Lockheed Lightning Mk I

Unlike many American aircraft of the Second World War the Lockheed Lightning did not see service with the RAF. However, the aircraft did gain its famous nickname from the British, during a period when it was being evaluated by the RAF.

France had placed the first export order for the Lightning, known for export as the Lockheed Model 322. The French order had been for 667 aircraft, using the Allison “C” series engines used on the XP-38, and without the turbo-supercharger. The supercharger seems to have been omitted partly for simplicity, and partly because the French saw the Lightning as a ground attack aircraft rather than as a high performance fighter.

After the collapse of France in June 1940, the RAF took over the French order. However the first three aircraft, by then given the British name Lightning Mk I did not reach Britain until 1942. By that time the need for them not as urgent as in 1940, and the un-turbo-supercharged Lightning did not perform well in RAF tests. The order was thus cancelled. The contract was then taken over by the USAAF, with early aircraft designated the P-322 and later aircraft merged into the P-38F and P-38G production runs.

Although the Lightning Mk I was in many ways a step backwards from the YP-38, it did see one major advance. The P-38 had suffered from tail buffeting, caused by poor airflow around the pilot’s pod and over the central wings.  Kelly Johnson, the P-38’s designer, produced a set of wing fillets, mounted on the front of the wings, where they met the pilot’s pod. These fillets smoothed out the airflow in that area and removed most of the buffeting. These fillets became a standard feature of the P-38D and all later models.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 May 2007), Lockheed Lightning Mk I, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_P-38_MkI.html

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