A P pilot usually got his training in two ways. The first way, of course, was twin-engine advanced training in Curtiss AT-9s, which had the unhappy feature of having propellers you couldn't feather. After sixty hours of this, the student received ten hours of AT-6 gunnery, although he might get his gunnery training in the AT-9, since AT-6s were in short supply. The , as you know, was the British version of the airplane, and they came with assorted equipment and things on them that nobody could predict.
A second way to get into the P was to transition from single engine fighters. In this event, someone probably took him up in a multi-engine transport or bomber and demonstrated engine shutdown a couple of times after skimming the tech order, a blindfold check, and then Ignoring the check list not for real fighter pilots!
More than one neophyte has described his first "launch" in a P as being hit in the ass with a snow shovel. True, he had been warned about the magic number of miles per hour his Vme editor:Vmca or single-engine control speed. He had swam in glue during a couple of prop featherings while in formation with his instructor.
He was, also, warned never to turn into a dead engine, never put down the gear until he had made the field, and never to go around with one caged. That was about it until shortly thereafter the old Allison time bomb blew up, and he was in business the hard way. Right on takeoff. Some overshot or undershot and they bent the whole thing.
Some tried a single-engine go-around anyway, usually with horrible results. Such happenings would make a son of a bitch out of any saint. The Air Corps, as far as I knew, never did change its pilot training. Theater indoctrination at Goxhill in England had received the same overhaul that had occurred in the States. The most important of all may have been the training units set up by the combat organizations themselves. Here it was possible to up-date training to the latest information and for individual commanders to put their special stamp on things and develop new tactics.
For context, we present a previously unpublished letter from the Commanding Officer of the 20th Fighter Group, to the 8th Air Force Headquarters. The letter spells out the problems faced by the P Groups in clear, unambiguous terms. They are intended purely as constructive criticism and are intended in any way to "low rate" our present equipment. After flying the P for a little over one hundred hours on combat missions it is my belief that the airplane, as it stands now, is too complicated for the 'average' pilot.
I want to put strong emphasis on the word 'average, taking full consideration just how little combat training our pilots have before going on as operational status. As a typical case to demonstrate my point, let us assume that we have a pilot fresh out of flying school with about a total of twenty-five hours in a P, starting out on a combat mission.
He is on a deep ramrod, penetration and target support to maximum endurance. He is cruising along with his power set at maximum economy. He is pulling 31" Hg and RPM. He is auto lean and running on external tanks. His gun heater is off to relieve the load on his generator, which frequently gives out under sustained heavy load. His sight is off to save burning out the bulb. His combat switch may or may not be on.
Flying along in this condition, he suddenly gets "bounced", what to do flashes through his mind. He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. At this point, he has probably been shot down or he has done one of several things wrong. Most common error is to push the throttles wide open before increasing RPM. This causes detonation and subsequent engine failure.
Or, he forgets to switch back to auto rich, and gets excessive cylinder head temperature with subsequent engine failure. In my limited experience with a P group, we have lost as least four 4 pilots, who when bounced, took no immediate evasive action. The logical assumption is that they were so busy in the cockpit, trying to get organized that they were shot down before they could get going. The question that arises is, what are you going to do about it?
This is the signal for everyone to get into auto rich, turn drop tank switches on, gun heaters on, combat and sight switches on and to increase RPM and manifold pressure to maximum cruise. This procedure, however, does not help the pilot who is bounced on the way in and who is trying to conserve his gasoline and equipment for the escort job ahead. What is the answer to these difficulties? During the past several weeks we have been visited at this station time and time again by Lockheed representatives, Allison representatives and high ranking Army personnel connected with these two companies.
They all ask about our troubles and then proceed to tell us about the marvelous mechanisms that they have devised to overcome these troubles that the Air Force has turned down as "unnecessary". Chief among these is a unit power control, incorporating an automatic manifold pressure regulator, which will control power, RPM and mixture by use of a single lever. It is obvious that there is a crying need for a device like that in combat.
It is easy to understand why test pilots, who have never been in combat, cannot readily appreciate what each split second means when a "bounce" occurs. Every last motion when you get bounced is just another nail in your coffin. Any device which would eliminate any of the enumerated above, are obviously very necessary to make the P a really effective combat airplane.
The P-38: When Lightning Strikes
It is also felt that that much could done to simplify the gas switching system in this airplane. The toggle switches for outboard tanks are almost impossible to operate with gloves on. My personal feeling about this airplane is that it is a fine piece of equipment, and if properly handled, takes a back seat for nothing that the enemy can produce.
