The P38 Lightning

Since yesterday marked the first flight of the P-38 Lightning, I figured today would be a good time to include the P-38 in my aviation weekly post. The P-38 is one of my favorite planes, not for its rarity in todays world but for the planes vast history that stretches across the whole world. The P-38 was developed in 1937 and was introduced into service in July of 1941. It spans not only America’s involvement during WWII but the P-38 fought in every theater and was part of Operation Bolero with Britain. The plane flew around the world and still flies today.


In 1937 an Army Air Corps directive was sent out for a high altitude interceptor with specific performance goals including a maximum airspeed of at least 360pmh at altitude and a climb to 20,000ft within six minutes. These were the toughest Army Air Corps specifications made up to this point. Hall Hibbard and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson lead the Lockheed team in designing the twin engine, twin tail boom and single seat nacelle aircraft designated the XP-38. The design was made to not only meet the Army specifications but hold a heavy armament, turbo superchargers, and tricycle landing gear, as well as other features. Equipped with the 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 engines and counter rotating props, the prototype first flew on January 27th, 1939. It was the first fighter to fly over 400mph. On February 11th, 1939 a speed race was proposed to move the XP-38 to Wright Field and while it was on its way to break the record from California to New York, the plane wrecked just short of Mitchel Field, NY due to carburetor icing. However, seeing the potential the Army bought 13 YP-38’s, Y being for prototype.


Over the next two years progress was slow building the YP-38’s due to the multitude of planes being built on the assembly lines. By November of 1941 progress was back on schedule and Lockheed engineers were able to focus their attention on solving control surface freezing issues in the tail when in a dive. Several changes were made to the P-38 but initial planes were already in the hands of the USAAF, RAF and the Free French Air Force Operating from England. Over time designs continued to be modified in multiple versions and part kits were sent out to units already equipped with P-38’s so that field modifications could be made.


The first unit to receive the P-38 was the 8th Photographic Squadron out of Australia on 4 April 1942. The P-38E, F-4 version, in which the guns were replaced with four cameras for photo reconnaissance. One of the great virtues of the design of this aircraft was its ability to be used for many purposes including photo reconnaissance. In May of 1942, 25 P-38’s were sent to Alaska where the planes long range made it optimal for protecting the Aleutian Islands. This was the beginning of the expansion of the P-38’s role in WWII, and after the Battle of Midway, the P-38 would be flying over the skies of England and then later in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India Theater. It was the Pacific Theater that the P-38 was it’s most beneficial. Leading American aces Richard Bong (40 victories), Thomas McGuire (38 victories) and Charles H. MacDonald (36 victories) all served in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. One of the most well known dogfights was when two P-38’s shot down a Betty Bomber carrying Admiral Yamamoto over the Solomon Islands.


In 2013 the Planes of Fame Airshow held a special event to honor the P-38 Lightning with five of the worlds flying P-38’s. A sixth P-38 from Yanks Air Museum was on display but was not flying. It was a photo reconnaissance version with the cameras still mounted in the nose. The distinct shape of the P-38 certainly stood out even on the gloomiest of days as the planes flew overhead. The history of the P-38 is long and distinct, from fighting in the hands of America pilots, allied pilots of other nations, spanning multiple continents, postwar saw service in other countries, aerial photography and of course air racing. While the P-38 became obsolete in the jet age it is still a plane that is revered by its fans. Of the aircraft that I can’t write a single post about, the P-38 is on that list.

Images captured with Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

First Flight of the P-38

Today marks the first flight of one of my favorite airplanes that came out of WWII, the P-38 Lightning. While technically it was developed in 1937 for a call made by the USAAC, it was January 27th 1939 that it first flew and it was the only fighter to be have been in production for America’s entire involvement during WWII. It was introduced in July of 1941 and saw action in both the European and Pacific Theaters. It was had greater success in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theater of Operations where top aces were made at the hands of the P-38. It was called many things but among its adversaries was the “fork tailed devil” and “two planes, one pilot.”


