P-38 debate for ETO - Letter from Col Rau, CO 20th FG - March 1944-December 1944

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by drgondog, May 28, 2013.

  1. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Lot of debate regarding the "less than expected combat record for the P-38 in the ETO". General Kepner requested observations from Colonel Rau at 20th FG.. Here it is verbatim.


    20th Fighter Group Headquarters APO 637 U.S. Army(E-2)
    3 June 1944
    Subject: P-38 Airplane in Combat.
    To: Commanding General, VIII Fighter Command, APO 637, U.S. Army.
    1. The following observations are being put in writing by the undersigned at the request of the Commanding General, VIII FC. They are intended purely as constructive criticism and are not intended in anyway to "low rate" our present equipment.
    2. After flying the P-38 for a little over one hundred hours on combat missions it is my belief that the airplane, as it stands now, is too complicated for the 'average' pilot. I want to put strong emphasis on the word 'average’, taking full consideration just how little combat training our pilots have before going on as operational status.
    3. As a typical case to demonstrate my point, let us assume that we have a pilot fresh out of flying school with about a total of twenty-fivehours in a P-38, starting out on a combat mission. He is on a deep ramrod, penetration and target support to maximum endurance. He is cruising along with his power set at maximum economy. He is pulling 31" Hg and 2100 RPM. He is auto lean and running on external tanks. His gun heater is off to relieve the load on his generator, which frequently gives out (under sustained heavyload). His sight is off to save burning out the bulb. His combat switch may or may not be on. Flying along in this condition, he suddenly gets "bounced",what to do flashes through his mind. He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches {valves} to main - turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich (two separate and clumsy operations), increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch (which he must feel for and cannot possibly see), turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight. At this point, he has probably been shot down or he has done one of several thingswrong. Most common error is to push the throttles wide open before increasing RPM. This causes detonation and subsequent engine failure. Or, he forgets to switch back to auto rich, and gets excessive cylinder head temperaturewith subsequent engine failure.
    4. In my limited experience with a P-38 group, we have lost as least four (4) pilots, who when bounced, took no immediate evasive action. Thelogical assumption is that they were so busy in the cockpit, trying to get organized that they were shot down before they could get going.
    5. The question that arises is, what are you going to do about it? It is standard procedure for the group leader to call, five minutes before R/Vand tell all the pilots to "prepare for trouble". This is the signal for everyone to get into auto rich, turn drop tank switches on, gun heaters on, combat and sight switches on and to increase RPM and manifold pressure to maximum cruise. This procedure, however, does not help the pilot who is bounced on the way in and who is trying to conserve his gasoline and equipment for the escort job ahead.
    6. What is the answer to these difficulties? During the past several weeks we have been visited at this station time and time again by Lockheed representatives, Allison representatives and high ranking Army personnel connected with these two companies. They all ask about our troubles andthen proceed to tell us about the marvelous mechanisms that they have devisedto overcome these troubles that the Air Force has turned down as "unnecessary".Chief among these is a unit power control, incorporating an automatic manifold pressure regulator, which will control power, RPM and mixture by use of a singlelever. It is obvious that there is a crying need for a device like that incombat.
    7. It is easy to understand why test pilots, who have never been incombat, cannot readily appreciate what each split second means when a"bounce" occurs. Every last motion when you get bounced is just another nail in your coffin. Any device which would eliminate any of the enumerated above, are obviously very necessary to make the P-38 a really effective combat airplane.
    8. It is also felt that that much could done to simplify the gas switching system in this airplane. The switches {valve selector handles} areall in awkward positions and extremely hard to turn. The toggle switches for outboard tanks are almost impossible to operate with gloves on.
    9. My personal feeling about this airplane is that it is a fine piece of equipment, and if properly handled, takes a back seat for nothing that the enemy can produce. But it does need simplifying to bring it within the capabilities of the 'average' pilot. I believe that pilots like Colonel Ben Kelsey and ColonelCass Hough are among the finest pilots in the world today. But I also believe that it is difficult for men like them to place their thinking and ability on the level of a youngster with a bare 25 hours in the airplane, going into his first combat. That is the sort of thinking that will have to be done, in my opinion, to make the P-38 a first-class all around fighting airplane.
    HAROLD J. RAU
    Colonel, Air Corps, Commanding.

    The point to be made is that the above discussion all too often gets lost when discussing firepower, climb rate and range. Thoughts?
     
  2. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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    Great post. Excuse my ignorance, but what does the combat switch do?
     
