Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning

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Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning

The P-38M was a night fighter developed from the P-38L. Early field conversions had confirmed that the P-38 was suitable for use as a night fighter, and so in October 1944 Lockheed were given a contract to develop a dedicated night fighter. They did this by adding an AN/APS-4 AI radar pod under the nose of the pilot’s pod, and space for a dedicated radar operator in a rear extension to the cockpit. This second cockpit was raised slightly, giving the radar operator a view over the pilot’s head, but was very cramped.

The P-38M flew for the first time on 5 January 1945. However, deployment of the fighter was delayed while crews were trained to use the new aircraft, and the type did not enter active service until the war was over. Seventy five aircraft were produced, serving with the 418th Night Fighter Squadron in Japan early in 1946.

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning - History

Warning: This is a lengthier than usual post, so read on at your own peril.

The P-38M captured my imagination some time ago, and I decided this point in my return to modeling was my chance to act. In fact, my digging around as I embarked on Academy’s 1:48 Night Lighting kit was what led me to iModeler in the first place (thanks, Chuck http://imodeler.com/2017/02/academy-148-lockheed-p-38m-night-lightning-usaaf/).

I did some research and found that about 80 late model P-38s were converted to the radar-equipped M-version. Most of these were converted stateside and it doesn’t appear that any of these planes made it overseas, as the war ended too soon. But the record shows that some Lightnings were field converted in the Pacific theater of war, and later saw duty as part of the occupation force in Japan. My rendering of the P-38M represents a Night Lightning of the 418th Night Fighter Squadron. According to the written history of the 418th (http://417th-nightfighters.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/History418NFS.pdf), radar-equipped P-38s had their genesis in this very squadron in February, 1944 while it was stationed at Dobodura in western Papua New Guinea (one Lt. Richardson and a skilled radar mechanic were awarded the Legion of Merit for their work) up to this point the squadron had had to use searchlights to make their P-38s effective at night. But note, this earliest version of a true P-38 night fighter was not the M-version Night Lightning shown here. The M version, notably with the rear cockpit for the radar operator, came over a year later as pilots realized they needed someone else to handle the sophisticated equipment while they closed in for the kill.

Early in 1946 (probably January), the 418th received four P-38M’s that had been converted from L’s in the Philippines then flown to the squadron’s home at Atsugi Airbase (southwest of Tokyo on Honshu). When the 418th was transferred back to Okinawa in early March, the Night Lightnings stayed in Japan, being transferred to the 421st NFS based at Itazuke, Kyushu (southern Japan). Apparently the higher ups judged that the Night Lightnings should remain in Japan as an important element of the occupation force while the more numerous P-61’s (the bulk of the squadron’s force) were let go.

The serial number (44-27000) on my Lightning represents a semi-fictional aircraft of this squadron. I say “semi-fictional” because although this serial number was indeed that of one of the converted P-38M’s, I have no way of knowing all the call numbers of those assigned to this squadron (i.e., whether P-38M 44-27000 was actually one of them). The prefix “44-2 etc.” conforms to records of other P-38M’s that served in the 418th NFS. Almost all of the kits I have seen represent P-38M #44-27234 or #44-27245 (“Shady Lady/Snooks”), and I wanted to mix things up a bit.

When I read David Leigh-Smith’s remark about a P-38 fighting him tooth and nail (http://imodeler.com/2017/05/lightning-in-june/), I felt it. Frankly, this was one of those experiences where I asked myself more times than I could count what possessed me to embark on this odyssey so early in my apprenticeship. This is my fourth essay since re-entering the craft, my previous attempts being my P-51B and my A6M2 Rufe, both posted already (I haven’t the courage to post my first in 35 years, an F4F Wildcat, after seeing all the masterworks here, especially in the Midway Build Group). All these are Tamiya kits. I felt that the P-38M would push me and develop my skills in respect to surface preparation and execution, blah blah.

Anyway, I don’t know if my kit was just a lemon or whether I was in over my head. It’s probably both. I wouldn’t have made it through if I hadn’t had the Academy P-38J in my stash which I cannibalized when I blew something or a part was bad in the M version kit. The joints fit poorly, parts didn’t want to go together, the booms were warped, and I felt the Battle of the Seams would never end.

The nuts and bolts of it are that I decided from the beginning to do the plane landing gear up to capture the grace of the P-38 in flight (like a condor or an albatross, the Lighting is a bird that doesn’t look nearly as good to me on the ground as in the air). I left off the drop tanks and rocket racks to replicate a Lightning on a local, non-wartime sortie. I stole the pilot and the radar operator from the Tamiya Mossie kit in my stash and painted them as closely as possible with American aircrew uniforms. Spinning rotors are by PropBlur superchargers and their air intakes are Quickboost Bare Metal Foil is around the superchargers. I used the Squadron canopy for the front (pilot) section of the cockpit the rear is the stock piece from the kit (I did this because the Academy kit only comes in many pieces and it’s just nuts getting a smooth look). I brush painted the entire plane with Windsor Newton professional Mars Black oil paint (using high quality sable brushes) to maintain control because with all the nooks and crannies on the finished plane I was afraid to orange peel the thing in spots trying to cover everything. I experimented with various paints and finishes (again, thanks P-38J—*burp*), and settled on that approach as the one that allowed me to correct things even as it gave me a very thin coat (long dry times, though). Truth be told, if someone put a gun to my head and made me do another I think I’d tweak my order of assembly a bit and go with lacquers, or at least test them fully before settling the oil paint looks smooth enough with the clear overcoats but my perfectionism pushes me for smoother still. Future went on as a base for the decals. I had to use the insignia decals from the P-38J kit as overlays on top of the ones that came with the M kit because those were too bright a blue and the white wasn’t opaque enough over the black. I printed my own decals to make the custom serial number and touched them up because they looked weak. After that Tamiya acrylic flat all over to make things uniform, and finally coats of Tamiya acrylic gloss until I was satisfied. I toned down the heavy gloss look for scale so essentially it’s a semi-gloss. I basically chose not to weather, although the superchargers look used. I figured the plane would have been quite new and not yet subject to serious wear, especially in a relatively light-duty occupation role. I also look at the pics of the P-38M and don’t see a lot of seams show at any distance at all the Night Lightning looks black, and definition between panels is a matter of reflection and not grime or wear.

I photographed the model using green screen background and then software. Some pics I have left “raw,” others with backgrounds for a virtual diorama of the P-38 in flight over occupied Japan.

She’s got plenty of warts, but I learned a ton building her, and you have to call a project done sooner or later. Plus I have to get going on my Kasserine Pass build (yes, that was a shameless plug).

There has always been something romantic about building a model of a plane that saw combat, and especially so if we can build a plane of a specific, famous bird and/or pilot. This model is neither, being a plane that probably never fired its guns in anger. The history of the 418th in occupied Japan is one of hijinks and comments about how well the Japanese staff at Atsugi took care of the fly boys. Why sink so much effort into an airplane with so little of that appeal that drew me into this hobby as a kid?

Here’s where my family history comes in.

On Monday, July 16, 1945 the first atomic blast was achieved at the Trinity Site, Alamogordo, New Mexico. President Truman had arrived in Potsdam the night before and settled into the “Little White House” (a posh home in Potsdam), but when Monday dawned it was clear Stalin had not yet arrived, so Truman took advantage of the day to tour Berlin and review some American units. He learned of the successful test as speedily as the news could reach him.