The P38-Lightning’s Blackest day

It’s great leaning new things. Never knowing everything makes life more interesting. For instance this post is actually a day late but I didn’t know yesterday about the blackest day for the P-38 Lightning. June 10th 1944, an attack was launched on the oil fields of Ploesti with forty six P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd FG of the 95th, 96th and 97th Fighter Squadrons and forty eight P-38Js 1st fighter groups of the 27th, 71st and 94th fighter squadrons. The forty six fighters were carrying 1,000 lb bombs under one wing and a 310 gallon fuel tank on the other wing. The fighters of the 1st fighter groups were providing top cover for the fighter bombers of the 82nd. They were to make a low level run across Yugoslavia and into Romania to destroy the oil fields of Ploesti. However the Germans air radar picked them up over Yugoslavia before they entered Romania.


Due to the low level flying, aerial maneuvers were quite impossible for the lightnings as the already aware enemy had the advantage. The battle lasted only a few minutes between the lightnings, in which the two groups never made the rendezvous, the IAC 80’s and the BF-109’s, at an altitude of only a couple hundred feet. Among the BF-109 pilots that took part in the fight aces included I/JG 53 Gruppenkommandeur Knight’s Cross holder Maj. Jurgen Harder with 64 victories, Lt. Rupert Weninger, Lt. Erich Gehring and Uffz. IAR 80 ace Capitan Dan Vizante with 15 kills, leader of Grupul 6, lifted off of from Popesti-Leordeni airfield for his debut in the fight. 23 P-38’s failed to return to their bases around Foggia, Italy. Only 14 Romanian loses occurred while 10 of those were actual fighters. It would go down as the blackest day for the combat history of the P-38 lightning with a 30% loss rate. It represented the worst loss rate during a single mission of any American Fighters during WWII. The 15th Air Force would go on to destroy the fields and air bases around Ploesti later on in 1944 and 1945.

First Airshow of the Season

If you’ve been following my blog lately then you know it’s back to working with planes. The airshow season has more then begun and this coming weekend is the Planes of Fame airshow. Last year I went down for the two day show and it was a ton of fun. Last year’s theme was Lightning Strikes in honor of the P-38 Lightning. It was a great theme and we had seven P-38’s in attendance. This year is the solute to the mighty Eighth Air Force. The Eighth Air Force flew out of England and comprised the majority of the bombing offensive against Europe. B-17’s and B-24’s along with P-51’s and P-47’s filled the sky to break the German war effort. How many of these planes will show up this year? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out.


Same Subject New Ideas

When I started in photography my Dad said that you have to keep coming up with new ideas in order to make it. Truer words have never been spoken but that sentiment isn’t always easy to achieve. Well a year ago I saw an image that I really liked but it required a lot of finishing to bring out the true essence. Last May at the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino, CA the skies were alive with warbirds. The focus of the event was on the P-38 Lightning. There were five of the six flying P-38’s in the world at the Airshow and one static photo reconnaissance version from Yanks Air Museum. The numerous fighters. P-38’s included, were lined up along the ramp for static shooting. Well that morning was nothing but overcast skies so there really wasn’t much of a sunrise, although there was a lot of definition in the clouds.


While the planes on the ramp faced one way, there was one plane that wasn’t out there and that was Glacier Girl. This particular P-38 has a more colorful history as it was brought up from under 258ft of ice on Greenland. This was one of nine P-38’s and 2 B-17’s that were forced to land on Greenland after they ran out of fuel trying to cross over to England during Operation Bolero. They became known as the Lost Squadron. As you can see this 10 million dollar plane was being protected from the wind as it was nestled between some of the tents. It was facing the opposite way from all the other planes and it really caught my eye with the lights behind it. With the D3 and 24-70 f/2.8 it turned out to be really cool, so much so that Dad decided to borrow the idea. Well the image in my head didn’t end there.


Something kept hanging me up between the plane, the background and the light. It’s a P-38 Lightning! One of the rarest and most valuable fighters around today. It also has an amazing history, as P-38’s were flown from the start of WWII to the end of WWII in all theaters. Having the plane cramped between all those tents just didn’t fit it, almost demeaning. It had to be brought out. Now this is far from historically accurate and is far from my usual processing area but keeping in mind my Dad’s words it is something new.

Are We Photographers or Collectors?

