THE 456th FIGHTER INTERCEPTOR SQUADRON

THE PROTECTORS OF  S. A. C.

 

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The Lockheed P-38J "Lightning"

 

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 Between 1942 and 1945, the thunder of P-38 Lightnings was heard around the world. U. S. Army pilots flew the P-38 over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific; from the frozen Aleutian Islands to the sun-baked deserts of North Africa. Measured by success in combat, Lockheed engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and a team of designers created the most successful twin-engine fighter every flown by any nation. In the Pacific Theater, Lightning pilots downed more Japanese aircraft than pilots flying any other Army Air Forces warplane.

Johnson and his team conceived this twin-engine, single-pilot fighter airplane in 1936 and the Army Air Corps authorized the firm to build it in June 1937. Lockheed finished constructing the prototype XP-38 and delivered it to the Air Corps on New Year's Day, 1939. Air Corps test pilot and P-38 project officer, Lt. Benjamin S. Kelsey, first flew the aircraft on January 27. Losing this prototype in a crash at Mitchel Field, New York, with Kelsey at the controls, did not deter the Air Corps from ordering 13 YP-38s for service testing on April 27. Kelsey survived the crash and remained an important part of the Lightning program. Before the airplane could be declared ready for combat, Lockheed had to block the effects of high-speed aerodynamic compressibility and tail buffeting, and solve other problems discovered during the service tests.

The most vexing difficulty was the loss of control in a dive caused by aerodynamic compressibility. During late spring 1941, Air Corps Major Signa A. Gilke encountered serious trouble while diving his Lightning at high-speed from an altitude of 9,120 m (30,000 ft). When he reached an indicated airspeed of about 515 kph (320 mph), the airplane's tail began to shake violently and the nose dropped until the dive was almost vertical. Signa recovered and landed safely and the tail buffet problem was soon resolved after Lockheed installed new fillets to improve airflow where the cockpit gondola joined the wing center section. Seventeen months passed before engineers began to determine what caused the Lightning's nose to drop. They tested a scale model P-38 in the Ames Laboratory wind tunnel operated by the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and found that shock waves formed when airflow over the wing reached transonic speeds and became turbulent. Lockheed never remedied this problem but the firm did install dive recovery flaps under each wing in 1944 to restore lift and smooth the airflow enough to maintain control when diving at high-speed.

Just as the development of the North American P-51 Mustang, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and the Vought F4U Corsair (see NASM collection for these aircraft) pushed the limits of aircraft performance into unexplored territory, so too did P-38 development. The type of aircraft envisioned by the Lockheed design team and Air Corps strategists in 1937 did not appear until June 1944. This protracted shakedown period mirrors the tribulations suffered by Vought in sorting out the many technical problems that kept F4U Corsairs off U. S. Navy carrier decks until the end of 1944.

Johnson's team made numerous minor improvements to the basic P-38 design as they strove to give Lightning pilots every possible combat advantage. To ease control and improve stability, particularly at low speeds, Lockheed equipped all Lightnings, except a batch ordered by Britain, with propellers that counter-rotated. The propeller to the pilot's left turned counter-clockwise and the propeller to his right turned clockwise, so that one propeller countered the torque and airflow effects generated by the other. The airplane also performed well at high speeds and the definitive P-38L model could make better than 676 kph (420 mph) between 7,600 and 9,120 m (25,000 and 30,000 ft). The design was versatile enough to carry various combinations of bombs, air-to-ground rockets, and external fuel tanks. The multi-engine configuration reduced the Lightning loss-rate to anti-aircraft gunfire during ground attack missions. Single-engine airplanes equipped with power plants cooled by pressurized liquid, such as the North American P-51 Mustang (see NASM collection), were particularly vulnerable. Even a small nick in one coolant line could cause the engine to seize in a matter of minutes.