But it does need simplifying to bring it within the capabilities of the 'average' pilot. But I also believe that it is difficult for men like them to place their thinking and ability on the level of a youngster with a bare 25 hours in the airplane, going into his first combat. That is the sort of thinking that will have to be done, in my opinion, to make the P a first-class all around fighting airplane.
Captain Stan Richardson of the 55th Fighter Group recalls some of his experiences as an instructor before his tour with the 55th at a stateside RTU. The airplane was a "dream" on single-engine. While I was instructing in P's at Muroc AAF, on occasion the instructor and three students four ship flight would each feather the right propeller remember, only a single generator, and that on the left engine for a "tail chase" which included loops, slow and barrel rolls, and just generally having a good time. The exercise was to instill confidence in the pilots ability to control the aircraft on one engine.
My area of "expertise" while instructing at Muroc was single-engine demo's in a piggyback P Take-off on two engines, feather the right engine shortly after take-off. Climb to 10,'. Demonstrate various emergency procedures landing gear and flap extension , propeller operation in fixed pitch simulating electrical failure , high speed stalls, a loop, a roll or two, then return to the airfield for landing on one engine.
Make a typical fighter approach on the deck, pitch out, drop the landing gear, then some flaps, finally full flaps and plunk it onto the runway. For a short period in my life flying P's I had as much time on one engine as I did on two. Keep in mind that most of my P flying occurred just after my 20th birthday. Some of my P combat time was while I was a 20 year old snot-nosed kid. No brains, lotsa luck.
I love that bird It was a dandy flying machine in instrument conditions associated with poor weather. I had to return once from Berlin on one engine. No problem. Heiden went on to discuss some of the problems inherent with high altitude escort missions over Europe. He points out that all the combat instructors who gained their experience in Africa or in the Pacific, had done the vast majority of their combat flying below 20, feet.
Therefore, new pilots were trained to fly the P at altitudes below that height. Very few pilots had flown the Lightning at the altitudes required by 8th Air Force mission profiles and were loath to do so. Many of the P trained pilots arriving in Britain requested assignment to the 9th Air Force in order to fly at lower levels where they had both experience and confidence in the ability of the airplane to do the job. Nonetheless, the high priority given to providing escort fighters determined that nearly all the incoming pilots were destined for the 8th.
Most P pilots were completely unprepared for high altitude operations nor the technical problems involved. This is what the curriculum called for and they gave it their best, but those early airplanes, the way they were set up, just wouldn't make it. There were disastrous incidents of ignition breakdown because of high-tension leakage. The oxygen systems were woefully inadequate. This is what they put into the airplane and the pilot in the cockpit was stuck with he had.
It just wouldn't do the job. No one liked 30, feet anyway. There had been no training for it. There had never been any need for it. It was too cold and the windows frosted up.
It was miserable. Now, suddenly, turbochargers were running away. They were blowing up engines on the basis of one engine blow up every seven hours. Intercoolers were separating the lead from the fuel and the result was lowered octane. Hands and feet were freezing; pilots were calling their airplanes airborne ice wagons and they were right. Frost on the windows got thicker than ever. Most disgusting of all was the leisurely way the German fighters made their get-aways straight down. If a generator was lost or a low battery the Curtis Electric prop would lose the Dynamic Brake and go to extreme Low Pitch.
It could happen on Take Off with a low battery. Since you couldn't feather it set up a lot of drag making it difficult to make it around to land. The Killer situation was to lose the Generator or lose the engine with the Generator on it while 2 or 3hrs into Germany. Procedure was to SET the Props then turn off all electrical power.
Then momentarily turn it back on to reset the props as needed. Being sure everything electrical was also turned off -- No Radios. The forgotten thing was you were at altitude and the OAT was degrees and the little old battery was cold soaked. Hence, dead as a dog. I have no statistics to back me up on this, but believe, that more Ps were lost from this than any other factor including combat. This simple problem did not receive attention until April, ' This is the need of boost pumps to maintain fuel pressure to the engines at around 20,' and above.
No boost pumps, a pilot will need to get down to 20K or below, and if he needs more than cruise power he will have to get way down low. So there I was holding in the circuit breakers with my right hand while flying with my left, hoping to get to a lower altitude before something burned up. No two ways about it. No time to shake things out, to discover your problems. You got there and zap, you were in up to your eyeballs. This meant that everything flyable went and everything that still had wings would be made flyable. No matter what. This in effect was the same as demanding, by direct order, that everyone and everything must have, immediately if not sooner, percent combat capabilities.