  3. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Great post Bill, and covering many of the things often never even thought of in some of the tiresome 'Which is best at this or that' discussions.
    Just actually flying an aircraft, in the conditions experienced in the ETO, was a hard enough job, even before just thinking about a combat situation.
    Imagine today's average, but perhaps experienced, PPL, suddenly being pushed into a high performance aircraft, and asked to fly from England to, say Paris, and back. That task alone would demand that person's total concentration just to fly and navigate - add to that searching the sky, holding formation, managing fuel systems and all the other things that needed to be considered, and we can maybe just start to appreciate the task these young men had to undertake. Then we can start considering combat and what it involved, before even thinking of 'what was best, fastest, most efficient, best diver, climber, gun paltform' etc etc.
     
  4. Greyman

    Greyman Active Member

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    Shot in the dark, gun-safety switch?
     
  5. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    I believe the 'combat switch' was the gun safety switch for all five guns.
     
  6. altsym

    altsym Member

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    PROOF DEPARTMENT
    ARMY AIR FORCES PROVING GROUND COMMAND
    EGLIN FIELD, FLORIDA
    FINAL REPORT
    ON
    TACTICAL SUITABILITY OF THE P-38F TYPE AIRPLANE
    6 March 1943

    1.OBJECT: To determine the relative tactical value of the P-38F type aircraft for combat service.
    2.INTRODUCTION:
    This test was initiated by a letter from the Director of Military Requirements, Headquarters Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C., dated 9 April 1942, to the Commanding Officer, Proving Ground Command, Eglin Field, Florida, concerning the testing of aircraft to determine their operational suitability. The test was started August 7, 1942, and was terminated January 26, 1943.
    a3.Conclusions: It is concluded that:
    a.For a general combination of climb, range, endurance, speed, altitude and fire power, the P-38F is the best production line fighter tested to date at this station. Types tested include the P-47, P-51, P-40F and P-39D-1.
    b.The allowable maximum diving speed is not as great as desired for combat operations.
    c.At speeds above allowable diving speeds especially over twenty-thousand (20,000) feet, violent vibrations from tail buffeting are experienced.
    d.The maintenance difficulties experienced were greater than with any other standard type of American fighter.
    e. The subject aircraft is easy to fly. However, a longer period of time will be required for a pilot to become familiar with the operations and maximum performances of the aircraft than is required for a normal single engine fighter.

    f. The cockpit installations are crowded and not arranged in a specific orderly fashion.

    g. While the rate of climb is superior to all other types tested to date, this is not as great as required, especially below twenty-thousand (20,000) feet, and all excess weight in the structure and installations not vital to combat operations should be reduced or eliminated whenever possible.

    h. Cooling capacity of the intercooler is not sufficient to allow maximum horsepower to be extracted from the engine at altitude.

    i. The guns will not feed properly during maneuvers which create a pull of greater than 3-1/2 G’s.

    4. RECOMMENDATIONS:

    It is recommended that:

    a. Steps be taken to eliminate tail buffeting, and flight restrictions be retained until the correction is accomplished.

    b. Suitable means of maintaining cockpit heat at altitude be installed. (Cockpit heater on P-39NO is best seen to date.)

    c. Continued efforts be made to increase rate of climb and level high speed.

    d. Automatic shutter control of coolant and oil temperature be installed.

    e. One (1) guns switch be installed for all guns.

    f. The generators and battery switch be incorporated with the master switch and the booster pump’s switch incorporated with the individual engine switches.

    g. The rate of aileron roll be increased.

    h. The case ejection chute control be removed from the cockpit.

    i. Elevator trim be moved to rear nearer the pilot for more accessibility.

    j. The offset control be replaced by a straight control column in the middle of the cockpit, if possible. If not, the control column be reduced to a minimum safe size to increase the visibility of the instrument panel and save space in the cockpit.

    k. Until the automatic turbo governor is installed, a turbo tachometer be added to the instrument panel. This should be done on future types which will have intercoolers of sufficient cooling ability to allow maximum to be extracted.

    l. The energizing and starter switches be placed next to the main motor switches. Also all other switches that have to be used either for starting the engines or during take-offs be grouped together. These switches should be placed in a horizontal row, “off” when down and “on” when up. A drop bar should be placed below this so all switches could be turned on when the bar is lifted, after which the bar will drop back down.

    m. Provision be made for sufficient intercooling to permit maximum horsepower to be extracted from the engines at all altitudes up to the service ceiling.

    n. One (1) button on front of wheel be provided to fire 20mm cannon and machine guns, eliminating machine gun button and retaining only safety switch.

    o. The toggle switch type of primer (Stromberg Electric Priming Valve-T.O. – 03-10BA-25) be installed for ease and speed of operation in interception work.