Historian David McCullough, in his award-winning biography Truman, records that on Sunday, July 22, before the president attended both Protestant and Catholic church services, Truman was presented with a list of possible targets for the first atomic bomb. Kyoto and Hiroshima were the only AA targets listed, and then other possibles went down from there. Truman eliminated Kyoto due to his view of it as a patrimony site for humanity, and in so doing sealed Hiroshima’s fate. For all the debates that have taken place since then about his decision, his reasoning was simple: he desired to spare the lives of American GIs that would have had to invade the Japanese homeland, with the strong possibility that some troops would have to be transferred from the European Theater. Estimates regarding the cost in human lives (on both sides) for Operation Downfall varied widely but all were prohibitively high, aside from logistical and monetary costs. Truman naturally wanted to avoid this. He signed the order and went to church (twice), later writing his wife, Bess, that he “stood in good grace with the Almighty” for having done so. That evening he sat down to dinner in the Little White House with an 18 year-old, red-headed buck private—the very sort of kid whose life he was trying to spare.

That soldier was my father.

How my dad dined with Harry Truman on the day he decided to nuke Hiroshima results from a combination of Truman’s proclivity for Missouri and his preference for enlisted military men over regular army blue-bloods. It turns out that my dad’s uncle, Navy Commodore Alphonse McMahon, was both. My great-uncle Alphonse was a well-known surgeon in the St. Louis community (later rose to admiral and became VP of the AMA), and Truman took him along on his European tour as his personal physician. When they arrived in Germany, at Uncle Alphonse’s behest, Truman summoned Dad (who was marching around in Bavaria with his unit) with all the force of presidential order. Within days, Dad arrived in Potsdam and got to hang around all the bigwigs. That Sunday morning, Dad had his picture taken with Truman and his entourage:

Dad is second from the right in the above photo, the smiling kid in spectacles his Uncle Alphonse is in the Navy commodore uniform on the far right. Truman’s “best wishes to Pvt. John R. Thomas” is across the middle of the photo.

Of course, true to his “Greatest Generation” character, Dad never told me any of this until I was in my 30s. Even then I only heard that he saw Truman, Churchill, and Stalin in the same room, and I nearly fell over. I found out he dined with the president by doing family research and stumbling across his name in Truman’s papers, as anyone reading this might have [https://www.trumanlibrary.org/calendar/travel_log/pdfs/berlin45.pdf (p. 32)]. The photo included above is a family heirloom. I did not learn that Truman signed Hiroshima’s death warrant that fateful Sunday morning until I read McCullough sometime later. I consider it rather chilling that on the day the president concretized his final decision about dropping the Bomb in an attempt to forestall Operation Downfall altogether, he ate with a common soldier who represented exactly why he did so, and that common soldier was my dad.

So what of the P-38M? Well, it would be rather romantic to imagine this plane shooting up its Japanese quarry at night, the best Lightning ever to fly in any number of respects. But I, for one, am quite happy Downfall never happened and the Night Lightning’s guns never had to be fired in anger. If the invasion had happened, Dad may never have participated, but then again he might have been forced to. Others certainly would have (my mother’s brother, a Navy corpsman and veteran of everything from Guadalcanal on, was informed he would hit the shores of Japan in the second wave). To build a plane that symbolizes the successful occupation of Japan rather than one that had to fight in an invasion of Japan carries special meaning for me.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning - Academy 1/48

This kit of the Lightning has been around for some time now as you can notice as soon as you look at the box to be frank. The kit is quite ordinary if you look at it today but when it was new I suspect it was considered quite good. The box contains means to build four different versions of the P-38, the standard P-38J which you can build as "Putt Putt Maru" one of the most famous P-38, a P-38J Droopsnoot which was used as a bomber leader with an extra crew bomb sighter, a P-38L Pathfinder which had a similar role as the Droopsnoot but with radar this time and finally a F-5E Photo recon which was the reconnaissance version of the P-38.

I'd decided to go for the standard P-38J fighter version. However I wanted to build an individual that was flown by Robin Olds (see the Phantom review) so I ordered some extra decals.

Now one of the first issues you encounter is the way parts are attached to the spruces. Today you'll see on most modern kits that the manufacturer has gone out of their ways to attach parts where you can cut them loose with as little damage or after work as possible. Not so in this kit. Lets see at the wings for example, they are attached in the front edge. This is one of the most visible parts in a finished aircraft model and you need to really cut carefully and then work with a file and sandpaper to make it invisible.

The cockpit is OK but not fancy, there is no seatbelts for example (neither as moulded to the seat or as decals let alone some pre painted etched ones). You have to do your own or as I did leave them out (or go buy some after market ones). But if you decide to build it with the cockpit doors closed then it will do.

The P-38 is unusual in it's construction as a twin engine fighter with twin tail. It's also noticeable as the fuselage and the wings are basically two parts, top and bottom. The parts could fit better and getting the engine consoles and the front part of the nose in the right places is a challenge. A lot of tape, rubber bands and clamps is needed. And even if you're good at that there is some filling and sanding needed after that, specially in the nose.

This kit really needs it's extra weight in the nose if you don't want a "tail sitter". I used 25 g of air gun pellets, flattened and wrapped in some duct tape. Works like a charm.

Another thing with this kit is that the landing gears are supposed to be mounted at an early stage. This would complicate the painting process and I left them out till a later stage which is harder but non impossible in this case. As I wanted to paint the propeller spinners when glued together before adding the propeller blades (separate in this kit) I cut of the little fitting pin on the blades and glued them in by my own judgement instead.

For painting I used Vallejo's primer (black) and different Metal Color's from Vallejo. For the green anti glare areas on the nose and engines I used Vallejo's Model Air 71.017 US Dark Green.

The decals I used out of the kit, as national insignias and small instruction texts was OK but not great. The smaller national insignias was a bit off with some white showing at the upper rim. The after market extra decals turned out better as they adhered better to the surface.


This kit is a bit dated and as such it's OK but not good. There is not so many P-38 kits out there in this scale and most of them also have a few years behind them. The panel lines and such still show that this was a really good kit when it was new.

Difficulty* 4
The good A reasonable good depiction of the P-38.
The bad It's a bit dated and could do with a lot of after market detailing.

*) On a scale 1-5 where 1 is easy and 5 is really hard.

Content © Johan Hammar
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Project XP-38N

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was one of the most prominent fighters throughout WWII in both major theaters of operation. P-38s scored some of the first victories in the Pacific Theater as they served in the arctic cold of Aleutian Islands. In Europe, they often provided high-altitude long range escorts for bombers. The P-38 was originally developed in response to the US Army Air Corps' need for a high altitude 'interceptor' in the late 1930s. The Air Corps' requirements specified a craft that could reach an altitude of 20,000 ft in six minutes, attain a top speed of 360 mph and fly at full throttle for one hour. In addition, it would carry more armament than any previous fighter.

Lockheed's legendary aeronautical engineer, Kelly Johnson, drew on his past experience with twin-tail craft such as the Electra and proposed a twin-engine, twin-boom arrangement with turbo-supercharged engines. (Kelly Johnson went on to design the F-104, the U-2 and the SR-71.) The XP-38 was first flown in January 1939. After logging just a few flight-test hours, it embarked on a record-breaking cross-country flight that proved the capabilities of the design, but also resulted in its demise when it plowed into a golf course just before landing.

The only fighter-craft to remain in production throughout the war, the P-38 proved to be a very versatile platform for a wide range of operations including long-range escort, photo reconnaissance, fighter/interceptor, ground attack, and even formation bombing. It evolved through several variations, each iteration more successful than the last. Perhaps its strongest asset was its concentrated fire power. Being a twin engine aircraft allowed it to have four guns and one cannon mounted in the nose. This clustered arrangement meant that the guns did not have to be sighted to converge at some optimum target range. In the hands of a skilled pilot, the Lightning was a formidable fighter. No wonder America's top two fighter aces scored their victories in P-38s.

However, it was not without its faults. Early into the European war it gained a reputation for poor high altitude performance. Even though this was eventually traced to the use of lower-grade British fuels, the reputation remained. The two liquid-cooled Allison engines required a lot of attention, and there was trouble with the turbo superchargers as well.