Like Casey Jones, the pressure was all the way up without any margins whatsoever. It can never be emphasized too strongly. It makes up the Gospel Word. The PL. Now there was the airplane. You just couldn't get away from the PL. Whatever the German could do, the American in the PL could do better. The higher the indicated airspeed, the slower the response. At very high IAS it took plenty of muscle to roll the airplane. I don't believe that a joystick would have improved matters over the wheel.
The Luftwaffe soon recognized the slow roll rate of the "H" and early "J" model Lightnings and used it to their advantage. It also learned of the dive restrictions caused by "compressibility" and used that advantage also. Sometime in the development of the P, the design engineers must have realized that P's didn't have great roll capability. When Tony Levier, Lockheed test pilot, visited the 55th FG, he heard a common thread of complaints from the pilots.
Cold cockpit, poor "flick" roll rate, and inability to dive after the Bf's and FW's from high altitude. The complaints were relayed to the Lockheed factory, and design changes were incorporated in the PL. Prior to the arrival of the "L's" at Wormingford, many modification kits were shipped to Langford Lodge, North Ireland, for field modifications of the "J" model Lightning then arriving in the theater.
Unfortunately, an early shipment aboard a DC-4 was lost at sea when the Brits shot the cargo plane from the sky. It took several months to replace the lost modification kits. The kits added dive recovery flaps under the wings, outboard of the engines, and a psi hydraulically boosted aileron system. The PL's were now coming down the production line with the aileron boost and "speed boards" installed. P's from the J's onward were what we should have had when we went operational in October The compressibility problem of the P was also experienced by P Thunderbolts, and was not a mystery to aeronautical design engineers.
Roll Rate? Nothing would roll faster. The dive recovery flaps ameliorated the "compressibility" Mach limitation of earlier Lightnings. An added benefit of the dive recovery flaps was their ability to pitch the nose degrees "up" momentarily when trying to out turn the Luftwaffe's best, even when using the flap combat position on the selector. Of course the nose "pitch-up" resulted in increased aerodynamic drag, and must be used cautiously.
High speed is generally preferred over low speed in combat situations. Properly flown, the Fowler flaps of the P allowed very tight turning radius. We had run into a real mess and the Luftwafe was bouncing everybody. My flight had just been bounced, did the break, and the Luftwaffe kept on going. While I was on guard, I saw this other flight get bounced.
While the rest of that flight did a halfhearted break, old tail-end Charlie's P emitted a cloud of exhaust smoke thought he had been hit , saw his nose come up and wrap up his turn. Before I could think, old 4 was in the lead of that flight. Impressed the hell out of me. Turned out to have been Fiebelkorn -- he was off to a good start. The decision to replace the PJ in the 8th AF with the P, rather than the PL, meant that the 8th never got to exploit the full performance and combat potential of the P It was so easy and comfortable to fly.
The P had kept us on our toes and constantly busy--far more critical to fly. You never could relax with it. We were disappointed with the 51's rate of climb and concerned with the reverse stick, especially if fuel was in the fuselage tank, the rash of rough engines from fouled plugs, and cracked heads which dumped the coolant.
With the 38 you could be at altitude before landfall over the continent, but with the 51 you still had a lot of climbing yet to do. The 38 was an interceptor and if both engines were healthy , you could outclimb any other airplane, and that's what wins dog fights. When you are in a dog fight below tree tops, it is way more comfortable in a 38 with its power and stall characteristics and, for that matter at any altitude. Two P FGs, 1-P FG that will not be operational till late Oct and have to workout tactics and maintenance problems, which all are severe.
Forced to take the bombers to, over and withdraw them. Sometimes as few as four fighters made it to target under attack continuously going and coming. Five minutes of METO power was planned into the profile. Meaning that if you fought over five minutes you wouldn't make it home. Remember, you were being bounced continuously. Now fighter groups don't have to go the whole to, over, and from target. Internal fuel on Ps has been greatly increased with Wing and Leading edge tanks.
Ps are starting to get external fuel tanks. This had increased the cost of war exponentially to the Germans. March, April, and May brought vicious battles, often with heavy loses. However, Germany were throwing their valuable flight instructors and hr students in to the battle. The Luftwaffe was at last starting to die. The Mustang was a delight to fly, easier to maintain cheaper to build and train pilots for, and had long legs. In those respects you can rightfully call it better, but it could not do anything better than a PJ or L.
