Like many Second World War fighter aircraft the P-38 soon developed into a formidable fighter bomber, capable of carrying two 2,000lb bombs on internal fuel. This 4,000lb payload was the same as that carried by early B-17 bombers or by the de Havilland Mosquito B Mk XVI. However, while the bomber Mosquitoes had a clear nose to aid bomb aiming, the solid nose of the standard P-38 limited the accuracy possible with level bombing.
The P-38 Droop Snoot was developed to act as a bomber leader for formations of standard P-38J fighter bombers. The original idea was proposed by two officers based at the 8th Air Force Headquarters – Colonels Cass Hough and Don Ostrander. The development work was carried out at Lockheed’s modification centre at Langford Lodge, Northern Island, where a P-38H had its guns removed, and replaced by a wooden mock-up of the proposed bombardier’s position. This aircraft was used for flight tests.
The key to the Droop Snoot project was the new nose. The guns were replaced by a bombardier/ navigator’s position, with a transparent Plexiglas bubble nose cone (similar in profile to that used on the Mosquito). The nose contained a Norden bombsight, the bomb release controls and navigation equipment. It is not entirely clear how many Droop Snoots were produced. Twenty three P-38Js were converted to the new role at Langford Lodge. One hundred conversion kits was also produced, but it is not clear how many were used.
Less well known is the second part of the Droop Snoot modification. This was carried out on the other aircraft in a P-38 group, and allowed the bomb aimer in the Droop Snoot aircraft to drop the bombs for an entire group. By October 1944 all three P-38 groups in the 9th Air Force were equipped to carry out Droop Snoot missions.
The Droop Snoot entered active service on 10 April 1944, when one was used to lead forty-two P-38Js of the 20th Fighter Group against the Luftwaffe base at Gutersloh in Germany. P-38 Droop Snoots could be found serving from bases in Britain and Italy throughout the rest of the war.