The P-38 Lightning fighter is a twin-engine fighter produced by the Lockheed Company of the United States during World War II. The aircraft has a unique double tail boom and a central fuselage containing the pilot and weapon equipment.
It is called the “Twin Devil” by the enemy. The P-38 has played an important role in various battlefields, especially in the Pacific battlefield. It is one of the most successful fighter jets of the US Army Air Forces and one of the most legendary aircraft in the history of the US Air Force.
The P-38 was designed to meet a 1937 US Army Air Corps requirement for a high-altitude, high-speed interceptor capable of flying at 360 mph (580 km/h) at an altitude of 20,000 ft (6,100 m). The P-38 was powered by two Allison V-1710 12-cylinder liquid-cooled engines and a General Dynamics-designed turbocharger, allowing it to maintain high speed and power at high altitudes.
The P-38 also uses advanced designs such as tricycle landing gear, flat-head butt rivets, stainless steel, and a teardrop-shaped canopy to improve its aerodynamic efficiency and structural strength.
The armament of the P-38 is also very powerful. It concentrates all the weapons in the front of the nose, including a 20mm or 37mm cannon and four .50 inch (12.7mm) heavy machine guns. This layout makes the P-38’s shooting accuracy and effective range very high, and it can shoot down enemy aircraft from a long distance. The P-38 can also mount a variety of external weapons and equipment, such as bombs, rockets, auxiliary fuel tanks, etc., increasing its versatility and combat radius.
The P-38’s prototype, the XP-38, first flew on January 27, 1939, setting a new transcontinental record en route to the east coast of the United States for testing, but was damaged on landing. The U.S. Army Air Corps ordered 13 YP-38 prototypes on April 27, 1939, for further testing and improvement. The YP-38 had a serious vibration problem during the test flight, especially when diving at high speed; the tail would start to vibrate violently and cause the nose to be heavy and tend to droop, making it difficult for the pilot to regain control. To solve this problem, Lockheed added counterweights and servos to the elevator, increasing the rigidity and control of the elevator.
The P-38E was the first mass-produced P-38 and the first P-38 to be armed with a 20mm cannon. The P-38E has improved the weapon configuration based on the P-38D, replacing the original four .50-inch heavy machine guns with two .50-inch heavy machine guns and two .30-inch (7.62mm) light machine guns, and the original 37mm cannon was replaced with a 20mm cannon.
This layout makes the P-38E’s weapons more balanced and effective. The P-38E is mainly deployed on the battlefields of Europe and North Africa, where it is used to perform tasks such as bomber escort and combat patrols.
In the middle of 1944, the P-38L began to be delivered, and a total of 3923 were produced. The P-38L was the last and most numerous model in the P-38 series, and it was based on the P-38J with some minor improvements for increased performance and firepower. The P-38L was replaced with more powerful Allison V-1710-F30R and V-1710-F30L engines, which increased power and speed.
The P-38L also added a hydraulically assisted elevator for improved pitch control and stability. The P-38L also added a rocket launcher that could fire ten 5-inch (127 mm) rockets, increasing ground attack capability. The P-38L is mainly deployed on the Pacific battlefield for missions such as bomber escort and combat patrols.
The P-38 was the aircraft flown by some of the most distinguished aces of the U.S. Army Air Forces, such as Richard Bunge (40 wins), Thomas McGill (38 wins), Charles MacDonald (27 wins) and others. On the Pacific battlefield, the P-38 shot down more than 1,800 Japanese fighter planes and over 100 pilots who flew it shot down 5 or more enemy planes and became ace pilots.
The most famous of the P-38’s ace pilots was Richard Bunger, the highest-scoring ace in US Air Force history and the highest-scoring Allied ace in World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1938 and was deployed to the Pacific in 1941. He scored his first aerial victory on April 9, 1942, when he shot down a Japanese Zero fighter. He became the first American ace with 20 wins on April 12, 1943, and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
He became the first 40-win American ace on November 10, 1944, and was promoted to major. He ended his combat career on January 7, 1945, returning to the United States as a flight instructor. He died on August 6, 1945, at the age of 24, in an accident while testing a P-80 jet fighter in California.
The P-38 “Lightning” fighter was one of the most important fighters of the U.S. Army Aviation during World War II. It has demonstrated excellent combat capabilities and diverse uses on various battlefields. The P-38 is also one of the most legendary aircraft in the history of the US Air Force, with many firsts.