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P-38 Lightning


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Another thing to consider with the P38, it was very hard to mistake it for a enemy aircraft.

 

Nothing else in the sky looked like it.

 

This was a blessing and a curse.  It helped to minimise friendly AAA and such, but it also made it easy for the bad guys to spot you while you were still trying to figure out if that was a Spit or a 109.

 

Identifcation at range with the P38 was pretty easy for the opposition.

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Which is why it was the designated top cover fighter for the Normandy invasion fleets. The sailors could tell the difference. :D

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I agree if you mean the best to see action, but it couldn't hold a candle to the beautiful DH Hornet which was in service by the end of the war but just too late to see action.

 

Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and discussion forum

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I don't know anything about the Hornet, but I was thinking the F7F would have been awefully Nice.

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My all time favorite airplane! :D Couple of things I've been wondering about ...

 

Many sites on the net provide the following data on the weights of the various 38 variants:

 

38J

weight, empty: 12,780 lbs

weight, loaded: 17,500 lbs

weight, max: 21,600 lbs

 

38L

weight, empty: 14,100 lbs

weight, loaded: 17,500 lbs

weight, max: 22,000 lbs

 

Okay, so an empty L weighs roughly 1,320 lbs more than an empty J. Fine. But how come a normally loaded L doesn't weigh any more than a loaded J??? Did they just give her less fuel or what? Or is this just another case of people getting the different models messed up, and the L's loaded weight is actually higher (or the J's lower) than that?

 

Also, does anyone know how the climb rates of the J and L models compare to each other? I know that the J was slightly faster than the L (420 mph vs 414 mph, at 25 kft respectively). Did it climb a little (noticeably) better than the L, too?

 

Oh, and lastly, I *think* I once heard someone claim that 2 engines capable of 1,600 hp will give you more forward acceleration than 1 engine capable of 3,200 hp. Is this true, and if so, why?

Edited by Red Ant
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Oh, here's another question. I've heard a lot of people state that the 414/420 mph ratings for the L and J are actually the top speed at military power rating and the Lightnings could actually reach 444 mph at 25.8 kft (on War Emergency Power). Do you guys suppose that's true, or are they just a little too enthusiastic about the Lightning??

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Oh, here's another question. I've heard a lot of people state that the 414/420 mph ratings for the L and J are actually the top speed at military power rating and the Lightnings could actually reach 444 mph at 25.8 kft (on War Emergency Power). Do you guys suppose that's true, or are they just a little too enthusiastic about the Lightning??

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You have the speeds backwards, the L-5 was faster than the J. The L had an additional 100 hp, about 3.5% should give a speed increase of about 1.8%. Speeds of the P-38J and L were approx 414-417 mph & 417-421 mph mil respectively*. Simple extension to 1600 hp and 1725 hp WEP gives about 428 mph for the J and about 438 mph for the L. That is probably pretty close to what they were really capable of, maybe just a few mph too high. In tests the P-38J managed about 421- 426 mph, virtually the same as the P-51 was capable of when equipped with wing pylons. The P-38L was likely in the 435 mph range, so much for the P-38 being the slowest USAAF fighter.

 

*Rocket pylons would have knocked a few mph of either one, so an L-5 on 1475 hp x2 with plyons may have been about the same as a J w/o pylons on 1425 hp x2. The L power and speed figures are based on the Lockheed and Allison limits of 3200 rpm for the V-1710-F30, which the USAAF never officially authorized, but appears to be fairly common in service.

 

Greg Shaw

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The P-38 was the best overall fighter of WW2 because of it's versatility. There was no single engine fighter that did what the P-38 did throughout the war. The P-38 was the best US fighter that was used from beginning to end of the war.

 

Early problems were attributable to a complex design with need for improvements, high pilot skills and maintenance. Most of the ETO engine problems were due to bad gas for the Allison's.

 

A couple single engine fighters had some better performance specs but in the late production P-38J-25- LO and P-38L models all prior performance problems went away. The P-38 models climbed faster and longer range than the P-51 and the P-47. It had better controllability and stall characteristics than either the P-51 and P-47. The P-38 carried a greater weapons load than either.

 

In the later J and L models the P-38 could manuver & dive with any German aircraft. It was also a very manuverable fighter when flown by a pilot that knew how to fly it. It had the longest range of any fighter in WW2.

 

Folks also think the P-51 & P-47 didn't have their own problems, but they were fixed, as in the 38, but they were also easier to build.

 

In summary, the P-38 was THE fighter in the PTO, highly in demand in the MTO, and came on strong late in the ETO. It was also the most survivable, high performance fighter of WW2.