    p. The starters be of such a type that both engines may be started at the same time for interception work.

    q. The top glass of the canopy be redesigned so that the shell will extend four (4) inches lower, thus putting the metal strip where the new canopy joins the windows below level of pilot’s eyes, instead of level with them as is now the case.

    r. Only one (1) landing light of a stationary type be installed on the leading edge of the left wing.

    s. The gun sight be of the type which will accommodate a 100 mil circle, permit bulb change in flight and reflection adjustment for low level bombing.

    t. As soon as the .50 caliber machine gun installations are corrected so they fire in more than a 3.5 G turn, that the gun chargers be eliminated from the cockpit.

    u. The front wind screen be made of bulletproof glass.

    v. Paddle blade propellers be incorporated in the P-38 design to improve climbing capabilities.

    w. A gun sight be installed that will allow the 161 mil view over the nose to be used in deflection shooting.


    This test was conducted pursuant to the “Program for testing the Tactical Suitability of Service Aircraft.”
     
  7. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    #7 FLYBOYJ, May 28, 2013
    Last edited: May 28, 2013
    Great post Bill! In reading this however I think it shows how the AAF fighter community (At least in the ETO) lacked the training or the desire to deal with a twin engine fighter. Rau says it himself...

    "My personal feeling about this airplane is that it is a fine piece of equipment, and if properly handled, takes a back seat for nothing that the enemy can produce. But it does need simplifying to bring it within the capabilities of the 'average' pilot. I believe that pilots like Colonel Ben Kelsey and ColonelCass Hough are among the finest pilots in the world today. But I also believe that it is difficult for men like them to place their thinking and ability on the level of a youngster with a bare 25 hours in the airplane, going into his first combat. That is the sort of thinking that will have to be done, in my opinion, to make the P-38 a first-class all around fighting airplane."

    I also believe that some of the same things that were viewed as shortcomings on the aircraft were actually directed or approved by the "customer" when the aircraft was first ordered.
     
  8. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    #8 davparlr, May 28, 2013
    Last edited: May 28, 2013
    Fascinating and demonstrates the difficulties of integrating a complex aircraft with an operator. In WW2, aircraft were evolving from simple machines with an engine, wings and gun into complex weapons systems. Technology was quickly passing human interface design. We still have a similar problem, not in configuring an aircraft for combat, most modern aircraft such as the F-18 is only a push button away from changing from air-to-ground to air-to -air modes, nor in engine management, modern jet engines require little attention, but in managing vast amount of data into useful operator information. Pilots now have to deal with multiple weapons (guns, short range IR missiles, medium range radar missiles, etc.) defensive countermeasures (emitting, deployable), sensors (radar, IR, video, threat detectors), communications (radio, data link), and others. It is very easy to get into information overload which can be worse than no information at all since the mind tends to shut down when overloaded. Throw into that the aircrews natural desire to know everything that is going on, and you have a complex design problem.

    As the Avionics Controls and Displays manager for the B-2, it was my responsibility to integrate the the six-man B-52 cockpit and the four-man B-1 cockpit into a two-man B-2 cockpit for the same mission. I was fortunate to have tools the B-52 and B-1 designers did not have, mainly computers, think commodore and Ti level of computers, some of you young guys have no idea what I am talking about. The AF was very nervous about the ability of a two man crew to handle the workload and authorized a one million dollar, six month action item at either PDR (preliminary design review, a concept review used to authorize detail design) or CDR (critical design review, 90% design complete, authorized manufacturing start), I forget which, to validate the ability of two men to perform the mission. A motion based stimulator was used and AF crew members were brought in and trained. After the study only a few symbology changes were asked for and the crew comments were that "executing the mission was boring". A proposed third crew member station was not fully implemented. The B-2 was a special plane, stealth mitigated threats but which still had to be handled, and weapons and subsystems were highly automated. Fighter cockpit design, which I have been out of for many years, is even more complex with, for the most part, faster decision making requirements and usually with only one crew member doing everything. Information overload is a real threat and a critical design challenge. Of course, unpiloted combat aircraft do not have this problem, at least at the aircraft stage.
     
  9. Mike Williams

    Mike Williams Active Member

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  10. CORSNING

    CORSNING Active Member

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    Thank you for the information Mike. Keep up the awesome work you have been doing.
     
  11. bob44

    bob44 Member

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  12. airminded88

    airminded88 Member

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    Amazing observations that serve as food for thought.

