The P-38E was the first version of the Lightning to be produced in significant numbers (210 were built) and the first fully combat ready version of the aircraft. It was a P-38E that scored the Lightning’s first victory of the war, when Lt Stan Long, of the 54th Fighter Squadron, shot down a “Mavis” flying boat over the Aleutian Islands.
The majority of the over 2000 changes made to the design of the P-38 before the appearance of the P-38E were minor, and involved systems hidden away inside the aircraft, including the electrical systems, the control panels and improved radio equipment. The most obvious external change was that the large air scoop on top of each boom was replaced by two smaller scoops.
The P-38E also saw the first appearance of the standard P-38 armament, when the four .50in machine guns were joined by the Hispano-Suiza 20mm cannon, manufactured under license by Bendix as the M-1, replacing the 37mm cannon planned for earlier versions. A change to the design of the nose wheel meant that more ammunition could be carried for all five guns – machine gun ammunition was raised from 200 rounds per gun to 500, while 150 rounds were provided for the 20mm cannon.
The P-38E saw active service in the Aleutian Islands, where it was the standard American fighter – single engined aircraft lacked both the range and the reliability for use in the harsh conditions of the north Pacific.
The P-38E was the basis of the F-4-1 Photo Lightning, 99 of which were produced by replacing the nose guns with two K-17 fixed vertical cameras. It was also planned to produce a floatplane version of the P-38E. One aircraft was modified with a raised tail, necessary for taking off from water, but the project was cancelled after the battle of Midway, when it became apparent that such long range fighters would not been needed.
Engine: Allison V-1710-27 and -29
Max Speed: 395mph at 20,000ft
Cruising Speed: 300mph
Rate of Climb: 8 minutes to reach 20,000 feet
Ceiling: 39,000 feet
Maximum Range: 975 miles (combat radius of around 400 miles)
Span: 52 feet
Length: 37 feet 10 inches
Armament: One 20mm cannon and four .50in machine guns