Friday, January 27, 2012

Pacific Photo Lightnings

The qualities that made the Lockheed P-38 Lightning such an excellent long-range fighter quickly were quickly recognized as the same ones needed as a successful photo reconnaissance aircraft. So throughout the long production run of the P-38, a number of aircraft were either purpose-built or converted into unarmed photo birds, and given the designation F-4 (for the very early ones) or F-5.

From left to right, the aircraft are: 44-26427 (nose number 7), unk, 44-26424 (nose number 20), 44-2644? (nose number 21)

Today's photo, from an island airfield "somewhere in the Pacific", shows a group of F-5G Photo Lightnings waiting for their next mission. These were converted from a group of regular production P-38L models, which had been the most numerous variant of Lightning produced.

The print that the Archive owns is quite small, with the actual image area shown in the main photo above being only about two inches across. Yet the prints's resolution is amazingly high, so that a good digital scan clearly shows details of the aircraft, including tail numbers.

The F-5G-6 aircraft were all post-production conversions of the P-38L-5 version, performed at Lockheed's Dallas modification center (the F-5B had been the last of the purpose-built recon aircraft; all subsequent F-5 models were post-production mods). The "G" models differed from ealier F-5s in that they had a larger, more bulbous nose designed to accommodate a wider variety of cameras. The nose included a forward-looking window, several downward looking ports, and a large trapezoidal window on each side. According to Aerofiles, no records remain of what serial numbers were converted.

8/19/2012 update: Two of the aircraft shown, 44-26424 and 427, were later destroyed during a typhoon on June 20, 1946, while in storage on Guam.


  1. Beautiful planes! My favorite U.S. fighter from WWII. When I walk up to one at an airshow or at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, it is always a thrill. Thank you for this post and the information.

  2.'re most welcome. Stay tuned, too, as there are a couple more P-38 pics in the archive that will be posted in the next few months.