 

The facts support all that.

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There were some pretenders to the throne, but other than the P-51, none of them could do it 600-800 miles from home.

 

I don't know how you can say the P-51 was the long-range leader when old model P-38's were doing 950 mile radius missions in 1943. That was further improved on with the longer range P-38J's and L's with a max combat range of 2,300 miles. No P-51 could match the P-38 in range.

 

Those are the facts...

Edited by Talyn
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I don't know how you can say the P-51 was the long-range leader when old model P-38's were doing 950 mile radius missions in 1943.  That was further improved on with the longer range P-38J's and L's with a max combat range of 2,300 miles.  No P-51 could match the P-38 in range.

 

Those are the facts...

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I didn't say the P-51 was the long-range leader, I said it was the only other plane that could fight effectively 600+ miles from home. Trust me, I'm fully aware of what the P-38 was capable of.

 

Greg Shaw

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P-47N Thunderbolt used in Pacific wasn't too shabby with range either.

 

From:

 

http://www.adamsplanes.com/P-47N.htm

 

" It was designed specifically for the Pacific Theatre where long range flights over water were a necessity. With its squared-off wingtips and extra internal fuel tanks it had a range of 2300 mi. More than 1,800 Ns were built."

 

More info from:

 

http://home.att.net/~jbaugher1/p47_13.html

 

"The P-47N gave excellent service in the Pacific in the last year of the War, particularly in escorting B-29 Superfortress bombers in raids on the Japanese mainland. P-47Ns were able to escort the bombers all the way from Saipan to Japan and on many other long, overwater flights."

 

and

 

"Performance of the P-47N-5-RE included a maximum speed of 397 mph at 10,000 feet, 448 mph at at 25,000 feet, and 460 mph at 30,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 2770 feet per minute at 5000 feet and 2550 feet per minute at 20,000 feet. Range (clean) was 800 miles at 10,000 feet. Armanent included six or eight 0.50-inch machine guns with 500 rpg and two 1000-lb or three 500-lb bombs or ten 5-inch rockets. Weights were 11,000 pounds empty, 16,300 pounds normal loaded, and 20,700 pounds maximum. Dimension were wingspan 42 feet 7 inches, length 36 feet 4 inches, height 14 feet 7 inches, and wing area 322 square feet."

 

Cheers,

 

M.S.

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In summary, the P-38 was THE fighter in the PTO, highly in demand in the MTO, and came on strong late in the ETO.  It was also the most survivable, high performance fighter of WW2. 

 

The facts support all that.

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The facts again say it had the highest per sortie loss rate of any USAAF fighter in ETO/MTO.

 

I appreciate learning from detailed tech discussions like GregS's, but the operational record of the P-38 against the Germans was definitely inferior to that of the P-51, and I'd say P-47 as well. Of course there are always extenuating circumstances in any operational comparison (when, where, specific opposition and numbers, etc). But by the same token there are always intangibles beyond paper comparisons of hp, roll rate, speed, wing loading, etc. too, and those depend on which versions one chooses for the comparison, so implies a certain timeframe.

 

I can't see calling the P-38 the best USAAF fighter as a clear overall conclusion. The most to say is that in some situations at some times it was most suitable. The obvious one being SWPA in 1943 when it had range to influence ground/amphib operations at a high level. How far an amphibious jump you could make under landbased air cover was a critical consideration, the P-38 could deal well with the contemporary Japanese fighters (but let's be careful to consider real kills not claims in evaluating how superior it was to them), the contemporary P-47's were much shorter legged and the P-51B and after weren't available.

 

Joe

Edited by JOE BRENNAN
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The facts again say it had the highest per sortie loss rate of any USAAF fighter in ETO/MTO... . .

I can't see calling the P-38 the best USAAF fighter as a clear overall conclusion. The most to say is that in some situations at some times it was most suitable. The obvious one being SWPA in 1943 . . .

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The P38 was arguably the perfect fighter for the Pacific both because of its strengthes (long range, 2 engines for over water flights, etc.) but also because of the Japanese opposition's weaknesses.

 

Japanese fighters had low top speeds, poor altitude performance, and bad diving performance.

 

In Europe, where both contemporaries and opponents had none of these drawbacks, the P38 did poorly.

 

If you want a dramatic example of the performance penalities inherent in the P38's twin engine design: look at the performance of both the P38 and the P51 with standard Allison engines (i.e. no-superchargers and before the Merlin respectively).

 

The P51, as the A36, was a fast, maneuverable and highly capable low altitude plane. The P38s, the infamous "castrated Lightnings," were so bad the British refused delivery.

