This friendly fire incident hamstrung the P-38 - We Are The Mighty
popular

This friendly fire incident hamstrung the P-38

The P-38 Lighting was a superb long-range fighter in all theaters of the war. The plane is best known for the “Zero Dark Thirty” operation of the Pacific Theater – the shoot-down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto by Capt. Tom Lanphier.


But the P-38 didn’t get there right away.

In fact, given its ground-breaking design, it was going through a lot of teething problems.

According to AcePilots.com, one of the biggest problems was compressibility. The P-38 was one of the first planes to deal with it due to its high speed (up to 420 miles per hour), especially when they dove.

This friendly fire incident hamstrung the P-38
This P-38 compressibility chart is taken from a USAAF P-38 pilot training manual. Pilots of early P-38s (ones without the 1943 dive flap retrofit) were advised against steep dives as compressibility would force the plane to dive more steeply as well as immobilize the controls, a situation that could prove fatal if initiated below 25,000 feet. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

What would happen is a shock wave of compressed air would form, keeping the plane’s elevators from working. The P-38s would be caught in a dive, and unable to pull out until they got to lower altitudes.

As a result, German fighters knew that diving was a way to escape. One pilot who had a close call was Air Force legend Robin Olds, who described his incident in an episode of “Dogfights.”

After a lot of work, Lockheed designed some flaps that would help address the issue by changing the airflow enough so the elevators would be able to function.

A number of kits were put together to be installed on P-38s in the field, but those destined to go to England never got there, hamstringing the P-38s there.

This friendly fire incident hamstrung the P-38
Douglas C-54 Skymaster. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The reason?

A Royal Air Force pilot mistook the United States Army Air Force Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo plane carrying the kits for a Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol plane. Given the Condor’s reputation, they were prime targets. The C-54 was shot down, and the kits were lost.

As a result, the P-38s went into combat unable to pursue a German fighter diving to escape the “Fork Tailed Devil” and fight another day.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information