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"The Fork-Tailed Devil"


Known as the "Der Gabelschwanz Teuful" (The Fork-tailed Devil) by German pilots, the P-38 was the only American fighter to remain in production throughout the entire war.


Lockheed's P-38 Lightning

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P-38 Graphic

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was simply the most versatile aircraft used in World War II. After a lengthy developmental period, the P-38 eventually flourished in multiple roles. In its designed role, the P-38 was an effective fighter and was the main aircraft for most of the aces in the Pacific Theater of Operations. However, the P-38 was modified to become a world-class reconnaissance aircraft, an effective night fighter, and even an excellent strike/attack aircraft. Many bomber crewmembers would see its distinctive profile approaching and feel a little safer. Many enemy fighters and bombers would tremble with fear with the approach of the Fork-Tailed Devil!

"It was a marvelous aircraft! It was the best aircraft I flew in the war by far. I never flew the P-51, its been one of my life regrets, but I flew just about everything else there was. I liked the P-38s rate of climb, its speed, the way it handled, and its firepower directly out the nose. The P-38 would turn with almost anything, in fact it would out turn the P-47, out climb it, and out maneuver it. The P-38 was one of the great aircraft of WWII."... Charles MacDonald, P-38 Ace

"On my first confrontation with the P-38, I was astonished to find an American aircraft that could outrun, out-climb, and out-dive our Zero which we thought was the most superior fighter plane in the world. The Lightning's great speed, its sensational high altitude performance, and especially its ability to dive and climb much faster than the Zero presented insuperable problems for our fliers. The P-38 pilots, flying at great height, chose when and where they wanted to fight with disastrous results for our own men. The P-38 boded ill for the future and destroyed the morale of the Zero fighter Pilot."... Saburo Sakai, Japanese Ace



Lockheed's P-38 Lightning


While talking to General Hap Arnold, Lt. Ben Kelsey described the P-38 as "to begin with, the P-38 is a very different kind of plane. It isn't a two-seater, it is much more advanced in design, it's faster and it's right." The P-38 represented a major advancement in aircraft design in the late 1930's. Prior to this, the aircraft designs in the United States were lagging far behind any European power. With the approaching hostilities, The United States was in desperate need to upgrade its air force. During the late 1930's, twin-engine fighters were never considered, and many designers were still clinging to metal tubing and fabric designs. The P-38 was much heavier, but its design would enable it to be much faster than any previous aircraft, and most importantly, it was not designed for a specific mission. This allowed more freedom in the design, which in turn would allow the P-38 to perform a wide variety of roles.

The P-38 incorporated many firsts into its design, these included the following:

  1. The first fighter to use a tricycle landing gear.
  2. The only American fighter in operational production status from the start to the finish of the war.
  3. First to encounter compressibility problems.
  4. First to demonstrate capability of a fighter flying across the North Atlantic for delivery to Europe.
  5. Only aircraft to be equipped with irreversible power-boosted flight controls.
  6. First fighter to fly anywhere with two torpedoes.
  7. First fighter to demonstrate a non-stop, un-refueled range of over 3,000 miles.
  8. First fighter to carry a 4,000 lb. bomb load in wartime conditions.
  9. Only massed produced, single seat, twin engine fighter in World War II.

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P-38 J in Flight

In spite of many of these advances in aircraft design, the P-38 also experienced many unknown aero phenomena, which were totally unknown during this time period. This caused some prolonged delays, and some flaws in the early production models. In addition to these problems, a generic lack of training of the pilots caused many training accidents. If an engine blew out immediately after takeoff, many pilots did not have the knowledge and experience to get the aircraft safely back on the ground. Many misconceptions were originated because of this. Only with improved training and demonstration flights by Lockheed test pilots was this problem resolved. The P-38 was also plagued with rumors, many of which were unfounded. Pilots believed they would not be able to eject if they needed to abandon their aircraft. They felt they could not dive to pursue the enemy because of tail flutter and compressibility (later models included special dive flaps to enable the pilot to safely dive the aircraft). Only when pilots were able to understand their aircraft limitations and received better training, did they begin to really appreciate what the P-38 could offer.

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Kelly Johnson

The P-38 served with distinction in all theaters of operation through the war. It was responsible for primary escort duty in the early stages of the daylight bombing campaign in Europe. It was the primary fighter in the Mediterranean Theater and performed with excellent results in North Africa and the invasion of Italy. It even operated in the harsh conditions of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands against the numerically superior Japanese. However, the P-38 will be forever linked to the South Pacific. Japanese ships and aircraft were being savaged under the guns of skilled American pilots. The Japanese were never able to be on the offensive, and were usually on their heels. The P-38 routinely destroyed bombers, fighters, and ships without many losses. In fact, the average kill ratio was over 10 to 1. For every ten confirmed kills, only one P-38 was lost to all causes (this includes being shot down, lost at sea, and mechanical failures).

Without any doubts, the P-38 was able to perform many roles with tremendous success. No other aircraft can boast this ability. The P-51 was a better air-to-air fighter, but it was not as effective in ground strikes, and was unable to perform adequate reconnaissance. The B-17 and the B-24 were superior long-range level bombers, but the P-38 was almost able to carry the same bomb load, and would turn into fighters as soon as the bombs were dropped. The P-38 was modified to carry torpedoes, transformed into a night fighter, was able to dive/level bomb, and was the main reconnaissance aircraft in the American air forces. This web site will try to document the P-38 from the beginning to the end of its operational status.



The XP-38


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XP-38 Concept Drawing

The increasing tension in Europe, and the combined build up of the German and Japanese military forces, caused the United States to look at its own military condition. The fact was that the United States was lagging far behind other countries in military strategy and equipment. In order to address this problem, the military decided to initiate a design contest for a next generation interceptor. This aircraft would far exceed any other fighter currently in production in performance and armament.

The result of this desire for a new fighter was Specification X-608. In Specification X-608, the aircraft was required to maintain a top speed of 360 mph, whereas previously designed aircraft were only required to maintain a top speed of 300 mph. This aircraft would also be required to operate at altitudes of 20,000 and contain firepower three or four times higher than any other existing fighter aircraft. Essentially, this aircraft would be able to perform any mission any other fighter would be capable of, but not limited to any specific one.

At the time of this specification, the state of the aircraft in the United States military was lagging far behind any other country in Europe. The typical aircraft in service was limited to roughly 500 lbs. of armament. Usually this consisted of 2 machine guns and the ammunition. This new design would be the first of what would be considered modern aircraft. Vultee, Curtis, and Lockheed all submitted designs for this contest.