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The P-38 fought when the Luftwaffe was still alive and kicking, often against the odds, The P-51 only arrived in numbers when P-38's, Spits, Hurris, P-40's and P-47's had already torn much of the guts out of Germany's Luftwaffe.

 

Poor tactics, and millions of teething problems ensured that the early P-38's didn't do so well against the Germans. But most of those problems were fixed later in the war, and at that time the 38's could mix it up with any other fighter out there.

Edited by Red Ant
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The P-38 fought when the Luftwaffe was still alive and kicking, often against the odds, The P-51 only arrived in numbers when P-38's, Spits, Hurris, P-40's and P-47's had already torn much of the guts out of Germany's Luftwaffe.

 

Poor tactics, and millions of teething problems ensured that the early P-38's didn't do so well against the Germans. But most of those problems were fixed later in the war, and at that time the 38's could mix it up with any other fighter out there.

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Excellent points!

 

Right on

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The P38 was arguably the perfect fighter for the Pacific both because of its strengthes (long range, 2 engines for over water flights, etc.) but also because of the Japanese opposition's weaknesses.

 

Japanese fighters had low top speeds, poor altitude performance, and bad diving performance. 

 

In Europe, where both contemporaries and opponents had none of these drawbacks, the P38 did poorly.

 

If you want a dramatic example of the performance penalities inherent in the P38's twin engine design: look at the performance of both the P38 and the P51 with standard Allison engines (i.e. no-superchargers and before the Merlin respectively).

 

The P51, as the A36, was a fast, maneuverable and highly capable low altitude plane.  The P38s, the infamous "castrated Lightnings," were so bad the British refused delivery.

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Not even close to being a valid comparison. There is a big difference between a 1940 circa V-1710-C15 and a 1943 circa V-1710-F21. The RAF required the C15, for compatibility with the very early model P-40s they were buying at the same time. And even with the "unsupercharged" C15 they were as fast at medium altitudes as the Spitfire Mk V. The RAF reneged on their purchase because fighting altitudes were increasing, and Allison had stopped development of the C series in favor of the E and F series. Besides which British insistence on using the C15 had eliminated the P-38's advantage of no net torque reaction due to the counter-rotating props.

 

There is no such thing as an unsupercharged Allison. EVERY Allison had an integral single-stage/single-speed blower, some had aux stages as well, either driven by exhaust gasses or by a variable speed hydraulic drive.

 

(No references handy, so going from memory)

 

The C15 had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 8.77:1 gears, 1150 hp mil @ approx 11,000 ft (don't remember more exactly)

The F3R (P-51, P-40D, E) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 8.80:1 gears, 1150 hp mil @ 12,000 ft & 42 in Hg, 1490 hp WEP @ 4300 ft & 56 in Hg

The F4R (P-40K, M) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 8.80:1 gears, 1150 hp mil @ 12,000 ft $ 42 in Hg, 1580 hp WEP @ 2500 ft & 60 in Hg

The F5R/L and F10R/L (P-38E, F, G) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 7.48:1 gears, 1325 hp mil 47 in Hg

The F17 (P-38H, J, L-1) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 8.10:1 gears, 1425 hp mil & 54 in Hg, 1600 hp WEP & 60 in Hg

The F20R (P-51A, P-40N) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 9.60:1 gears, 1125 hp @ 15,500 ft, 1410 hp @ 9500 ft & 56 in Hg

The F21R (A-36) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 7.48:1 gears, around 1325 hp @ 5000 ft or so mil, about 1500 hp @ SL WEP

The F-30R/L (P-38L-5) had a 9.5 in impellor driven by 8.10:1 gears, 1425/1475 hp mil & 54 in Hg, 1600/1725 hp WEP on 60/65 in Hg

 

*you can find contradictory information on the 8.80:1 Allisons, some references give 1150 hp @ 10,500, 10,700 ft or 11,700 ft and anywhere from 44.5 in Hg to 46 in Hg. I have a theory on why that is, but I'm trying to conserve electrons. Likewise P-38L-5 power figures are inconsistent. Some give the same 1425/1600 hp 54/60 in Hg 3000 rpm figures as the F17. Others say 1475/1725 hp 54/60 or 54/65 3200 rpm. The only figure that works out even close is 1725 hp 65 in Hg 3000 rpm. None of the others make much sense, and the 3200 rpm 65 in Hg figure should be closer to 1825 hp than 1725 hp.

 

Greg Shaw

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The P-38 fought when the Luftwaffe was still alive and kicking, often against the odds, The P-51 only arrived in numbers when P-38's, Spits, Hurris, P-40's and P-47's had already torn much of the guts out of Germany's Luftwaffe.

