This collectable model P-38J Lightning represents one of the most innovative fighters of World War II, the twin-boom Lockheed P-38J Lightning. Designed by famed aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson, the P-38J “Putt Putt Maru” was the P-38J flown by Col. Charles McDonald, fighter ace and commander of the 475th Fighter Squadron. This 1/32-scale model P-38J Lightning makes a great pilot gift or a present for any veteran, aviation enthusiast or history buff.
The P-38 was developed in response to a 1937 request from the Army Air Corps for an twin0engine interceptor that could climb to 20,000 feet in six minutes and have a top speed of 360 mph. The proposal also called for the aircraft to use turbosupercharged Allison V-1710 engines, and to have tricycle landing gear.
Lockeheed’s proposal, under the direction of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson – who would design the P-80 Shooting Star, the F-104 Starfighter and the U-2 spyplane- and Hall Hibberd, was an unusual aircraft, with long booms housing each engine and the pilot and guns located in a central nacelle. Counter-rotating propellers eliminated torque problems and the cluster of guns allowed for accurate long-range shooting.
The XP-38 first flew on Jan. 27, 1939, and on Feb. 11 of that year, set a transcontinental speed record by flying from California to New York in 7 hours, 2 minutes. Following the record flight, the Army ordered 13 YP-38 prototypes.
With the P-38 capable of high speeds, development was slowed by problems of compressibility and flutter, since little was known at the time about flight with near-transonic airflow over parts of airframes.
Top speed of the P-38 was 448 mph for the P-38L model. Armement included four .50-caliber machine guns, a 20mm cannon and provisions for underwing rockets or bombs.
Service deliveries of the P-38 began in 1941. The P-38 saw service in Europe, where it gained the nickname “fork-tailed devil” by German pilots and soldiers. However, it was in the Pacific where it found its greatest success.
With its long-range and the redundancy provided by the two engines, the Lightning proved deadly to the Japanese Zero and other aircraft. In April 1943, a flight of P-38s ambushed Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plane, killing the officer and depriving Japan of a gifted tactician.
Charles McDonald commanded the 475th Fighter Squadron in New Guinea for 20 months, where he show down 27 enemy fighters. He retired from the Air Force in 1961.
A number of P-38 Lightnings are in flying condition – including a P-38 painted as “Putt Putt Maru,” owned by the Friedkin family of Texas - and can be seen in exhibitions and air shows around the world.
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