Hal Hibbard and Kelly Johnson headed the Lockheed team. Overall, there were only 50 engineers working on the new prototype. At this time, there were no indications of immediate war, and most of the designers and engineers were working on other designs, which were non-military related. The Lockheed team knew they would face stiff competition, but they believed their many innovations would set their design apart from the other entries. Hibbard and Johnson decided to build their prototype, the Model 22, around the new Allison V-1710 engine. This engine was capable of running at 1000 hp for over 150 hours. They immediately realized that a twin-engine fighter would be required to fulfill the X-608 requirements. Also new General Electric turbo-supercharger development would enhance the high altitude performance of their new design. Johnson admired the Spitfire wing design, but realized that if he used a similar design, the Model 22 would not possess adequate long-range capabilities. In fact, early Spitfires contained 85 gallons of internal fuel, whereas the P-38 would eventually contain 400 once in operational status. The new Model 22 would be a heavy aircraft, and its wing characteristics were not considered acceptable for a fighter. The Lockheed design team felt that with the new engine development, turbo-superchargers, and their innovative design elements, it would indeed be an effective fighter. The design would also allow for a 23-mm Madsen cannon and four .50 caliber Colt MG-53 with 4,000 rounds of ammunition. Kelly Johnson was able to back up their designs with calculations, which would allow for accurate predictions about the aircraft performance. In June 1937, Lockheed was awarded the contract for the building of 1 prototype. If tests proved promising, Lockheed was informed they could expect an order for fifty others.

XP-38 Painting

With the contract awarded to Lockheed, the design team then focused on creating the prototype. This was now designated as the XP-38 by the military. The XP-38 was constructed using butt-jointed flush riveted external surfaces developed by James McMinn Gershler. The control surfaces were also metal coated. Kelly Johnson also designed an intercooler, which would form part of the leading edge of the wing for aerodynamic and mechanical efficiency. Finally in January 1939, and $761,000 later, the XP-38 was ready for its maiden flight.

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XP-38 Picture 1


The XP-38 arrived at March Field on December 31, 1938. After a couple of weeks performing the final preparations, the XP-38 began initial testing. Lt. Ben Kelsey was ordered to monitor the design process, and when the prototype was ready, he would be behind the controls. Kelsey began the flight-testing by taxing the aircraft along the runway and was able to determine that the braking system was inadequate. His aircraft was unable to stop and scattered a construction crew working at the end of the runway. Finally, the XP-38 was ready to take flight for the first time. January 27, 1939 saw the XP-38 ready for flight. Kelsey steadily added power to the two Alison engines and lifted off the runway. Shortly after takeoff, the flaps began to shake and vibrate. Unknown to Kelsey, three out of the four aluminum support rods had failed, and allowed the flaps to run out of the stops. If all four support rods failed, the aircraft most likely would be unmanageable. Kelsey throttled back and eased his way back towards the runway. He did not want to abandon the aircraft, which was a result of many months of hard work by Lockheed. Unable to use flaps for landing, he came is faster than normal landing speeds. He flared out between 120-130 mph and was at 18 degrees. The XP-38 actually was dragging its tail on the runway, causing sparks to fly. Kelsey was optimistic about the flight, and even excitedly proclaimed that the aircraft did not stall even at an extreme angle of attack. This first flight of the P-38 was marked with a large degree of excitement, even though it only lasted a short time.

The engineers examined the aircraft, and it was determined that the problem was a result of inefficient flap seals and support rods. With those two problems addressed, and with enhanced brakes, the aircraft was ready for its second flight. Kelsey once again took the aircraft up on February 5, 1939. A third flight of the XP-38 revealed some longitudinal instability, which Kelly Johnson resolved by adding an extra seven feet of horizontal stabilizer outside of the fins on each side. Further testing revealed buffeting elevator problems. This was caused by the prop-wash from the inboard wing area. Switching engines resolved this problem, which created the counter-rotating engine characteristic of the P-38.

Three additional flights were conducted which brought the total testing time through February 10, to 4 hours and 49 minutes. Since the first flight problems, no major problems were encountered throughout this short time of testing. It was time to move from March Field, and the military wanted to use this move to showcase their new aircraft to the public. A decision was made to use this move to perform a record breaking flight across the continent, thus breaking the existing speed record. On February 11, 1939, Lt. Kelsey lifted off from March Field and proceeded to fly to Amarillo, Texas. This three-hour flight was uneventful. Kelsey was benefiting from a tailwind and made his way across St. Louis and headed to Wright Field in Ohio. There he met with General Hap Arnold, and he gave Kelsey a final approval to continue the flight. Up to this point, the XP-38 was performing flawless, and showed no evidence of any problems. However, this would soon change.

The plan was for Kelsey to take off from March Field and proceed to Mitchel Field, his final destination. Nobody at Mitchell Field was informed of any record-breaking flights, nor were they expecting a new prototype to make its way there. Kelsey also did not inform the Mitchell Field tower of his record, and did not ask for any time readings or insist on any priority. Instead, he was placed in a long landing pattern behind three much slower aircraft. Kelsey describes what happened then.

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Crash of The XP-38

"I did not give it a second thought when the tower instructed me to take a position behind the PB-2A because I had to get the plane slowed down for flap extension anyway. I did not even think of icing because we had none of it before. When I added power, I was really surprised to see those damn engines just sit there and idle at around 1,500 rpm. If the engines just quit, I thought at the moment and have often thought, while I was going down…if they had just stopped all together, I would have kicked it off to the right and would have landed in an open field. It would have been a reasonably good landing and we would have had minimal damage."

The XP-38 ended up crashing onto the Cold Stream Golf Course at Hampstead, Long Island. It slashed through some trees, but a sand trap ended up doing the most damage. The aircraft was reasonably intact, but it was twisted, which prevented it from being repaired in any way. Spectators quickly approached the crash site and were surprised to see Kelsey unhurt. This crash also demonstrated the strength and durability of the airframe, would be a characteristic of the P-38 throughout the entire war.

Arguments have been made about the crash. Some people believed that the program was not set back too much because there was already many improvements planned for the next model, the YP-38. Kelly Johnson put down some improvements he was working on in Report No. 1483. He calculated a top speed of 403 mph at critical altitude on 1150 brake hp per engine. All he needed to meet for the original specifications was 360 mph.

Recommended Alteration
Calculated Speed Change
Redesign Prestone coolant radiators:
Improved turbo-supercharger installation:
Revised oil cooler inlet:
Reduction in exhaust cooling duct size:
Weight reduction of 800 - 1,000 lbs:
Increase horizontal stabilizer area by 7 sq. ft.:
Armament installation:
Net Change:
+10 MPH

Looking back at the testing process of the XP-38, Tony LeVier was critical of the record attempt. He argued that the crash did indeed cause a significant delay in the development of the P-38 program. "It was a grand idea, but the only thing a speed record would give them was some newspaper headline for a day and that's about all. Instead of waiting a few weeks until we knew more about the airplane, they took it when it had hardly been tested." He further states that, "What did it do? It set the P-38 back about two years because we had to start from scratch and build another prototype airplane and run a whole new test program, and it was the best fighter plane we had at that time. That incident may very well have lengthened the war."

