With the P-38K, was the P-51 and F4U even necessary?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Mosshorn, Jun 7, 2011.

  1. Mosshorn

    Mosshorn Banned

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    A five (5) gun (.50 caliber) armed P-38K with drop tanks would have made a very dangerous long-range escort / patrol fighter in every theatre of operation. Why this didn't happen is beyond me.

    ( The following comes from: Whatever Happened To The P-38K ? )

    The Story Of The Best Performing Variant Of The P-38 Lightning

    The Lockheed P-38K-1-LO is now nearly forgotten. No photographs of the aircraft are known to exist today. Only the original test mule was photographed. It has been relegated to that part of history where one of prototypes and special test aircraft usually go. This is rather unfortunate for this aircraft as it was the benchmark against which all other variants of the P-38 Lightning must be compared. Simply said, it was the best performing Lightning ever to take to the sky.

    Lockheed paid close attention to the performance gains achieved with the P-47 when the new "high activity" Hamilton Standard propellers where first fitted on a Republic P-47C in mid 1942 (later, in mid 1943, these propellers were retro-fitted in Britain). The new "paddle" blade prop had significantly increased the rate of climb and acceleration of the "Jug". Lockheed decided that they would install the Hamilton Standard hydraulic propellers on one of the factory test "mules". Thus, was the XP-38K born. The "mule" was an extensively modified P-38E. The original intercoolers were replaced with the newer type introduced on the J model. The initial test results were very encouraging and a P-38G service test airframe -- 422-81, AFF serial number 42-13558 -- was selected to be modified.

    The new propellers were not the only design changes made in the search for greater performance. This airframe was configured for the Allison V1710F-15 powerplants which were rated at over 1,875 bhp in War Emergency Power (as compared to 1,725 bhp for the V1710F-17 in the P-38L). This was the only P-38 so configured. The potent combination of the engine/propeller promised excellent performance.

    There were still other modifications that were necessary. The Hamilton Standard props required a spinner of greater diameter, and the thrust line was slightly higher as well. This in turn, required that new cowlings be manufactured to properly blend the spinners into the engine nacelles. These were hand made and the fit was less than perfect. The new propellers necessitated a change to the reduction gear ratio. The Curtiss Electric props had a normal ratio of 2.00 to 1. The ratio was changed to 2.36 to 1.

    Flight tests were conducted from late February through the end of April 1943. Performance was better than hoped for. Maximum speed at critical altitude (29,600 ft) was 432 mph (Military Power). At 40,000 feet, the "K" zipped along at a speed that was 40 mph faster than the current production P-38J could attain at this same height. Maximum speed in War Emergency Power, at critical altitude, was expected to exceed 450 mph. The increase in ceiling was just as remarkable. Flown to 45,000 ft on an extremely hot and humid day, Lockheed engineers predicted a "standard day" service ceiling in excess of 48,000 ft! Improvement of the cowling fit and the elimination of the heavy coat of paint would have gained even more performance. Due to the added efficiency of the new propellers, range was expected to increase by 10 to 15 %. Lockheed appeared to have a world-beater on their hands.

    The plane, now designated the P-38K-1-LO was flown to Elgin Field for evaluation by the USAAF. Flown against the P-51B and the P-47D, this Lightning proved to be vastly superior to both in every category of measured performance. What astounded the evaluation team was the incredible rate of climb demonstrated by the P-38K. From a standing start on the runway, the aircraft could take off and climb to 20,000 feet in 5 minutes flat! The "K", fully loaded, had an initial rate of climb of 4,800 fpm in Military Power. In War Emergency Power, over 5,000 fpm was predicted.

    In light of this incredible level of performance, you would certainly expect that the Government would be falling all over themselves to quickly get the P-38K into production. Yet, this was not the case. The War Production Board was unwilling to allow a short production suspension in order to get new tooling on line for the required change to the engine cowling. Even when Lockheed promised that the stoppage would only be for 2 or 3 weeks, their request was turned down.