 

Poor tactics, and millions of teething problems ensured that the early P-38's didn't do so well against the Germans. But most of those problems were fixed later in the war, and at that time the 38's could mix it up with any other fighter out there.

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The point isn't that the P38 was a bad plane. It was just never a maneuverable plane. If you have speed, climb and dive advantages and can use energy tactics, this doesn't matter and against the Japanese the P38 had these.

 

The P38 didn't have these advantaqes in Europe against ME109s and FW190s (the A models at low altitudes and probably the D models at any altitude). It would fare similarly poorly against later P47s and P51s and Corsairs, not to mention Spitfires.

 

IMHO if you are going to say that, for some reason, P38 pilots in ETO used bad tactics and that was the problem, you need to back it up with some reason to assume ETO pilots were less capable and flexible than PTO pilots.

 

Was the P38 the premier land based fighter of the Pacific war? Yes. Was it impressive for its range and altitude capabilities, even when compared to later designs? Yes. Could it "mix it up with any other plane out there" in 1944-45? No.

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Not even close to being a valid comparison. There is a big difference between a 1940 circa V-1710-C15 and a 1943 circa V-1710-F21.

 

There is no such thing as an unsupercharged Allison.

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Ref unsupercharged: stupid mistake on my part, I should have said "not turbo charged"

 

I don't disagree that a 1943 Allison is a better engine than a 1940 model, but I'd also point out that the 1940 Lightning was rejected based on a comparison to enemy aircraft from 1940 while the 1943 A36 was successful being compared to enemy aircraft from 1943. The A36 may have had a somewhat superior engine but it faced much better opposition. I think my point stands up.

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The point isn't that the P38 was a bad plane.  It was just never a maneuverable plane.  If you have speed, climb and dive advantages and can use energy tactics, this doesn't matter and against the Japanese the P38 had these.

 

The P-38 was actually a very maneuverable plane. When a pilot used his amazing fowler flaps (which could increase the plane's effective lift by 30%) It certainly could fly a tighter turn than ANY fighter in the German inventory. Early P-38's were troubled by their poor roll rate, but starting with late J versions, the P-38 was equipped with power-assisted controls turning the P-38 into the fastest rolling American fighter, almost en par with the Fw-190.

 

The P38 didn't have these advantaqes in Europe against ME109s and FW190s (the A models at low altitudes and probably the D models at any altitude).  It would fare similarly poorly against later P47s and P51s and Corsairs, not to mention Spitfires.

In terms of maneuverability, the P-38 would have all of them beat, except the Spitfire of course. There was nothing special about the P-47 and the P-51. They weren't great at turning and their roll rate was not bad, but not really excellent either. The Spitfires excelled at low speed maneuvers but their high speed handling, especially their roll rate suffered badly.

 

IMHO if you are going to say that, for some reason, P38 pilots in ETO used bad tactics and that was the problem, you need to back it up with some reason to assume ETO pilots were less capable and flexible than PTO pilots.

 

Oh, not the pilots. The brass. Early P-38 squadrons were limited to staying very close to the bombers instead of being free to roam out and climb to higher altitudes. This meant that they were often in a very disadvantageous position when the Germans attacked.

 

Was the P38 the premier land based fighter of the Pacific war?  Yes.  Was it impressive for its range and altitude capabilities, even when compared to later designs? Yes.  Could it "mix it up with any other plane out there" in 1944-45? No.

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I suppose I can't convince you otherwise, so let's just agree to disagree.

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The P-38 was actually a very maneuverable plane. When a pilot used his amazing fowler flaps (which could increase the plane's effective lift by 30%) It certainly could fly a tighter turn than ANY fighter in the German inventory. Early P-38's were troubled by their poor roll rate, but starting with late J versions, the P-38 was equipped with power-assisted controls turning the P-38 into the fastest rolling American fighter, almost en par with the Fw-190.

In terms of maneuverability, the P-38 would have all of them beat, except the Spitfire of course. There was nothing special about the P-47 and the P-51. They weren't great at turning and their roll rate was not bad, but not really excellent either. The Spitfires excelled at low speed maneuvers but their high speed handling, especially their roll rate suffered badly.

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Sources? Detailed information on roll and turn rates is scarce, so if you have something with all this for all these planes I'll go get a copy.

 

In Bergerud's "Fire In The Sky," an account of the south Pacific airwar in which he speaks at length, and very positively, about the P38, he mentions the P38 shortcomings I'm referring to. A couple comments (truncated) are:

 

"However pilots learned that the simple tactic of putting the nose down . . . could lead to catastrophe in a P38. Lockheed eventually put dive brakes on the Lightning . . . but the Lightning would never dive as fast as other US planes."

