Lockheed P-38 Has Wide
Range of Tactical Uses

Details just released reveal it to be everything from bomber to high altitude fighter. Unusual Lockheed-Fowler flap aids maneuverability.

Versatility appears to be one of the outstanding characteristics of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter. Details just revealed—after the plane had been in action for some time in the Aleutian, the South Pacific, Europe, and North Africa—show it has been used as both a low- and high-altitude fighter, as a dive bomber, and as a photographic ship.

Powered by two 1,150-hp Allison inline, liquid cooled turbosupercharged engines, the P-38 has a ceiling above 40,000 ft and a top speed of "well over 400 mph." Its 48 lb per sq ft wing loading is unusually high for a fighter craft.

Landing speed, however, is but 80 mph, the unusual range of performance being attributed in large measure to a quick-acting "maneuvering flap" which was developed by Lockheed and which has been in production for many months. An improved version of the Lockheed-Fowler flap, it can be extended into the down position in three seconds and raised in four. Use of the flap is not restricted to landings and takeoffs, for it is reported that the flap can be lowered during flight to increase maneuverability essential to successful combat work. Maneuverability is enhanced by the fact that the propellers rotate in opposite directions, thus eliminating torque.

The P-38 has an effective combat range of 750 mi, considerably higher than that of many modern fighter craft, due to jettisonable gas tanks of 150 gal capacity. These tanks, designed by Lockheed engineers—who have twice the capacity of earlier standard tanks, yet permit a 10-mph higher cruising speed. Either gas tanks or bombs may be hung from the same racks, so that one bomb and one extra tank may be carried if the mission requires, or this extra weight-carrying ability may be utilized for carrying tanks for laying smoke screens, to accommodate equipment for ground troops, or for some other purpose.

Armament consists of four heavy-calibre machine guns and one cannon mounted in the nose and firing between the propeller arcs, thus eliminating the cone of fire encountered when guns are mounted in the wings. Conforming to standard American practice, the pilot and vital parts of the plane are protected by armor plate, and the plane is equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks.

The wing has no ribs, being of double-skinned, double-stressed design.

In combat operation, the P-38 has been found to possess unusual flying ability on one engine. In Coral Sea engagements, for example, a P-38 on a photographic mission with one engine disabled was able to outclimb three different groups of Jap Zeros. In another engagement in the Aleutians, a pilot flew a P-38 150 mi back to his base with one engine shot away.

Specifications released to date include:

Wing span52 ft
Length38 ft
Height9 ft
Wing loading48 lb/sq ft
Gross wt13,500 lb
Maximum speedAbove 400 mph
Landing speed80 mph
Power plantTwo 1,150-hp Allisons
PropellersThree bladed, constant speed,
electric, 11½ ft arc

This article was originally published in the January, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 1, pp 101, 309.
The original article includes a photo of P-38s in formation.
Photo is not credited.