The Lockheed P-38 Lightning

United States of America
United States of America

side viewfront viewunder view

In the list of Most Famous Warplanes, the P-38 Lightning is always there. It was a remarkable design, and was the first fighter that was able to fly from Britain to Berlin and back while escorting bombers.
Lockheed had ventured first into military aircraft with the Lockheed Hudson, and after becoming a major designer and manufacturer with the Hudson proved with the P-38 Lightning that it wasn't just good luck. The P-38 Lightning showed that Lockheed was capable of designing excellent warplanes as well.
Design started in 1937, and ended up with the famous twin-boom design housing the two engines. I have to disappoint all Americans who believe that the design was unique, however, for the Dutch Fokker G.1 (see elsewhere on this website) preceded the P-38, the Fokker G.1 was a hype just in 1937 in a Paris-based exposition in 1937.
That said, the P-38 was designed the way it was designed to be a high altitude heavy interceptor. To get the weight/power ratio high it was necessary to reduce drag as much as possible, and the booms offered extra ways to do so. The air inlets for the oil coolers were situated in the booms, almost without any drag punishment. The nose of the aircraft wasn't occupied with an engine, so there was room for ample armament that didn't need any convergeance (like the wing-based guns did).
The first prototype (XP-38) proved that the P-38 was very fast, and had a very good range, ensuring that the USAAF placed an order for operational prototypes (YP-38).

Versions:

Further pictures:

Lockheed P-38 Lightning in full flight
Lockheed P-38 Lightning in full flight

The same Lightning Mk I from the RAF from a slightly different angle
The same Lightning Mk I from the RAF from a slightly different angle

 

Technical data on the Lockheed P-38D Lightning
Powerplant 2 × Allison V-1710-27/29 Vee, rated at 0 hp (0 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Trainer
Length 37 ft 10 inch Height 12 ft 10 inch
Empty weight 11780 lb Operational weight 14456 lb typical,
15500 lb max
Wing Span 52 ft 0 inch Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 328 sq ft Service ceiling 39000 ft
Maximum speed 390 mph at 25000 ft Cruising speed 300 mph at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate Climb to 20,000 ft in 8 min 0 sec Range 500 miles typical,
975 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 250 Imp gal (300 US gal) Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns 4 × 0.50 inch fixed forward-firing in the nose Cannons 1 × 37 mm fixed forward-firing in the nose
Bomb load -Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 27 Januari 1939 Operational Service August 1941 - 1957
Manufacturer Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Number produced 10.036 total, 36 this version
Metric system
Length 11.53 m Height 3.91 m
Empty weight 5343 kg Operational weight 6557 kg typical,
7031 kg max
Wing Span 15.85 m Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 30.47 m² Service ceiling 11887 m
Maximum speed 628 km/h at 7620 m Cruising speed 483 km/h at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate Climb to 6.095 m in 8 min 0 sec Range 805 km typical,
1569 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1.135 liters Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns 4 × 12,7 mm fixed forward-firing in the nose Cannons 1 × 37 mm fixed forward-firing in the nose
Bomb load -Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Lockheed P-38F-15 Lightning
Powerplant 2 × Allison V-1710-49/53 Vee, rated at 1325 hp (987.77 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Trainer
Length 37 ft 10 inch Height 12 ft 10 inch
Empty weight unknown Operational weight unknown
Wing Span 52 ft 0 inch Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 328 sq ft Service ceiling 39000 ft
Maximum speed 395 mph at 25000 ft Cruising speed 333 mph at 25000 ft
Initial climb rate Climb to 20,000 ft in 8 min 48 sec Range 900 miles typical,
1750 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 250 Imp gal (300 US gal) Fuel capacity external 2 × 63, 125 or 137 Imp gal (75, 150 or 165 US gal) drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 0.50 inch browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M1 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 2,000 lb, carried on two hardpoints under the inner wings. General disposables load consisted of: 2 × 1,000 lb, 500 lb or 325 lb bombs Torpedoes/rockets Alternatively the hardpoints could carry either one of the two options below:
  • 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying system
  • 2 × 22 inch Mk 13-2 torpedoes
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 27 Januari 1939 Operational Service August 1941 - 1957
Manufacturer Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Number produced 10.036 total, 121 this version
Metric system
Length 11.53 m Height 3.91 m
Empty weight unknown Operational weight unknown
Wing Span 15.85 m Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 30.47 m² Service ceiling 11887 m
Maximum speed 636 km/h at 7620 m Cruising speed 536 km/h at 7620 m
Initial climb rate Climb to 6.095 m in 8 min 48 sec Range 1448 km typical,
2816 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1.135 liters Fuel capacity external 2 × 284, 568 or 625 liters drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 12,7 mm browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M1 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 907 kg, carried on two hardpoints under the inner wings. General disposables load consisted of: 2 × 454, 227 or 147 kg bombs Torpedoes/rockets Alternatively the hardpoints could carry either one of the two options below:
  • 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying system
  • 2 × 559 mm Mk 13-2 torpedoes