Lockheed's efforts to trouble-shoot various problems with the design also delayed high-rate, mass production. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the company had delivered only 69 Lightnings to the Army. Production steadily increased and at its peak in 1944, 22 sub-contractors built various Lightning components and shipped them to Burbank, California, for final assembly. Consolidated-Vultee (Convair) subcontracted to build the wing center section and the firm later became prime manufacturer for 2,000 P-38Ls but that company's Nashville plant completed only 113 examples of this Lightning model before war's end. Lockheed and Convair finished 10,038 P-38 aircraft including 500 photo-reconnaissance models. They built more L models, 3,923, than any other version.

The first P-38s to reach the Pacific combat theater arrived on April 4, 1942, when a version of the Lightning that carried reconnaissance cameras (designated the F-4), joined the 8th Photographic Squadron based in Australia. This unit launched the first P-38 combat missions over New Guinea and New Britain during April. By May 29, the first 25 P-38s had arrived in Anchorage, Alaska. On August 9, pilots of the 343rd Fighter Group, Eleventh Air Force, flying the P-38E, shot down a pair of Japanese flying boats.

Back in the United States, Army Air Forces leaders tried to control a rumor that Lightnings killed their own pilots. On August 10, 1942, Col. Arthur I. Ennis, Chief of U. S. Army Air Forces Public Relations in Washington, told a fellow officer "… Here's what the 4th Fighter [training] Command is up against… common rumor out there that the whole West Coast was filled with headless bodies of men who jumped out of P-38s and had their heads cut off by the propellers." Novice Lightning pilots unfamiliar with the correct bailout procedures actually had more to fear from the twin-boom tail, if an emergency dictated taking to the parachute but properly executed, Lightning bailouts were as safe as parachuting from any other high-performance fighter of the day. Misinformation and wild speculation about many new aircraft was rampant during the early War period.

Along with U. S. Navy Grumman F4F Wildcats (see NASM collection) and Curtiss P-40 Warhawks (see NASM collection), Lightnings were the first American fighter airplanes capable of consistently defeating Japanese fighter aircraft. On November 18, men of the 339th Fighter Squadron became the first Lightning pilots to attack Japanese fighters. Flying from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, they claimed three during a mission to escort Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers (see NASM collection).

On April 18, 1943, sixteen P-38 pilots from the 12th, 70th, and 339th Fighter Squadrons, 347th Fighter Group, accomplished one of the most important Lightning missions of the war. American ULTRA cryptanalysts had decoded Japanese messages that revealed the timetable for a visit to the front by the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. This charismatic leader had crafted the plan to attack Pearl Harbor and Allied strategists believed his loss would severely cripple Japanese morale. The P-38 pilots flew 700 km (435 miles) at heights from 3-15 m (10-50 feet) above the ocean to avoid detection. Over the coast of Bougainville, they intercepted a formation of two Mitsubishi G4M BETTY bombers (see NASM collection) carrying the Admiral and his staff, and six Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters (see NASM collection) providing escort. The Lightning pilots downed both bombers but lost Lt. Ray Hine to a Zero.

In Europe, the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe aircraft were Lt. Elza E. Shahan flying a 27th Fighter Squadron P-38E, and Lt. J. K. Shaffer flying a Curtiss P-40 (see NASM collection) in the 33rd Fighter Squadron. The two flyers shared the destruction of a Focke-Wulf Fw 200C-3 Condor maritime strike aircraft over Iceland on August 14, 1942. Later that month, the 1st fighter group accepted Lightnings and began combat operations from bases in England but this unit soon moved to fight in North Africa. More than a year passed before the P-38 reappeared over Western Europe. While the Lightning was absent, U. S. Army Air Forces strategists had relearned a painful lesson: unescorted bombers cannot operate successfully in the face of determined opposition from enemy fighters. When P-38s returned to England, the primary mission had become long-range bomber escort at ranges of about 805 kms (500 miles) and at altitudes above 6,080 m (20,000 ft).

