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Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning

High-Altitude Interceptor / Close Air Support Aircraft [ 1944 ]

The Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning product was yet another failed attempt to improve the war-winning P-38 Lightning design - only one prototype was completed.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/11/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The XP-58 "Chain Lightning" was initially envisioned as a larger version of the successful Lockheed P-38 Lightning twin-boom design capable of downing hordes of enemy bomber formations in single burst shots. The fear covering portions of the country during the Second World War envisioned these hordes of long-range bombers laying waste to American cities. As such, this high-altitude "bomber killer" was designed. The result, however, was far from that as developmental problems and an unpredictable Army brass eventually did the project in.

The XP-58 was designed as a two-man twin-boom design with powerful armament and even more powerful engines. The system would have the pilot at front, operating the aircraft and firing an impressive array of 4 x 37mm cannons which were originally just a twin set of .50 caliber machine guns. Later designs actually took into account the mounting of a massive 75mm cannon it place of the quad cannon mounting. At rear, the gunner would sit and operate two rear-facing .50 caliber heavy machine guns installed in the booms to ward off any rear-approaching enemy fighters. Engine power would be supplied from untested powerplants as developed by the Continental company. After much going back an forth on specifications and capabilities between the Army and Continental, the powerplant development was already in jeopardy. Even when a Pratt & Whitney powerplant was selected to replace the Continental design, Pratt & Whitney resources were allocated to pressing radial designs elsewhere leaving Lockheed to fit the Wright R-2160 Tornado radials into their airframe.

Though a much powerful engine, the Tornado forces Lockheed engineers to rework virtually every internal system of the XP-58, delaying the project even further but alas the US Army was happy with the Wright engine capabilities.

With the added power, the Army and Lockheed now both began salivating at the added armament capabilities afforded to the ever-increasing power of the XP-58. As such, the original twin .50 calibers mounted in the nose gave way to the aforementioned 4 x 37mm cannon array. Further twin .50 caliber machine gun mounts could be added in a top and bottom turret assembly increasing the forward firing damage ten-fold. The system was becoming quite capable in downing a bomber or fighter in a single shot!

As with any high-altitude aircraft, the issue of cabin pressurization was addressed. Couple the weight of such a system with the weight of the added cannon armament and new engines and the XP-58 weight began to soar to new heights (no pun intended).

When it appeared that the hordes of enemy bomber formations infiltrating the American skies would never materialize, the US Army came back to Lockheed and ordered a reclassification of the XP-58 Chain Lightning as a close-support strike aircraft. The 37mm cannons would neatly fit this bill except that the aircraft's size had ballooned considerably, making it an enticing low-flying target. The complex substructures were also noted as being quite fragile, meaning the slightest damage from small arms fire or flak could easily spell doom for the craft and its pilot.

As such, the XP-58 was once again redesignated as a bomber-killer. Further developmental and production delays doomed the Tornado powerplants and Allison V-3420 (twin V-1710s joined) liquid-cooled radials were fitted instead. Flying on D-Day itself, the XP-58 Chain Lightning made its maiden voyage over California. By all reports, the system proved quite stable in handling. Nonetheless, the complicated internal workings, delayed production and development and the propensity of the turbosuperchargers to catch fire did the massive program in. After barely 20 such flights, the XP-58 was dead.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Lockheed Corporation - USA
United States (cancelled)
Operators National flag of the United States
Service Year
United States
National Origin

General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
Ability to intercept inbound aerial threats by way of high-performance, typically speed and rate-of-climb.
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.

49.3 ft
(15.03 meters)
70.0 ft
(21.34 meters)
13.8 ft
(4.20 meters)
31,625 lb
(14,345 kilograms)
Empty Weight
39,189 lb
(17,776 kilograms)
Maximum Take-Off Weight
+7,564 lb
(+3,431 kg)
Weight Difference

2 x Allison V-3420 inline piston engines developing 3,000 horsepower each.
435 mph
(700 kph | 378 knots)
Max Speed
40,000 ft
(12,192 m | 8 miles)
1,400 miles
(2,253 km | 1,217 nm)
2,660 ft/min
(811 m/min)

MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

2 x 12.7mm machine guns in nose
2 x 12.7mm rear-facing machine guns in tail booms

LATER (Armament Trials):

4 x 37mm cannon
2 x 12.7mm machine guns mounted in top fuselage pod turret system.
2 x 12.7mm machine guns mounted in bottom fuselage pod turret system.

Under Consideration:

1 x 75mm cannon mounted in nose in place of existing 37mm cannon mounts.


XP-58 - Developmental Series Designation

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Image of the Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning
Front right side view of the Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning in flight
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Image of the Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning
Front left side view of the Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning at rest

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