Lightning file photo [136]

P-38 Lightning

CountryUnited States
ManufacturerLockheed Corporation
Primary RoleHeavy Fighter
Maiden Flight27 January 1939


ww2dbaseThe P-38 Lightning fighters were uniquely designed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson's design team, the "Skunk Works", at Lockheed as a response to the 1937 United States Army Air Corps request for an interceptor. The prototype flew on 27 Jan 1939 with its distinctive twin booms. By Feb the prototype was already a record setter, flying across the United States from California to New York in only 7 hours and 2 minutes; the design's speed remain unmatched until the arrival of jet aircraft. Although the record setting trans-continental flight ended in a crash landing, the US Army Air Force placed an order for 66 fighters. The first batch of production Lightning aircraft came off of the production line in Sep 1940 with some design differences from the prototype; they were lighter in weight and the propellers were rotating in the opposite directions (both now spin away from the cockpit). In Jun 1940, after taking over only three fighters, Britain canceled her order of over 800 examples due to less than expected maneuverability; those fighters already produced for the canceled order went to the USAAF for training purposes. In mid-1941, the USAAF took delivery of the first 66 fighters; some of them included self-sealing fuel tanks and one was equipped with an experimental pressurized cabin. The main purpose of this batch was not for front-line combat, but rather to work out the potential kinks in the design. For instance, American pilots found tail flutter to be a problem, and it was promptly fixed by Johnson and his engineers. Low temperature in high altitudes also caused problems for the P-38 design, one being that the cockpit became unbearably cold, another being that freezing temperatures caused the turbo-superchargers to become stuck in over-boosted or under-boosted modes. One major complaint against P-38 fighters was the many steps that it took for the fighter to go from cruising mode to combat mode, the time of which could mean life or death when P-38 fighters were jumped by enemy fighters by surprise. The steps involved were:

ww2dbaseIt would be interesting to note that while the above complex set of procedures was never simplified for P-38 fighters, the later P-51 Mustang design streamlined it so that all the steps could be achieved with one arm, allowing the pilots to pay a bit more attention to the incoming threat.

ww2dbaseIn Oct 1941, the first combat-ready P-38 Lightning fighters rolled off of production lines, and by Jun 1942 they were seeing combat in the Aleutian Islands, where their endurance won great acclaims by their pilots. Despite their weakness in regards to low temperature, they saw extensive service in the European Theater of War as well. Pilots Richard I. Bong and Thomas J. McGuire were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their performances while flying these fighters, both of whom flew against Japanese pilots in the Pacific War. Saburo Sakai, the famed Japanese fighter ace, regarded P-38 highly, noting after the war that P-38 fighters "destroyed the morale of the Zero fighter pilot." A number of Lightning aircraft were produced as reconnaissance aircraft, night fighters, and radar-equipped two-seat aircraft. Production of the P-38 Lightning design lasted until the very end of the war; by then, 10,037 examples were built.

Robert Dorr, Fighting Hitler's Jets
Armchair Reader World War II

Last Major Revision: Nov 2007

P-38 Lightning Timeline

27 Jan 1939 The Lockheed XP-38 fighter made its maiden flight. The flight lasted just 24 minutes but the prototype was damaged on landing.
11 Feb 1939 A Lockheed XP-38 prototype aircraft from California to New York in the United States in 7 hours and 2 minutes.
4 Aug 1942 The first P-38 Lightning kill in the Pacific Theatre occurred when a pair of Kawanishi flying-boats were shot down off the Aleutian Islands.
14 Aug 1942 The first P-38 Lightning kill in the European Theatre occurred when the 33rd Fighter Squadron flying from Iceland destroyed a marauding Fw 200 maritime patrol bomber.
15 Oct 1943 Britain-based US 55th Fighter Group became the first group to conduct operations in P-38 fighters over continental Europe.
5 Apr 1944 Loaded with 61 US Army personnel as passengers and 11 P-38 Lightning aircraft, escort carrier USS Card departed Casablanca, French Morocco bound for New York.
20 Apr 1944 USS Ranger arrived at the Army Base, Staten Island, New York and began loading P-38 Lighting aircraft for further transportation to Casablanca.
23 Apr 1944 With fleet carrier USS Ranger loaded with 76 US Army P-38 Lightning aircraft and escort carrier USS Card loaded with 100 US Army P-51 Mustang fighters and 204 US Army personnel, both ships, along with their escorts, departed New York bound for Casablanca in French Morocco.
22 Jul 1944 76 P-38s and 58 P-51s began the second of the Fifteenth Air ForceÔÇÖs Operation Frantic shuttle missions, attacking airfields at Zili┼čtea (Zili┼čteanca) and Buz─âu, Romania (claiming the destruction of 56 enemy aircraft) and landing at Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine.
26 Jul 1944 Fifteenth Air Force fighters on an Operation Frantic shuttle mission leave Ukraine bases, strafed enemy aircraft in the Bucharest-Ploe┼čti, Romania area, and returned to bases in Italy.
4 Aug 1944 In an attempt to comply with the first direct Soviet request for USAAF air strikes, over 70 P-38s and P-51s left Italy, attacked the airfield and town of Foc┼čani, Romania, and landed at Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine.
22 Oct 1944 The prototype Lockheed XP-58 aircraft, a two-seat bomber version of the P-38 Lightning fighter, was delivered to Wright Field for US Army Air Force acceptance tests, but maintenance proved such a liability that no further development was undertaken and construction of a second prototype was abandoned.
7 Jan 1945 US ace Major Thomas McGuire (38 victories) was killed in a low level combat with a group of Japanese Zero fighters led by Shiochi Sugita, the third-highest scoring ace of the Japanese Navy Air Force over Los Negros island. It was believed that McGuire failed to release his drop tanks whilst attempting a fast turn which caused his P-38 to stall and spin into the ground in a ball of fire.
21 Jun 1945 Major George Laven became the last P-38 Lightning ace of the war with the destruction of a Japanese H8K flying boat.


