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Posted 2/4/2011 Printable Fact Sheet
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Lockheed P-38
P-38s at refueling stop in Iceland on their way to England in the summer of 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The Lightning was designed in 1937 as a high-altitude interceptor. The first one built, the XP-38, made its public debut on Feb. 11, 1939, by flying from California to New York in seven hours. Because of its unorthodox design, the airplane experienced "growing pains," and it required several years to perfect it for combat. Late in 1942, it went into large-scale operations during the North African campaign where the German Luftwaffe named it "Der Gabelschwanz Teufel" -- "The Forked-Tail Devil."

Equipped with droppable fuel tanks under its wings, the P-38 was used extensively as a long-range escort fighter and saw action in practically every major combat area of the world. A very versatile aircraft, the Lightning was also used for dive bombing, level bombing, ground strafing and photo reconnaissance missions.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force has a P-38L on display.

Type Number built/
XP-38 1 XP-322 crashed Feb. 11, 1939
YP-38 13 Service test aircraft
P-38 30 YP-38 with 37mm cn. and four .50-cal. mgs.
XP-38A 1 (cv) P-38 40-762 with press. cp. and 20mm cn.
P-38B/C 0 B and C designators never assigned
P-38D 36 Improved P-38; self-sealing fuel tanks
P-38E 210 Improved P-38D; 20mm cannon
P-38F 527 Improved P-38E; V-1710-49 and 53
P-38G 1,082 Improved P-38F; V-1710-51 and 55
P-38H 601 Improved P-38G; V-1710-89 and 91
P-38J 2,970 Improved P-38H
P-38K 1 (cv) P-38G 42-13558 with V-1710-75 and 77
P-38L-LO 3,810 Improved P-38J; V-1710-111 and 113
P-38L-VN 113 Vultee-built P-38Ls
P-38M 75 (cv) P-38L modified as night fighter

Armament: Four .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon
Engines: Two Allison V-1710s of 1,475 hp each
Maximum speed: 414 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,100 miles
Service ceiling: 40,000 ft.
Span: 52 ft.
Length: 37 ft. 10 in.
Height: 12 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 17,500 lbs. loaded

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