An investigation was immediately launched to probe the cause for the crash. The XP-38 crash was attributed to either vapor lock or possibly icing of the engines. General Arnold and Lt. Kelsey were summoned to Washington to discuss the circumstances of the crash and the possible future of the P-38 developmental program. Satisfied with the state of the P-38 program, the military decided to order thirteen additional YP-38s from Lockheed.



The YP-38

In spite of the XP-38 crash, Kelly Johnson had some enhancements planned for the next prototype. The order for additional P-38 prototypes allowed Johnson to able to incorporate many improvements into the next design. The first YP-38 was rolled out nineteen months later.

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YP-38 on Ground

The XP-38

Lockheed was struggling to fill many types of orders and was rapidly growing. The main focus was to produce the Hudson. There were not many available engineers and designers to work on the fledging P-38 project. Lockheed looked to the 1939 contract with Curtis to produce the P-40 as an example. In 1939, there were not many orders for the P-40, and it was basically a break-even proposition for Curtis. Lockheed was informed not to expect many orders for the P-38. Lockheed also had put up most of the money for the first prototype, and the proposition for profit was limited. So as any company would do, they focused on making money. The country was not at war, so there was no immediate need to produce something that would at best break even. In June 1939, Lockheed took over a local distillery building and began to use it for YP-38 production.

Lockheed engineers were following Allison improvements in their V-1710 engine and planned to incorporate the new V-1710-F engine in the YP-38 models. Lockheed started production for the thirteen YP-38s soon after taking over the distillery building. During this time, Bob Gross thought that no more than sixty models would ever be produced. He based his belief on the overwhelming favoritism being placed on bombers than fighters in the military. The military believed a bomber with massive armor and machine guns would not encounter problems with enemy fighters.

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Marshall Headle with YP-38

The YP-38

The YP-38 design was also improved for production ease. The XP-38 was not designed with this mindset, and would be extremely hard to produce in any significant numbers. The new Alison engine was rated at 1150 hp at 20,000 ft. Propeller rotation was changed and reduced downwash onto the wing/centersection/fuselage juncture. This solved the problem of disturbed airflow over the horizontal stabilizer (tail flutter & buffeting). The YP-38 had a designed empty weight of 11,171 lbs., and a designed gross weight of 13,500 lbs. This rose to 14,348 when additional space was allotted for fuel tanks. Lockheed engineers guaranteed a high speed on 405 mph at 20,000 ft.

The YP-38 models began trickling out of the factory and immediate testing was conducted. Marshall Headle, Milo Burcham, Ralph Virden, Jimmy Mattern, and Swede Parker performed initial Lockheed testing. Headle and Burcham teamed up with Dr. F. E. Poole in an attempt to anticipate the many "unknowns" that would be encountered. Working with the Mayo Clinic, procedures were developed to hopefully prevent any problems due to excessive altitudes. Lockheed constructed a special altitude chamber to test new equipment. During this time period, many of the standard pilot equipment were very primitive. Oxygen systems were unreliable, there were no ejection seats, and data recording was only beginning to move from the "knee pad" methods were only a few of the developing techniques. Soon after testing began, Marshall Headle was seriously injured in an altitude chamber accident, which permanently ended his flying career, and led to a premature death.

The last YP-38 trickled out of the factory in May 1941. By this point of production, Lockheed released some of the YP-38s over to the military for additional testing. Pilots from the First Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, were able to perform additional testing. These pilots would form the initial cadre of P-38 pilots during the war. Major Signa Gilkey was one of these pilots who flew the YP-38. During one flight, he decided to perform a limited test dive. Gilkey underestimated the potential speed buildup of the aircraft, and soon built up excessive speeds. He was one of the first military pilots to experience firsthand the problems of compressibility. He was able to recover the aircraft and land safely.

By September 1941, the YP-38s were in a committed program to test compressibility. Test engineers wanted the test pilots to go past 300 mph starting above 30,000 ft. This was not normally done, and many of the test pilots thought the test dives were too ambitious at this early stage. Ralph Virden was committed to fly the tests and took off on November 4, 1941 for a series of test dives. Partially through the testing, an object broke off from the aircraft. The aircraft entered an inverted spin and crashed. Virden was killed. Kelly Johnson would later say, "I was back in my office when I heard Virden's plane screaming towards the plant. That most unusual sound probably resulted from the propellers striking the air at an angle abnormal to the line of flight." Johnson concluded that a spring tab like broke, which caused full deflection (Virden's aircraft was observed to rise sharply prior to the part breaking off). At a speed of 300 mph at 3,000 ft. of altitude, this deflection would cause the airframe to exceed design criteria. Designers were pushing the limits of aerodynamic knowledge and material strength in the quest for maximum performance. Often these limits were exceeded leading to unexpected or tragic events.

The YP-38 was destined to spend the rest of its operational life with dive testing. If the problems with compressibility were not figured out, much of the aircraft potential as a fighter would be removed. The YP-38 proved to be a great step towards operational P-38s during the war. Without the hard work and sacrifice of the Lockheed engineers and test pilots, the P-38 may have never developed into the aircraft it was. It opened the door for many other aircraft which experienced compressibility and other related phenomena, and allowed the engineers and designers to immediately know what exactly was happening and were able to overcome these obstacles much easier.


More on The YP-38


1940 represented an uneasy feeling with the growing conflict in Europe. France and Britain would soon be engaging the German army and Luftwaffe on a growing scale. Both countries expressed an interest in the Lockheed P-38 design. Both countries felt it could possibly contribute to their own defense against the German onslaught. The British placed an order in March 1940, with the expectations that the first deliveries would start in December 1941. This Lightning Mark I would be the export version of the P-38 E model, and Mk. II would eventually be the P-38 G model. The French interest did not last long because they quickly surrendered to the Germans.

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Model 322 in Flight

P-38 G

In an attempt to deal with the problems in Europe, the British wanted to add to its air force. They tried to design a twin-engine fighter, but their design was dead in the water, and was abandoned. They expressed interest in the Model 322 fighter. They originally ordered 667 of the "Lightning I", but after the Battle of Britain, they reduced that number to 143. After a British test pilot gave bad reports after flying the aircraft, the British would only accept 3 total aircraft. At the same time, the Unites States Army did not want to use their limited quantity of turbochargers for export. Basically, the British would be receiving "castrated" P-38s. This would cause the aircraft to lose too much performance at high altitudes. Robert Gross consulted with many legal executives, and recommended that Lockheed proceed with the production of the aircraft based on the original plan. This resulted in a standoff between Lockheed and the British Air Ministry. The models in production were eventually converted to Air Corps specifications. Because these P-38s did not contain superchargers, many would be used at twin engine trainers.