On October 15, 1943, P-38H pilots in the 55th Fighter Group flew their first combat mission over Europe at a time when the need for long-range escorts was acute. Just the day before, German fighter pilots had destroyed 60 of 291 Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses (see NASM collection) during a mission to bomb five ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany. No air force could sustain a loss-rate of nearly 20 percent for more than a few missions but these targets lay well beyond the range of available escort fighters (Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, see NASM collection). American war planners hoped the long-range capabilities of the P-38 Lightning could halt this deadly trend, but the very high and very cold environment peculiar to the European air war caused severe power plant and cockpit heating difficulties for the Lightning pilots. The long-range escort problem was not completely solved until the North American P-51 Mustang (see NASM collection) began to arrive in large numbers early in 1944.

Poor cockpit heating in the H and J model Lightnings made flying and fighting at altitudes that frequently approached 12,320 m (40,000 ft) nearly impossible. This was a fundamental design flaw that Kelly Johnson and his team never anticipated when they designed the airplane six years earlier. In his seminal work on the Allison V-1710 engine, Daniel Whitney analyzed in detail other factors that made the P-38 a disappointing airplane in combat over Western Europe.

- Many new and inexperienced pilots arrived in England during December 1943, along with the new J model P-38 Lightning.
- J model rated at 1,600 horsepower vs. 1,425 for earlier H model Lightnings. This power setting required better maintenance between flights. It appears this work was not done in many cases.

- During stateside training, Lightning pilots were taught to fly at high rpm settings and low engine manifold pressure during cruise flight. This was very hard on the engines, and not in keeping with technical directives issued by Allison and Lockheed.
- The quality of fuel in England may have been poor, TEL (tetraethyl lead) fuel additive appeared to condense inside engine induction manifolds, causing detonation (destructive explosion of fuel mixture rather than controlled burning).
- Improved turbo supercharger intercoolers appeared on the J model P-38. These devices greatly reduced manifold temperatures but this encouraged TEL condensation in manifolds during cruise flight and increased spark plug fouling.

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Using water injection to minimize detonation might have reduced these engine problems. Both the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the North American P-51 Mustang (see NASM collection) were fitted with water injection systems but not the P-38. Lightning pilots continued to fly, despite these handicaps.

During November 1942, two all-Lightning fighter groups, the 1st and the 14th, began operating in North Africa. In the Mediterranean Theater, P-38 pilots flew more sorties than Allied pilots flying any other type of fighter. They claimed 608 enemy a/c destroyed in the air, 123 probably destroyed and 343 damaged, against the loss of 131 Lightnings.

In the war against Japan, the P-38 truly excelled. Combat rarely occurred above 6,080 m (20,000 ft) and the engine and cockpit comfort problems common in Europe never plagued pilots in the Pacific Theater. The Lightning's excellent range was used to full advantage above the vast expanses of water. In early 1945, Lightning pilots of the 12th Fighter Squadron, 18th Fighter Group, flew a mission that lasted 10 ˝ hours and covered more than 3,220 km (2,000 miles). In August, P-38 pilots established the world's long-distance record for a World War II combat fighter when they flew from the Philippines to the Netherlands East Indies, a distance of 3,703 km (2,300 miles). During early 1944, Lightning pilots in the 475th Fighter Group began the 'race of aces.' By March, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Lynch had scored 21 victories before he fell to antiaircraft gunfire while strafing enemy ships. Major Thomas B. McGuire downed 38 Japanese aircraft before he was killed when his P-38 crashed at low altitude in early January 1945. Major Richard I. Bong became America's highest scoring fighter ace (40 victories) but died in the crash of a Lockheed P-80 (see NASM collection) on August 6, 1945.

Museum records show that Lockheed assigned the construction number 422-2273 to the National Air and Space Museum's P-38. The Army Air Forces accepted this Lightning as a P-38J-l0-LO on November 6, 1943, and the service identified the airplane with the serial number 42-67762. Recent investigations conducted by a team of specialists at the Paul E. Garber Facility, and Herb Brownstein, a volunteer in the Aeronautics Division at the National Air and Space Museum, have revealed many hitherto unknown aspects to the history of this aircraft.

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Brownstein examined NASM files and documents at the National Archives. He discovered that a few days after the Army Air Forces (AAF) accepted this airplane, the Engineering Division at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, granted Lockheed permission to convert this P-38 into a two-seat trainer. The firm added a seat behind the pilot to accommodate an instructor who would train civilian pilots in instrument flying techniques. Once trained, these test pilots evaluated new Lightnings fresh off the assembly line.

