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.
XP-322 crashed Feb. 11, 1939
Service test aircraft
YP-38 with 37mm cn. and four .50-cal. mgs.
P-38 40-762 with press. cp. and 20mm cn.
B and C designators never assigned
Improved P-38; self-sealing fuel tanks
Improved P-38D; 20mm cannon
Improved P-38E; V-1710-49 and 53
Improved P-38F; V-1710-51 and 55
Improved P-38G; V-1710-89 and 91
P-38G 42-13558 with V-1710-75 and 77
Improved P-38J; V-1710-111 and 113
P-38L modified as night fighter
TECHNICAL NOTES (P-38L): 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