The British refusal of this aircraft was attributed to three main reasons. First of all the Battle of Britain was over and the immediate threat was substantially reduced. Secondly, the British treasury was in shambles and could not afford to obtain everything it needed. Lastly, they were concerned with the tail flutter problems, even though it had been researched and corrected. The British lost tremendous amounts of money on their twin-engine Westland Whirland design, but they were afraid of another problem-plagued aircraft. In fact British test pilots who flew the Model 322 felt it was a good plane to fly, but would not be able to deliver the performance needed at high altitudes against the Luftwaffe. The British were in no position to use valuable personnel and resources to experiment with different setups on the Model 322. Many people have speculated what would have happened if they adapted a Merlin engine (the ones used on the P-51) in the Model 322. Unfortunately this will never be known. What is known is that only 3 of these aircraft were ever delivered to the British, and the remaining undelivered aircraft served valuable training and experimentation roles.


The P-38D

The P-38 D was considered the first combat worthy model in production. This model was outfitted with new self-sealing fuel tanks, and new low-pressure oxygen systems. Additional armor plating and glass was installed in the cockpit to better protect the pilot. Other enhancements in this model were the use of new propellers, retractable landing lights, new elevator mass balances, and some tail redesigns. Lockheed spent a lot of time designing the P-38 production much easier. This was a twin-engine aircraft, so there were numerous duplicate parts that needed to be installed on each aircraft. One aircraft was experimented on with the use of a pressurized cockpit. This would enable the pilot to be more comfortable. However, a common belief that it would not be much of an improvement to justify incorporating it into the design caused this idea to be scrapped. All future P-38 pilots would suffer these effects because flying at high altitudes make the cockpit extremely cold and uncomfortable. Two combat units were formed (The 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan and the 14th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field, California). The P-38 D was the first American aircraft to score a kill against the Luftwaffe on August 14, 1942 by Elza Shahan against a German FW-200 bomber.


The P-38E

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P-38 E Picture

P-38 E

The 'E' model contained more internal changes than external ones. There were over 2,000 individual changes made for the new model design. Perhaps the most significant change was the reversion back to a smaller cannon. The 37mm cannon was rather ambitious, and the engineers realized that by using a smaller 20mm cannon, there would be more space for ammunition and a faster rate of fire and would be more effective overall. The Hamilton Standard propellers were replaced with Curtis Electric dual solid blades. Hydraulic and electrical systems were changed to allow easier production. The 'E' was the first model to be produced on a planned and effective production line. Previously, aircraft were finished on assembly lines and moved to other facilities to make any changes. Now, the entire aircraft would be completed in the same location.

Perhaps the most significant fact about the 'E' models was that large amounts were converted to reconnaissance aircraft. 99 out of a total of 210 model produced were converted to the F-4 version of the P-38s. These would be the first in a very distinguished line of reconnaissance aircraft used by the Allies.


The P-38F

With the introduction of the 'F' model, the P-38 was now considered a combat worthy aircraft. This model began production in early 1942, and was the principal aircraft for Operation Torch, the Invasion of North Africa. In the hands of a good pilot, the P-38 F was a very capable aircraft.

The P-38 F differed from the P-38 E in two main areas. First of all, the weight of the aircraft was now at 19,000 lbs., and more powerful engines were needed. The new Allison V-1710-F-5 engines were installed and produced 1,325 hp apiece. These engines consumed more fuel than the older ones, so Lockheed developed an under-wing pylon capable of carrying extra ordnance or external fuel tanks. The wing was capable of carrying two pylons, either two 165-gallon drop tanks or two 1,000 lb. bombs. One P-38 F was actually tested for carrying two 1,900 lb. torpedoes. The increased performance, and newly increased range at 1,000 miles, made this a deadly machine. Another change that was

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P-38 F

 incorporated into the P-38 F was the canopy. Earlier models had a side opening design, whereas the P-38 F used a rear hinged, upward opening canopy. Also, a newly designed "combat flap" enabled the aircraft to deploy the flaps at 8 degrees, which increased lift and made the aircraft more maneuverable. Special P-38 F's were made into "piggy-back" models. These designs contained a bubble canopy located directly behind the main canopy, which enabled a passenger to ride along in place of the radio gear. This was very useful for training purposes. New air cleaners were installed to meet with tropical and desert operating conditions.

General Spaatz summed up the P-38 F by stating, "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." Though not perfect, the 'F' model was a significant step in the right direction.



The P-38G

The foremost upgrade to the 'G' model was the introduction of new Allison V-1710-F-10 engines. This new engine produced the same power as the F-5, but it was more effective at high altitudes. At 24,000 ft. it produced 1,150 hp, and at 27,000 ft., it produced 1,100 hp. It also incorporated the newly designed B-13 superchargers. The 'G' models had the capability of carrying 3,200 lbs or bombs, and were capable of carrying 300-gallon drop tanks. This increased the operating range to 2,300 miles, or an endurance of ten hours. Late 'G' production models were capable of carrying two 2,000 lb. bombs. As a comparison, the B-17 carried 4,800 lbs. of bombs!

The 'G' was listed at 12,000 lbs., and a loaded weight of 14,650 lbs. It weighed in at 15,800 when combat ready, and had a maximum of 19,800 lbs. Maximum speed at 25,000 ft. was 400 mph, and at 5,000 ft., it could obtain a speed of 345 mph. A total of 1,082 were produced, and 181 of those were converted to F-5-A, and 300 were converted to F-5-B models.


The P-38H

The 'H' model built upon the success of the 'G' model. The P-38 H reached operational status in May 1943. The 'H' contained a new V-1710-F-15 engine, which could produce 1,425 hp. New automatic oil radiator flaps were introduced. These flaps addressed cooling problems at high power outputs, and compensated for inadequate intercoolers in the leading edge of the wing. Early 'H' models produced 1,425 hp at takeoff, and 1,100 hp at 25,000 ft. (1,240 hp at 25,000 with war emergency power). Once the oil radiator flaps were introduced in later 'H' models, they could produce 1,350 hp at 25,000 ft. A new AN-M2C 20 mm canon was also introduced in this design.

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P-38 H

The 'H' model had a maximum combat takeoff weight of 20,300 lbs. It was capable of carrying 900 gallons of fuel (this includes external capacity), which allowed a 2,000 mile range. The new engines were slightly less effective in fuel consumption. The bomb-load capacity was listed at 3,200 lbs., but it carried 4,000 lbs. of ordinance without any problems on a normal basis. Maximum speed at 25,000 ft. was 402 mph, and at 5,000 ft. it could reach 345 mph. Ninety of these models were converted to F-5-Bs.