In a teletype sent by the Engineering Division on March 2, 1944, Brownstein also discovered that this P-38 was released to Colonel Benjamin S. Kelsey from March 3 to April 10, 1944, to conduct special tests. This action was confirmed the following day in a cable from the War Department. This same pilot, then a Lieutenant, flew the XP-38 across the United States in 1939 and survived the crash that destroyed this Lightning at Mitchel Field, New York. In early 1944, Kelsey was assigned to the Eighth Air Force in England and he apparently traveled to the Lockheed factory at Burbank to pick up the P-38. Further information about these tests and Kelsey's involvement remain an intriguing question.

One of Brownstein's most important discoveries was a small file rich with information about the NASM Lightning. This file contained a cryptic reference to a "Major Bong" who flew the NASM P-38 on April 16, 1945, at Wright Field. Bong had planned to fly for an hour to evaluate an experimental method of interconnecting the movement of the throttle and propeller control levers. His flight ended after twenty-minutes when "the right engine blew up before I had a chance [to conduct the test]." The curator at the Richard I. Bong Heritage Center confirmed that America's highest scoring ace made this flight in the NASM P-38 Lightning.

Working in Building 10 at the Paul E. Garber Facility, Rob Mawhinney, Dave Wilson, Wil Lee, Bob Weihrauch, Jim Purton, and Heather Hutton spent several months during the spring and summer of 2001 carefully disassembling, inspecting, and cleaning the NASM Lightning. They found every hardware modification consistent with a model J-25 airplane, not the model J-10 painted in the data block beneath the artifact's left nose. This fact dovetails perfectly with knowledge uncovered by Brownstein. On April 10, the Engineering Division again cabled Lockheed asking the company to prepare 42-67762 for transfer to Wright Field "in standard configuration." The standard P-38 configuration at that time was the P-38J-25. The work took several weeks and the fighter does not appear on Wright Field records until May 15, 1944. On June 9, the Flight Test Section at Wright Field released the fighter for flight trials aimed at collecting pilot comments on how the airplane handled.

Wright Field's Aero-medical Laboratory was the next organization involved with this P-38. That unit installed a kit on July 26 that probably measured the force required to move the control wheel left and right to actuate the power-boosted ailerons installed in all Lightnings beginning with version J-25. From August 12-16, the Power Plant Laboratory carried out tests to measure the hydraulic pump temperatures on this Lightning. Then beginning September 16 and lasting about ten days, the Bombing Branch, Armament Laboratory, tested type R-3 fragmentation bomb racks. The work appears to have ended early in December. On June 20, 1945, the AAF Aircraft Distribution Office asked that the Air Technical Service Command transfer the Lightning from Wright Field to Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, a temporary holding area for Air Force museum aircraft. The P-38 arrived at the Oklahoma City Air Depot on June 27, 1945, and mechanics prepared the fighter for flyable storage.

Airplane Flight Reports for this Lightning also describe the following activities and movements:
 

6-21-45 Wright Field, Ohio, 5.15 hours of flying.
6-22-45 Wright Field, Ohio, .35 minutes of flying by Lt. Col. Wendel [?] J. Kelley and P. Shannon.
6-25-45 Altus, Oklahoma, .55 hours flown, pilot P. Shannon. 6-27-45 Altus, Oklahoma, #2 engine changed, 1.05 hours flown by Air Corps F/O Ralph F. Coady.
10-5-45 OCATSC-GCAAF (Garden City Army Air Field, Garden City, Kansas), guns removed and ballast added.
10-8-45 Adams Field, Little Rock, Arkansas.
10-9-45 Nashville, Tennessee.
5-28-46 Freeman Field, Indiana, maintenance check by Air Corps Capt. H. M. Chadhowere [sp]?
7-24-46 Freeman Field, Indiana, 1 hour local flight by 1st Lt. Charles C. Heckel.
7-31-46 Freeman Field, Indiana, 4120th AAF Base Unit, ferry flight to Orchard Place [Illinois] by 1st Lt. Charles C. Heckel.