Technical data on the Lockheed P-38G-1 Lightning
Powerplant 2 × Allison V-1710-51/55 (F10) Vee, rated at 1325 hp (987.77 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Trainer
Length 37 ft 10 inch Height 12 ft 10 inch
Empty weight unknown Operational weight unknown
Wing Span 52 ft 0 inch Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 328 sq ft Service ceiling 39000 ft
Maximum speed 400 mph at 25000 ft Cruising speed 350 mph at 25000 ft
Initial climb rate Climb to 20,000 ft in 8 min 30 sec Range 850 miles typical,
1670 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 250 Imp gal (300 US gal) Fuel capacity external 2 × 63, 125 or 137 Imp gal (75, 150 or 165 US gal) drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 0.50 inch browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M1 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 2,000 lb, carried on two hardpoints under the inner wings. General disposables load consisted of: 2 × 1,000 lb, 500 lb or 325 lb bombs Torpedoes/rockets Alternatively the hardpoints could carry either one of the two options below:
  • 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying system
  • 2 × 22 inch Mk 13-2 torpedoes
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 27 Januari 1939 Operational Service August 1941 - 1957
Manufacturer Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Number produced 10.036 total, 80 this version
Metric system
Length 11.53 m Height 3.91 m
Empty weight unknown Operational weight unknown
Wing Span 15.85 m Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 30.47 m² Service ceiling 11887 m
Maximum speed 644 km/h at 7620 m Cruising speed 563 km/h at 7620 m
Initial climb rate Climb to 6.095 m in 8 min 30 sec Range 1368 km typical,
2688 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1.135 liters Fuel capacity external 2 × 284, 568 or 625 liters drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 12,7 mm browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M1 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 907 kg, carried on two hardpoints under the inner wings. General disposables load consisted of: 2 × 454, 227 or 147 kg bombs Torpedoes/rockets Alternatively the hardpoints could carry either one of the two options below:
  • 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying system
  • 2 × 559 mm Mk 13-2 torpedoes

Technical data on the Lockheed P-38J-25 Lightning
Powerplant 2 × Allison V-1710-89/91 Vee, rated at 1600 hp (1192.78 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Trainer
Length 37 ft 10 inch Height 12 ft 10 inch
Empty weight 12780 lb Operational weight 17500 lb typical,
21600 lb max
Wing Span 52 ft 0 inch Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 328 sq ft Service ceiling 44000 ft
Maximum speed 414 mph at 25000 ft Cruising speed 339 mph at 25000 ft
Initial climb rate Climb to 20,000 ft in 7 min 0 sec Range 1175 miles typical,
2260 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 341 Imp gal (410 US gal) Fuel capacity external 2 × 63, 125 or 137 Imp gal (75, 150 or 165 US gal) drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 0.50 inch browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M1 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 2,000 lb, carried on two hardpoints under the inner wings. General disposables load consisted of: 2 × 1,000 lb, 500 lb or 325 lb bombs Torpedoes/rockets Alternatively the hardpoints could carry either one of the two options below:
  • 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying system
  • 2 × 22 inch Mk 13-2 torpedoes
Crew 2: pilot, bombardier or radar operator/bombardier (optionally in a Droop Snoot) Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 27 Januari 1939 Operational Service August 1941 - 1957
Manufacturer Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Number produced 10.036 total, 210 this version
Metric system
Length 11.53 m Height 3.91 m
Empty weight 5797 kg Operational weight 7938 kg typical,
9798 kg max
Wing Span 15.85 m Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 30.47 m² Service ceiling 13411 m
Maximum speed 666 km/h at 7620 m Cruising speed 546 km/h at 7620 m
Initial climb rate Climb to 6.095 m in 7 min 0 sec Range 1891 km typical,
3637 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1.552 liters Fuel capacity external 2 × 284, 568 or 625 liters drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 0.50 inch browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M1 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 907 kg, carried on two hardpoints under the inner wings. General disposables load consisted of: 2 × 454, 227 or 147 kg bombs Torpedoes/rockets Alternatively the hardpoints could carry either one of the two options below:
  • 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying system
  • 2 × 559 mm Mk 13-2 torpedoes