The P-38 was the one of the first aircraft to seriously encounter a potentially fatal phenomenon: compressibility. During a high-speed dive the wings would lose lift, resulting in loss of control. The enemy soon began exploiting this weakness to elude the P-38s. The problem was finally solved when, late in the J series production, dive recovery flaps were added which gave pilots the freedom to enter into high speed dives with confidence. Early Lightnings also had poor roll rate and required a lot of muscle to turn. When the dive recovery flaps were added during the J-25 production block, hydraulically boosted ailerons were also added. This welcome addition gave pilots "power steering," greatly increasing the roll rate.

As the need for night fighters increased, Lockheed produced the two-seater M series. The addition of a radar operator relieved the pilot from radar duties and allowed him to concentrate on the mission objectives. Nearly 10,000 P-38s were built, the bulk of which where J and L series. After the end of the war, the Army Air Force surplused them for $1,200 a piece. Of course you had to arrange for delivery, which was no trivial task since as many of them were in the south Pacific. Today, only a handful remain. Only a few are in flying condition.

Brief descriptions of most of the major variants:

As mentioned above, the XP-38 was Lockheed's entry into the US Army's competition for a new generation pursuit plane. Lockheed had never developed a fighter aircraft before, but the fledgling company had great confidence it could deliver. After proposing the radical concept of a twin-engine, twin boom fighter and being awarded $163,000 to build a prototype, Lockheed then invested $761,000 to develop and build the XP-38 -- a tremendous gamble on the part of the relatively new company, especially since there was never any expectation that the Army would need more than perhaps 50-100 planes total. (At that time, a Packard coupe cost about $900, and a new 2-bedroom home in California cost about $3,000. Thus, one can see that Lockheed was betting its future on the success of this plane.)

Left: Artist conception of the XP-38 in flight. No photographs were ever taken of the XP-38 in flight. Right: XP-38 being refuled at Dayton, Ohio on its final fateful flight.

Well ahead of its time, the XP-38 was among the first to include features now common in modern aircraft, such as Fowler flaps, butt-jointed flush-riveted skin, metal control surfaces, tricycle landing gear, and a bubble canopy. The prototype was almost entirely hand-made and its aluminum skin was highly-polished.

The XP-38 rolled out December 31, 1938 under intense security. After many taxi tests throughout the month of January, it made its first flight January 27, 1939. The first flight was troublesome and nearly ended in disaster. Almost immediately upon take-off, the flaps broke and caused dangerously severe vibrations. Lt. Ben Kelsey, a highly skilled pilot who had been with the P-38 program from its inception, brought the plane under control and returned to the airstrip. After some repairs it took the skies again the next day, and the Army soon realized they had the fastest fighter plane in the world in their hands, capable of sustained speeds of over 400 mph.

Despite troubles with weak brakes and temperamental flaps, Kelsey felt the plane was ready to fly to its intended base at Dayton, Ohio for flight testing. Considering the trip from California to Ohio was practically cross-country, Kelsey and his superiors felt that if they took the plane a bit farther, they could break the cross-country speed record of Howard Hughes. By doing so, they felt they could generate great support for the new fighter. (This was an era of highly publicized aviation records, speed being one of the most sought-after. ) It was decided that he would make the attempt so far has Dayton, Ohio where he was based and if all was well with the plane, he would be allowed to continue to east coast. After all it would only be a short extra flight.

On the morning of February 11, 1939, Lt. Kelsey took off from March Field near Riverside California and made a fuel stop at Armarillo, TX before reaching Dayton. At Dayton, it was decided that while he couldn't beat Hughes' total elapsed time (due to the time taken for refueling stops) he could easily break the flight time (total elapsed time in the air). The plane was looked over and Lt. Kelsey was given the go ahead to finish the cross-country dash.

On approach to Mitchell Field on Long Island, NY, Kelsey throttled back the engines and began his descent. It appears no one had informed Mitchell Field of this very special arrival (after all the XP-38 was a secret military plane), so when he called in for landing clearance, he was put into 4th position behind some rather slow moving planes. Kelsey didn't protest the landing position, because he knew he needed some extra distance to set up his approach anyway: with XP-38's poor brakes and unreliable flaps, he wanted to land with care and utilize the most runway possible. While on the very long base leg, ice formed in and around crucial engine systems so much so that when he came into final and attempted to increase power, the engines did not respond. Kelsey couldn't quite make the runway and ended plowing into a golf course. Fortunately, he walked away unhurt, but the one-of-a-kind XP-38 was damaged beyond repair.

In total, the XP-38 had just under 12 hours of flight time when it crashed, with the majority from the cross-country flight. It had only taken off nine times and successfully landed eight times. However, it had proved its point: it was fast! And it was a good design. Not long after the crash, the Army ordered 13 service test YP-38s, and the rest is history. Because of the XP-38's relatively short service life, not much is know about its actual performance specifications. Also, there are only a handful of photographs -- none of it in-flight.

The XP-38 was different than most of the subsequent P-38 variants. For instance, it had a full wheel for aileron control (instead of the 3/4 wheel and yoke found on successively later variants). The use of the C-series Allison V-1710 allowed for a tight-fit tapered cowling and excellent streamlining around the engine. Necessary system appendages (scoops, vents, radiator housings, etc.) were far smaller than on subsequent variants, all attempts to minimize drag and maximize aerodynamics. The propeller spinners were 'pointier' and the propellers -- while counter-rotating like most P-38 variants -- spun the opposite directions (highpoint inward, instead of highpoint outward as found on all subsequent variants). (The French/British Lightnings, of which there were very few, did not have counter-rotating propellers).

P-38, D and E

P-38F, G and H

The F model is considered to be the first Lightning to play a major role in World War II. With more powerful engines than its predecessors, strengthened wings, and wing pylons for external fuel tanks or bombs the F became the US's first truly long-range fighter, capable of flying 1,500 miles.

With the late F (F-15) and G models came an important feature: manuever or "combat" flaps. Actually, the manuever flap was a fixed, 8-degree pitch setting of the Fowler flaps. The added camber afforded a tighter turning radius and gave the pilot a much-needed tool for combat, for the early P-38 was not a nimble dogfighter. The late F and G also had a canopy that opened to the rear, whereas previous P-38 canopies opened to the right. The G's wings were strengthened to carry 300 gallon external drop tanks, further exenting the P-38s range to beyond 2,000 miles. While externally identical to the G, the H had upgraded powerplants, capable of 1,600 hp (each) wartime emergy power (WEP). The engines had a combat rating of 1,425 hp each, but were operationally limited to 1,240 hp due to inadequate cooling system -- a problem that spawned the next genearation of P-38s. One of every three was converted for photo reconnaissance, a role the P-38 was beginning to play with distinction.

The J was a major upgrade to the P-38. The most distinguishable difference between the J and its predecessors, is the large "chin-like" engine nacelles. When the engines were upgraded in the H series, Lockheed soon realized that their full power output could not be attained with the limited cooling system. The deep chin allowed engineers to move the intercoolers from the wings to the nacelles, in between the existing oil cooler scoops. This provided greater scoop area and more efficient and simpler duct work. In addition, the wing space where the intercoolers once were was used for additional fuel tanks. The J-1's (three J prototypes) did not have the extra tanks, but some J-5's and some J-10's did.

Beginning with the J-15 production block, all subsequent Lightnings had the wingtip fuel tanks. The J-15 also had improved electrical systems, including a generator on each engine, and better turbochargers. Of all the J's built, the J-15 was the most numerous production block, 1,400 in all. The J-20's were essentially identical to the J-15's, and 350 were made. As mentioned above, The J-25 production block introduced two important features: power-assisted aileron control and dive recovery flaps.

