Flying the P-38 Lighting BY THE LATE JEFF ETHELL Too many pages to read maybe...? Ok, I'll paste the important information here. ....The single dominant impression is this thing is smooth and effortless to fly ?quite unlike the more complex warbird types. Managing both engines quickly becomes second nature. Stalls are docile; just a rumble as the airflow starts to break up and move toward the wingtips?no tip-stalling tendencies . To recover, just relax backpressure and fly away while shoving the throttles to full power with no worry of a snap-roll. At a 15,000-pound gross weight, a power-off gear- and flaps-down stall is 70mph! Those Fowler flaps are superb. While flying formation with the Cherokee Six camera ship, I was full of trepidation. The last time I did that in a Mustang, I held a bootful of right rudder, hanging on the ragged edge of a reduced power-on stall. At 100mph, I could hang the P-38 on its props , feet on the floor, and gently move the rudder to slide side to side.... ......Without much thought, I was entering his preferred combat maneuver; power up, I pictured a 109 on my tail and began an increasingly steep right-hand climbing turn. In turning and twisting with 109s and 190s, Dad never got a bullet hole in Tangerine, his P-38F. As the speed dropped below 150mph, I flipped the flap handle to the maneuver stop (which can be used up to 250mph) and steepened the turn. At this point, the 109 pilot, at full power with the right rudder all the way down, would have snap-rolled into a vicious stall if he had chosen to follow. I pulled the power back on the inside (right) engine, pushed the power up on the outside (left) engine, shoved right rudder pedal, and the Lightning smoothly swapped ends. Not only did it turn on a dime, but it actually rotated around its vertical axis as if spinning on a pole running through the top of the canopy and out the bottom of the cockpit. The maneuver was absolutely comfortable with no heavy G-loading. As the nose came through 180 degrees, I threw the flap lever back to full up, evened the throttles and headed downhill going through 300mph in less time than it takes to tell it. The 109 would have been a sitting duck. This transitional performance is what made the Lightning great in a dogfight; it gave it far more versatility than a single-engine fighter. No doubt, if it were flown like a single-engine fighter, it would come out on the short end, but when a pilot learned to use everything available to him, it was stunningly dangerous to the enemy. One final characteristic made all this worthwhile: there was no converging fire from the wings. A P-38 pilot could get all of his guns on target whether it was 10 feet or 1,000 yards away. Convinced they were flying the finest fighter of the War, Bong and McGuire were sold on this combination. They had no hesitation at going round and round with Zeros and Oscars, which were supposedly more maneuverable. However, once going downhill, the other Achilles heel of the Lightning comes out: compressibility. I never got there, but I passed 400mph in a dive without much time to think about it. There's a dive-limit placard in the cockpit, and observing it was absolutely mandatory. The Pilot's Instructions state, "As the airplane approaches the critical speed, it becomes rapidly nose-heavy and starts to buffet as if it were about to stall. If this condition is allowed to develop, the nose-heavy condition will become more pronounced, and it will be very difficult to pull out." Many never pulled out. Fortunately, the P-38L had dive flaps?large electrically driven surfaces under each outside wing that deflected no matter what the speed. I hit the switch on the wheel and, with no pull on the wheel at all, the plane pulled out and pitched up into a shallow climb. When I retracted the flaps, the nose pitched down into level flight?all with no input. Unfortunately, dive flaps did not come along until the late J Series?.... .....landing... Move flap handle to the maneuver stop; gear down below 175mph; 50 percent flaps at 150mph and settle into the downwind. From base to final, bring the power back to 18 inches and stabilize at 140mph. With the field made, add full flaps, bleed airspeed down to 120mph; over the fence at 100 to 110mph, but never exceed 100mph on touchdown or the P-38 will really eat up some runway. Both throttles to idle and pull the wheel back. That first landing at around 80mph felt like setting a baby carriage down with a satisfying squeak?way too easy . Hold the wheel back for aerodynamic braking, then lower the nose; we haven't gone much more than 2,000 feet. Absolutely amazing. With one engine out, the landing technique is similar with the following exceptions: 160mph and 1,600 feet on downwind, aileron boost off to conserve hydraulic power, 50 percent flaps at 140mph; partially reduce rudder trim, approach no slower than 130mph. At 44 inches and 2,600rpm, the P-38 will barely hold altitude with gear down and flaps up and will not hold any altitude even with some flaps extended. Do not extend full flap until closing the throttle on the good engine for landing. Below 500 feet with full flaps, you must land as it will not make a go-around. Off the active; brake to a stop; flaps up; coolant flaps full open; boost pumps off. Back to the parking area, throttles up to 1,200 rpm; stabilize temperatures; mixtures to idle cut-off; mags off; battery off. I have come full circle. Reining back some obvious prejudice from growing up with Dad's memories, I have come to see the P-38 in a far different light. There is little doubt in my mind I have flown the finest American fighter of WW II. It may have taken a little more time to master and certainly was more complex to maintain in the field, but the options available to the Lightning pilot were impressive. A talented, aggressive fighter pilot could clearly make the P-38 sing. I count myself fortunate to have heard, at last, that siren song. Lockheed P-38L Lightning SPECIFICATIONS Wingspan: 52 ft. Length: 37 ft., 10 in. Height: 9 ft., 10 in. Max. Takeoff weight: 22,000 lb. (14,000 lb. basic combat wt.) Total wing area: 220 sq. ft. Max. speed: 414mph at 25,000 ft. Range: 2,000 miles Armament: four 0.50 in. machine guns, one 20mm cannon Service ceiling: 44,000 feet. RELATIVE SIZES, Lightning vs. P-51D My feeling is that the P-38F and P-38J would carry most of the same settings with the slight exception of engine HP and the absense of boosted controls plus the divebrake/flap. Aside all of this....I am the only one complaining it seems, but these changes must be undone and possibly some updating as these P-38s were undermodelled anyway from the start!