About the P‑38
After Kelsey's first flight, he went down to Washington D.C. with AAC General Henry "Hap" Arnold to try to sell the P‑38 program, based almost entirely on Kelsey's reports about the plane. A couple of months later, Lockheed had a deal to build 13 test P‑38s, known as YPs. The first YP flew on Sep 16, 1940.
Because of its unorthodox design (such as counter- rotating props), the P‑38 required several years to perfect it for combat. The early YP‑38s had some definite problems, including tail flutter and compressibility problems in a prolonged dive. Most of the problems were eventually addressed, and the first combat-ready 38s (the P‑38E rolled off the assembly line in October, 1941. The compressibility problem was solved in mid-1944 when dive flaps were added to the J and L models of the 38.
Oddly enough, the famous Lockheed "Lightning" was originally called the "Atlanta" (doesn't sound right, does it?). Our friends, the British, who had ordered several of them from Lockheed, thought "Lightning" sounded better, and the name stuck. Sadly, when the Brits had placed their order for Lightnings (British Model 322) they did not want to include the turbochargers or the counter-rotating props. (For a very "inside joke" bumper sticker, check out this one.) Big mistake in hindsight as it removed the Lightning's strongest assets and rendered them pretty useless in combat; the British Lightnings, therefore, never lived up to their potential and those planes were eventually returned to the States for refitting with counter-rotating props -- and were subsequently used for training purposes.
During the early years of production, Lightnings received the reputation of a plane that was tough to handle, especially on take-off if you lost one engine. Several Lockheed test pilots, including Tony LeVier, Ben Kelsey and Milo Burcham gave regular demonstrations of one-engine feats to assuage the concerns of the pilots who were going to fly this new and very different aircraft. Burcham was also the flight instructor on the P‑38 Training film (which you can view at the top of the left column).
The P‑38F was the first one to engage in extensive combat, primarily in North Africa, New Guinea and the Solomons in 1942 (view Solomon's mug). The P‑38G also entered service in late 1942, and 1,082 of them were produced, including the 374 former British Model 322s, which had been returned from Britain. The P‑38H was the next in line and was the first with fully automatic supercharger controls.
Then in June of 1944 the first P‑38J models were produced, and they were the first model that showed the 38s true potential. By that time, the following improvements and/or additions had been made: dive brakes, aileron boost, improved cockpit heating, electrical system circuit breakers, an adequate inter-cooler system, maneuvering flaps, flat bullet-proof windshield, better engines and dependable automatically controlled superchargers.
The final model, the P‑38L was introduced with a tremendous boost in horsepower and was able to reach altitudes of 28,700 ft., but that benefit was largely negated by the 500 extra pounds of weight it carried. Lockheed did build and test one P‑38K, but it was never mass produced because Allison couldn't guarantee delivery of the engines. There was a P‑38M, but they were actually P‑38L-5s which were modified to P‑38Ms (probably in Dallas, TX).
Lockheed proposed a carrier-based "Model 822" version of the Lightning for the United States Navy. The Model 822 would have featured folding wings, an arresting hook, and stronger undercarriage for carrier operations. The Navy wasn't interested, as they regarded the Lightning as too big for carrier operations and didn't like liquid-cooled engines anyway, and the Model 822 never went beyond the paper stage. (Here's what it "could" have looked like!) However, the Navy did operate four land-based F-5Bs in North Africa, with these aircraft inherited from the USAAF and redesignated "FO-1."