Lockheed P-38E Lightning

The P-38 Lightning was the best American Fighter in the early part of 1943.  With high speed and long range it could be very effective when used by pilots well familiar with its capabilities.  But its complexity and maintenance needs made it difficult to deploy forward until infrastructure was well developed.

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After the jump, join me a look at one of the first P-38s assigned to a war zone.

The P-38 Lightning was a complex and sophisticated machine for its time.  Its two engines and powerful Super Charger gave it good performance at any altitude and the ability to carry a heavy load of weapons or fuel.  But the development period was long due to that complexity, and its different characteristics meant tactics needed to be different from most other fighters.

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The P-38E entered production in late 1941.  This was the first version of the fighter to be considered “combat ready” by the Army Air Force with pilot armor, self sealing fuel tanks and a majority of teething problems fixed.  Some P-38E aircraft were modified at the factory to carry long range drop tanks as well.  This modification was apparently the result of some unofficial wrangling between the head of fighter procurement at Wright Field (modern Wright-Patterson AFB, the home base of AAF fighter development) Lt Ben Kelsey and Lockheed designers.  This was completely contrary to AAF policy at the time that considered any such “add ons” to be detrimental to fighter performance.  Obviously this policy changed as war time necessity became clear and this fitting became standard with the P-38F.  But only a portion of P-38E production had this ability.

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The Japanese captured two of the Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska in June of 1942 as part of the extended Midway Operation.  This led to a reorganization of assets in that area.  Relevant to this  post, the 343rd Fighter Group was formed with two squadrons of P-40s and one squadron of P-38s, the 54th Fighter Squadron. (an additional squadron of P-40s was added the next year).  The group was deployed to Umnak Island which put them in range of the Japanese occupied Aleutians, at least the P-38s were in range.  This would be a remote and demanding theater of war.  Many missions were flown in fog and cloud for their entire duration and icing was a continuous hazard; losses to weather far exceeded combat losses.

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After the Japanese were driven out of the islands in mid 1943 the 343rd Fighter Group switched to a wholly defensive posture for the rest of the war.

A line up of 54th FS Lightnings in the Aleutians (from warbirdresourcegroup.org)

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I’ve already built two aircraft from the 343rd Fighter Group; what are the odds!

This is the Academy kit with Aeromaster decals.  It represents an aircraft with the 54th FS during the Kiska campaign of mid 1943.  The kit is interesting, I’ve previously built the Hasegawa Lightning which is a much more detailed kit; more “modern”.  I’ve seen many reviewers comment that this Academy kit is an easier build but I’m not sure I agree.  The fit and alignment issues seem similar with both kits.  The advantage to this Academy kit is simply that it offers more variants (P-38E and photo-recon versions are offered by Academy, but not Hasegawa).

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The Japanese did not develop much in the way of permanent facilities in the Aleutians, so float fighters would have been a regular adversary.

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About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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13 Responses to Lockheed P-38E Lightning

  1. jfwknifton says:

    A beautifully made kit of the P-38. It was rejected by the RAF as useless but they had refused the offer of superchargers, to the great surprise of the American manufacturers. If you’ve ever driven the same model of car, with and without a turbo, I presume it would be the same kind of difference.

    • atcDave says:

      Yes and the difference grows even more pronounced at altitude.

      Apparently the RAF order didn’t even include handed engines. The handling was so poor that when the RAF rejected them the USAAF had to replace an engine (with an opposite turning one) to even use them as trainers!

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    Definitely my favorite airplane.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Just one comment Dave playing in my head…

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:

    The Alaska campaign is so much interesting.

  5. Like the P-51 the P-38 was a classic in the right set up. A fabulous model.

  6. Beautiful build and a great write-up again Dave.

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