Photo Lightnings

During the war, there was a saying that went something like "fighters win battles, photographs win wars." Perhaps the most significant role the P-38 Lightning played in a strategic sense was to provide high-speed, high altitude photo reconnaissance. Approximately one of every eight P-38 Lightnings built were either built as or modified to become so-called "Photo Lightnings." Designated F-4 and F-5, these Lightnings had several cameras mounted in the nose instead of guns and ammunition. Like their P-38 siblings, the F-4/F-5 aircraft evolved over time, and often no two aircraft were alike, as many field modifications were made to adapt to specific needs.

F-5E and WASP pilot

Equipped with only cameras, fuel and speed, "Photo-Joes" usually flew solo deep over enemy territory to bring back very valuable photo intelligence. While most of their missions were conducted at high altitude, some very low-level, high speed operations were conducted in the days leading up to D-Day, providing accurate information of gun and troop placements just before the Allied invasion. Many F-4/F-5s were painted in a special paint called PRU blue, in an attempt to camouflage the aircraft against the sky. The effect was only mildly successful, and eventually, just like their P-38 counterparts, F-5s were delivered in their bare metal skins.

With the L series, Lockheed fixed most of the remaining issues with the plane and added a few new features, such that it became more or less the definitive Lightning -- the plane Kelly Johnson had envisioned several years before. It met practically all the expectations originally conceived and exceeded others not originally conceived, such as photo-reconnaissance and formation bombing.

The L was also the only series to be produced under contract by a different manufacturer than Lockheed. In anticipation of increased demand for the P-38, Consolidated-Vultee built 113 P-38L-5-VN's (VN for Vultee Nashville) before the contract for 2,000 was cancelled due to the war's end. In all, nearly 4,000 P-38L's were made, making it the most numerous variant. Many of these were converted to F-5 Photo Lightnings and 75 were converted into the two-seater P-38M Night Lightning.

There are a few differences between the P-38J-25 and the P-38L-5: The L-5 has

  • different engines (but same ratings, yet some sources say that the L's engines could run WEP at 1725 HP, rather than 1600)
  • landing light inset in leading edge of left wing rather than a retractable light under wing as on the J
  • improved fuel system
  • tail warning radar
  • improved turbosuperchargers
  • hard points for Christmas tree rocket launchers (standard)

Equipped with two 300 gallon drop tanks, a fully-loaded P-38L-5 could fly to targets nearly 1,000 miles away, spend 15 minutes at the target taking care of business and make the 1,000 mile return flight, provided the pilot was trained to use special fuel conservation techniques. These missions taxed every ounce of the pilot's effort, as they typically lasted 9+ hours, with most of that time high above the barren Pacific.

P-38M (a.k.a "Night Lightning")

Nearly 40 mph faster than the larger Northrop P-61 Black Widow nighttime fighter, the P-38M "Night Lightning" was to serve as a dedicated radar-equipped night fighter. The Night Lightning had a ASH-type radar scanner mounted in a streamlined housing under the nose. Flash nozzles were installed on the guns and cannon to shield the pilot's eyes. The rear compartment was very cramped and even with the bubble canopy providing more headroom than on the two-seat trainer P-38s ("piggybacks"), the P-38M radar operator had to be somewhat diminutive in size.

Lockheed modified 75 P-38L-5-LO's into this special-purpose two-seater fighter, but only a few reached the Pacific Theatre just as the war ended. Some sources suggested P-38Ms saw limited combat against enemy night intruders. Some served the occupation forces. After the war, most were scrapped but a few made it into the national racing circuit.


About this article

Initially, I wrote this piece as part of my flight simulator model documentation, to give virtual aviators some history of the plane.

There are many fine web pages out there dedicated to the P-38, and I doubt this meager effot adds much to the body of knowledge. Nevertheless, I have put this piece on my site and add to it once it a while, hoping to eventually have a comprehensive story of the P-38 as part of my site.

I suspect each of the historical photographs can be attributed to US Army Air Corps and/or Air Force.

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning - History

Late August 1945, as Capt McLaughlin (fictional) views the moonlit Pacific out of the cockpit of his P-38M. The drones of the supercharged Allisons like music in his ears. The war is over, though being in the war zone since mid summer, despite flying patrols no opportunities ever came to show off the capabilities of his mount. With his radar operator sitting right behind him never calling out a threat. Late in the war the Japanese really did not have much left for night operations much less daytime threats. The P-38M became operational in January 1945, training of aircrews for this type of special mission took time to stand up the squadron for actual combat. By the time they were in theater the war was almost over. Very little if any contact of enemy aircraft at night. The few patrols flown yielded nothing. Faster than the P-61, only 75 were modified from the P-38L for the night mission (though 80 bureau numbers are listed for the conversion). As far as I know only 1 still survives. Painted glossy black, with the AN/APS-4 radar pod under the nose, the nose guns had flash suppressors installed to protect for night vision, HVAR rockets were carried on the outer wing racks, and of course the very distinctive bubble rear compartment for the radar operator very cramped. Flying for the the 418th Night Fighter Squadron in Okinawa, providing escort for B-29 night missions. Very late in the war. Already a capable aircraft throughout the war, the fork-tailed devil was more sinister in appearance in black.

The Academy kit first appeared in 1991 as a J, which soon after Hasegawa released their J/L kit as well. Not since Monograms P-38 from the 60’s, which you can build several variants including the “M” there was really nothing else in this scale (Aurora also had a kit in 1/48th from the 50’s). I will not compare the Hase kit as I have never had or built one to compare it with. I built Monograms kit many years ago as an M, don’t remember how it was just know I finished it. I bought this kit from Discount Hobbies in Utica,NY remember them? It was a dedicated Night Lightning so I bought it initially for the stash. I built this back around 99/00 or so. Only using Eduards cockpit set and the kit decals as there were no aftermarket decals for a P-38M at the time. Straight Model Master gloss black. Being a steady and methodical builder I didn’t have trouble with the tail boom alignment I have read about or maybe felt it was the nature of the kit, the only issue was cleaning up the seams around the nose. I used the vinyl tires that were provided though True Detail resin wheels were available at the time. They have been on the model over 15 years they look fine with no lasting issues as you can see in the Pics. It builds to an impressive model. This is the first time I have posted this particular model. Thanks for viewing.


Lockheed osallistui P-38:lla vuonna 1937 armeijan ilmavoimien suunnittelukilpailuun suuren korkeuden torjuntahävittäjästä, joka pystyisi 580 km/h nopeuteen 6 100 metrin korkeudessa. Myös Bell P-39 Airacobra ja Curtiss P-40 Warhawk osallistuivat samaan kilpailuun.

Suunnitteluajankohdan yhdysvaltalaiset moottorit eivät pystyneet tarjoamaan Lockheedin suunnitteluryhmän vaatimaa suorituskykyä, joten Clarence ”Kelly” Johnsonin johtama ryhmä päätti käyttää kahta turboahdettua 12-sylinteristä Allison V-1710 -moottoria.

Lockheedin ryhmä valitsi kahteen moottorirunkoon perustuvan mallin, joka oli jo tuttu Fokker G.1 -koneesta. Moottorit ja tasot liittyivät sivukehtoihin ja lentäjä ja aseistus sijoitettiin niiden väliin erilliseen ohjaamokehtoon. Potkurit pyörivät eri suuntiin väännön eliminoimiseksi. Aseistukseksi tuli neljä konekivääriä nokan keskellä olevan tykin ympärille.

Prototyyppi, Lockheed Model 22, myöhemmin XP-38, valmistui joulukuussa 1938 ja lensi ensi kerran 27. tammikuuta 1939. Se teki uuden nopeusennätyksen lentämällä Kaliforniasta New Yorkiin helmikuussa 1939 seitsemässä tunnissa, kahdessa minuutissa, mihin sisältyi kaksi välilaskua tankkausta varten. Prototyyppi kuitenkin laskeutui ennen kiitotien alkua New Yorkissa ja romuttui. Suunnitteluryhmä oli vastustanut lentoa, mutta se oli tehty USAAC:n komentajan, kenraali Henry ”Hap” Arnoldin vaatimuksesta.