With the introduction of the P-38 J, Lockheed felt it had finally produced the version originally envisioned by Kelly Johnson. Many improvements were made and some obstacles were overcome. Earlier P-38s had inadequate cooling and used complex paths for air to travel in the leading wing intercoolers. This process of cooling was characterized by the superchargers passing compressed air from the turbos, through the leading edge and directed it back into the carburetor. Explosive backfires of the engines were known to occur with this cooling process technique. The P-38 J used a new core radiator beneath the engine. Air could now flow directly into the central duct behind the propeller, and was eliminated through an exit flap. The Pilot could control the entire cooling process from the cockpit during flight. This allowed for more efficient cooling and resulted in better engine performance. The same 'H' model engines were used, but were more efficient due to the better cooling design. They could produce 1,600 hp. The top speed was 425-430 mph at 30,000 ft., and 406 mph at 20,000 ft. The leading edge intercoolers were removed, and extra fuel tanks (110 gallons) were installed. This brought the fuel capacity to 6,000 lbs of fuel. The wings needed to be strengthened to prevent any deformation due to the extra weight.

New heating systems were installed in the cockpit. This included foot warmer and a hot air defroster, which maintained good visibility at high altitudes. The pilot also did not have to operate a manual gun charger-selector. They were charged while on the ground, and eliminated many potential electrical problems. It also had electrical operated dive brakes, and an aileron boot system. This boost system enabled the pilot to only exert 17% of the previous force to control the yoke. Several instances were recorded where the P-38 J carried loads of 5,200 lbs. Fully fueled, the 'J' carried 1,010 gallons, and had a maximum range of 2,260 miles (12 hours). In the Pacific Theater of Operations, more efficient power settings were devised, and the range was extended to 2,300 miles (this included takeoff, formation, climb-out, cruise to target, combat maneuvers, and landing). The service ceiling was 43,800 ft., but it was extremely rare for a pilot to go that high.



The P-38J

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P-38 J in Flight #2

P-38 J

In spite of all the advances and improvements, the P-38 J would suffer in the European Theater of Operations. Lockheed did all the testing in the United States, and were never tested in conditions similar to those in Britain. Once the P-38 J arrived in Britain, problems were encountered immediately. In addition to the new problems, many new, inexperienced pilots were beginning to fly. The problems would take time to work out, but the 8th Air Force was not able or willing to wait. At this time, P-51 D Mustangs and new versions of the P-47 Thunderbolt were available to perform long-range escort and strike missions. This was the beginning of the end of the P-38 in the ETO.

Morale was on the decline due to the long missions and many cases of engine failure. Lt. Col. Al Bodie felt the problem was with the Champion spark plugs. He argued that they were faulty in about 50% of the problems experienced. Though that may have been a problem, most likely the engine problems were a result of the lower grade of fuel used in Britain. Experiments showed that the tetraethyl lead compound was separating out the gasoline in the manifold. Nobody considered this a problem in 1944, and they were also unprepared when the problems were encountered. The constant soaking of the engines in the cold British rain also contributed to the engine failure problems.

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P-38 J Picture

P-38 J & F-5 B

Like previous models, the P-38 J was also used for experiments. One was converted into the "Droop Snoot" variation. This aircraft had a hallowed out gun compartment, and was fitted with a window similar to that on the front nose of the B-17. This allowed a bombardier to use a Norton bombsite and use the P-38 to lead a larger formation of P-38s in a level-bombing raid. Another variation was the "Pathfinder". This was very similar to the "Droop Snoot", but it contained radar instead of an optical bombsite.

In spite of the problems encountered in the ETO with the P-38 J, it was still a fine combat aircraft. This was the first fully capable combat P-38 produced. A good pilot in the P-38 J was able to hold his own with any other enemy aircraft. The P-38 J was the main aircraft used by many of the aces in the PTO, including Bong (40 kills) and McGuire (38 kills).


More On The P-38 J


Lockheed did some testing for a new Allison engine, the V-1710 F-15. This new engine was designed for improved performance at high altitudes. For the test, a P-38 E was modified for these new engines and was fitted with large (12' 6"), thick paddle-blade propellers. It was 14 mph faster at 29,000 ft. and 40 mph faster at 40,000 ft. than the P-38 J model. Propeller spinners were changed to accommodate new propellers and the interface at the oil cooler inlet. It was superior in high speed and climbing performance to all other fighters. However, due a lack of secondary production facilities, and lingering doubts as to whether Allison would be able to deliver the new engines in abundance, the 'K' model was never produced. Lockheed decided to focus on the 'L' production instead.



The P-38L

Using a more obtainable engine, Lockheed incorporated the V-1710-F30 engine into the P-38 L. It produced 1,600 hp at maximum power, and produced a normal rating of 1,100 at 30,000 ft. The pilot also had more selections for power settings inside the cockpit, and these settings could also be set on automatic. A new flush landing light was inserted in the leading edge of the wing, and replaced a retractable one in previous models. Enhanced external fuel tank system was also used, and consisted of new fuel booster pumps. External fuel capacity was increased to allow two 300-gallon tanks to be used. This increased the total fuel capacity to 1,024 gallons. One interesting improvement was the installation of a new tail-warning radar system. It would signal the pilot through flashing lights and bell sounds when an aircraft was in close proximity behind the aircraft.

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P-38 L Landing

P-38 L

The basic weight of the P-38 L was 13,700 lbs. The normal combat weight was between 17,200 lbs. and 17,600 lbs. With a maximum load, the total weight was 22,000 lbs. Maximum speed at 25,000 ft. was 414 mph, and could reach 20,000 ft. with a takeoff weight of 17,500 in seven minutes. The service ceiling was 44,000 ft., and the maximum range was 2,600 miles. The P-38 L was the final air superiority/strike variant of the P-38 produced. A total of 3,924 were produced before the war ended.



The P-38M


P-38 M

To meet the Army's need for a night interceptor aircraft, several types such as the British Bristol Beaufighter and the deHaviland Mosquito (both were acquired through the "reverse Lend Lease" program), and the Douglas P-70 (variation from the A-20 Havoc light bomber) were tried. In the Pacific some P-38s were converted into night fighter roles. The 6th Night Fighter Squadron on New Guinea mounted two SCR-540 Airborne Intercept (AI) radar units which were mounted into two P-38 drop tanks. These aircraft were also able to carry a passenger located directly behind the pilot under a small bubble canopy. There were other field converted P-38s but none were produced with the night fighter role in mind. During 1944, Lockheed began the development of the P-38 M night fighter, which involved the conversion of the P-38 J with an AN/APS-4 AI radar pod mounted under the nose on a modified bomb pylon. In October 1944, Lockheed began production of the P-38 M with all the modifications mentioned previously and it made its maiden flight on January 5, 1945. The P-38 M crews trained at Hammer Field, California early in 1945, but did not finish training until early in the summer of. A few were rushed into the Pacific in the closing months of the war, but were never really used in night combat roles. By March 1946, the P-38 M was phased out of the service.