    The true consequences of this pig-headed thinking will never be known. What would have been the impact of such a high performance fighter arriving in force to the forward combat areas in mid 1943? How many lost fighter pilots would have survived thanks to the awe inspiring performance of the P-38K? Again, we can never know these things. What we do know, is that due to bureaucratic myopia, neither the P-38K nor a Merlin powered Lightning ever really had a chance to make an impact upon the air war. For all those pilots who died at the controls of lesser aircraft, the War Production Board bears a measure of responsibility for their fate.

    RESOURCES:
    Warren M. Bodie, The Lockheed P-38 Lightning.
    Lockheed Martin Archives.
     
  2. TheMustangRider

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    Definitely would have been interesting to see such machine take on the Luftwaffe and the Imperial Japanese Air Force.
     
  3. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    By February 1943 the P-47 and F4U were tooled up for mass production. The P-51B was only a few months away. Converting those factories to produce P-38Ks would probably cost at least 18 months worth of lost production. The first P-38Ks might not roll off the assembly lines until late 1944.

    A prototype P-38K during February 1941 would be an entirely different matter.
     
  4. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    #4 drgondog, Jun 8, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2011
    The P-38K would never have replaced either the P-47 or P-51 - Period. - And NEVER be a fleeting thought for USN who wanted a.) no part of a non-carrier qual fighter, and b.) in line liquid coolant Allison Engines

    For production reasons, cost reasons and lack of sufficient incremental performance - either over the P-51B/P-47D or as compared to next Gen P-80...it Would have been an excellent upgrade of the J but there is no theory that places the K into delivery to Europe before the 'real J's and - the earlier J was still plagued with intercooler problems, no dive flap/brake, and no boosted ailerons in late 1943 through june 1944. So what do we expect the K to do during the critical Nove 1943 through May 1944 timeframe?

    Dave is right about production status of the 'competitors' and the production tooling for the P-51B was complete in February 1943. What remained was more engine allocations, and de-bugging the new coolant issues with the radiator.

    The 'Paddle Blade' introduction is 'fuzzy'. NONE of the production P-47C's still arriving in ETO in August-September and IIRC the 56th FG got the first paddle blade mods, along with WI in the P-47D-11 ~ Dec 1943, Jan 1944.
     
  5. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    You must be kidding! The P38, among other things, as a carrier fighter? Just to start with, how many P38s could a carrier carry, much less support.
     
  6. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    The major problem with the P-38K for production was that the V-1710 used a different reduction gear ratio, which meant that much of the cowling had to be redesigned and retooled for manufacture.

    No chance for a P-38K prototype in 1941 because the P-38 had barely begun production, the higher grade fuels hadn't been developed yet, and the Allison V-1710 was not yet able to make the power required for the K.
     
  7. gjs238

    gjs238 Well-Known Member

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    FWIW, the Navy did pursue the F7F Tigercat.
     
  8. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    #8 tyrodtom, Jun 9, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2011
    I wonder where you could put the tailhook on a P-38 ? Folding wings ?

    The F7F was designed from the beginning with carrier operations in mind , but only for the bigger Midway class carriers.
     
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  9. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    It would have made it (the K model) the greatest photo-recon bird of the war. Perhaps even better than the P47 for ground support missions.
     
  10. glennasher

    glennasher Member

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    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ always a thought, and time, the P-38s were complex and slow to build, compared to the single-engine aircraft. I suspect that price paid a major part of it, though, you could buy almost 4 P-51s for the price of one P-38, and they only required one engine at a time, etc.
    And then you'd still have the problem of pilots with frostbite.
     
  11. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    In all fairness the P-38K would have been about 2X more expensive flyaway and nearly 2X ops - so not as bad as 4X.

    The P-38 was more versatile but... you can buy a lot of 'slightly not as good' for 1/2 price which is why the P-51 survived post war in USAF inventory.
     
  12. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    1944 aircraft cost.
    $97,147 P-38
    $85,578 P-47
    $51,573 P-51

    The U.S. Army Air Corps purchased more P-47s then any other fighter type yet it was pretty expensive too. If the P-38K performed as advertised and was tooled up for mass production I don't think cost would have been an issue.
     
  13. billswagger

    billswagger Member

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    I always held it in my head that the P-38, although one of the first piston fighters to fly high altitude escort missions for the US, was the least suitable.
    Much of its development was spent overcoming its complications with compressibility at high altitudes.
    Most pilots, however, spoke highly of it. Mock fights between P-47s and P-38s had many pilots thanking the Japanese did not have such a plane.
     