Prototyypin menetys viivästytti ohjelmaa kahdella vuodella, mutta ennätyksen perusteella ilmavoimat tilasi 13 YP-38:aa huhtikuussa 1939.

Valmistus osoittautui kuitenkin ongelmalliseksi, eikä ensimmäinen kone valmistunut ennen kuin syyskuussa 1940 ja viimeinen sarjasta kesäkuussa 1941. Prototyyppikoneet olivat aseistamattomia, mutta ne oli suunniteltu käyttämään kahta .50 kaliiperista M2 Browning -konekivääriä, joille oli 200 ammusta, kahta .30 kaliiperin Browningia, joille oli 500 ammusta ja Oldsmobilen 37 mm tykkiä, jolle oli 15 ammusta.

Lisätilauksia koneelle oli jo tulossa Ranskasta, Isosta-Britanniasta ja USAAC:lta. Ranska ja Iso-Britannia tilasivat 667 konetta, joista malli 322F tuli ranskalaisille ja 322B briteille. Vientikoneista puuttuivat turboahtimet ja niiden molempien moottorien pyörimissuunta oli sama.

Turboahtimet olivat uutta tekniikkaa, ja ostajat pelkäsivät niiden viivyttävän koneen toimituksia, eikä niiden vienti Yhdysvalloista ollut sallittua. Pelkästään myötäpäivään pyörivät moottorit vaadittiin osien säilyttämiseksi vaihtokelpoisena molempien maiden tilaamien Curtiss Tomahawkien kanssa. Lockheedin suunnittelijat protestoivat muutoksia vastaan ja pitivät konetta ”kastroituina”.

Saksan vallattua Ranskan kesäkuussa 1940 britit ottivat koko tilauksen itselleen. Vain ensimmäinen 143 koneen erä päätettiin ottaa ahtamattomilla moottoreilla ”malli 322 Lightning I”:nä ja loput 524 turboahdettuina ja vasen- ja oikeakätisillä moottoreilla Lightning II:na. Kun ensimmäiset kolme ahtamatonta Lightning I -konetta toimitettiin, niiden huippunopeus oli vain 480 km/h ja lento-ominaisuudet olivat heikot, mikä johti lopputilauksen peruuttamiseen.

Jäljelle jääneet 140 Lightning I:tä toimitettiin USAAF:lle, joka käytti niitä harjoituskoneina mallinimellä RP-322. Kolmekymmentä ensimmäisen tuotantosarjan P-38 Lightningia toimitettiin USAAF:lle kesällä 1941. Aseistuksena oli 4 × .50 kaliiperin konekiväärit ja tykki, mutta kaikkia koneita ei aseistettu. Koneissa oli myös panssarilasi ja ohjaamon panssarointi. 30 ensimmäistä konetta kuuluivat 66 tilatun sarjaan, jonka jälkeen koneisiin tehtiin pieniä parannuksia, kuten itsestään tiivistyvät tankit ja parannettu panssarointi. Seuraavat 36 toimitettua konetta saivat nimen P-38D. Alkusarjan koneet eivät koskaan päässeet palveluskäyttöön, vaan niiden tarkoitus oli antaa ilmavoimille kokemusta konetyypistä ja ratkoa ensimmäisten koneiden runsaita käyttäytymisongelmia. Syöksyssä koneet usein lakkasivat reagoimista ohjaimiin, jolloin lentäjän oli parasta hypätä koneesta. Myös pyrstö saattoi hajota vastaavassa tilanteessa, ja jos toinen moottori hajosi nousukiidossa kone yleensä kaatui selälleen.

Ensimmäinen taistelukelpoinen Lightning oli P-38E, jossa oli parannellut mittarit, sähköjärjestelmä, hydrauliikka ja uusi duralumiininen potkuri. Aseistuksena oli neljä .50 kaliiperin konekivääriä, joihin oli 500 ammusta ja 20 mm Hispano-tykki johon oli 150 ammusta. Konekiväärit oli uudessa mallissa aseteltu epäsymmetrisesti, joten niiden piiput näkyivät ulos suunnilleen 1:4:6:2 pituussuhteessa. Tällä sijoittelulla konekiväärien vöiden syöttö saatiin toimimaan luotettavasti. [2]

Ensimmäinen P-38E valmistui lokakuussa 1941 ja mallia valmistettiin 210 kappaletta. Seuraava malli oli P-38F, joissa oli ripustimet polttoainetankeille tai 900 kilolle pommeja moottorin ja ohjaamon välissä. P-38F:ää valmistettiin 527 kappaletta. Yli sata konetta muunnettiin F-4-tiedustelumalliksi, jonka nokassa oli aseistuksen sijasta neljä kameraa.

Nämä F-4-tiedustelukoneet olivat ensimmäiset, joita käytettiin taistelutoimissa Australiasta ja Uudesta-Guineasta käsin huhtikuussa 1942. Australian kuninkaalliset ilmavoimat käyttivät kolmea F-4-konetta syyskuusta 1942 lähtien. Kesäkuussa 1942 P-38:t alkoivat operoida myös Aleuteilla. Koneen pitkä lentosäde teki siitä otollisen käytettäväksi 2 000 km pitkällä saariketjulla. Ensimmäiset ilmavoittonsa P-38E:t saivat kahdesta japanilaisten Kawanishi H6K ”Mavis” -lentoveneestä 4. elokuuta 1942. 15. elokuuta Islannista toimivat P-38F ja P-40 pudottivat Luftwaffen Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor -koneen Pohjois-Atlantilla. Lightningeja rahdattiin Atlantin yli pääasiassa laivoilla Pohjois-Afrikan maihinnousua varten, joka toteutui marraskuussa 1942.

Lightning osoittautui yllättävän suorituskykyiseksi myös matalilla korkeuksilla, mutta sen paras ominaisuus oli sen nousukyky, joka jätti takaa-ajajat jälkeensä. Parhaimmillaan se oli suurissa korkeuksissa. Konetyyppi kykeni saavuttamaan huomattavan 13 100 metrin lakikorkeuden. Luftwaffen lentäjät tunnistivat pian P-38:n tuhoisan tulivoiman ja ryhtyivät välttämään hyökkäämistä P-38:aa vastaan sen etupuolelta.

Tyynellämerellä P-38 loisti pitkällä toimintasäteellään. Vaikka se ei pystynyt kääntymään yhtä ketterästi kuten Zero, sen nopeus mahdollisti paon hankalista tilanteista, ja raskas aseistus oli kohtalokas kevyille ja heikosti suojatuille japanilaiskoneille. P-38F-mallia seurasi P-38G alkuvuodesta 1943. Siinä oli tehokkaammat Allisonin 1 400 hv moottorit ja parempi radio. Mallia rakennettiin 1082 kappaletta. Niitä seurasi 601 P-38H:ta, joissa oli edelleen parannellut 1 425 hevosvoiman moottorit, uudempi 20 mm tykki ja mahdollisuus 1 450 kilogramman pommilastin kuljettamiseen. Osa koneista muutettiin kenttämuutoksina F-4B- ja F-5A-tiedustelukoneiksi. [3]

Kuuluisin sotilasoperaatio, johon P-38 Lightningit osallistuivat, oli japanilaisen amiraalin Isoroku Yamamoton kuljettaneen Mitsubishi G4M ”Betty” -kuljetuskoneen alasampuminen väijytyksistä 18. huhtikuuta 1943. Amiraali Yamamoto sai surmansa hyökkäyksen kestäessä välittömästi, ja menehtyi ampumahaavan seuraamuksena. [4]

P-38J tuli käyttöön elokuussa 1943. Turboahdinten välijäähdyttimet siirrettiin siivistä potkurin alle moottorin eteen. Siipiin jäänyt tila käytettiin polttoainetankkien suurentamiseen, mikä lisäsi entisestään koneen toimintasädettä. Siipiin lisättiin syöksyjarrut. Mallia rakennettiin 2 970 kappaletta. 5 000. valmistunut kone maalattiin paloautonpunaiseksi ja se sai nimen ”YIPPEE”.

