As Lockheed's P-38 Lightning climbed into the sky for the first time five years ago, many observers insisted that two engines were too much for one man to handle in combat. Performance since then has shown that one person very definitely can handle both controls and guns. Moreover, the P-38 and other twin-engined fighters which followed it form a type which has become one of the most versatile in aerial warfare.
Nine tons of fighting steel are packed into the 52' wing and 37' 10" fuselage of the P-38. Two 1,520-hp in-line liquid-cooled Allison engines give speed of above 400 mph at full throttle, 300 mph on one engine. But speed alone does not make a warplane. The P-38 presents withering firepower in four .50-cal machine guns and the 20-mm cannon firing in the nose position. 0fficially, the P-38 is a fighter. This is an understatement, for the Lightning has been used as a skip bomber, strafer, photographic plane, bomber escort, tank-buster and P-38Hs carry two 2,000-pound bombs while the P-38J has been fitted with two wing racks which may accommodate two 300-pound missiles each, to give a grand total of some 5,200 explosive pounds.
All in all, the P-38 has, in less than three years, become the most versatile airplane of the war and proof to American engineers that twin-engine single seaters have a real place in the military skies.
Certainly, experience with the P-38 has contributed to the Northrop P-61 Black Widow design, and brought about the world's first fighter designed solely for night marauding. Two 2,200 hp Pratt & Whitney radials power the three-place Widow which boasts a formidable assembly of 20-mm cannon, .50-cal machine guns and a healthy bomb load. Wingspan of the tricycle-gear machine is over 80'.
Most publicized, and also the biggest flop, of all the German airplanes during the prewar period was the Focke-Wulf FW-187 Zerstorer. A twin Daimler-Benz in-line engine fighter. the Zerstorer had forward armament of 20-mm cannon and 13-mm MG 131 or MG 17 7.92-mm machine guns. With a maximum speed of 367 mph, ceiling of 36,000 feet, the FW-187 boasted the terrific rate of climb of about 5,600 feet per minute in the initial jump rate.
Probably the most effective German twin-engine fighter. during the five years of air war, the Messerschmitt Me-110 in its latest version appears with eight Oerlikon 20-mm cannon concentrated in the nose of the aircraft, giving concentrated forward firepower while two Rheinmetal-Borsig heavy machine guns constitute rear defense. Two Daimler-Benz DB.601F 1,395 hp engines enable the Me-110 to carry as much as 4,000 pounds of bombs in emergencies. The Me-110 has been seen with external fuel tanks, heavy rocket wing cannon, and as a night fighter. Although an excellent machine, there is one prime fault in the Me-110. Throughout its years of combat, German engineers have failed to correct a dangerous tail flutter in the machine, and when thrown or forced into a steep dive, the tail of the Me-110 almost invariably breaks away from the remainder of the aircraft.
Second in the twin-engine Messerschmitt design series, the Me-210 was the first operational ship to be armed with remote control gun barbettes. Two Daimler-Benz DB.601F engines of 1,395 hp each allow a maximum speed of 371 mph at 18,000 feet for the Me-210. Two 20-mm cannon and twin MG 17 7.92-mm machine guns fire forward from the nose of the Me-210, and two MG 131 13-mm machine guns in the rear barbettes constitute the dorsal armament. A bomb load of 1,000 kilograms may be carried internally. The Messerschmitt 310 is reported as a straight bomber version of the 210, the Me-410 is a cleaned-up version with more powerful engines and a maximum speed of approximately 390 to 400 mph, and the Messerschmitt Me-510 has been reported to be the combination of the Messerschmitt Me-210, 310 and 410.
The Luftwaffe's Junkers Ju-88 has been recognized by the British as the most formidable Nazi aircraft flying today. An excellent machine to handle, the Junkers has appeared in its Ju-88C fighter version with a solid nose housing three 20-mm cannon. The Ju-88C is used as a night interception machine with the forward guns augmented by two dorsal and one ventral 7.9 Rheinmetal-Borsigs, plus several rocket cannon. Maximum speed of the Ju-88C at 16,000 feet is 285 mph, service ceiling 24,000 feet. There is provisional space for internal stowage of bombs ranging up to 500 kilograms in size. The two Junkers Jumo 211D 1,200-hp engines allow a cruising speed range of 1,220 miles. The Ju-88C carries a crew of three to four men.