Just remember who took the war to the enemy and held on under inconceivable odds. Enough of the crap. The PJ resolved the intercooler efficiency problems of the earlier subtypes via the use of a core type intercooler in the forward nacelle chin. While prototypes were being tested in early , PH production continued. The new nacelle chin provided increased oil cooling capacity, and automatic control of the intercooler vent, resulting in the full availability of the 1, HP War Emergency rating of the F powerplant.
Other design changes were introduced, including enlarged glycol radiators in the tail booms, in later build aircraft additional outboard leading edge tanks, and two major control system changes. These were hydraulically boosted ailerons which decreased control forces by a factor of six, and electrically actuated dive flaps under the wings which cured the dive compressibility problems.
The latter were fitted standard from the PJLO, sadly almost all retrofit kits intended for earlier PJ subtypes were lost in a friendly fire incident in early , thereby delaying the introduction of this important modification to theatre units by several months. In addition, the windscreen was changed to flat armour glass plate, the control wheel was changed and proper cockpit heating and defrosting fitted. Although the heating and defrosting problems were not fully cured until the arrival of the PJLO, which was nearly identical to the penultimate PL. The electrical fuses were replaced with breakers allowing the pilot to reset the breaker in flight rather than suffer the loss of a system.
The result was an aircraft which could well exceed the Luftwaffe fighters in performance, while further extending the type's radius performance. The invasion of the Philippines saw redeployment from New Guinea to the Philippines, and the th FG, Satan's Angels, with four squadrons of Ps led the scoring contest, well ahead of the mixed FG's. By the end of the war, the th had destroyed for 56 losses, a ratio of The 49th, having flown mostly Ps and Ps, with some PDs thrown in for good measure, out scored the th with air to air victories. A much publicized event in the Pacific was the visit by Charles Lindbergh, who widely disseminated the knowledge of range performance improvement through optimal cruise control technique discussed above , getting the message to pilots and unit commanders throughout the theater.
In the Med, the PJs flew from Italy on escort and fighter sweep missions into Southern and Central Europe, attacking targets as far North as Vienna and Prague, and repeatedly raiding the Rumanian oilfields at Ploesti. The Ploesti oilfields were the target of many a B raid, with questionable results, P strikes however reduced production to a fraction of full capacity.
The Ps became a familiar sight all over Europe, strafing railway locomotives and Flak sites in areas once the inviolate domain of the Luftwaffe.
The Amazing Lockheed P Lightning, Best Plane of WW2?
With ability to carry two 2, lb bombs to substantial radii the P became a major battlefield interdiction asset, playing a key role in the invasion. The PJ was followed by the PL, deliveries of which commenced in June, , almost 4, were built by the end of hostilities. The PL was fitted with F engines, delivering equal or better power to higher altitudes, and slightly larger fuel tanks, with booster pumps in the wings. Detail changes included the first tail warning radar in a fighter.
By the end of , the role of the P, like that of most Allied fighters, had shifted to tactical ground support largely due to the absence of serious fighter opposition. As the Third Reich crumbled and the Japanese retreated into their final defensive perimeter, the operational career of the P reached its final stage. Expensive to maintain and fly, most Ps were phased out soon after the end of hostilities in the Pacific, the F Mustang assuming its role. The last operational Ps remained in service with several US aligned Third World countries, but spares availability and operating costs soon led to their demise.
Today only a small handful of aircraft remain, with even fewer flyable. The speed and range of the F-4 guaranteed success and set the trend, with the later PG metamorphosising into the F-5A, of which no less than 60 were built. Later photorecce subtypes were created by conversion from fighter airframes rather than new build. The PJ was the last subtype to provide for new built photorecce airframes, with built as F-5B-1 models, followed by F-5C-1 and an undisclosed number of F-5E-2 and F-5F conversions. The subsequent PL was only ever modified for this role, with rebuilt to E-3 configuration and many more to other subtypes, including the F-5G with the bulbous nose configuration.
Another important variant of the P was the Droop Snoot. The P could carry up to two 2, lb bombs, or at more useful radii, one bomb and a USG tank. This involved removing the armament, installing a transparent perspex nose with an optical flat panel, fitting a Norden gyro stabilised bombsight and adding lead ballast and armor plate about the bombardier's station. At least one aircraft is known to have had a flexibly mounted. New tool. USD Order now. Previewed on The Modelling News. Previewed on Ninetalis Scale Models. Previewed on Hyperscale.
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