Technical data on the Lockheed P-38L Lightning
Powerplant 2 × Allison V-1710-111/113 (F30) Vee, rated at 1600 hp (1192.78 kW) each Role during war
  • Fighter
  • (Ground) Attack Fighter
  • Long range (attack) Fighter
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Trainer
Length 37 ft 10 inch Height 12 ft 10 inch
Empty weight 12800 lb Operational weight 20700 lb typical,
21600 lb max
Wing Span 52 ft 0 inch Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 328 sq ft Service ceiling 44000 ft
Maximum speed 414 mph at 25000 ft Cruising speed 290 mph at 10000 ft
Initial climb rate Climb to 20,000 ft in 7 min 0 sec Range 1175 miles typical,
2600 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 285 Imp gal (342 US gal) Fuel capacity external Up to 500 Imp gal (600 US gal) in two × 250, 137, or 125 Imp gal (300, 165 or 150 US gal) drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 0.50 inch Browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M2(C) fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 4,000 lb, carried carried on 4 underwing hardpoints, rated at 2,000 lb (inner pair) and 500 lb (outer pair) each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 2 × 2,000 lb, 1,600 lb, 1,000 lb or 500 lb bombs on the inner pair
Torpedoes/rockets
  • 10 × 5 inch HVAR rockets on the outer hardpoints when the bombload was reduced to 1,000 lb
  • provisions for 4 × M10 triple launchers (also called Christmas Trees) for 4.5 inch rockets on the sides of the nacelles and on the outer hardpoints
Crew 1Naval or ground based Ground
First flight (prototype) 27 Januari 1939 Operational Service August 1941 - 1957
Manufacturer Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Number produced 10.036 total, 3.923 this version
Metric system
Length 11.53 m Height 3.91 m
Empty weight 5806 kg Operational weight 9390 kg typical,
9798 kg max
Wing Span 15.85 m Wing Aspect ratio 8.24
Wing Area 30.47 m² Service ceiling 13411 m
Maximum speed 666 km/h at 7620 m Cruising speed 467 km/h at 3048 m
Initial climb rate Climb to 6.095 m in 7 min 0 sec Range 1891 km typical,
4184 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1.295 liters Fuel capacity external Up to 2.271 liters in two × 1.135, 625, or 568 liters drop tanks
Machine guns 4 × 12,7 mm Browning MG53-2 fixed forward-firing in the nose, 500 rounds each Cannons 1 × 20 mm Hispano M2(C) fixed forward-firing in the nose, 150 rounds
Bomb load Up to 1.814 kg, carried carried on 4 underwing hardpoints, rated at 907 kg (inner pair) and 227 kg (outer pair) each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 2 × 907 kg, 726 kg, 454 kg or 227 kg bombs on the inner pair
Torpedoes/rockets
  • 10 × 127 mm HVAR rockets on the outer hardpoints when the bombload was reduced to 1,000 lb
  • provisions for 4 × M10 triple launchers (also called Christmas Trees) for 114 mm rockets on the sides of the nacelles and on the outer hardpoints

