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Weapons of World War Two

The Assassination of Admiral Yamamoto (Apr 1943)

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Version depicted: P-38F

Lockheed P-38F Lightning

The two engines of the Mitsubishi G4M2 bomber buzzed in a regular way that morning of April 1943. At the controls an expert veteran piloted the aircraft with particular attention. He knew that he had an exceptional passenger onboard, Admiral Yamamoto, who was going to effectuate an inspection route on some bases. Until that moment the flight had been a quiet one. The escort of "Zeros" seemed to ensure the safety of the illustrious passenger against any danger, when unexpectedly six strange silhouettes clearly stood out in the sky. We do not know if Yamamoto's pilot had enough time to see them, but if he was able to he immediately understood to which aircraft they corresponded, for they were very characteristic ones. The escorting fighters immediately charged against the aggressors, but not even the excellent "Zero" could do a lot against the P-38 "Lightning" which were attacking them. By maneuvering in a desperate way they managed to shoot down one of them, but this did not prevent the others to carry out their mission: to kill the most famous strategist of Japan. But which was this aircraft and why had it been chosen for this particular mission of execution? The history of the P-38 started in 1936, when the US Army Air Corps, the aviation of the United States Army, had requested from the aeronautical industry a fighter aircraft of exceptional prestations. Among these, for example, a maximum speed not lesser than 580 kilometers/hour. Thinking that those of the Supermarine "Spitfire" and the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the two best fighters of that moment, were 571 and 550 kilometers/hour, respectively, could lead anyone to feel discouraged, and so were all of the companies involved except Lockheed, which began to examine all of the possibilities, even the least orthodox ones, to be able to solve the problem. Meanwhile, to begin with, it was decided to equip the aircraft with two propulsion plants, two huge Allison V-1710 of 1150 horsepower each. Naturally, the constructive problem of the fuselage made apparition, which was solved by discarding it and prolonging after the engines a twin tail whose ends were united by a long horizontal stabilizator, which topped off the ensemble. The pilot was placed, along with the fore landing wheel and the armament, in a strongly armored cell located in the center of the wing. The armament comprised four 12.7-millimeter machine guns and a light cannon, initially a 23-millimeter one and later a 20-millimeter one, all of them installed in the nose. Hence, the concentration of firepower was impressive. However, even if the aircraft was a product of the most advanced concepts and of a refined aeronautical technology, it can not be said that it was a perfect one. It was undoubtedly gifted with a high speed, a great operational range and a great robustness, but the maneuverability was rather poor in respect of that of single-engine fighter aircraft. This one and other inconveniences caused this aircraft to be both loved and feared by the pilots. For example, the maneuver recommended for the event of abandoning the aircraft required to perform a flip in such a way that the pilot, once the canopy were open, could "slip down" to avoid the danger of being cut in half by the long tail plane. But, despite all of that, the P-38 was the aircraft which shot down more Japanese aircraft than any other in the Pacific. Having entered service in July 1941, the "Lightning" revealed itself as an excellent polyvalent fighter aircraft, fighting in every front until the last days of the war. Almost 7000 exemplars were produced.

Lockheed P-38F Lightning
Designer: Technical team led by H. L. Hibbard and C. L. Johnson

First flight: 27 January 1939 (XP-38)

Wingspan: 15.85 meters

Wing area: 30.43 square meters

Length: 11.53 meters

Height: 3.91 meters (XP-38); 3.00 meters (P-38F and P-38H)

Full load/Empty weight: 6993/5220 kilograms (XP-38); 8165/5563 kilograms (P-38F); 9028/5615 kilograms (P-38H)

Payload/Crew: 1773 kilograms/1 (XP-38); 2602 kilograms/1 (P-38F); 3593 kilograms/1 (P-38H)

Engines: Two Allison V-1710-11 of 1150 horsepower each (XP-38); two Allison V-1710-49 of 1325 horsepower each (P-38F); two Allison V-1710-89 of 1425 horsepower each (P-38H)

Time to reach 6096 meters of altitude: 6 minutes 30 seconds (XP-38); 8 minutes 48 seconds (P-38F); 8 minutes 30 seconds (P-38H)

Maximum speed: 665 kilometers/hour (XP-38); 636 kilometers/hour (P-38F); 647 kilometers/hour (P-38H)

Service ceiling: 11582 meters (XP-38); 11887 meters (P-38F and P-38H)

Defensive armament: Four 12.7-millimeter machine guns and one 23-millimeter cannon (XP-38); four 12.7-millimeter machine guns and one 20-millimeter cannon (P-38F and P-38H)

Drop armament: 908 kilograms of bombs (P-38F); 1816 kilograms of bombs (P-38H)

Operational range (normal/with supplementary tanks): 684/3098 kilometers (P-38F); 483/3862 kilometers (P-38H)

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