The P-38 / F-4A

The knowledge of what the enemy forces are doing is a major factor in battle. Aerial reconnaissance has been around since the American Civil War, when balloons were inflated and some daring individual would look at the enemy activities and formations. World War I saw the use of balloons, but the invention of airplanes added an entirely new dimension. By the start of World War II, Allied forces wanted to develop an aircraft that would be able to successfully penetrate deep behind enemy lines and obtain valuable information. The commanders had to know what the other side was doing because in World War II, the face of battle was changing, and every advantage was needed. At first, the B-17 and B-24 was considered to fill this role, but they were very big, too slow, and were easy prey when alone. The only reasonable choice at the beginning of World War II was the nimble and fast P-38.

Kelly Johnson, who would later master the art of reconnaissance aircraft with the U-2 and SR-71, thought the P-38 E could be easily modified by replacing the machine guns in the nose with cameras. These variations would become the aircraft of choice for reconnaissance for the Allied forces. Overall, Lockheed built over 1,400 reconnaissance aircraft from many production model P-38s.


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The F-4-1-LO was modified from the standard P-38 E frame with a pair of K-17 fixed vertical cameras. Gun ports were capped with sheet metal patches, but some of these aircraft kept two .50 caliber machine guns. The 8th Photo Recon Squadron flew the first recon missions in April 1942. In fact, Lt. Col. Karl 'Pop' Polifka was the first to spot the Japanese invasion force bound for Port Moresby on May 7, 1942, which led to the Battle of Coral Sea.


This aircraft contained a different camera configuration. Two small windows on each side of the nose were installed in order to accommodate a K-17 trigetrogen (oblique) camera. Overall, twenty of these aircraft were used.


Based on the P-38 G frame, and had more horsepower, and contained better cameras and camera mounts than the F-4 A. These were delivered in August 1942.


Same as the F-5A-1, but was based on the P-38 G-1 frame. Twenty were built.


Converted from the P-38 G-10 frame, and was to become the workhorse of the 12th Air Force in Italy. 140 were built.


The XF-5D was a conversion of the F-5A-10 and was based on the P-38 E frame. Contained a single vertical camera and a photo-navigator in compartment in nose. A small bubble canopy in place of nose cap was installed to allow the photo-navigator to work. Two .50 caliber machine guns were added, and a second K-24 camera was installed in one of the tail booms. This aircraft was very similar to the P-38 J 'Droop Snoot'.



The P-38 / F-4B

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Camera Installation



The F-5B-1 was converted from the P-38 J frame, and was first to be fitted with the Sperry Autopilot System. Many camera configurations were allowed, but the most common was the two 6 inch K-17 oblique cameras, a 12 or 24 inch K-17 vertical, and a 24 inch K-18 vertical camera in the rear section.


Converted from P-38 J-5 frames and a total of 128 were built.


Converted from P-38 J-15 frames. It normally carried three K-17 vertical and a pair of K-22 oblique cameras. The F-5E-2 'Dot-Dash' was the first Allied aircraft to complete a shuttle mission from England to the Soviet Union.


Converted from P-38 J-25 frames and a total of 105 were built.


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Buzz Job


Was converted from the P-38 L frame and contained four K-17 trimetrogon cameras. A total of 508 were built.


Converted from P-38 L-5 frames and contained an extended camera bay.


Converted from P-38 L-5 frames. Contained a left pylon gun camera mount, under-wing dive recovery flaps, and wing leading edge fuel tanks. The nose was reshaped and housed four standard cameras and forward oblique camera in nose cap. It also contained an ADF loop antenna mounted under the fuselage behind the forward landing gear. Four were actually sent to the US Navy in North Africa for long-range recon missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Several were also flown by Free French forces beginning in July 1943.



The P-38 Droop Snoots / Pathfinders

One of the more interesting experiments performed on the P-38 was the idea of using one to serve as a leader for a level bombing raid. This special P-38 would not carry machine guns in the nose, but would contain a bombsite for a bombardier instead. The frontal nose section was replaced with a small glass window similar to that on the B-17. This lead P-38 would lead a large flight of P-38s to a specified target. The bomb run would be the same as used by the heavy bombers. The lead P-38s bombardier would track the target using the bombsite (or radar in the Pathfinder version) and would signal all P-38s to drop their loads. Once the bombs were delivered, the P-38s could fight their way back home as fighters.

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Droop Snoot

The Droop Snoot/Pathfinder version of the P-38 was originated in mid-1943. Colonel Cass Hough and Col. Don Ostrander came up with this idea. The P-38 had the ability to carry similar loads to a B-17, so this idea was very promising. The daylight bombing raids during that time were suffering irreplaceable losses. Each bomber that failed to return to base meant roughly ten men were lost to the war effort (either KIA or captured by the Germans). Each member of a bomber crew underwent extensive training, and these losses were taxing the bombing effort because crews were being lost faster than replacements could be trained. Hough and Ostrander felt that the P-38 would be able to assist the bombing effort in Germany, and would put fewer men in danger. They felt that the P-38 would be successful because it could carry a large bomb load for an aircraft its size, and was about 100 mph faster. The speed in which the raids would be carried out would also allow the P-38s to be under fire for less amounts of time. Furthermore, once the bombs were dropped, the rest of the P-38s were normal fighters, and would be able to fight their way back home much easier than a heavy bomber. Both men felt it was a win/win situation.

The Droop Snoot design was based around the Norden bombsite used by all the heavy bombers during the war. The nose section was replaced with a glass window. Extra armor was added to the sides of the nose section. Extra ballast was required to balance the aircraft to address the extra weight in the nose. In fact, once the design was finished, only minimal performance loss was detected. Normal armament configuration consisted of one 2,000 lb. bomb, and one 310-gallon drop tank. The Pathfinder version contained radar instead of the optical bombsite. General Doolittle approved this new P-38 version, and fifteen total were built.

The Droop Snoot first saw service on April 19, 1944. The first mission was to attack the Florennes airfield in Belgium. Bad weather halted this mission, and a different mission was scheduled for later in the day. Lt. Col. Harold Rau led 38 P-38s to Gutersloh, Germany. The formation of P-38s managed to drop 26,000 lbs. of bombs in a concentrated area with good observable results. Droop Snoots and Pathfinders were successfully used by the 8th, 9th, and 15th air forces.

