Lockheed P-38L Lightning

Primary Guns
2 x Browning M2 0.5" (12.7mm) machine guns with 500 rpg in nose
Secondary Guns
2 x Browning M2 0.5" (12.7mm) machine guns with 500 rpg, plus 1 x Bendix M2C 20mm (licensed Hispano II) cannon with 150 rpg in nose
Defensive Guns
2 x 250 lb (113 kg) or 2 x 500 lb (227 kg) or 2 x 1,000 lb (454 kg) or 2 x 2,000 lb (907 kg) bombs or 2 x 2,216 lb (1005 kg) Mk.13a torpedoes or 2 x 990 lb (449 kg) drop tanks on underwing centerplane pylons, plus 10 x 136 lb (63 kg) 5" HVAR rockets under consoles
2 x Allison V-1710-111/113 turbo-supercharged in-line-Vs rated at 1,475 hp each at sea level (1,550 hp with WEP) and 1,690 with WEP at 6,230 ft (1900 m)
Int Fuel Capacity
2,460 lbs (1116 kg)
Ext Fuel Capacity
1,980 lbs (898 kg), in 2 drop tanks under wing centerplane.
Maximum Speeds
360 mph (579 kph) at 5,000 feet (1525 m), 390 mph (627 kph) at 15,000 feet (4570 m), 414 mph (666 kph) at 25,000 ft (7620 m)
Climb Rate
2,800 ft.per minute (853 m/min), 4.0 min to 10,000 ft (3050 m), 7.0 min to 20,000 ft (6100 m).
Service Ceiling
44,000 ft (13410 m)
900 – 2,300 miles (1448 – 3700 km)
52 ft 0 in (15.85 m)
37 ft 10 in (11.53 m)
9 ft 10.5 in (3.01 m)
Loaded Weight
17,500 lbs (7938 kg)
Wing Area
327.5 sq ft (30.42 sq m)
Wing Loading
53.4 lbs/sq ft (260.3 kg/sq m)


Between the “G” and “L” models, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning saw several improvements made to its combat capabilities. In the “H” model, the center wing pylons were further strengthened to allow bombs of up to 2,000 lbs. weight to be carried. Additionally, the Lightning was successfully tested carrying one or two torpedoes, but was seldom used in combat as there were more suitable aircraft available for such duty.

The “J” model added two more fuel tanks, bringing the total internal capacity to over 400 gallons. More powerful Allison engines were introduced and for the first time, the clean lines of the Lightning were changed with the addition of large “chin” radiators under each engine. While the larger surface area increased drag somewhat, the improved engine cooling gave the plane more power, which more than compensated for the additional drag. The improved Lightning was capable of reaching a top speed of over 420 mph at altitude.

In an effort to improve overall maneuverability, the “J” model featured hydraulically operated ailerons, the first example of power-operated controls on a fighter. Additionally, a small electrically operated dive flap was introduced, which helped offset problems due to compressibility in high-speed dives.

With the P-38L version came even more powerful engines, with an output of 1,475 hp for take-off and 1,600 hp war emergency power. This version also saw the introduction of underwing racks enabling the use of ten 5-inch HVAR rockets. Initially mounted flush with the bottom of the wing, the rocket rails eventually were formed as a “tree”, which hung down under the wing.

The P-38L began to appear in squadron service in June 1944 and delivery continued until the end of the war. The “L” model was the last day-fighter variant to see service in WWII.


  1. Speed — With improved engines, the P-38L was capable of reaching over 420 mph in level flight.
  2. Guns — The armament of one 20mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns is in the same class as that of the standard US six machine gun configuration with the added advantage of no convergence issues because all the guns are in the nose.
  3. Ordnance — Capable of carrying up to 4,000 lbs. of bombs or torpedoes, plus ten 5″ rockets, the P-38L can inflict more damage than many medium bombers.


  1. Maneuverability — Despite the addition of powered ailerons, the P-38L is still a handful and the successful pilot will avoid turn fights.



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