On August 5, 1946, the AAF moved the aircraft to another storage site at the former Consolidated B-24 bomber assembly plant at Park Ridge, Illinois. A short time later, the AAF transferred custody of the Lightning and more than sixty other World War II-era airplanes to the Smithsonian National Air Museum. During the early 1950s, the Air Force moved these airplanes from Park Ridge to the Smithsonian storage site at Suitland, Maryland.

 Smithsonian Institution

 

 

The P-38J

 

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The definitive P-38J was introduced in August 1943. The turbocharger intercooler system on previous variants had been housed in the leading edges of the wings and had proven vulnerable to combat damage and could explode 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-gallon fuel tanks, filling the space formerly occupied by intercooler tunnels.

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 miles per hour (970 km/h), although the indicated air speed was later corrected for compressibility error, and the actual dive speed was lower.

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. With a truly satisfactory Lightning in place, Lockheed ramped up production, working with subcontractors across the country to produce hundreds of Lightnings each month.

 

 

The Lockheed P-38J


Joe Baugher
 

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Through all the modifications leading from XP-38 to P-38H, the basic contours of the engine nacelles of the Lightning had remained virtually unchanged. 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.

Earlier P-38s had passed the compressed air from the turbosuperchargers through a hollow passageway lying along the leading edge of the wing all the way from boom to wing tip and back in order to cool it down before it entered the carburetor. There were problems encountered with this arrangement. The difficulty in controlling the superchargers caused frequent engine backfires, some of which actually caused changes in the shape of the wing leading edge. The large area of these wing intercoolers also make them vulnerable to gunfire. The P-38J (known by the Lockheed company as the Model 422) introduced a revised powerplant installation, with the intercooler being changed to a core-type radiator located below the engine. The air intake for the intercooler was sandwiched between the oil radiator intakes in a deeper, lower nose. The core-type radiator took cooling air through the central duct behind the propeller and exhausted it through a controllable exit flap, thus permitting a considerable amount of control over the the temperature of the air entering the carburetor. The leading edge tunnels were eliminated and were replaced by additional self-sealing fuel cells in the outer wing panels.

This modification was initially tested on P-38E Ser No 41-1983. The P-38J also had redesigned Prestone coolant scoops on the tail booms. All P-38Js retained the V-1719-89/91 engines of the P-38Hs, but their more efficient cooling installations enabled military rating at 27,000 feet to be increased from 1240 to 1425 hp, while at that altitude war emergency rating was 1600 hp.

The revised beard radiators produced some additional drag, but it was more than adequately compensated for by the improved cooling which made the Allison finally capable of delivering its full rated power at altitude. Consequently, the P-38J was the fastest variant of the entire Lightning series--420 mph at 26,500 feet. Maximum speed at 5000 feet was 369 mph, 390 mph at 15,000 feet. Range was 475 miles at 339 mph at 25,000 feet, 800 miles at 285 mph at 10,000 feet, and 1175 miles at 195 mph at 10,000 feet. Maximum range was 2260 miles at 186 mph at 10,000 feet with two 250 Imp gall drop tanks. An altitude of 5000 feet could be attained in 2 minutes, 15,000 feet in 5 minutes, 10,000 feet in 7 minutes. Service ceiling was 44,000 feet. Weights were 12,780 lbs empty, 17,500 lbs normal loaded, 21,600 lbs maximum. Wingspan was 52 feet 0 inches, length was 37 feet 10 inches, and height was 9 feet 10 inches. Wing area was 327.5 square feet. Armament consisted of one 20-mm Hispano M2(C) cannon with 150 rounds plus four 0.50-inch Colt-Browning MG 53-2 machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. In addition two 500, 1000, or 1600-lb bombs or ten five-inch rockets could be carried on underwing racks.