MachineryTwo Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled V12 engines rated at 1,150hp each
Span15.85 m
Length11.53 m
Height3.90 m
Weight, Empty4,990 kg
Weight, Loaded6,508 kg
Speed, Maximum391 km/h
Service Ceiling13,410 m
Range, Normal563 km
Range, Maximum740 km

MachineryTwo Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled turbo-supercharged V12 engines rated at 1,600hp each
Armament1xHispano M2 20mm cannon, 4xColt-Browning MG53-2 12.7mm machine guns, 4xM10 rocket launchers or 10x127mm rockets or 1,000kg of bombs
Span15.85 m
Length11.53 m
Height3.00 m
Wing Area30.43 m²
Weight, Empty5,800 kg
Weight, Loaded7,940 kg
Weight, Maximum9,798 kg
Speed, Maximum667 km/h
Service Ceiling13,410 m
Range, Maximum1,770 km


An early, highly polished P-38 Lightning rolls out of the Lockheed hangar in Burbank, California, United StatesP-38 Lightning aircraft at rest at an airfield, 1940-1942P-38 Lightning in flight, 1940-1942P-38 Lightning aircraft being built at the Lockheed factory in Burbank, California, United States, date unknown
See all 138 photographs of P-38 Lightning Heavy Fighter

Did you enjoy this article or find this article helpful? If so, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.

Share this article with your friends:


Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds

Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Clay says:
6 Jan 2010 03:02:29 PM

Please post the statistics and details in ENGLISH/AMERICAN Measures...FEET....INCHES...POUNDS....MILES...etc. Crap WE won the war after all.
2. Richards says:
24 Apr 2010 12:04:51 PM

Where can I find more information about my uncle George Richards, P38 pilot who died in South Pacific?
3. luc says:
4 Aug 2011 06:51:34 AM

the P-38 was a bad surprise when it entered service in the solomons in late 1942.
The Lighning replaced the P-39 and inflicted heavy losses to Japanese fighter and bomber units.
I've found an interesting document about the first operation of the Lighning over the Solomons.
4. America...F*@k YEAH! says:
11 Feb 2012 08:01:27 AM

@ Clay

Quit being LAZY and convert it yourself...we didn't win the war with it.
5. Fernando says:
23 Jun 2012 01:32:11 AM

Thanks for posting perfomances in international units. The rest of the world is fed up about miles, feet and so on ...
6. Elena says:
15 Dec 2013 07:38:27 AM

Hi Folks,

The P-38J Lightning is an awesome plane! Here is a great site I found for, very high quality wooden replicaÔÇÖs and they offer over 600 different Airplane, Helicopter and Military vehicles. Check this website out

7. Anonymous says:
14 Mar 2016 04:57:49 PM

Fernando....Screw "the rest of the world". I don't live in "the rest of the world". I live in America, I grew up here being taught and using "miles, feet and so on..." and those 'international units' so dear to you mean nothing to me. I know how to convert them but it is cumbersome to do it when there are a lot of them in a list or article. I don't have a mental concept of metric measurements. If you like them so much, why don't you go live 'over there' and be among like company. The whole idea of people trying to shove metrics down my throat sucks. They need them shoved up where the sun doesn't shine.
8. Anonymous says:
25 Jul 2018 07:09:55 PM

Hey anonyomous ... your humility is awesome. When the world burns I hope you're standing on top of the bonfire with torch in hand. It would be fitting.
9. Craig Maddox says:
6 Nov 2022 01:40:07 PM

looking for information on 2lt William Ray Maddox 1 st Fighter Group-27 Fighter Squadron p-38 pilot

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Comment Type
Your Comments


1. We hope that visitor conversations at WW2DB will be constructive and thought-provoking. Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment. All comment submissions will become the property of WW2DB.

2. For inquiries about military records for members of the World War II armed forces, please see our FAQ.

Search WW2DB
More on P-38 Lightning
Notable Figure:
» Kelsey, Benjamin

Notable Event:
» Operation Frantic

P-38 Lightning Heavy Fighter Photo Gallery
An early, highly polished P-38 Lightning rolls out of the Lockheed hangar in Burbank, California, United States
See all 138 photographs of P-38 Lightning Heavy Fighter

Famous WW2 Quote
"All right, they're on our left, they're on our right, they're in front of us, they're behind us... they can't get away this time."

Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, at Guadalcanal

Support Us

Please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 a month will go a long way. Thank you!

Or, please support us by purchasing some WW2DB merchandise at TeeSpring, Thank you!