    My thoughts on the issue, giving a rather simple answer to such complex dilemma, are that the majority of us have the huge benefit of 70 years of hindsight but, by the same token, are so far away from knowing, experiencing and in a way living the conditions that all those men, fighter pilots by profession and duty endured.
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    An intersting topic, but Ill stand back and observe on this one. Im actually a fan of the P-38, but I also a big fan of the P-51, so Im divided within myself on this....
     
  14. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    A few thoughts on this subject;

    ~ The USAAC presented a design spec, Lockheed delivered and in many cases exceeded that spec (gave the customer what they wanted).

    ~While a customer has the option to change their minds about things, these aircraft were accepted "as is" and it wasn't until they entered service (ETO) where flaws were exposed

    ~ It seems most of the negative critique of this aircraft came out of the ETO keeping in mind the different operating conditions.

    ~ A twin engine aircraft offers "two of everything," so of course its going to be complicated! They also do funny things when you lose an engine!

    ~ the late Col Mike Alba (338FS) told me he preferred the P-38 in some cases over the P-51, especially in a ground support role. I also believe Col. Alba had several hundred hours in twins before he went into combat. (I believe he had a few hundred hours in B-25s)

    ~ while two different types of aircraft, compare a single piloted P-38 to the single piloted Lancaster, 4 engines, and many times flown by an NCO at night with minimal hours under his belt. :eeeeek:

    ~ Has anyone researched the experience level (especially in twins) of the 5th AF pilots who flew and were so successful with the P-38 in the PTO?

    ~ Comments about the propeller - the P-38K more than solved the problem, the program died on the vine.

    Yes, 70 years later hindsight is crystal clear and we can all come up with a lot of opinions on this, but I'll say it again, the AAF fighter community (At least in the ETO) lacked the training or the desire to deal with a twin engine fighter.
     
  15. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Not exactly, but it equipped at least in part the following FGs of the 5th AF

    8FG, 35FG, 49FG (Bongs outfit), 348FG, and 475FG (Maguires outfit)

    http://www.ozatwar.com/5thaf.htm

    These units were very sucessful. not so much from the point of view of "winning" air supremacy...that was done by the bomber groups and their relentless pounding of the the Japanese Air forces in the TO, but because they made it possible for these same bombers to operate with tolerable losses, whilst making it untenable for the Japanese to challenge them.

    The P-38s were also very successful in the ground Support and flak suppression roles, both extremely hazardous and difficult missions
     
  16. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    The Lancaster pilot did have the help of a flight engineer.
     
  17. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

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    Flyboy, the K didn't solve the mach issue. In fact its max speed straight line was very close to its mach limit.

    Without the dive recovery flaps being deployed it was restricted to a max of 15 degree dive. The dive flaps only added about 0.2 mach to its upper limit.
    And that was one of the fundamental and unfixable weaknesses of the design.
    Under 15,000ft in warm air (Med and Pacific) it wasn't bad at all. 20,000ft+, flat out and fighting in 3 dimensions, it rapidly hit those limits.
    The complexity just added another layer of issues.

    And the cost (ie the USAAF prices thread)? You can't help but thinking it might have been better to cancel it entirely and put the resources elsewhere.
     
  18. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    That may have been the right decision but the sticking points are WHEN should it have been canceled and resources put WHERE.

    In 1942 Lockheed put out 1479 P-38s, Republic put out 532 P-47s and NA put out 634 P-51s (not including A-36s).
    In 1943 Lockheed put out 2497 P-38s, Republic put out 4428 P-47s and NA put out 1710 P-51s (not including A-36s).
    In 1944 Lockheed put out 4186 P-38s, Republic put out 7065 P-47s and NA put out 6982 P-51s.

    Shutting down P-38 production and converting to another type would have meant the loss of hundreds of fighters produced and a cost of millions of dollars in new tooling (jigs/ fixtures).

    When could the US afford the loss of production until some point in 1944/45 when it really doesn't matter anymore?
    A number of changes to the P-38 were identified early but not implemented because of the fear of delaying production. Perhaps unwarranted but for all of 1942 and part of 1943 the P-38 was the ONLY top rank (1st class) Fighter the US had in any numbers. The P-39 and P-40 not being top rank.
     
  19. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    #19 FLYBOYJ, May 29, 2013
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
    An FE is only going to be so much help - he's not going to be able to make flying decisions, fly instrument approaches and take initial emergency actions. My point is in general, one man is flying a multi engine aircraft. It was done successfully (with risk) with "average pilots" (ref the initial report)
     
  20. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    #20 FLYBOYJ, May 29, 2013
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
    All true, but read the report - what was the "customer' looking for? Better climb.

    And remember - one AAC command had it's issues with the aircraft, another couldn't get enough of them. When you shut down a production line in the middle of a contract it may cost more money in the end.
     
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