The 1010 Model 422-81-14s included three production blocks. The first block consisted of ten service test P-38J-1-LOs. These were quickly followed by 210 P-83J-5-LOs with two 55-US gallon additional fuel tanks in the leading edge space previously occupied by the intercoolers and thus restoring maximum internal fuel capacity to 410 gallons (1010 gallons with drop tanks). Modifications, including the addition of stiffeners, were required to prevent deformation of the new wet wing leading edge. The last production block consisted of 790 P-38J-10-LOs with flat windshields with the bulletproof glass panel being incorporated into the windshield.

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These were followed by Model 422-81-22s in two blocks. The first block consisted of 1400 P-38J-15-LOs with revised electrical systems. The second block consisted of 350 P-38J-20-LOs with modified turbo regulators.

When earlier J-series Lightnings went into a high speed dive, their controls would suddenly lock up when a certain speed was reached and the nose would begin to tuck under, making recovery from the dive very difficult. The problem would begin at Mach 0.65 to 0.68, accompanied by vigorous buffeting and a strong nose-down pitch. As speed increased, it became progressively more and more difficult to recover from the dive, larger and larger stick forces being required for a pullout. At Mach 0.72, dive recovery became for all practical purposes impossible, and runaway dives that got this far out of hand usually had fatal results. The onset of severe buffeting would, of course, usually provide adequate warning for a pilot in a diving P-38 that he was about to encounter a problem, but it is easy to get distracted while in the stress of combat. This dive recovery problem was so severe that the Lightnings found it very difficult to follow German fighters in a dive, allowing many Luftwaffe fighters to escape unscathed.

The problem was eventually traced to a shock wave that formed over the wings as the Lightning entered the transonic regime, the shock wave preventing the elevators from operating. In order to counteract this problem, starting with the P-38J-25-LO (Model 422-81-23) production block, a small electrically-operated dive flap was added underneath each wing outboard of the engine nacelles and hinged to the main spar. These dive flaps would change the characteristics of the airflow over the wing, offsetting the formation of the shock wave and permitting the elevators to operate properly. This innovation largely solved the problems encountered by diving P-38s.

The P-38J-25-LO production block also introduced power-boosted ailerons. These consisted of ailerons that were operated by a hydraulically-actuated bell-crank and push-pull rod, making it easier for the pilot to maneuver the airplane at high airspeeds. This boosting system was one of the first applications of powered controls to any fighter, and required only 17 percent of the previous stick forces. The hydraulic aileron booster system vastly improved the roll rate and thereby increased the effectiveness of the P-38 in combat. P-38Js with power-boosted ailerons proved to have the highest roll-rates of any fighter.

210 P-38J-25-LOs were built.

In March of 1944, Colonel Benjamin Kelsey reached an indicated speed of more than 750 mph during a high-speed dive in a P-38, which would have made the P-38 the first supersonic fighter. However, it was later discovered that compressibility effects on the airspeed indicator at about 550 mph had given a greatly exaggerated reading. Nevertheless, the Lightning handled quite well at high speeds, and its strong airframe withstood the excessive aerodynamic loading produced by these high-speed dives.

With the increased use of the Lightning as a light bomber, the type was modified to carry in place of the forward-firing armament either a bombardier with a Norden bombsight in a glazed nose enclosure, or a "Mickey" BTO (Bombing Through Overcast) bombing radar in the nose with an operator station between the radar and the pilot's cockpit. These modifications were developed at the Lockheed Modification Center in Dallas, Texas. These so-called "droop-snoot" Lightnings were used to lead formations of P-38s each carrying two 2000-lb bombs which were released on instructions from the lead bombardier.

Two P-38J-20-LOs (serials 44-23544 and 44-23549) were modified in Australia during the autumn of 1944 for use as single-seat night fighters, carrying AN/APS-4 radar in a pod underneath the starboard wing. These modifications were tested in New Guinea and the Philippines.

A P-38J-5-LO (serial number 42-67104) was tested at Wright Field and Orlando, Florida as an experimental night fighter with a radar operator sitting on a jump seat just aft of the pilot. The AN/APS-4 radar was initially mounted under the fuselage in a pod just aft of the nosewheel. This pod proved to be rather easily damaged by stones thrown up by the nosewheel during takeoffs and landings, so it was repositioned beneath the starboard wing, but this resulted in interference from the adjacent engine nacelle.