In theory this version of the P-38 seemed to be an idea of limitless utilization. The idea of using fighters to deliver significant amounts of ordinance in saturation bombing was tremendous. They would be able to drop their loads, and then act as fighters on the way back home. They would be able to destroy ground targets, and possibly destroy significant numbers of Luftwaffe aircraft and pilots. However, in practice, the Droop Snoot/Pathfinder variations saw only limited action. The idea was never really taken seriously by Gen. Doolittle and his staff. The romantic idea of heavy bombers being able to carry out the daylight bombing practice was prevalent in the minds of the American leaders. Tremendous amounts of heavy bombers were being produced, and nobody wanted to change that. Also, many of these people were preaching the idea of heavy bombers to such an extent, they would not allow themselves to go back on their ideas. After all, the B-17 was the symbol of the Allied effort in the ETO. One very realistic problem encountered by the P-38s was questions about the range. A B-17 would not have to sacrifice range to carry a full load. Even though a P-38 was capable of carrying two 2,000 lb. bombs, it would have to operate on a limited range. P-38s normally carried one 2,000 lb. bomb, and one 310-gallon drop tank. Still, it would not have the range similar to a B-17 or B-24. After the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the P-38s would have been able to operate out of the liberated areas of France, which would have been very favorable to their range problems. However, at this point in the war, B-17s and B-24 were being produced in large numbers, crews were readily available, and the P-51 Mustang was able to escort bombers deep into Germany. The P-38 was already being phased out in Europe. Even though the operational records do not show the Droop Snoot/Pathfinder versions of the P-38 to be significant, it still showed the P-38 to be used in almost any role imaginable. No other fighter had this ability at this stage in the war.


The P-38 Dive Bomber

The utilization of the P-38 as a dive-bomber found its origins in North Africa in 1943. One of the problems in the MTO at this point was a fleet of flak barges (Siebel Ferries), which were designed for Hitler's Operation Sea Lion. They posed a constant threat to bombers and fighters. In addition to their elusiveness, they also were escorting the sea blockade from Tunis to Bizerte, and were able to re-supply Rommell's desert army. The 12th Air Force tried to level bomb the barges, but they were too nimble to hit. Low-level bombing missions by B-25s were simply too dangerous. Air Chief Marshall Sir Author Tedder requested Lt. Col. Ralph Garman to take care of the problem.

The 27th Fighter Squadron of the 82nd Fighter Group commonly used skip-bombing techniques. Major Weltman described bombing missions as, "We tried skip-bombing on the Siebel Ferries, but I'll tell you that that was no damn fun. Even with P-38s coming in from at least three different directions at once, the Germans put up enough flak at us in the run-in to make life downright uncomfortable." Results from skip-bombing the barges forced the 82nd to refocus efforts on developing true dive-bombing techniques. The P-38 possessed dive capabilities equal to most others, therefore it built up tremendous diving speeds. Higher speeds resulted in longer recovery time from the dive. Pilots would rarely dive when they were starting at 12,000 feet and under, and would not dive when starting higher than 20,000 feet because of compressibility problems. In a short time, the P-38 G was one of the finest dive-bombing platforms during the war. It could come in and deliver the bombs, but could take immediate evasive actions and could fight like a true fighter. Under Weltman's leadership, the German flak barges would begin to take more and more losses, which caused the of the morale of the American pilots to soar.

The good results from the dive-bombing missions against the Siebel Ferries caused Major Weltman to think about using the P-38 as a maritime raider. Weltman would eventually lead a flight of P-38s of the 1st Fighter Group on April 13, 1943. The plan was for each P-38 to skip-bomb the cruiser Gorizia with their 1,000 lb. bombs. The cruiser was severely damaged, and many smaller vessels were also hit. No P-38s were lost in this mission. Once initial reservations about diving the P-38 were overcome, they would soon excel in dive-bombing many types of targets and were generally successful.


The P-38  Float Plane

One of the most unique aircraft designs during the war was with P-38 floatplane. It never came to fruition as an operational aircraft, and never was tested. This design called for a P-38 to be fit onto large floats while its regular landing gear was retracted. These floats would then be filled with fuel allowing the aircraft to be ferried across the pacific. Early in the war, the American aircraft presence in the Pacific was woefully inadequate. Bases still were using outdated aircraft such as the Brewster Buffalo, which were no match against Japanese fighters. There were heavy bombers such as the B-17, but they were not effective against moving shipping targets in the ocean. Though the Battle of Midway was a decisive victory, the aircraft being used were mismatched. The victory would be attributed to knowledge of Japanese codes, perfect timing, courage of the pilots, and plain luck. General Arnold knew that the American forces needed a boost in available, modern aircraft to fight the Japanese. By December 1942, P-38s were being used in operations in Buna and other locations in the southwest Pacific.

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Float Plane Design Drawing

As with problems getting the aircraft to the field of battle in Europe, many were questioning how to get adequate numbers of aircraft to bases in the Pacific. The floatplane design in theory would allow P-38s to be able to fly extreme distances until it needed to refuel. This idea also called for the P-38s to make landings in protected waterways, where they would be refueled and resume their flight to their new base of operations. Once the P-38 was within range of the home base, explosive charges would remove the floats, and the aircraft would then land normally. One problem that needed to be addressed was the tail section. The tail would pose problems during takeoff and landing on the water. One way to address this problem was to raise the entire tail section. Wind tunnel tests revealed minimal performance loss. However, since the Battle of Midway put the Japanese on the defensive, it would not be dangerous to ship the new P-38s to Australia, where they would be ferried to their bases of operations. This idea never got off the drawing board, but a P-38 was tested with a raised tail. Kelly Johnson was interested to see how it would be affected by compressibility. No substantial results were obtained, and no further raised tailed P-38s were tested.


Other P-38 Experiments

Many experiments were carried out on the P-38. Some of these never got off the drawing board, but many were actually tested. The overall design of the P-38 allowed for tremendous amounts of flexibility. This aircraft was originally designed in the late 1930s, and by the time it went into operational status, the original mission it was designed for was not going to be the main focus. Originally, the P-38 would be an interceptor. After extensive range improvements, the P-38 would be the only early long-range bomber escort. It was quickly adapted to an attack role, and would be converted to a reconnaissance aircraft as well. The adaptability of the P-38 aircraft exceeded the original expectations of the designers, and was perhaps the most adaptable aircraft during the war.

One of the more obscure experiments or designs of the P-38 was the glider version. One P-38 was equipped with a glider towing system. It would be able to tow up two gliders at one time. In early 1942, this experiment was actually tried. The test ended up in failure, and resulted in a damaged P-38. What happened is not accurately known, but two possibilities could account for the failure. One possibility was that the glider dug into the ground during takeoff, thus snapping the tail section and front landing gear of the P-38. The second possibility was that after takeoff, the glider release failed and the pilot had to land the aircraft with the glider in tow. No further glider testing was carried out.

The ability for land forces or naval ships to lay smoke screens would allow them to maneuver without being under accurate fire. One such P-38 was equipped with smoke canisters for this role. Tests were carried out at various altitudes, and were very successful. No instances of a smoke layer P-38 used in combat are known. For ground forces, the P-38 was more effective in laying down fire upon the enemy, not necessarily concealing force movements. Also, naval combat was normally out of range of land-based aircraft, and naval aircraft and ships were responsible for laying smoke screens.