  14. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    To be fair, there are a lot of conflicting statements on other aircraft also, but here are some about the P38L at the 1944 Fighter Conference:

    "Bad visibility to sides and down, would rather have F4U or F6F for the Pacific."
    "I would not consider this a modern fighting aircraft. Poor coordination of control forces and effectiveness, combined with very weak directional stability make it a poor gun platform and it's maneuverabilty rating is so low as to preclude it's use in modern combat."

    "Too complicated and full of gadgets-would make unserviceability rate very high."
    "As a fighter bomber-good,for fighter sweep-just fair,as escort-poor."
    A number of more uncomplimentary remarks but I am tired of looking and typing.


    It looks to me that us armchair fighter pilots are unaware of a lot of factors which make an airplane suitable for combat. We look at Vmax, climb rate and range and get all fired up for our favorite plane and don't know what we are talking about and I include my self in that analysis. Lot more to it than meets the eye.
     
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  15. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    P-38 introduced a double number of everything for pilot to look after (excluding the radio armament) when compared with single-engined fighter, so it must've been a trouble for pilots used for F6F F4U to drive one. But, saying that it was a poor gun platform with low maneuverability (in 1944), being a poor escort, bad for Pacific - are that the words of USN aviators (bias)?
     
  16. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    #16 Lighthunmust, Jun 14, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2011
    I have the book. My impression is that many of the evaluators may have been good pilots in the aircraft they had experience with but had little training in how to conduct an evaluation that would be considered preformed with good scientific method. I also think some personal and service bias skewed the evaluations. The methods used at the Conference were far removed from the more precise techniques used after the war at Wright and Edwards to test aircraft. The comment about P-38 maneuverability is very interesting considering the success of Bong and McGuirre maneuvering with Japanese single-engined fighters by manipulating control surfaces and engine controls simultaneously. Since most of the Conference pilots would not have much experience maneuvering a P-38 in the most efficient manner, the comment is not to be unexpected.

    Spielberg got it wrong in "Empire of the Sun". The P-51 was a cheap Chevy, the P-38 was an expensive Cadillac. Tomo pauk is definitely right regarding the extra work load for the pilot. Also the maintenance requirements are high. What do you have when the engine on your P-51 is broken: a grounded fighter. What do you have when an engine on your P-38 is broken: a grounded fighter.

    I definitely agree with you regarding our armchair warrior status as WW2 fighter pilots.
     
  17. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    #17 renrich, Jun 14, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2011
    I remember that you have the book. It has a lot of technical stuff that is hard for me to understand. I agree with your statement about the experience of the pilots at the meet. I have not gone through all the pireps on all the planes yet but I suspect that no fighter is going to come through with all flying colors. As far as the P38 is concerned, though, at least the remarks about visibility and complications would seem to have a lot of objectivity.

    The thing about pilot skill and familiarity seems to me to have a huge impact on the success of a particular airplane in combat. Joe Foss was credited with 26 kills in an F4F4 under extremely tough conditions in the Solomons. No one would claim that the F4F4 was a premier fighter in WW2. An experienced and good pilot in an F4U, especially the later models could probably hold his own with any other WW2 fighter, flown well. But, a very young and inexperienced pilot was probably better off in a Hellcat. That factor was even more in evidence with the P38 with it's twin engines. A pilot with a lot of hours in a P38 and who was really skilled could make the airplane do wonders. It took a while to get that amount of skill though. I was recently flying with my brother in a Stearman. Long ago, I had a few hours solo in a 172. If my brother died while we were in the Stearman or in his Saratoga, I could probably get them down without killing myself. In a twin, probably not. Pilot skill and experience is everything.
     
  18. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    I 99% agree with you. I think you'd find a way in the twin.:)
     
  19. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    IMO the P-38 was probably the best American made WWII fighter gun platform. All weapons were located in the nose and one of those weapons was a 20mm cannon.
     
  20. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    To parapharse the title of this thread, with P-51 F4U, one does not need P-38K.
     
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