The P-38D was the second version of the Lightning to reach production, after the P-38-LO. Thirty six P-38Ds were built, as part of the original order for 66 aircraft. The intervening letters were allocated to projects that did not result in production aircraft. One XP-38A was produced, with a pressurised cockpit, while the B and C projects did not even reach that stage.
The P-38D was not fully combat ready. It was meant to be armed with four .50 calibre machine guns and one 37mm cannon, but none carried the cannon. However it did carry self sealing fuel tanks, armour around the cockpit and a low pressure oxygen system, and was officially recognised as suitable for combat. The P-38D also saw the introduction of the wing fillets that had originally been installed on the Lightnings intended for the RAF to solve tail buffeting problems caused by airflow over the central section of the aircraft.
The P-38Ds were allocated to the 1st and 14th Fighter Groups and were amongst the first P-38s to see combat. They served in some very extreme environments – the 54th Fighter Squadron took its P-38Ds to Alaska in June 1942, while the 27th FS was deployed to Iceland. A P-38D of the 27th FS scored the type’s first victory over the Luftwaffe on 14 August 1942, when Lt. Elza Shahan, based on Iceland, destroyed a long range Fw 200 Condor. He only missed making the first P-38 kill of the war by ten days, having been beaten by the pilot of a P-38E over the Aleutian Islands.
Engine: Allison V-1710-27 and -29 (F-2)
Max Speed: 390mph at 20,000ft
Cruising Speed: 300mph
Rate of Climb: 8 minutes to reach 20,000 feet
Ceiling: 39,000 feet
Range: 970 miles