The torpedo bombers in World War II were normally large and slow. Images of the Battle of Midway show the sacrifices of the American torpedo pilots made in desperate attempts to launch their torpedoes against Japanese aircraft carriers. Had the P-38 been carrier based, it would have been the finest torpedo bomber of the war. One P-38 F was configured to carry torpedoes and was successfully tested. Both external fuel tank pylons were configured to each carry a torpedo. Most bombers were only able to carry one torpedo, and were slow and extremely vulnerable. The P-38 that was tested had no problems delivering the dummy torpedoes, and showed only a 16.7% speed loss (300 mph top speed). Equipped with two torpedoes, the maximum range was 1,000 miles. If the P-38 was equipped with one torpedo and one 310-gallon fuel tank, the range was increased to 2,160 miles. With a single drop tank, the speed loss was reduced to 12.6%. The test flight was described as very stable, and jumped slightly when the torpedoes were released. The tests were extremely successful, and the P-38 would be a first class torpedo bomber. However, all these tests were after the Battle of Midway, and the emphasis was beginning to shift away from torpedo bombers in favor of dive-bombers. Also, the P-38 was land based, and the range options were limited when compared to a torpedo bomber on an aircraft carrier which could attack targets not available to land based aircraft. The P-38 never made a combat torpedo attack.

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Torpedo P-38

 P-38 F

These miscellaneous examples of creative experimentation of the P-38 all proved to be successful. The only limiting factor was usually the range and practicality of the test. In the torpedo experiment, the only negatives were the range problems and the shift in emphasis due to the Japanese being on the defensive for the first time during the war. The other examples were successful, but not really a necessity. The P-38 was usually at its finest when it was using it firepower to attack enemy targets and aircraft. Having a P-38 that could lay smoke, or tow gliders was not as effective as a fully loaded P-38 escorting C-47s towing gliders or keeping enemy troops pinned down as allied forces finished the job. The most common characteristic in most of the experiments made upon the P-38 was simply that the P-38 was successful. A designer may have envisioned a role in which the P-38 could be adapted to, and in almost all instances, the P-38 would be able to perform that role with a high degree of success. This is only part of the reason why the P-38 was the most versatile and important aircraft in the war.

While the P-38 design was starting to prove itself in testing and combat, one underlying problem still existed. Compressibility was still a major obstacle in the performance of the P-38, and it led to many rumors and myth about the flight characteristics. One prototype P-38 was modified for dive testing. An older P-38 E was the aircraft used for this experimentation. The forward gondola section was moved forward by thirty inches, and the cockpit was moved forward by thirty-six inches. The cockpit flight controls were the same, but there was room behind the pilot for a co-pilot/observer/test engineer. This modified P-38 E "Swordfish" first too flight on June 2, 1943 and was immediately put into extensive dive tests. The tests would have limited results, but this design led into another use for this type of P-38.

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Swordfish P-38

P-38 Swordfish

AAF training before Pearl Harbor was only designed to train between 12,000 - 13,000 pilots each year. After the attack, plans were changed and the numbers were increased significantly. However, the problem was that the government was unprepared for any armed conflicts, and pilots were being forced into the P-38 without adequate training. There were no twin-engine trainers available, but when the British balked at purchasing the Model 322 Lightning I fighters, they were employed as trainers. They were basically stripped down models of the P-38, but they were still rather advanced for the average trained pilot taking the controls for the first time. Johnson envisioned the P-38 Swordfish to be used to take pilot trainees along for demonstration flights with an experienced pilot at the controls. This would dispel many rumors and raise confidence in inexperienced pilots. Lockheed test pilot Jimmy Mattern was sent on tour with a Swordfish version of the P-38. He performed maneuvers that were normally feared by the recruits, such as rolling into a "dead" engine and many low-level aerobatics. After five months of training sessions, P-38 accident rates dropped from 6.5% to 1.5%. Mattern would receive the Civil Medal of Merit for his actions, which saved the lives of many recruits. Once again, the P-38 demonstrated its versatility and value to the Allied cause.



 P-38  Tactics


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Tommy Lynch

Tommy Lynch

P-38 ace pilot Tommy Lynch took the time to write down tactics he learned while in combat. His leadership among his men was perhaps more valuable than his "ace" status as a pilot. At the time he wrote his tactics, he was equal with Bong with 20 kills.


     Radio Control

Control of the radio was essential for successful combat operation of more than one flight. According to Lynch, keeping the radio talk to information of immediate importance was the key. Also, the length of messages should be as short as possible. Ideally, the pilots should include key words such as "low", "high", or "same level" as much as possible. Keeping the radio free from excessive chatter kept the pilots focused and alert.



The XP-38

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The XP-38

When planning a mission, the weather must be taken into account. Tropical weather conditions are unpredictable and the pilots must keep track on changing conditions throughout the mission.


Tactics for Escorting Heavy Bombers & Medium Bombers

When escorting heavy bombers, a slow weave pattern must be used above the bombers. The bombers slow speed must not slow down the fighters flying escort. The escorting fighters must be flying at a decent speed to engage enemy aircraft on a moments notice. The squadron should be three to five thousand feet above the bomber formation.

If the P-38s escort medium bombers, the weave pattern is not necessary due to the higher speeds of the bombers. The flight should still fly about three to five thousand feet above the bomber formation.


Offensive Patrol

Flying without escort duties allows the pilots a high degree of flexibility. When the squadron encounters enemy aircraft, the commander must determine the action to be taken. If there are only few enemy aircraft, one flight may be detached. In instances of large numbers of enemy aircraft, the commander may decide to engage, but should run if there are no advantages or at a disadvantage. Individual pilots must use the advantages of the P-38, and it is essential that the pilot not get into instances where the Zero has an advantage. Steep climbs at slow speeds should not be used against the Zero. At altitudes above 20,000 feet, the P-38 has a definite climbing advantage. Circular maneuvers against Zeros must never be used due to the maneuverability of the Zero. However, head-on attacks favor the P-38 due to its concentrated area of firepower and durability of the airframe. The P-38 has the ability to pick its own fight and can avoid combat when at a disadvantage.


Takeoff and Climb

On base, all pilots should have their equipment ready to go at a moments notice. When taking off, pilots need to get into formations as quickly as possible, and when climbing to maximum altitude, pilots should use a much manifold pressure as possible. In squads of sixteen planes, 35 inches and 2,800 rpm's permits enough throttle play for formation to remain intact.


Contacting Enemy Bombers with Fighter Cover

When the P-38 formation encounters enemy bombers with fighter cover, two flights should break away to the left to circle back for another attack. The remaining two flights should break off to the right and circle back for another attack. Attack fighter escorts as the situation demands. Lynch believed that the war would not be won in a single day, so the pilots should keep looking around and not to take reckless chances.




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