One of the most widely used Nazi bombers is the Dornier Do-217E2, appearing in the fighter class as the Do-217J which mounts as many as twelve machine guns and cannon in the solid nose. Rear armament consists of waist, ventral and dorsal flexible positions, with the latest models sporting a power- operated turret with a single MG 131 13-mm machine gun.
To date there has been only one twin-engine fighter of the Imperial Japanese Air Force seen in action against American warplanes. The original Nick fighter, once known to the American Volunteer Group in China as the I-45, was faster than the Tomahawks and Kittyhawks of the Flying Tigers. Initial light armament has been boosted to a reported three or more 20-mm cannon in the nose, with the possibility of machine guns augmenting the nose arrangement.
The latest British Beaufighters, developed from the Bristol Beaufighter Mark X, are today among the most heavily armed planes in the world with armament embracing six .303 Browning machine guns firing freely from the wings, four 20-mm Oerlikon cannon recessed in the base of the nose, eight tubes slung beneath the wings firing one heavy rocket each, a 21-inch projectile carried beneath the belly of the aircraft. There is provision for a two- or four-gun Vickers power-operated turret in a dorsal position, or a single or twin set of Vickers flexible dorsal guns. Without the external armament accommodations, the twin Bristol Hercules XI 1,630-hp radials allow a speed of 335 mph at 14,000 feet. Rate of climb of the fighter type is 1,850 feet per minute, service ceiling 28,900 feet.
There are reports of a new version of the Beaufighter, but not built by the Bristol Company in England as is the service Beaufighter so prominent in action today in the Mediterranean and European theaters of war. This is the Australian version of the machine, which today is being constructed down under, another step in the rapid growth of that nation's industrial machine. This version, also closely resembling the European counterpart, has major internal differences and modifications which fit it for duty in the Southwest Pacific area. Conditions which the Beaufighters are subjected to in that sector differ widely from the European climate, and special tropical equipment is installed in the machine. It is reported that one version of the Australian Beaufighter is equipped with only the four 20-mm cannon recessed in the nose base.
One of the first British twin-engine single-seat fighters of this war was the Westland Whirlwind. An unusual engine arrangement and high stabilizer distinguish the Whirlwind from other British aircraft. The two Rolls Royce Peregrine engines develop 885 hp each at 3,000 rpm at 3,000 feet, allow the aircraft a maximum 353 mph at 16,350 feet, according to Nazi reports on a captured Whirlwind. Four 20-mm cannon grouped in the nose concentrate heavy forward fire.
The fighter version of the British De Havilland DH 98 Mosquito Mark II carries four 20-mm cannon in the base of the nose with four .303 Browning machine guns lined up abreast above the cannon. From two to six 500-pound bombs may be carried by this model for intruder operations. Two Rolls Royce Merlin XXI 1,250-hp engines allow a maximum speed of 400 mph, and a cruising range of 1,280 miles. The Mosquito Mark II, a two-place aircraft, has extra-long range with slipper wing tanks which may be jettisoned in flight.
These are the twin-engine fighters of the world's major air fleets. So far there have been no reports of any existing Russian warplanes in this classification, but details on Red Air Force aerial machines are usually rather scarce. With the grand opening of world-wide ground warfare such as the amazing Russian ground offensive and the invasion of France by American and British forces, the twin-engine fighters of both the Allies and Axis powers are doubling as excellent ground cooperation strafing-fighter-bomber machines.
This article was originally published in the November, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 7, no 5, pp 60-61, 72.
Air News was published on newsprint in 9½" × 13" format. Photos have been scaled to fit on an 8½" × 11" page.
The original article includes 8 photos: Me-410, Ju-88, Beaufighter MkI, Me-110, Whirlwind, YFM-1B Airacuda, and 2 × P-70. They identify the P-70 as Midnight Mauler.
Photos credited to British Information Services, European, British Combine (2), Air News, Bell, Douglas (2).