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Lockheed P-38  Lightning
Lockheed P-322 Lightning The Lightning was ordered by the French and British shortly after it was ordered by the USAAC. Internally the fighter was dubbed P-322 by Lockheed, where P stands for Pursuit, and 322 was the model number derived from the Model 22. Both the French and British had ordered basically the same aircraft, which were powered in both cases with 2 × Allison V-1710-C15 Vee, rated at 1,090 hp (813 kW) each. This engine was only supercharged, not turbocharged, but the reason both countries opted for this version was the fact that it was the same engine used in the Curtiss P-40 H81A fighter. Before any of the aircraft could be delivered France had fallen for the German might, and Britain took over all aircraft under contract. See Lightning Mk I and Mk II for further details. After the British had tested the Lightnings, they were unhappy with the type. After a dispute with Lockheed the whole contract was cancelled.
Lockheed however was already well advanced with the production of the fighter. In December 1941 the attack on Peral Harbor drew the USA into World War 2, and the USAAF then decided to take over the remainder of these aircraft. It was at this moment that the designation P-322 was applied.
The first 20 aircraft retained their powerplant of 2 × Allison V-1710-C15 Vee (USAAF designation V-1710-33), while the remaining 120 aircraft were powered by 2 × Allison V-1710--27/29 without turbochargers. Because of the reduced effectiveness of the fighter without superchargers they were used as trainers with reduced armament as well: 2 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) and 2 × 0.3 inch (7,62 mm) guns.
Subversions were:

P-322-61-03 (or Model 322-F) French version. Fitted with French equipment and throttles (pull back to increase power).
P-322-61-04 (or Model 322-B) British version. Fitted with British equipment and (standard) throttles (push forward to increase power).


Number built: 140, also see Lightning Mk I and Mk II
Lockheed P-38 Lightning The first operational version of this famous fighter were similar to the YP-38 version, except for armament. This version was armed with 4 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) guns and 1 × 37 mm cannon. Some armor protection was added, a toughened glass windscreen, and a fluorescent instrument panel to enable night flying. The Lockheed Model 322-62-02 turned out to be a pre-production model, and was redesignated RP-38 in 1942. One of the produced aircraft was used as a prototype for trials with a pressurised cockpit, the XP-38A.
Number built: 30
Lockheed P-38D Lightning Reports of the air war in Europe had reached the USA, and the nature of it prompted for a number of changes to the P-38. These changes included a low-pressure oxygen system, retractable landing light, and droppable flares to facilitate nightly operations. The adoption of self-sealing fuel tanks reduced the maximum capacity of the P-38 from 341 Imp gal (410 US gal, 1.552 liters) to 250 Imp gal (300 US gal , 1.135 liters).. This version was also deemed unsuitable for combat, and was redesignated RP-38D Lightning in 1942. See details above.
Number built: 36
Lockheed P-38E Lightning Earlier versions should be considered no more than operational development models, whereas this version was the first real production version. The Model 222-69-09 was pretty similar to the Lightning Mk I that was developed for the RAF. Essentially it was based on the P-38D, but had revised electrical and hydraulical systems, and armament was changed to 1 × 20 mm hispano M1 cannon with 150 rounds, and 4 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) Browning MG53-2 guns, 210 rounds each. Also the radio equipment was improved.
The P-38E differed only slightly from the P-38D. Empty and max take-off weights are 11,880 lb and 15,482 lb (5.389 kg and 7.023 kg resp.), and max level speed was 395 mph (636 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7.620 m).
Reports from Europe indicated however that the P-38 was still not capable enough for combat, so in 1943 most of these aircraft ended up as trainers with the RP-38E Ligtning designation. Also a large number of aircraft were used as test beds for all kinds of new technologies, and some were converted to the F-4 standard for Photo reconnaissance.
Number built: 210
Lockheed P-38F Lightning This version was finally combat ready. The increased performance was delivered by 2 × Allison V-1710-49/53 Vee, rated at 1,325 hp (988 kW) each. This version was delivered from Februari 1942, and was introduced to three Theatres during 1942: Pacific, European, and North African. Initially the P-38F enjoyed mixed successes. A problem in the European and Pacific Theatres was the fact that the enemy preferred to fly at an altitude of 15,000 ft (4.570 m), which was below the optimal height for the P-38F. At this height the heavy weight and large drag area of the fighter made it less maneuverable, but made it more suitable for dive-and-zoom attacks. In these attacks the fighter would dive down on it's victim, use it's heavy armament for a quick kill or a miss, and then zoom up again out of reach of the victim. Another very strong point of the P-38 was it's long range. This enabled the fighter to escort the Allied bombers far deeper into enemy territory, reducing the losses of the bombers.
There were 5 blocks in the production of the P-38F, all with slight changes and improvements:

