The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a technological marvel when it arrived in the Pacific theater in August 1942: turbocharged twin Allison engines, tricycle landing gear, Fowler flaps, butt-jointed and flush-riveted skin, bubble canopy and enough speed that it could tweak the tail of that jet age dragon called compressibility. The Japanese had nothing like it, […]
When you think of the hot fighters of the Pacific War, you are likely to be thinking about the Curtis P-40 Warhawk, Grumman’s F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat, the Vought F4U Corsair, and the North American P-51 Mustang.
Forgotten all too often was the fork-tailed devil, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Not a carrier fighter, it did not carry much of the load in the island-hopping campaign through the Central Pacific. But where it did engage – usually in the Southwest Pacific and the Philippines – it was a powerful and successful machine.
The planes were outclassed by the end of the war, not by the enemy, but by increasingly powerful US planes like the P-51, the P-47, and the Corsair. The fork-tailed devil disappeared from US inventories quickly after the end of hostilities.
But what the aircraft demonstrated was the importance of enabling industry to create and the services to experiment with a variety of weapons designs, whether those weapons are aircraft, ships, tanks, rifles, or knives. When the time came for us to choose our weapons, what saved us were not always the choices made in peacetime (examples: look up the Brewster Buffalo, the P-39 Aircobra, and the M-3 Stuart tank) but the fact that we had alternatives already far enough along in development that we had choices.