 

"Because the ailerons had to move the weight of the engine as well as the wing, simple inertia made the initial rate of roll slow, which hurt the P38 more in Europe than in the Pacific."

 

He quotes General Kenney, 5th USAAF commander, as saying "Now the P38 is not a bad combat airplane - I'd give it a 75 as compared to the P51 [at 100]" By the way, he goes on to say that he prefered the P38 to the P51 for very long range escort missions anyway because of the lower pilot stress from having the safety of two engines over water, so there's no bias towards the P51 there.

 

He also refers to the F6F Hellcat out turning any US fighter in the Pacific.

 

and this quote from Robert DeHaven who had 10 kills in P40s and an additional 4 in P38s:

 

"[P38s] limitations on tactics were the same as we were accustomed to in the P40 BUT EVEN MORE SO (emphasis added) . . . At many altitudes you could out turn a P38 in a P40."

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Sources?  Detailed information on roll and turn rates is scarce, so if you have something with all this for all these planes I'll go get a copy.

 

In Bergerud's "Fire In The Sky," an account of the south Pacific airwar in which he speaks at length, and very positively, about the P38, he mentions the P38 shortcomings I'm referring to.  A couple comments (truncated) are:

 

"However pilots learned that the simple tactic of putting the nose down . . . could lead to catastrophe in a P38.  Lockheed eventually put dive brakes  on the Lightning . . . but the Lightning would never dive as fast as other US planes."

 

"Because the ailerons had to move the weight of the engine as well as the wing, simple inertia made the initial rate of roll slow, which hurt the P38 more in Europe than in the Pacific."

 

He quotes General Kenney, 5th USAAF commander, as saying "Now the P38 is not a bad combat airplane - I'd give it a 75 as compared to the P51 [at 100]"  By the way, he goes on to say that he prefered the P38 to the P51 for very long range escort missions anyway because of the lower pilot stress from having the safety of two engines over water, so there's no bias towards the P51 there.

 

He also refers to the F6F Hellcat out turning any US fighter in the Pacific.

 

and this quote from Robert DeHaven who had 10 kills in P40s and an additional 4 in P38s:

 

"[P38s] limitations on tactics were the same as we were accustomed to in the P40 BUT EVEN MORE SO (emphasis added)  . . . At many altitudes you could out turn a P38 in a P40."

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There is a vast difference between the earlier and later models of P-38, just as there were for other aircraft. I believe that you are making the mistake of believing that problems with the early aircraft carried through to later models.

 

 

 

 

Charts from CC Jordan's excellent site: http://home.att.net/~C.C.Jordan/index.html

P-38 Article "Der Gebelschwanz Teufel" by Carlo Kopp, where the charts are located: http://home.att.net/~ww2aviation/P-38.html

 

In level flight acceleration the F4U-4 gained speed at about 2.4 mph/sec, the P-51D accelerated at about 2.2 mph/sec. The F4U-1 could not keep up with either, accelerating at only 1.5 mph/sec. The real drag racer of American WWII fighters was the P-38L. It gained speed at 2.8 mph/sec. All acceleration data was compiled at 10-15,000 ft at Mil. power settings.

 

Turning to dive acceleration, we find the F4U-4 and Mustang in a near dead heat. Both the P-47D and P-38L easily out distance the Corsair and P-51D in a dive. Still, these two accelerate better than the opposition from Japan and Germany. Moreover, both the Corsair and the Mustang have relatively high critical Mach numbers allowing them to attain very high speeds in prolonged dives before running into compressibility difficulty. With the exception of early model P-38’s, it was almost always a mistake to attempt to evade American fighters by trying to dive away. This goes for early war fighters as well, such as the P-40 and F4F Wildcat.

 

--SNIP--

 

Over Europe, things were somewhat different. The Luftwaffe flew fast, heavily armed aircraft that were not especially suited to low speed turning fights. The Allies had in their inventory the Spitfire, which was very adept at turning fights. The Americans had the P-47, P-38 and P-51. All of which were very fast and at least a match for the German fighters in maneuverability. Especially the P-38 which could out-turn anything the Luftwaffe had and could give the Spitfire pilot pause to consider his own mortality.

 

Douglas

 

[Edited for formatting.]

Edited by Ol Paint
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There is a vast difference between the earlier and later models of P-38, just as there were for other aircraft.  I believe that you are making the mistake of believing that problems with the early aircraft carried through to later models.

 

Douglas

 

[Edited for formatting.]

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Very interesting. Thanks for posting the data.

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