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P-38 Lightning, War Eagles Air Museum

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P-38 experimental pursuit plane

P-38 Lightning at War Eagles Air Museum

The design for the P-38 was based on a request by the U.S. Army Air Corps for an experimental pursuit plane having “the tactical mission of interception and attack of hostile aircraft at high altitude”. The first P-38s produced were given the name “Atlanta” by Lockheed. The RAF (Royal Air Force) upon ordering the P-38, called it the Lightning and by October 1941, the USAAF and Lockheed changed the name of the aircraft to Lightning as well. With its concentrated fire power, the Lightning was successful in the European Theater in ground support roles and for three and one half years it helped dominate the skies of the Pacific theater.

The Lighting and Charles Lindbergh

An interesting story involving the P-38 Lightning in the Pacific involved famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. According to museum information, Lindbergh, who was the first person to fly the Atlantic non-stop in a single engine airplane (the Spirit of St. Louis), was in the Pacific as a civilian to show P-38 pilots how to increase their range and engine life by using the correct throttle settings. He was able to demonstrate to them how to obtain 50% more range. During a flight, Lindgergh encountered a Japanese fighter and destroyed the plane. Since he was a civilian this was a direct disregard of the Geneva Convention. However, the Japanese had not signed the Convention, so it probably did not make any difference. The USAAF was, however, anxious to make sure that the event did not receive much publicity, and the victory was not added to the USAAF tally.

P-38 lightning fighter at War Eagles Air Museum

The aircraft in the two photos on this page, is on display at the War Eagles Air museum in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Article based on museum information. Photo credits: David and Paula Barnett.

P-38 technical data

Wingspan: 52 feet
Length: 37 feet 10 in
Height: 9 feet 10in
Weight Empty: 12,800 lbs.
Weight Loaded: 21,600 lbs.
Max. speed: 414 mph
Range: 450 to 2,625 miles
Power Plant: Two Allison V-12 cylinder 1-1710-111 R173L, 1,425 hp each.
Armament: Five .50 caliber Browning machine guns
Number built: 10,036
Production Dates: 1941—1945

Called the “Forked-tailed Devil” by the enemy (Axis) pilots and ground troops it was a major instrument in the Allied victory. And today, the appearance of a P-38 Lightning at an air field creates as much attention as a classic “Rolls” or “Porsche” at an automobile rally.

Also see:
P-38 “23 Skidoo” - Chino Air Museum
P-38 Lignting - American Aircraft