P-38K oli yksittäinen prototyyppi ja seuraava tuotantoversio oli P-38L, joka käytti 1 475-hevosvoimaisia Allison-moottoreita. Näitä koneita rakennettiin 3 923 kappaletta. P-38L oli ensimmäinen malli, jossa oli molempien siipien alla ripustimet seitsemälle raketille ja myöhemmin 10 raketin ”joulukuusi”–ripustin. Pommikuorma kasvoi 900 kilogrammaan tai 1 140 litraan lisäpolttoainetta. 200 konetta muutettiin aseistamattomiksi F-5B-tiedustelukoneiksi.

Myöhemmän mallin Lightningit toimitettiin maalaamattomina USAAF:n vuoden 1944 päätöksen mukaan. 15 P-38J:ta P-38L:ta lahjoitettiin Kiinan kansalliselle armeijalle sodan lopussa ja sen päätyttyä sama määrä koneen tiedustelumalleja.

Yhdysvaltain armeijan 8. ilmavoimat käytti Lightningeja Euroopassa vuoden 1943 alusta lähtien pitkän matkan saattotehtäviin, mutta konetyyppi ei saavuttanut merkittävää menestystä tässä tehtävässä. Kone oli vaikeampi lentää kuin yksimoottoriset koneet, ja koska moottorit olivat kaukana lentäjästä eikä koneessa ollut lämmityslaitetta, se oli korkealla jäätävän kylmä. [5] 8. ilmavoimat pystyi kuitenkin hyödyntämään Lightning-tiedustelukoneita. Niitä käytti myös Vapaan Ranskan laivue osana USAAF:n 12. ilmavoimia. Ranskan ilmavoimat käytti koneita vuoteen 1952 asti. Koska tiedustelukoneet lensivät yksin, ne saattoivat kadota jälkiä jättämättä, jos niihin tuli jokin vika lennon aikana. Lentäjä ja kirjailija Antoine de Saint-Exupéry katosi F-5-koneessa 31. heinäkuuta 1944 tiedustelulennolla Lyoniin. P-38 ei milloinkaan osoittautunut Euroopassa suosituksi, vaan kaikki sitä käyttäneet 8. ja 9. ilmavoimien yksiköt (pois lukien 474 FG) vaihtoivat kalustonsa sodan kuluessa joko P-51 Mustangiin tai P-47 Thunderboltiin. [6] Eniten ilmavoittoja Euroopassa konetyypillä saavutti eversti Robin Olds, 8 kpl. [7] Olds saavutti lisäksi neljä voittoa P-51 Mustangilla ja neljä McDonnell F-4 Phantom II:lla Vietnamissa.

P-38:n menestyksellisin käyttäjä oli 5. ilmavoimat Tyynellämerellä, jossa Lightningit saavuttivat enemmän ilmavoittoja kuin yksikään toinen USAAF:n ja RAF:n konetyyppi (kaikista tyypeistä eniten ilmavoittoja saavutettiin US Navy:n Grumman F6F Hellcatilla), ja kaksi eniten ilmavoittoja saavuttanutta lentäjää, majuri Richard Bong (40) ja Thomas McGuire (38) saavuttivat kaikki voittonsa Lightningilla. [8] Lightningien omat tappiot olivat myös raskaat, sillä japanilaiset pyrkivät kaartotaisteluun milloin vain kykenivät, mihin P-38 ei soveltunut. Tyynellämerellä ongelmana ei ollut kylmyys, vaan liika lämpö. Koska ohjaamon ikkunoita ei voinut avata sen aiheuttaman turbulenssin vuoksi, lentäjät lensivät usein pelkästään shortseihin, tenniskenkiin ja laskuvarjoon pukeutuneina. Lisäksi kuuma ja kostea trooppinen ilmasto vaikutti lentokoneisiin, sekä etenkin niiden mittaristoon todella kuluttavasti. Tämä johti siihen, että osa uutena lähetetyistä koneista täytyi purkaa varaosiksi. [9]

Lightingeja muunnettiin myös muihin rooleihin. F-4- ja F-5-tiedustelukoneiden lisäksi osa koneista varustettiin Norden-pommitähtäimellä tai H2S-tutkalla. [10] Ensimmäinen kone johti muodostelmaa, jonka muut P-38-koneet oli varustettu kahdella 900 kilon pommilla, ja johtokoneen pudottaessa pomminsa koko muodostelma pudotti omansa.

Osa Lightningeista muutettiin yöhävittäjiksi. Lukuisten kokeilujen jälkeen viralliseksi yöhävittäjämalliksi tuli P-38M ”Night Lightning”. 75 konetta maalattiin mustiksi ja varustettiin aseiden liekinsammuttimin, AN/APS-6-tutkapodilla nokan alapuolella ja tutkankäyttäjän ohjaamolla lentäjän ohjaamon takapuolella. Night Lightningeja käytettiin Tyynellämerellä, mutta yksikään ei todistettavasti osallistunut taisteluun. P-38M oli kuitenkin jopa nopeampi kuin nimenomaan yöhävittäjäksi rakennettu Northrop P-61 Black Widow.

Lockheed rakensi myös kaksi P-38:n sisarmallia: XP-49 ja XP-58 Chain Lightning. Yhdysvaltain laivasto ei kiinnostunut koneista, joita se piti liian suurina lentotukialuksille, eikä myöskään pitänyt niiden vesijäähdytteisistä moottoreista.

Sodan jälkeen USAAF:lle jäi tuhansia suihkukoneiden myötä vanhentuneita P-38-koneita. 50 konetta myytiin Italiaan, toistakymmentä Hondurasiin ja loput myytiin 1 200 dollarin kappalehintaan kenelle tahansa ostohaluiselle ja loput koneet romutettiin.

1950-luvulta eteenpäin koneiden määrä väheni tasaisesti, ja nykyisin niitä on jäljellä vain noin 25 kappaletta.

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning - History

Lockheed XP-38 prototype.

Evaluation aircraft. 13 Built

[Source: USAF Photo]

Initial production aircraft. 30 Built.

Single aircraft fitted with Pressurized cockpit

Delivered and accepted Lightning production variants began with the P38-D model. There were no Bs or Cs delivered to the government as the USAAF allocated the 'D' suffix to all aircraft with self-sealing fuel tanks, armored windshield and armor. 36 aircraft.

The first combat-capable Lightning was the P-38E (and its photo-recon variant the F-4) which featured improved instruments, electrical, and hydraulic systems. Part-way through production, the older Hamilton Standard Hydromatic hollow steel propellers were replaced by new Curtiss Electric duraluminum propellers. The definitive (and now famous) armament configuration was settled upon, featuring four .50 in machine guns with 500 rpg, and a 20 mm Hispano autocannon with 150 rounds.

While the machine guns had been arranged symmetrically in the nose on the P-38D, they were "staggered" in the P-38E and later versions, with the muzzles protruding from the nose in the relative lengths of roughly 1:4:6:2. This was done to ensure a straight ammunition-belt feed into the weapons, as the earlier arrangement led to jamming.

The first P-38E rolled out of the factory in October 1941 as the Battle of Moscow filled the news wires of the world. Because of the versatility, redundant engines, and especially high speed and high altitude characteristics of the aircraft, as with later variants over a hundred P-38Es were completed in the factory or converted in the field to a photo-reconnaissance variant, the F-4, in which the guns were replaced by four cameras. Most of these early reconnaissance Lightnings were retained stateside for training, but the F-4 was the first Lightning to be used in action in April 1942. 210 aircraft built.

Reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38E. 100+ built

Model 322
RAF order: twin right-hand props and no turbo. 3 built.