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Beginning in September of 1944, a P-38J was used to test a unique method for extending the range of escort fighters by having the fighter engage a hook trailed from a B-24H bomber. Attached to the hook was a standard drop tank. After contact, the tank was automatically attached to standard external tank fittings beneath the fighter's wing. The method proved to be basically feasible, but it required considerable skill on the part of the Lightning pilot in order for it to work. Consequently, this innovation was not pursued any further.

A number of P-38Js were modified in service as TP-38J-LO two-seat "piggyback" trainers with a jump seat aft of the pilot. Some of these aircraft carried an AN/APS-4 radar pod underneath the starboard wing and were used to train P-38M crews.

At least one P-38J was successfully flown with skis. P-38J-1-LO Ser No 42-13565 was fitted with an experimental retractable ski installation.

The initial photo-reconnaissance version of the P-38J was the F-5B-1-LO (model 422-81-21). It had the same camera installation as did the earlier F-5A-10-LO (equivalent to P-38G-10-LO), but had an airframe and engines identical to those of the P-38J-5-LO. The F-5B-1-LO introduced a Sperry automatic pilot, which became standard on all subsequent reconnaissance versions. Two hundred of these photographic aircraft were built, serial numbers being 42-67312/67401 and 42-68192/68301. This was the last of the Lockheed production of the reconnaissance version of the Lightning, subsequent F-5 versions being modifications of standard P-38 fighter airframes performed after delivery.

The F-5C-1-LO was the designation given to P-38J airframes converted at the Dallas Modification Center to a standard basically similar to that of the F-5B-1-LO but with improved camera installations. A total of 123 aircraft is believed to have been so modified. The serial numbers of the P-38J aircraft so modified are not known.

A total of 200 P-38J-15-LO fighter airframes were converted in Dallas to F-5E-2-LO reconnaissance configuration. These were produced to a standard similar to that of the F-5C-1-LO. The designation F-5E-3-LO was given to a similar conversion of 205 P-38J-25-LO airframes. Again, any record of the serial numbers of the P-38J aircraft modified to F-5E-2-LO or F-5E-3-LO standards seems to have been lost.

One F-5B-1-LO (42-68220) was modified with a revised camera installation and was redesignated F-5F-LO.

The few surviving USAAF P-38J aircraft were redesignated F-38Js in 1948 when the USAAF became the USAF and the P designation was changed to F.

P-38J-10-LO Ser No 42-67762 is currently held in storage at the Paul Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility at Suitland, Maryland. I saw it there on November 2 of this year. It is more or less intact, but needs some restoration work before it is really presentable.

Serials of the P-38J/F-5B were as follows:
 

42-12867/12869 		Lockheed P-38J-1-LO Lightning 
42-13560/13566 		Lockheed P-38J-1-LO Lightning 
42-67102/67311 		Lockheed P-38J-5-LO Lightning 
42-67312/67401 		Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning 
42-67402/68191 		Lockheed P-38J-10-LO Lightning 
42-68192/68301 		Lockheed F-5B-1-LO Lightning 
42-103979/104428 	Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning 
43-28248/29047 		Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning 
44-23059/23208 		Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning 
44-23209/23558 		Lockheed P-38J-20-LO Lightning 
44-23559/23768 		Lockheed P-38J-25-LO Lightning 

Sources:

 

  1. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987
     
  2. The P-38J-M Lockheed Lightning, Profile Publications, Le Roy Weber Profile Publications, Ltd, 1965.
     
  3. War Planes of the Second World War, Fighters, Volume Four, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.
     
  4. Famous Fighters of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1967.
     
  5. The American Fighter, Enzo Anguluci and Peter Bowers, Orion Books, 1987.
     
  6. Wings of the Weird and Wonderful, Captain Eric Brown, Airlife, 1985.
     
  7. United States Military Aircraft since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.


 

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