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Weapons of World War Two

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The two engines of the bomber Mitsubishi G4M2 buzzed regularly that morning of April 1943. At the controls an expert veteran piloted the aircraft with particular attention. He knew that he had onboard an exceptional passenger, Admiral Yamamoto, who was to effectuate an inspection route on some bases. Until that moment the flight had been quiet. The escort of Zeros seemed to ensure the safety of the illustrious passenger against any danger, when unexpectedly six strange silhouettes stood out distinctly in the sky. We do not know if Yamamoto's pilot had time to see them, but if he had he immediately understood to what they belonged, because of being so characteristic.

The escorting fighters immediately charged against the aggressors, but not even the excellent Zero could do much against the P-38 "Lightning" that were attacking them. Maneuvering desperately they managed to shoot down one of them, but this did not prevent the others to carry out their mission: to kill the most famous strategist of Japan. But which was this aircraft and why had been precisely chosen for this particular mission of executor?

The history of the P-38 starts in 1936, when the US Army Air Corps, the aviation of the US Army, had requested from the aeronautical industry a fighter of exceptional prestations. Among these, for example, a maximum speed not lesser than 580 kilometers/hour. Thinking that the ones of the Spitfire and the Me Bf 109, the two best fighters of the moment, were respectively 571 and 550 kilometers/hour, it was normal to get discouraged, and so were all of the companies requested except the Lockheed, which started to examine all the possibilities, even the more unorthodox ones, to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, to start it was decided to equip the aircraft with two propulsion plants, two huge Allison V-1710 of 1150 horsepower each. Naturally, it appeared the constructive problem of the fuselage, which was solved by discarding it and prolonging after the engines a twin tail that was finally united by a long horizontal stabilizator, topping off the ensemble. The pilot was placed, together with the fore landing wheel and the armament, in a strongly armored cell located in the center of the wing. The armament comprised four 12.7-millimeter machine guns and a light cannon, initially of 23 millimeters and later of 20, all of this installed on the nose. Hence, the concentration of firepower was impressive.

However, albeit the aircraft was product of the most advanced concepts and a refined aeronautical technique, it could not be said that it were perfect. It was undoubtedly gifted with high speed, great operational range and great robustness, but the maneuverability, in respect of the single-engined fighters, was rather poor. This one and other inconvenients made this aircraft to be adored and feared at the same time by the pilots. For example, in the maneuver recommended to evacuate the aircraft, it should be made an inversion in such a way that the pilot could "slip down" to avoid the danger of being cut in half by the long tail plane.

Despite of all, the P-38 was the aircraft that in the Pacific shot down more Japanese aircraft than any other. Entered into service in July 1941, the Lightning showed itself as an excellent polyvalent fighter, fighting in every front until the last days of the war. Almost 7000 exemplars were produced.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning
Projectist: Technical team led by H. L. Hibbard and C. L. Johnson

First flight: 27 January 1939 (XP-38)

Wingspan: 15.85 meters

Wing area: 30.43 square meters

Length: 11.53 meters

Height: 3.91 meters (XP-38); 3.00 meters (P-38F and P-38H)

Full load/Empty weight: 6993/5220 kilograms (XP-38); 8165/5563 kilograms (P-38F); 9028/5615 kilograms (P-38H)

Payload/Crew: 1773 kilograms/1 (XP-38); 2602 kilograms/1 (P-38F); 3593 kilograms/1 (P-38H)

Engines: Two Allison V-1710-11 of 1150 horsepower each (XP-38); two Allison V-1710-49 of 1325 horsepower each (P-38F); two Allison V-1710-89 of 1425 horsepower each (P-38H)

Time to reach 6096 meters of altitude: 6 minutes 30 seconds (XP-38); 8 minutes 48 seconds (P-38F); 8 minutes 30 seconds (P-38H)

Maximum speed: 665 kilometers/hour (XP-38); 636 kilometers/hour (P-38F); 647 kilometers/hour (P-38H)

Service ceiling: 11582 meters (XP-38); 11887 meters (P-38F and P-38H)

Defensive armament: Four 12.7-millimeter machine guns and one 23-millimeter cannon (XP-38); four 12.7-millimeter machine guns and one 20-millimeter cannon (P-38F and P-38H)

Drop armament: 908 kilograms of bombs (P-38F); 1816 kilograms of bombs (P-38H)

Normal operational range/With supplementary tanks: 684/3098 kilometers (P-38F); 483/3862 kilometers (P-38H)

Also in Weapons of World War Two:

Scharnhorst battlecruiserAirspeed HorsaAdmiral Graf Spee pocket battleship

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