USAAF trainers. 147 built

Starting in April 1942, the P-38F started to leave the production lines, which incorporated racks inboard of the engines for fuel tanks or a total of 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs. Early variants did not enjoy a high reputation for maneuverability, though they could be agile at low altitudes if flown by a capable pilot, using the P-38's forgiving stall characteristics to their best advantage. From the P-38F-15 model onwards, a "combat maneuver" setting was added to the P-38's Fowler flaps. When deployed at the 8° maneuver setting, the flaps allowed the P-38 to out-turn many contemporary single-engined fighters at the cost of some added drag. However, early variants were hampered by high aileron control forces and a low initial rate of roll, and all such features required a pilot to gain experience with the aircraft, which in part was an additional reason Lockheed sent its representative to England, and later to the Pacific Theater.

The aircraft was still experiencing extensive teething troubles as well as being victimized by "urban legends", mostly involving inapplicable twin engine factors which had been designed out of the aircraft by Lockheed. In addition to these, the early versions had a reputation as a "widow maker" as it could enter an unrecoverable dive due to a sonic surface effect at high sub-sonic speeds. The 527 P-38Fs were heavier, with more powerful engines that used more fuel, and were unpopular in the air war in Northern Europe. Since the heavier engines were having reliability problems and with them, without external fuel tanks, the range of the P-38F was reduced, and since drop tanks themselves were in short supply as the fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic had not yet swung the Allies' way, the aircraft became relatively unpopular in minds of the bomber command planning staffs despite being the longest ranged fighter first available to the 8th Air Force in sufficient numbers for long range escort duties.

Reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38F. 20 built

Improved P-38F fighter. 1,082 built

P-38G Lightning of the 54th Fighter Squardon/11th Air Force.
[Source: Jack Cook Collection via the Warbird Information eXchange]

Reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38G. 180 built.

F-5A of the 90th Recon Wing on ground in North Africa.
[Source: Jack Cook Collection via the Warbird Information eXchange]

Single airframe converted from a F-5A.

Automatic cooling system Improved P-38G fighter.601 built.

P-38H of the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando Army Air Base, FL,
carrying two 1,000 lb bombs during capability tests in March 1944.
[Source: USAF Photo]

based on P-38H. 123 built.

new cooling and electrical systems. 2,970 built

Reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38J. 200 built

F-5B Lightning.
[Source: USAF]

P-38J/L conversion. 605 built.

Single airframe. Modified from a P-38G-10-LO (42-13558) by fitting more powerful 1425 hp V-1710-75/77 (V-1710F-15) engines, rated at over 1875 hp war emergency power. This required redesigning the cowlings and making them similar to those used on the P-38J. Propellors with broader-chord were fitted, necessitating the need to increase the diameter of the spinners, which in turn changed the shape of the cowling lines and the interface at the oil cooler/intercooler inlet.

Tests of the P-38K were carried out between February 24 and April 30, 1943. The performance of the P-38K was quite a bit better than that of the production P-38J--in fact its performance was superior to all other American fighters then in production. Maximum speed at 29,600 feet was 432 mph an at 40,000 feet, the P-38K was 40 mph faster than that of the P-38J. It was projected that top speed at war emergency power could be in the 450 mph range. The P-38K's initial rate of climb was 4800 feet per minute, allowing a climb to 20,000 feet in approximately five minutes. Service ceiling was projected to be above 48,000 feet. The aircrafts range was projected to show a 10-15% increase.

While clearly superios to the P-38J in many regards, the intense pace of production meant that the War Production Board was unwilling to allow even a short production suspension in order to rETOol for the required changes to the engine cowling. As a result, the P-38K remained a singular model.

Improved P-38J with new engines and new rocket pylons. 3,810 built

P-38L Lightning of the 70th Fighter Squadron, Phillipine Islands, 1945.
[Source: Jack Cook Collection via the Warbird Information eXchange]

113 P-38L Lightnings built by Vultee

Reconnaissance aircraft based on P-38L

Night-fighter, 75 built

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning (44-27234 c/n 422-8238).
[Source: USAF Photo]


The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a World War II American fighter aircraft.

The P-38 was used most extensively and successfully in the Pacific Theater of Operations and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations, where it was flown by the American pilots with the highest number of aerial victories to this date. Americas top ace Richard Bong earned 40 victories (in a lightning he called Marge) and Thomas McGuire scored 38 (in Pudgy).

The P-38 Lightning was designed in 1937 as a high-altitude interceptor.

The P-38 was the only American fighter aircraft in active production throughout the duration of American involvement in the war, from Pearl Harbor to VJ Day.

The P-38 introduced a new dimension to American fighters - a second engine. The multi-engine configuration reduced the Lightning loss rate to anti-aircraft gunfire during ground attack missions.

As with any long-term production aircraft, the P-38 underwent many modifications. The fastest of the modifications was the P-38J with a top speed of 420 mph and the version produced in the greatest quantity was the ""L,"" of which 3,735 were built by Lockheed and 113 by Vultee. The P-38M was a two-seat radar-equipped night fighter, a few of which had become operational before the war ended.

The P-38 was the Armys fastest and most heavily armed fighter. The concentration of firepower in the Lightnings nose was so effective that a one-second burst could destroy an enemy plane. In the Pacific Theater, Lightning pilots downed more Japanese aircraft than pilots flying any other allied plane.

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning - History

Through all the modifications leading from XP-38 to P-38H, the basic contours of the engine nacelles of the Lightning had remained virtually unchanged. The P-38J version, which first began to appear in August of 1943, introduced some appreciable differences in the geometry of the engine nacelles which make this and later versions easily distinguishable from earlier versions of the Lightning.

Earlier P-38s had passed the compressed air from the turbosuperchargers through a hollow passageway lying along the leading edge of the wing all the way from boom to wing tip and back in order to cool it down before it entered the carburetor. There were problems encountered with this arrangement. The difficulty in controlling the superchargers caused frequent engine backfires, some of which actually caused changes in the shape of the wing leading edge. The large area of these wing intercoolers also make them vulnerable to gunfire. The P-38J (Model 422) introduced a revised powerplant installation, with the intercooler being changed to a core-type radiator located below the engine. The air intake for the intercooler was sandwiched between the oil radiator intakes in a deeper, lower nose. The core-type radiator took cooling air through the central duct behind the propeller and exhausted it through a controllable exit flap, thus permitting a considerable amount of control over the the temperature of the air entering the carburetor. The leading edge tunnels were eliminated and were replaced by additional self-sealing fuel cells in the outer wing panels. The modification was initially tested on P-38E [41-1983].

P-38J also had redesigned Prestone coolant scoops on the tail booms. All P-38Js retained the V-1719-89/-91 engines of the P-38Hs, but their more efficient cooling installations enabled military rating at 27,000' to be increased from 1240 to 1425hp, and war-emergency rating was 1600hp at that altitude.

The revised beard radiators produced some additional drag, but it was more than adequately compensated for by the improved cooling which made the Allison finally capable of delivering its full rated power at altitude. Consequently, the P-38J was the fastest variant of the entire Lightning series𤽼 mph at 26,500'. Maximum speed at 5,000' was 369 mph, 390 mph at 15,000'. Range was 475 miles at 339 mph at 25,000', 800 miles at 285 mph at 10,000', and 1,175 miles at 195 mph at 10,000'. Maximum range was 2260 miles at 186 mph at 10,000 feet with two drop-tanks. An altitude of 5,000' could be attained in 2 minutes, 15,000 feet in 5 minutes, 10,000' in 7 minutes. Service ceiling was 44,000'. Weights were 12,780# empty, 17,500# normal loaded, 21,600# maximum. Armament consisted of one 20mm Hispano M2(C) cannon with 150 rounds plus four .50 Colt-Browning MG 53-2 machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. In addition two 500#, 1000# or 1600# bombs or ten five-inch rockets could be carried on underwing racks.