P-38F Lightning Initial block, 128 aircraft built
P-38F-1 Lightning This block was retrofitted (after production) with 2 hardpoints under the inner wings. This enabled the P-38F-1's to carry 2 × 1,000 lb, 500 lb or 325 lb (454, 227 or 147 kg) bombs. Alternatively it could carry 2 × Smoke Curtain Laying podded smokelaying systems. Another alternative was the ability to carry 2 × 22 inch (559 mm) Mk 13-2 torpedoes. The last option for the hardpoints was 2 × 63, 125 or 137 Imp gal (75, 150 or 165 US gal; 284, 568 or 625 liters) drop tanks. Number built: 149
P-38F-5 Lightning Also fitted with the underwing hardpoints. It also had revised landing lights, identification lights, desert equipment, and a number of smaller changes. Number built: 100
P-38F-13 Lightning This block would have originally been the Lighning Mk II for the RAF. Number built: 29
P-38F-15 Lightning This block would also have been the Lighning Mk II for the RAF. It differed from the P-38F-13 because of modified Fowler flaps that could e set at 8° for improved maneuverability during combat. Number built: 121


Number built: 527
Lockheed P-38G Lightning based on the P-38F, the P-38G had a modified oxygen system, more reliable radio equipment, and was powered by 2 × Allison V-1710-51/55 (F10) Vee rated at 1,325 hp (988 kW) each. The Model 222-68-12 was delivered between June 1942 and March 1943. A number of production blocks are defined:

P-38G-1 Lightning Baseline block. Number built: 80
P-38G-3 Lightning Fitted with General Electric B-13 turbochargers. Number built: 12
P-38G-5 Lightning Revised instrument panel. Number built: 68
P-38G-10 Lightning Additional to the two previous blocks: winterized equipment, underwing hardpoints uprated to 1,600 lb (726 kg) that could carry 2 × 1,600 lb (726 kg) bombs or up to 4 × M10 triple launchers for 4.5 inch (114 mm) rockets, and 2 more launchers under the outer wings. Number built: 548
P-38G-13 Lightning Diverted from the cancelled British orders for the Lightning Mk II. This was equivalent to the P-38G-3. Number built: 174
P-38G-15 Lightning Diverted from the cancelled British orders for the Lightning Mk II. This was equivalent to the P-38G-5. Number built: 200


Number built: 1.083
Lockheed P-38H Lightning The Model 222-81-20 was an improved version of the P-38G-10. The 20 mm Hispano cannon was replaced by 1 × 20 mm Hispano M2(C), and it was powered by 2 × Allison V-1710-89/91 (F15), rated at 1,425 hp (1.062 kW). These engines had automatic oil cooler flaps that solved overheating problems. This in turn enabled the P-38 to use WEP (War Emergency Power) above 25,000 ft (7.620 m), increasing the output from 1,150 hp (857 kW) to 1,240 hp (925 kW). Again, this version had several production blocks:

P-38H-1 Lightning Powerplant fitted with General Electric B-13 turbochargers. Number built: 226
P-38H-5 Lightning Powerplant fitted with General Electric B-33 turbochargers, improving the high-altitude performance.. Number built: 375


Number built: 601
Lockheed P-38J Lightning This model was known as the Model 422-81, and was the version that was built in the largest number of any versions. This time not only equipment was changed, but also the fuselage and engines. The lower contour of each engine was deepened, and the Prestone (ethylene glycol) engine coolant radiators on the tail booms were enlarged. The first change enabled the intercooler air inlet of the turbocharger to be placed between the two oil coolers, while the second change improved cooling that permitted an increase in military power rating from 1,240 hp (925 kW) to 1,425 hp (1.062 kW) at 27,000 ft (8.230 m). At this altitude the War Emergency Power rating was 1,600 hp (1.193 kW).
The role of the P-38 started to change during it's operations as the P-38J. Two major changes were responsible for this, both to a bomber-like configuration. The first was a "Droop-snoot" configuration which deepened the nose considerably, with a glazed nose. In it was room for a bombardier aided with a Norden bombsight. The Droop-Snoot would usually fly first position in a group, and all aircraft would drop their max load of 2 × 2,000 lb (907 kg) bombs on the mark of the leader.
The second major change was more of the same, only the bombardiers visual station was replaced with a 'Mickey' BTO (Bombing Through Overcast) radar in the extreme nose, and the bombardier/radar operator sandwiched between this and the pilot. This, naturally, allowed accurate bombings through cloud cover.
This version had several production blocks:

