The P-38 Lightning was one of the more successful planes of World War Two. The P-38 Lightning, seen flying in formation in the photo, was designed by Lockheed. The P-38 was a fast and manouvrable plane that could be used in a wide range of roles.
The pilot and the P38’s armaments were in the central nacelle. The plane had two booms with the engines mounted on them. Powered by two Allison V-1710 engines, the P-38 had a maximum speed of 414 mph and a combat range of 1,100 miles. It could fly at a maximum of 44,000 feet. The first P-38’s delivered to the USSAF in 1941 were armed with four Browning .50 machine guns in the nose of the plane which were spaced around a Oldsmobile 37mm cannon.
The original requirement put out by the United States Army Air Corps in 1937 was for a high altitude interceptor capable of 360 mph and flying at 20,000 feet. The P-38 Lightning exceeded these requirements. The P-38 got off to an auspicious start when the prototype set a record cross-continent flight time of 7 hours 2 minutes in January 1939, flying between California and New York. Unfortunately the prototype, known as XP-38, crashed just short of the runway and this put production back about two years. Thirty P-38 were handed over to the USAAF in mid-1941.
These planes never saw combat as they were used to iron out design problems. The most serious were the tendency for the controls to lock up in a high-speed dive and for the tail structure to fall apart, also during a high-speed dive. It was later found out that the lock up could be overcome once the plane hit denser air using elevator trim. Another problem was that the plane needed both engines to work for a take-off. If one failed, the power of the live engine caused the plane to turn towards that engine and tip over. This was overcome by pilots learning to reduce the power of the live engine rather than increasing it.
The first combat P-38’s were produced in October 1941 and first flew in combat in April 1942. They were armed with four .50 machine guns and a 20mm Hispano cannon which was considered to be more reliable than the Oldsmobile.
The P-38 had numerous variants and saw service in the Far East, North Africa and Europe. It was a manoeuvrable plane that could fly well at both low and high altitude and had an excellent rate of climb. Another virtue was the long range that the plane had which made it ideal for the Pacific War. In Western Europe, the P-38 was used to escort bombers on their raids into occupied Europe.
In April 1943, America’s intelligence decoded a Japanese message that informed them that Admiral Yamamoto was going to visit the northern Solomon Islands on April 18th. Yamamoto was still considered to be a major figure in the Pacific War and the decision was taken to kill him. Sixteen P-38 Lightning fighters from 339th Fighter Squadron were ordered to intercept and shoot down Yamamoto’s plane. They intercepted two G4M ‘Betty’ bombers escorted by six Zero fighter planes. Both ‘Betty’ bombers were shot down and Yamamoto was killed.
By the end of the war, over 10,000 P-38 Lightning’s had been built in a variety of versions, ranging from fighter, to bomber escort, to photo reconnaissance to night fighter.