The 1,010 Model 422-81-14s included three production blocks. The first block consisted of 10 service test P-38J-1s. These were quickly followed by 210 P-83J-5s with two 55-US gallon additional fuel tanks in the leading edge space previously occupied by the intercoolers and thus restoring maximum internal fuel capacity to 410 gallons (1010 gallons with drop-tanks). Modifications, including the addition of stiffeners, were required to prevent deformation of the new wet wing leading edge. The last production block consisted of 790 P-38J-10s with flat windshields with the bulletproof glass panel being incorporated into the windshield.

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

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

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

The P-38J-25 production block also introduced power-boosted ailerons operated by a hydraulically-actuated bellcrank and push-pull rod, making it easier for a pilot to maneuver the airplane at high airspeeds. The boosting system was one of the first applications of powered controls to any fighter, and required only 17% of the previous stick forces. The system vastly improved the roll rate and thereby increased effectiveness in combat. P-38Js with power-boosted ailerons had the highest roll-rates of any fighter.

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

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

Two P-38J-20s [44-23544, 23549] were modified in Australia in autumn of 1944 for use as single-seat night fighters with AN/APS-4 radar in a pod under the starboard wing. The modifications were tested in New Guinea and the Philippines.

P-38J-5 [42-67104] was tested at Wright Field and Orlando as a two-place night fighter with a radar operator sitting on a jump seat just aft of the pilot. The AN/APS-4 radar was initially mounted under the fuselage in a pod just aft of the nosewheel. The pod was easily damaged by stones thrown up by the nosewheel during take-offs and landings and was repositioned under the starboard wing, but that then resulted in interference from the adjacent engine nacelle.

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

A number of P-38Js were modified in service as TP-38J two-seat "piggyback" trainers with a jump seat aft of the pilot. Some of these aircraft carried an AN/APS-4 radar pod underneath the starboard wing and were used to train P-38M crews. P-38J-1 [42-13565] was fitted with an experimental retractable ski installation.

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

POP: 10 P-38J-1 [42-12867/12869, 13560/13566 ]
POP: P-38J-5 [42-67102/67311]
POP: P-38J-10 [42-67402/68191]
POP: P-38J-15 [42-103979/104428, 43-28248/29047, 44-23059/23208]
POP: P-38J-20 [44-23209/23558]
POP: 210 P-38J-25 [44-23559/23768]

Lockheed F-5

Lockheed P-38K

Lockheed F-5F/G

Lockheed P-38L

In June 1944 the AAF supplemented Lockheed's production capacity with a order from Consolidated-Vultee at Nashville for 2,000 P-38L-5-VN fighters similar to the Lockheed-built P-38L-5-LO. Delays in getting a production line going resulted in only 113 P-38L-5-VNs being delivered by the end of the war. Shortly after V-J Day the remaining 1,887 of the order were cancelled—a similar fate befell 1,380 P-38L-5-LOs then on order from Lockheed.

When the war ended, large numbers of P-38Ls were scrapped or sold as surplus. The small number still remaining in USAF service in 1948 were redesignated F-38L.

POP: 1,290 P-38L-1-LO [44-23769/25058]
POP: 2,520 P-38L-5-LO [44-25059/27258, 44-53008/53327] cancelled: [44-53328/54707]
POP: 113 P-38L-5-VN [43-50226/50338] cancelled: [43-50339/52225]

Lockheed P-38M Night Lightning - History

P-38L-5-LO “44-53186” was one of a hundred thousand plus aircraft ordered in fiscal 1944 by the U.S. War Department. The P-38 design had been improving rapidly as this aircraft was being assembled in 1945. 44-53186 would be born as an “L dash 5” P-38, considered the best and most capable of the fighter P-38 variants. All of the combat experience and hard lessons learned by the USAAF were poured into this plane, making it the deadliest Lightning to date.

P-38L-5-LO 44-53186 was one seven hundred aircraft ordered as “L-5” Lightnings that
Lockheed began building in early 1945. This order was shortened during production with the last 380 aircraft being cancelled due to the war’s changing requirements. The first 320 planes produced were flown directly to modification centers or to storage. The 320 new P-38 airframes were divided into three groups as they rolled off the assembly line. The first group of 182 remained fighters and were upgraded with the latest fighter modifications to dash 6 standard and most flown to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation center in Kingman, Arizona for storage. The second group, which contained our feature aircraft 44-53186, was a bit more special. These P-38s were designated to become photo reconnaissance versions of the Lightning. Lockheed had created a modification center in
Dallas, Texas tasked with producing the photo-recon nose and associated modifications to turn the fighter into an unarmed and elusive platform for tactical photos. 63 of these planes were constructed as F-5G-6-LOs. As the war ended, the modified “186” was flown to Kingman, Arizona for storage. The last group of 75 Lightnings became night fighters, and were flown from Burbank to Fresno, CA. There they were modified to the P-38M-6-LO standard. These 75 examples of the two seat night fighters were rarely used in late 1946. Most were flown to Kingman as well, joining their sisters on the desert floor.

The Kingman group of 320 P-38L, F-5G and P-38M aircraft decreased, as a few had crashed during ferry flights and mishaps. In late 1946 roughly 300 P-38s remained. During the
surplus sales at the time, 37 of them found civilian buyers. 9 of these 37 survive today. Almost half of the current P-38s are from this small group of Kingman planes sold many years ago.

“44-53186” was sold to Kargl Aerial Surveys of Midland, Texas as NL62350 in March of 1946 for $1,250. Photo survey companies knew that postwar mapping contracts would be well served by the reliable and tough F-5G. Sold again to Aero Exploration Co. of Tulsa, OK in 1947, she worked there for four years before being sold to Mark Hurd Aerial Mapping in November 1952. Registered N505MH in 1958 she flew all over the continent before being parked in 1963 in Santa Barbara, CA. Eventually derelict with two other Lightnings, the complicated and tired F-5Gs had become exotic oddities past their economic prime.

This P-38 was not an ideal air racer and photo work was being done by more capable platforms. By 1965, there was little call for the utilitarian P-38. Over time the other two were disassembled and stored in the care of a local man who loved the aircraft. Our forlorn “186” was sold to Bill Harrah, hotel and casino owner and a noted car collector, for his car museum. Taken apart and shipped to Reno, Nevada she was reassembled, painted and placed on display for 15 years. Most had forgotten about P-38 “186” until she emerged in

Feb 45, Belgium, work on guns, heater to warm up engine

1982 as the new property of Frank Taylor, the latest winner at the Reno Air Races with his P-51 Mustang “Dago Red.” The old photo nose P-38 was trucked to Chino and reassembled in a hangar where the first deep survey of the airframe was taken. Recognized as a rare and special fighter plane, a new “fighter nose” was added to the plane and a meticulous restoration began to prepare the fighter for eventual sale. Acquired by the Doug Arnold collection, the restored P-38 was flown across the Atlantic by way of Greenland and Iceland by Mike Wright in 1989. Flown in the UK as “Miss Behavin” she spent almost a year on the Isle before returning to the USA in July, 1990.

Evergreen purchased “186” and had her restored as a P-38L over the next seven
years. Emerging in 1997, she was a showpiece and considered one of the best P-38
restorations to date. The P-38L was moved to McMinnville, Oregon, becoming a valuable crown jewel of the Evergreen Museum collection. The plane has been on display there since 1997. Still registered as N505MH, she was offered for sale in 2014.

The Collings Foundation is pleased to announce that this extraordinary P-38 will join the collection in 2016. She exemplifies the diverse uses these surplus aircraft satisfied during the immediate postwar period, and the utility of the F-5G for the mapping and survey industries. Currently restored to her original factory fresh state as a P-38L-6-LO, she will hold an important place in The Foundation’s collection of superb vintage aircraft.

Watch the video: Lockheed P-38J-25. Lightning over Europe.