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  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft

    The Lockheed P-38 Lightning garnered the nicknamed of Forked-Tailed Devil from the Germans due to its effectiveness and rather unique configuration for a fighter.

     Updated: 6/12/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The Lockheed P-38 Lightning, nicknamed the "Fork-Tailed Devil" - Der Gabelschwanz Teufel - by the Germans, was the brainchild of Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson. The name "Lightning" was believed bestowed on the aircraft by the British who, for a short time, considered the fighter for their own inventory. The famous and highly identifiable P-38 would go on to serve the United States armed forces quite well throughout World War 2, particularly in the air battles over the Pacific, and become one of America's classic and highly recognizable warbirds.Some 10,038 P-38 Lightnings were ultimately produced with nearly 4,000 of these being the P-38L model.

    The Lightning's twin-boom design was a major departure from most any military-minded aircraft in the skies at the time with most aircraft engineers electing to go the more conventional single-fuselage, monoplane design route. A new United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) specification in 1937 called for an high-level, high-speed interceptor with excellent range. As such, the unique twin-boom design was utilized to provide the power of, not one, but two fully-operating engines. Each engine (spinning three-bladed propellers) would be housed in their own slender "boom" installations complete with turbocharger support for added muscle at high operating altitudes with the single-seat cockpit held in a centralized nacelle between the two booms. Engines were also arranged in a "counter-rotating" fashion meaning that each engine counter-affected the another's inherent torque - negating the "pull" action apparent with single engine designs since the dawn of the piston engine. A short wing surface area - essentially the wing root - connected the booms to the pod-shaped cockpit at the forward end of the aircraft while a broad horizontal elevator plane joined the booms at rear of the aircraft. Part of the specification also called for the fighter to be substantially armed and the P-38 was thusly fitted with a base armament of 1 x 37mm cannon (later downgraded to a 20mm caliber) and a battery of 4 x 12.7mm Browning machine guns, all mounted in the nose. The twin-boom arrangement of the aircraft meant that the nose offered an unfettered vantage point for the pilot so placement of all armament in a single fitting was a logical choice. All said, the revolutionary Lightning was a heavy machine, categorized as a fighter but achieving the same weight class as lighter bombing platforms of her time. The undercarriage was fully retractable and, in another departure from the norm, was of a tricycle arrangement featuring a pair of single-wheeled main legs and a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg.

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    Lockheed P-38J Lightning Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1939
    Type: Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Lockheed Aircraft Corporation -USA
    Production Total: 9,923

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 37.83 feet (11.53 meters)
    Width: 52.00 feet (15.85 meters)
    Height: 9.81 feet (2.99 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 12,800 lb (5,806 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 21,601 lb (9,798 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 2 x Allison V-1710-111 water-cooled inline piston engines developing 1,425 horsepower.

    Maximum Speed: 414 mph (666 kph; 360 knots)
    Maximum Range: 2,237 miles (3,600 km)
    Service Ceiling: 43,963 feet (13,400 meters; 8.33 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 2,500 feet-per-minute (762 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    1 x 20mm cannon in nose
    4 x 12.7mm Browning heavy machine guns in nose

    10 x 5in high-explosive rockets
    2 x Drop Drop Tanks
    2 x 500lb Conventional Drop Bombs

    Up to 4,000lbs (908kg) of underwing stores.

    Global Operators / Customers

    Australia; Dominican Republic; France (Free French); Hoonduras; Kingdom of Italy; Portugal; United Kingdom; United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    XP-38 - Prototype Model Designation

    YP-38 - Evaluation Model Designation; 13 examples produced; V-1710 inline piston engines; 4 x 12.7mm machine guns and 1 x 37mm cannon.

    P-38D - Revised tail unit; Self-sealing fuel tanks; 36 examples produced.

    P-38E - Revised nose armament of 1 x 37mm cannon and 4 x .50 caliber machine guns to 1 x 20mm cannon and 4 x .50 caliber machine guns.

    P-38F - Specifically designed for Pacific Theater of War service featuring V-1710 49/53 engines.

    F-38G - V-1710-55/55 engines and provision for 2,000lbs of ordnance.

    P-38G - V-1710-89/91 engines and greater bomb loadout; 2,970 examples produced.

    P-38H - 601 examples produced.

    P-38J - Increased wing fuel stores capacity; bulletproof windscreen; cockpit heating; improved engine cooling; improved speed and climbing capabilities.

    P-38L - Provision for underwing rockets; Nose radar is some variants or bomb-aimer; Featuring V-1710-111/113 engines; 3,923 examples produced.

    P-38M - Two-seat nightfighter based on P-38L model; fitted with radar.

    F-4-1-LO - Conversion model unarmed reconnaissance model with V-1710-21-29 engines; 4 x K-17 cameras.

    RF-4-1-LO - Redesignated F-4-1-LO model.

    F-5 - Unarmed "light" reconnaissance model.

    Lightning MK.I - Export P-38E Evaluation Model Designation for British trials sans turbochargers.

    Lightning Mk.II - Export P-38G models for British use; overtaken and consequently used by the USAAF.