Airborne Awesomosity

P-38 Engine Start

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Click to largerify

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning is a damn sexy bird. It was primarily used in the Pacific Theater during WW2 as a bomber, night fighter, ground attack, and long range escort. It was extremely forgiving, but that meant it was also not quite as maneuverable as some of the other fighters in the war. Therefore, it’s use as a dogfighter was limited. It was also the only US aircraft to be in production from Pearl Harbor through V-J Day. Hit the jump for a video of the P-38J at the Chino Planes of Fame Museum, 23 Skidoo, startup and taxi. Crank up the speakers and immerse yourself in the sound of the two turbo-supercharged Allison V-1710-89/91 engines.

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[Image Credit: Public Domain]

  • Deartháir

    God that's sexy. The Lightning has been one of my favourite planes for as long as I can remember. It's just gorgeous.

    • Plecostomus

      As long as I can recall, I've loved the P-38. And as a kid I HAAAATED prop-driven craft, because who needs big ugly props when you have turbines, right?? (yeah I've since changed my views)

  • B72

    Easy to manage? Didn't the early versions have some pretty serious issues with the elevators?

    • Actually, the elevator trim was the solution to it's problem. The tail booms were too flexible on early models, which led to a tail flutter issue during high speed maneuvers. The nose would tuck under and the plane would enter a steep dive, furthering the problem. Once the plane reached low transonic speeds the controls would lock up. At least one pilot was able to get out of this by messing with the elevator trim. The solution was to install high speed dive flaps that would deploy to keep the pressure on the underside of the wing in bounds with the pressure on the top of the wing.

      My statement about it being an extremely forgiving aircraft ignored this issue because it was corrected on all aircraft after the initial order of 65 planes were delivered. The design of the P-38 meant it was a dynamically stable aircraft, which naturally makes it a very forgiving aircraft. It also means it isn't quite as maneuverable as some of the other fighter aircraft of the time. Think 747 vs. F-16.

      • Number_Six

        The P-38 was always on the verge of greatness but a lot of little things conspired against it. For example, while later P-38's had the elevator fix built-in, as 'neerd describes, Lockheed built kits to retrofit earlier models that were already in service by the thousands in Europe. They put all the kits for Europe on one transport in 1943 but that ship was torpedoed by a U-boat on its way to England and so the earlier models were left with the compressibility issues that tarnished its reputation.

      • B72

        So it sounds like it was a 2 stage solution:1) Stiffen the tail booms to prevent tail flutter and unintended diving.2) Add dive flaps to counteract control lock-up during transsonic flight.As I recall, the understanding of transsonic regimes was pretty weak during this period, and they really struggled to understand what was happening. This is the only explanation I have for why they experimented with putting big ugly weights on the elevator.

      • TurboBrick

        That high speed dive issue is kind of a big deal when the plane is a "Boom and Zoom" fighter in the first place.