P-38J-1 Lightning Initial baseline, Model 422-81-14, subversion.These aircraft were mainly used as service test aircraft. Number built: 10
P-38J-5 Lightning This subversion had it's fuel tank capacity restored by adding 2 × 46 Imp gal (55 US gal, 208 liters) tanks in the wing leading edges. Total internal fuel capacity was 341 Imp gal (410 US gal, 1.552 liters). Number built: 210
P-38J-10 Lightning Flat windscreen in stead of a curved one. Number built: 790
P-38J-15 Lightning Model 422-81-22 was used for 2 blocks. This block had a revised electrical system. Number built: 1.400
P-38J-20 Lightning This subversion had it' sturbocharger regulation system revised. Number built: 350
P-38J-25 Lightning The improved speeds of the Lightning with all changes and modifications introduced an old problem: lontitudinal instability. This was cured with an electrically operated dive-flap under each wing. Also the ailerons were power-boosted for increased maneuverability. Number built: 210


Number built: 2.970
Lockheed P-38L Lightning The Model 422-87-23 was the base of this version. From June 1944 on this version appeared, and was basically a P-38J-25. The main change was it's powerplant: 2 × Allison V-1710-111/113 (F30) Vee, rated at 1,475 hp (1.100 kW) for take-off, 1,475 hp (1.100 kW) military power at 30,000 ft (9.145 m), and a war emergency rating of 1,600 hp (1.193 kW) at 28,700 ft (8.750 m) each. A couple of subversions emerged from the production lines:

P-38L-1 Lightning Base version of the P-38L.
Number built: 1.290
P-38L-5 Lightning This final production version had submerged fuel pumps, strengthened inner wing hardpoints able to carry up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) or 250 Imp gal (300 US gal, 1.136 liters) drop tanks, and provisions for outer underwing hardpoints able to carry 2 'Christmas Tree' rocket launchers each. Some of these aircraft were converted to the 'Droop Snoot' configuration.
Number built: 2.633


Number built: 3.923
Lockheed P-38M Lightning In 1943 trials were made for a night-fighter version of the P-38. At first 2 P-38F's were converted as single-seat night fighters, fitted with a SCR-450 radar, then in 1944 three P-38J's were converted to two single-seat, and 1 double seat nightfighters. The single-seat conversions were fitted with the Westinghouse APS-4 airborne interception radar. The two-seat P-38J nightfighter had the same radar, but since the antennea pod was located at a different location, it suffered from interference of the engines,or thrown up stones and dirt from the nose wheel.
After approval, the P-38L was used as a starting point for 76 conversions. They were fitted with the APS-6. The screen of the radar was observed by a second crewmember, seated behind and below the pilot under a lenghtened canopy. Test revealed that the P-38M could reach a max level flight of 406 mph (653 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4.570 m). This was a lot better than for example the Northrop P-61 Black Widow, which could only reach 361 mph (581 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6.095 m) at most.
Number converted: 76
Lockheed F-4 Lightning The range, speed and other characteristics made the P-38 well suited for Photo Reconnaissance duties. The first version was based on the Model 222-62-13, or P-38E. The nose armament was removed, and created space for 4 × K-17 cameras. Additionally the drop tanks were increased to either 125 Imp gal (150 US gal, 568 liters) or 137 Imp gal (165 US gal, 625 liters).
Number built: 99
Lockheed F-4A Lightning The Model 222-60-13 was the base of the F-4A lot, based on the P-38F. The same changes were made as with the F-4.
Number built: 20
Lockheed F-5A Lightning This Photo reconnaissance had 5 in stead of 4 cameras, and was built in several blocks:

F-5A-1 Lightning Based on the P-38G-1.
Number built: 20
F-5A-2 Lightning Based on the P-38E.
Number built: 1
F-5A-3 Lightning Based on the P-38G-3.
Number built: 20
F-5A-10 Lightning Based on the P-38G-10.
Number built: 140


Number built: 361
Lockheed F-5B Lightning Based on the Model 422-81-21. It was primarily based on the P-38J-5 as far as airframe and powerplant is concerned, and had an autopilot fitted, together with the cameras of the F-5A.
Number built: 200
Lockheed F-5C Lightning The Model 422-81-20 was a conversion of the P-38J to the F-5B standard, but with improved cameras.
Number converted: 123
Lockheed F-5E Lightning The most numerous version of the Photo Reconnaissance aircraft. A number of blocks existed:

