Light­ning Strikes

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Technically Speaking - —LINDA SHINER

THE FIRST TO ES­CORT bombers all the way to Ber­lin, P-38 Light­nings re­ally hit their long stride in the Pa­cific. On ove­ro­cean mis­sions, two en­gines took the worry out of los­ing one. “You could do aer­o­bat­ics on one engine,” pi­lot Bud Holecheck told Air & Space in 2004. With guns in the nose (in­stead of the wings, where they were on many fight­ers), Light­nings were real sharp­shoot­ers. Richard Bong chalked up all of his 40 kills in a P-38, but the fighter’s sin­gle best day may have been April 18, 1943, when P-38s chased a quarry as wanted then as Osama bin Laden was in this cen­tury. After an in­ter­cepted mes­sage re­vealed the tar­get, P-38 pi­lots flew 600 miles to shoot down Pearl Har­bor mas­ter­mind Isoroku Ya­mamoto. As with bin Laden, there was a later dis­pute over who fired the fa­tal shot.

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