It’s funny the random thoughts that you come up with when you start thinking of blog posts to write. That’s kind of how this one started. When I was home a couple weeks ago for the holidays I grabbed a bunch of boxes from storage. Mostly nature books from my collection that I was unable to take with me to college. Along with those things were a couple other boxes of nicknacks and objects I collected from my travels. This past week I finally was able to unpack everything and it got me thinking. When I was a kid and my folks would take my brother and myself traveling we would always end up getting some form of souvenir and after a while collections started to appear. Everything from pocket knives to flashlights, coins, and wooden sculptures, and in my case even a bone collection. I started thinking about all those things that I have collected over the years and what they mean and then I started thinking about photography.


As every photographer grows their library of photos they are in part collecting photos as well as stories. Every time we pick up that camera, no matter what the chase is, we are going out after something that either isn’t in the files yet or trying to improve on what’s already there. Sure this is always a cost for going out, the time alone is a gamble that whatever you’re after is going to be there, but if it’s that missing piece, the Babe Ruth card to your collection than isn’t it worth it? Who’s to say what the most valuable piece is or where it might come from?


There is an old saying in photography that you can’t capture every photo because every second of every day something is happening that you are missing. It’s the one reality that really stinks but is unavoidable. With that in mind what’s the best subject to go after? A year ago at the Chino Airshow they were doing a solute to the P-38 lightning by having five of the seven flying examples of the aircraft at the show. It was only a 2 day event but it was great to see such a beautiful aircraft together with its squadron mates. It was a long haul down to California for such a short event but was it worth it? You bet ya. It’s one of my favorite planes and you can’t put a price on that.


As I’m starting to discover it becomes harder and harder to stay a specific type of photographer. Even if one’s passion is wildlife, or planes or people or cars or whatever else is out there, which is a lot, in the end we all become generalist photographers because we all have to keep pushing ourselves to try new things. Out of those new areas comes the knowledge of how to do a better job and that knowledge can then be used to fuel your passion. But in that process aren’t you starting a new collection to complete?


You always have to remember the people that are involved in this world. The best access and knowledge comes from those peoples lives, most of whom are willing to share their experiences. Strictly speaking I am not a people photographer, it has never fascinated me to be one. But overcoming that reality has made numerous friendships and although my people portraits may not be that moving, talking with them has been wonderful. It is those friendships that can make a huge difference in whether a photographer succeeds or fails.


In the end no matter what your passion is, or how many images you collect, every photographer will end up with their own set of stories. Some of those images will be worth nothing to anyone else but you while hopefully others will be worth more to the world than anything else. Keeping that visual record going is not only important but essential for future generations. That’s why we must push to get more people involved in photography so that everyone can make their own collections.

The Lightning Returns

My all time favorite plane, the P-38 Lightning, is now parked in the Shed. I blogged about these planes numerous times in the past, partly because I wanted to and partly because I could. Although I was introduced behind the camera to this plane for the first time back in 2009, it was at the Chino Airshow this past May where I truly got to see these beauties. Five of the seven flying examples in the world were there and each one was beautiful. Now I could easily write a blog post on each one of the planes I’ve photographed but this isn’t the time for that. Up in the Gallery is now an updated field of P-38 images for everyone to enjoy. With that, have a great weekend.


The Great P-38

The theme of the Planes of Fame Airshow was “Lightning Strikes” celebrating the magnificent P-38 Lightning, or otherwise known as the Fork Tailed Devil. Over 10,000 of these planes were made and today only 7 remain flight worthy, 5 of those were at the Airshow. The Luftwaffe referred to the plane as the fork-tailed devil but the Japanese had another name for it, two planes, one pilot. The plane was used in a number of different roles including dive bombing, ground attack, night fighter, photo reconnaissance, and long range escort when equipped with drop tanks.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film


I realize that his is just another addition to my galleries, something that I’ve been doing a lot lately but i wanted to add to of favorite aircraft, the P38 Lightning my all time favorite plane and the P51-C Mustang down at Fantasy of Flight. I have photographed only two P38’s, 23 Skidoo and Glacier Girl. Both were at the Reno Air Races this past September and I had the fortune of photographing them. Each plane has a great history, a history I’m still learning.

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P38 Lightning

This particular P51-C is painted in the colors of Lee Archers plane from the Red Tails. It just so happens to have the armor plating in the cockpit is signed by Lee which makes the plane just that much sweeter. The plane has an amazing paint job and the one morning we were able to photograph it we had some amazing fog. After some time of processing images it seems right as the next one to add.

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P51-C Mustang

Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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