F-5E-2 Lightning Model 422-81-22 comprised of 100 conversions from the P-38J-15 standard
F-5E-3 Lightning Model 522-87-23 comprised of 105 conversions from the P-38J-25 standard
F-5E-4 Lightning Model 422-87-23 comprised of 500 conversions from the P-38L-1 standard with 4 × K-17 or K-18 cameras, of which one could be replaced by a K-17 trimetrogon camera


Number converted: 705
Lockheed F-5F Lightning An unknown number was converted from the P-38L-5. One production block existed:

F-5F-3 Lightning Model 422-87-23 conversion of the P-38L-5 to Photo Reconnaissance standard with the camera installation of the F-5F


Number converted: unknown
Lockheed F-5G Lightning An unknown number was converted from the P-38L-5, but with a revised nose to accomodate a broader range of cameras. The maximum level speed was 418 mph (672 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7.620 m), max cruising speed was 290 mph (467 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7.620 m). Max range was 2,600 miles (4.184 km). One production block existed:

F-5G-6 Lightning Model 422-87-23 conversions of the P-38L-5


Number converted: unknown
Lockheed RP-38 Lightning Redesignation in 1942 of the P-38 Lightning to identify it's Restricted status.
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed RP-38D Lightning Redesignation in 1942 of the P-38D Lightning to identify it's Restricted status. These aircraft were only used as trainers.
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed RP-38E Lightning Redesignation in 1942 of the P-38D Lightning to identify it's Restricted status. These aircraft were only used as trainers.
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed TP-38J Lightning This aircraft was unofficially designated TP-38J to identify a certain modification. These aircaft had a small seat for a second pilot behind the original seat, and was used for conversion training, or for training for the P-38M night-fighter crews
Number converted: unknown
Lockheed TP-38L Lightning Two aircraft were converted to conversion trainers with a second seat
Number converted: 2
Lockheed ZF-38J Lightning In 1948 the surviving P-38J received the revised designation ZF-38J
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed ZF-38L Lightning In 1948 the surviving P-38L received the revised designation ZF-38J
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed RF-4 Lightning F-4 aircraft used as trainers, with revised designation
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed RF-4A Lightning From 1943 on F-4A aircraft were used as trainers, with revised designation
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed FO-1 Of the F-5B 4 aircraft were used by the US Navy for reconnaissance over North West Africa, with another designation.
Redesignated aircraft
Lockheed Lightning Mk I for the RAF The Lightnings ordered by Britain and France were taken over by Britain when France fell. The first 143 of these aircraft would be delivered with their original engines, 2 × Allison V-1710-C15 supercharged Vees, rated at 1,090 hp (813 kW).
Number built: 3
Lockheed Lightning Mk II for the RAF The remainder of the initial Anglo-French order were finished while being powered by 2 × Allison V-1710-F5L/R turbocharged Vees. Thgis would give it a max level speed of 415 mph (668 km/h) at an altitude of 20,000 ft (6.095 m).
After receipt the British tested the Lightnings, and were unsatisfied with the type. After a dispute with Lockheed the contract was cancelled after only 3 were delivered.
Number built: 0

Remarks:

The P-38 was known under a lot of names. The enemy naturally had their own name for it. The Germans called it "Der Gabelschwanz Teufel" or Fork Tailed Devil, while the Japanese spoke of "The Whispering Death". This says a lot about the P-38, which was the first fighter that could penetrate deep into Germany, or was reasonable silent and fast in the Pacific. Combined with it's heavy armament it was an opponent to be reconned with.
The P-38 is known for being the only fighter to remain in production duing the time that the USA were involved in World War 2. Also it was the first USAAF fighter to score a kill (an Iceland based P-38F Shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor in August 1942). It was the first fighter capable of reaching Berlin return from Britain. Also it is known that a P-38 shot down the Mitsubishi G4M Betty in which Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto resided, killing him. Other than that the 2 top aces of the USAAF only flew the P-38, being Major Bong and Major McGuire, scoring 40 and 38 kills respectively.
The heavy armament also made for a good ground-attack aircraft, and the long ranges and high speeds enabled it to fly reasonably safe photo reconnaissance missions.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

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© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 2/9/01