In 1939, the silvery, sleek new XP-38 prototype set a transcontinental flight record, in a sensational seven hours, two minutes, with only two refueling stops.
Originally cast as a long range bomber interceptor, the Lightning was America's fastest and most advanced fighter when it was introduced, but it's early war years were plagued by reliability problems with it's turbocharged Allison engines and inadequate heating that made life miserable for pilots in the Aleutians and high over Germany. These early bugs were worked out by the F & G models and the Lightning served with distinction in a variety of roles throughout the rest of the war.
In Europe, the '38s relatively thin 3 bladed props proved ineffective for very high altitude escort duties, her range was less thanthe P-51, and her twin engines made her more costly to produce than the Mustang. So, she was eventually shifted into highly successful fighter/bomber, recon, night fighter, and light bomber roles in the ETO, while continuing as an escort fighter in the MTO.In the Pacific, most air combat was took place at lower altitudes and the 38's twin engines made her a favorite of Army pilots who spent many hours over empty ocean.
The '38 became the aircraft of choice of top American Aces in the PTO, including Dick Bong and Tom McGuire.
' 38s handled well, especially for such a large, heavy airplane, had a top speed of over 400 mph, powerful acceleration, and high rates of normal and zoom climb. She could maintain a surprisingly tight turning circle and her conter rotating props and tricycle landing gear made her relatively easy to land & take off for new pilots. The 38's four 50 caliber machine guns and single 20mm cannon, all located in the nose, required no "convergence" sighting and were therefore highly accurate. In later J and L models, the addition of compressibility flaps and hydraulically assisted steering improved her max diving speed and roll rates (respectively ) by an order of magnitude, making an already good ship truly outstanding.
About the only significant short coming of the Lightning was spin/.stall recovery, which could be a bear, especially at low altitude. That's is why this film cautions strongly against entering a spin below 10,000', Tom McGuire, intent on surpassing leading ace Dick Bong, lost his life when he attempted to mix up it up at low altitude with a Japanese Ki-43 "Oscar" while still retaining his drop tanks (!) and augured in after an accelerated stall in a tight turn. But all-in-all. the Lightning was an outstandingly versitile and successful aircraft, Perhaps the 38's most memorable mission was the amazing long distance interception and shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto, a strategic turning point in the Pacific War.