The P38 Lightning was crucial to the United States victory during World War II. The legendary aircraft was incredibly lethal in the Pacific, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.
The P-38 earned the nickname “fork-tailed Devil” from the Germans, who quickly learned to fear Lightning from above.
The New Wonder Plane
In 1937, the heads of the Army Air Corps were looking for an aircraft that could pursue enemy planes. Of course, they had a long list of requirements. They wanted a plane with a speed of about 360 mph with a ceiling of 20,000 feet.
This plane needed the ability to reach 20,000 feet in six minutes and stay there for an hour at minimum. Oh, and they wanted the plane to have some serious firepower. At least 4 .50 caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon.
Lockheed, a newer defense contractors at the time, drew up plans for a plane called the XP-38. It boasted a revolutionary design different from any other military aircraft on the planet.
The plane was designed with three pods and two tails. The two outer pods were in line with the tails, each with an Allison V-1710 engine harnessing over 1,000 hp.
The Army was skeptical at first, but decide they were willing to overlook the odd design in favor of the performance achieved. Lockheed proved it had enough power to go up against the German planes.
The Army tested the plane extensively, ordering adjustments until it was finally ready for pilots in 1940.
When it finally made it’s debut the P-38 could fly over 3,300 feet in a minute and sustain 400 mph for 1,150 miles.
A total of 68 P-38s made it to the front lines. In 1942, they proved their mettle and took out their first Luftwaffe aircraft.
Seven P-38 pilots became aces in the Pacific theater. However, the greatest feat for the P-38 occurred on April 18, 1943.
Naval Intelligence had gained intel on Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who had led and designed the Pearl Harbor attacks.
The U.S. Navy had pinpointed his upcoming flight over the Pacific and they were ready to go after him.
Attacking The Admiral
The military planned an operation to take out the admiral. P-38 pilots would fly 600 miles out and 400 miles back with only a small fuel margin for what was sure to be an intense battle. The P-38’s were altered to include drop tanks to extend their range just enough to get the job done.
A kill team of four Lightnings were deployed to attack Yamamoto’s flight and escort, which was believed to consist of two bombers and six fighters.
In the end, the P-38’s executed a wildly successful mission, taking out Yamamoto and his escorts. They only lost one P-38, an impressive feat.