost power while coming in for a landing at Mitchell Field after a transcontinental flight of only seven hours. Fortunately, Lt. Kelsey was unhurt, but the XP-38 was a total loss. By the time of Pearl Harbor, there were only 69 early versions of the P-38 on strength.

Late in 1942, the P-38 went into large-scale operations during the North African campaign. The Lightning was effective against bombers and had a sensational zoom climb that could rarely be matched. It wreaked great havoc among Rommel's air transport well out to sea, earning for itself the German nickname "der Gabelschwanz Teufel" -- the Fork-Tailed Devil. The Lightning was also ideally suited for the Pacific theatre. It possessed a performance markedly superior to that of its Japanese opponents. It possessed a range significantly better than that of the P-39s, P-40s and P-47s available in 1942 in the Southwest Pacific, and its twin engines offered an additional safety factory when operating over long stretches of water and jungle. The Lightnings proved to be extremely rugged and could take a lot of battle damage and still keep flying. Missions lasting 9, 10, or even 12 hours became routine, and many wounded Lightnings were able to limp home on only one engine.

Equipped with droppable fuel tanks under its wings, the P-38 was used extensively as a long-range escort fighter and saw action in practically every major combat area of the world. A very versatile aircraft, the Lightning was also used for dive bombing, level bombing, ground strafing and photo reconnaissance missions.

The Pacific theater of operations produced the two highest scoring aces in American history, Major Richard I. Bong and Major Thomas B. McGuire, Jr. Both men flew P-38 Lightnings in the Southwest Pacific and each received the Medal of Honor in recognition of his courage and accomplishments.

Bong in the cockpit of his P-38.

In the air over Hollandia on April 12, 1944, he scored his 26th and 27th victories to break the previous record of 26 set by Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker in WWI. Bong scored 28 air-to-air victories. When he returned to the Pacific for his second tour, he was assigned as a gunnery instructor. He voluntarily flew numerous combat missions and in "self defense" scored 12 more victories to bring his total to 40, making him the highest scoring ace in American history. He lost his life in the crash of a P-80 jet aircraft in August 1945 at Burbank, California.

Major Thomas B. McGuire.

Major Thomas B. McGuire scored 38 aerial victories in a P-38 making him USA's second highest scoring ace. Among his many decorations was the Medal of Honor awarded for his actions on December 25-26, 1944 when he shot down seven enemy aircraft. On January 7, 1945, he crashed to his death on Los Negros Island in the Philippines while risking an extremely hazardous maneuver at low altitude in an attempt to save the life of a comrade. McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey is named in his honor.

I have read that the first production versions of the Lightning were not as fast as expected, and had a low service ceiling, due to a mismatch of turbochargers and engines. Apparently this was due to the prevailing procurement procedures of the period - the USAAF chose, ordered and delivered the parts to the manufacturer. This was rectified on later models.The P-38F version of late 1942 was the first Lightning version that was considered fully combat-ready. The P-38G Version, most widely built of the early Lightnings, began to roll off the production lines in June of 1942. It was basically similar to the P-38F apart from a change to the Allison V-1710-51/55 (F10) engine with increased boost ratings and offering 1325 hp for takeoff. Unarmed photographic reconnaissance versions of the P-38G were also produced under the designation F-5A. The P-38H differed from earlier versions in being powered by 1425 hp Allison V-1710-89/91 engines. The P-38J version, which first began to appear in August of 1943, introduced some appreciable differences in the geometry of the engine nacelles which make this and later versions easily distinguishable from earlier versions of the Lightning. The P-38L was the final production version of the Lightning and was numerically the most important of all the Lightning versions. Lockheed built 3810 P-38Ls and Consolidated-Vultee at Nashville built 113 more. The P-38L was powered by 1475 hp Allison V-1710-111/113 engines with a war emergency rating of 1600 hp at 28,700 feet and a military rating of 1475 hp at 30,000 feet. Lockheed adapted the P-38L as a two-seat night fighter designated the P-38M. This modification was successful, and provided the USAAF with a night fighter having a top speed of 406 mph at 15,000 feet as compared to only 369 mph at 20,000 feet for the Northrop P-61A Black Widow.

The P-38 was known for its exceptional range and the dependability of its two Allison engines. The P-38 made up for any shortcomings with its exceptional set of guns and cannons in its nose, giving it more concentrated firepower than other US fighters, which had their guns mounted almost always in their wings. Many different versions, including pathfinder and reconnaissance configurations, were produced. After WW2, a number of P-38s were used for aerial photography in the private sector. Only a handful of the 9,923 P-38's built still exist.

Lockheed P-38
Length: 37' 10" 11.53 M
Wingspan: 52' 0" 15.85 M
Gross Weight: 15340.0 lbs6956.00 Kg
Max Ceiling:44,000 ft.
Max Range:2,600
No. of Engines: 2
Powerplant: Allison V-1710-27/29
Horsepower (each): 1150
Max Speed: 395.00 Mph 636.00 Km/H 343.78 Kt
1 20mm cannon, 4 M2 .50 machine guns, 2,000 lb of bombs, rockets
Production ceased:1945
Cost:$115,000 (1945)

Specs of the various P-38 Models

Another page with more pictures of the P-38

Accident report (short) of Jeff Ethel's fatal P-38 crash

Accident report (full)of Jeff Ethel's fatal P-38 crash

P-38 Links

This section has been removed, as many websites have moved or no longer exist.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning - Book List

Most of the above material has been adapted from various sources on the Internet.

This website is maintained by:
Mark Winthrop, Copenhagen Denmark


Back to top