The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was a non-conventional design that remained in production throughout World War Two. It saw service in the European Theater of operations but it found its niche in the Pacific. Its long range capabilities came into use in the vast distances encountered in military operations in that theater. The two top scoring American Aces, Richard Bong (40 victories) and Thomas McGuire (38 victories), flew the P-38 Lightning.

       Originally designed to fulfill an Army request for an interceptor the P-38 would turn out to be one of the best fighters of World War II. A non-standard planform was chosen by the Lockheed design team. A central nacelle would house the nose landing gear, the armament and the pilot while the engines, main landing gear and turbo superchargers would be in the twin booms.

       The P-38’s long range capabilities were proven early on when just a month after the XP-38’s (serial # 37-457) first flight on January 27, 1939 it was decided to attempt a cross country flight from California to New York. On February 11, 1939 the sole XP-38 left March Field, CA and after making refueling stops at Amarillo, Texas and Dayton, Ohio attempted to land at Mitchell Field, New York. Unfortunately carburetor icing problems caused one engine to stall causing a steep turn and the prototype hit the tops of some trees and crashed into a sand pit. The Army determined the cause of the crash had nothing to do with the design and ordered the P-38 into production.

       By the summer of 1942 the Allies had begun to plan the eventual invasion of continental Europe. The movement of men and materiel from the United States to Great Britain was known as Operation Bolero. It was decided that the best airplane in the American inventory to compete with the Luftwaffe was the P-38. Thankfully Lockheed had been working on modifications to increase the Lightning’s range and by July of 1942 the transfer of fighter aircraft began. Because of the limited navigational abilities of fighter aircraft it was decided to have B-17s escort groups of P-38s over the long stretches of open ocean. The route would involve departure from Presque Isle, Maine with stops in Goose Bay Labrador, Bluie West 1 and Bluie West 8 in Greenland, Reykjavik, Iceland and finally Great Britain.

       On July 14, 1942 a group of six P-38 escorted by two B-17s headed out from Bluie West 8 headed for Reykjavik. After about 5 hours of flying they ran into bad weather and decided to return to their starting point. Unfortunately they were low on fuel and would have to attempt to set down on the Icecap. The first Lightning to land tried to do so with his landing gear down causing it to flip over. The remainder of the airplanes belly landed with their gear up. Due to continuing bad weather it was three days before a parachute drop of food and supplies was made. On July 19 a recue party arrived and crews of the B-17s and P-38 made the 15 mile trek to the coast and transport to safety.

       In 1992 the Greenland Expedition was able to recover one of these P-38s, Lockheed P-38F-1-LO serial # 41-7630, c/n 222-5757. In the 50 years since the emergency landing the glacier had moved the location and covered the airplanes of the “Lost Squadron” under 268 feet of ice and snow. “Glacier Girl” was restored to flying condition by October of 2002 and can be seen at airshows around the country.

Bibliography:

       The Lockheed P-38 Lightning By Warren M. Bodie Widewing Publications ISBN 0-9629359-0-5

       Wikipedia Article on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning

       Lockheed Martin Company - P-38 History

       AviationHistory.com - Lockheed P-38 Lightning

       17 Little Known Facts about the Lockheed P-38 Lightning

       USAF Museum P-38 Lightning Fact Sheet

       Wikipedia Article on Opertion Bolero

       Wikipedia Article on Glacier Girl

       Air & Space Magazine article about Glacier Girl

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