Lockheed P-38L Lightning

Last revised June 13, 1999

The P-38L was the final production version of the Lightning and was numerically the most important of all the Lightning versions. Lockheed built 3810 P-38Ls and Consolidated-Vultee at Nashville built 113 more. The P-38L was powered by 1475 hp Allison V-1710-111/113 engines with a war emergency rating of 1600 hp at 28,700 feet and a military rating of 1475 hp at 30,000 feet. Except for the more powerful engines, the P-38L was generally quite similar to the previous P-38J.

The P-38L was produced in two blocks. The 1290 P-38L-1-LOs were similar to the P-38J-25-LOs except for the new engines. Some were modified by the USAAF as TP-38L-1-LO two-seat familiarization trainers. The 2520 P-38L-5-LOs had submerged fuel pumps and, after the unsatisfactory testing fourteen five-inch HVAR on zero-length launchers beneath the wing outer panel, underwing rocket "trees" for ten five-inch rockets were mounted. The racks underneath the wing center sections were strengthened to enable either 2000-lb bombs or 300-US gallon drop tanks to be carried.

Like the P-38J, the P-38L could be fitted with either a glazed bombardier station or bombing radar in the nose.

P-38L-1-LO Ser No 44-23601 was fitted with three 0.60-inch machine guns in a postwar experiment. However, tests at Elgin AFB in 1946 were not successful. The guns themselves betrayed structural deficiencies, and the shell links failed whenever the aircraft underwent either positive or negative acceleration.

P-38L-1-LO Serial No 44-24649 was modified as a specialized ground strafing version with eight 0.50-inch guns in the nose and two underwing pods each carrying two more 0.50-in machine guns

P-38L-5-LO Ser No 44-25605 was rebuilt by Hindustan Aircraft in India as a special VIP aircraft for a General Stratemeyer. The plane had a transparent nose, which made it look a lot like the "Droop Snoot" pathfinder Lightnings used in the European theatre. The General sat in a special seat inside the nose, and the inside walls of his "office" were lined with leather. There were even provisions for a built-in Thermos jug (I won't even ask what was IN the jug :-)). Sort of reminds me of General Dreedle in the movie *Catch 22*. Nowadays, if *Sixty Minutes* were to get wind of such an extravagance on the part of the military, heads would roll.

Specification of the P-38L:

14,100 lbs empty, 17,500 lbs combat loaded. Maximum speed was 360 mph at 5000 feet, 390 mph at 15,000 feet, 414 mph at 25,000 feet. An altitude of 20,000 feet could be reached in 7 minutes. Service ceiling was 40,000 feet. Maximum range at sea level was 900 miles. At 30,000 feet, maximum range was 2260 miles (with drop tanks). Dimensions were wingspan 52 feet 0 inches, length 37 feet 10 inches, height 12 feet 10 inches, and wing area 328 square feet Armed with one 20-mm Hispano AN-M2C cannon with 150 rounds and four 0.50-inch Browning machine guns with 500 rounds per gun.

There were two photographic reconnaissance versions of the P-38L, designated F-5F and F-5G. All F-5F and F-5G photo-reconnaissance planes were modified from existing P-38L airframes at Lockheed's modification center in Dallas. The photographic-reconnaissance version of the P-38L-5-LO was designated F-5F-3-LO. It combined the P-38L-5-LO airframe and engines with the revised camera installation of the F-5F-LO. The last photographic-reconnaissance version of the Lightning was the F-5G-6-LO. It was modified in Dallas from P-38L-5-LO airframes. It differed from the F-5F-3-LO in having revised nose contours to provide more space for photographic equipment and a wider selection of cameras. No record seems to survive of the serial numbers of the P-38Ls that were converted to F-5F and F-5G photo-reconnaissance aircraft.

In June 1944, the USAAF had supplemented Lockheed's production capacity with a order from the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation plant at Nashville, Tennessee for 2000 P-38L-5-VN fighters. These planes were similar to the Lockheed-built P-38L-5-LO. Delays in getting the new production line started resulted in only 113 P-38L-5-VNs being delivered to the USAAF by the end of the war in August of 1945. Shortly after V-J Day, the remaining 1887 aircraft of the order were cancelled. A similar fate befell 1380 P-38L-5-LO fighters then on order from Lockheed.

After the war was over, large numbers of P-38Ls were scrapped or sold off as surplus. The small number of P-38Ls still remaining in USAF service in 1948 were redesignated F-38L.

There is a P-38L currently on display at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. However, it is painted as a P-38J-10-LO with a serial number of 42-67855.

The serial numbers of the P-38L were as follows:

44-23769/25058 	Lockheed P-38L-1-LO Lightning 
44-25059/27258 	Lockheed P-38L-5-LO Lightning 
44-53008/53327 	Lockheed P-38L-5-LO Lightning 
44-53328/54707 	Lockheed P-38L-5-LO Lightning - order cancelled.  
43-50226/50338 	Convair P-38L-5-VN Lightning 
43-50339/52225 	Convair P-38L-5-VN Lightning - contract cancelled.  

  1. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987

  2. The P-38J-M Lockheed Lightning, Profile Publications, Le Roy Weber Profile Publications, Ltd, 1965.

  3. War Planes of the Second World War, Fighters, Volume Four, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.

  4. Famous Fighters of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1967.

  5. The American Fighter, Enzo Anguluci and Peter Bowers, Orion Books, 1987.

  6. United States Military Aircraft since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.