Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The P-38 Lightning

P-38L "Ruff Stuff" was at Thunder Over Michigan 2012, too.

And it flew for us, too.

Inverted, even.

This is the fighter that almost never was. In 1939, Lockheed and the Army decided to race the only prototype cross-country from Los Angeles to New York. The aircraft set a new record, making the flight in just over seven hours, including two fuel stops, but then crashed just short of the field in New York, destroying the aircraft. It was the only one and it's loss nearly shut down the P-38 project right then and there. But it's flight was so impressive that production went on with new prototypes and it became a premier fighter in both the European and Pacific Theaters.

Out of the 10,000 produced for the war, there's a dozen left flyable world-wide today.

Additional P-38 trivia: The last P-38 "ace" in the European Theater was none other than Robin Olds, who became legendary as a pilot and a leader in the US Air Force.


  1. Cool planes. They also were the principles in Operation Vengeance, the killing of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

  2. 20 years ago, one of my neighbors had been a P-38 pilot in the Pacific theater. Cool guy, cool plane.

  3. Sweet! I remember building P-38 models as a kid...

  4. Revis Sirmon bought 'his' P-38 back in 1968 for $1200 dollars, and flew it for six years. He said it was one of the birds he'd flown with the 49th. He loaned it to a guy to go fly a show with, and he crashed on takeoff by turning right (P-factor pulled the acft over into the ground)... Sad loss...

  5. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet!!! Love that bird!

    One of the only good things about workin in retail was getting to meet vets (of all eras). I ran into a guy one day, I happened to catch a glimpse of his ballcap, with the original Army Air Corps emblem. I said "love the hat" in passing (helping another customer at the time), and he mentioned that I probably had no idea what it actually meant. I was on a computer near where he was standing, and said "if I'm not mistaken, that's the Army Air Corps logo". He nodded, and asked if I'd ever heard of the "Lightning". I guess the grin on my face answered that for him. Turned out he was a P-38 driver from WW2. We had a good conversation after I finished up with my customer! LOVE that plane!!!

  6. Ah Robin Olds... Go watch 'Dogfights'. He had a few of his famous ones on it including shooting down a German fighter while in 'glide mode'.

    Glide mode?

    That is he forgot to switch tanks when he released his drop tanks and his engines ran out of fuel, while he and his buddy attacked something like 20 German fighters. Shot the first one down while he still had dead engines.

  7. @Old NFO:

    since the p-38 has counter-rotating props, why would P-factor be involved in a turn?

    I was in the Reno Air Race pits in '83 when Lefty Gardner cut short a flight in his "White Lightnin" and returned with one prop feathered. Lots of oil on the boom, and when the engine side cover was removed, there was a hole in the side of the engine block I could have stuck my head through.

    No drama, like the single engine planes tended toward with engine failure.

  8. Paul:

    I think the British had a better idea for fuel tank routing. Drop tank fuel was fed into the main tank, in fact they all were, IIRC. No manual switching from tank feed to tank feed. That poor design caused some lost aircraft and crew. Jeff Ethell died in a P-38 crash at Tillamook, due to this problem, in '97.

  9. I hope Jeff Ethell smokes a turd in heck for crashing that P-38. There are too damned few of my favorite WWII fighters left flying to lose one to pilot error.

  10. IIRC, in '83 or '84, a mechanic working on a P-38 based at the racing venue airfield moved one of the main gear control levers. Engines off, no pressure, no problem. He later fired up an engine he was testing. OOOPS!!! Damage to wing, prop, tail, and possibly engine, when that side retracted. All black plane, was expected to fly before the end of the meet. Was rather sickening to look over and see it sitting at a drunken angle.

  11. Kevin:

    Jeff (call sign "fighter writer") crashed while his father was observing. His father was a P-38 pilot in WWII, in the ETO.

    Don't know how common the technique was, but his dad described his method of killing German fighters by luring them into a climbing turn that would have them doing a stall/spin if they didn't quit early enough. He would then chop one throttle, stomp on the rudder, and the P-38 would rotate around the pilots seat, essentially. Throttle up, and it was already pointed downhill at the out of control German fighter.

    Jeff tried it in an earlier flight, and said it worked beautifully.

    Apparently, the P-38 could maintain that climbing turn too tight for the Germans to bring their guns to bear. I'm thinking the Germans didn't get many chances to learn from that mistake!