Yes Virginia, There Really WAS A Two-Place P-38 Lightning!

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Charley C, Mar 9, 2017.

  1. Charley C

    Charley C

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    May 17, 2015
    I can't show you a picture of this one because I doubt that there are still any in existence, but I can tell you the true story about the project that led up to a set of very remarkable pictures being taken of......the FIRST and LAST two-place Lockheed P-38.

    In the early 1940's while the war was still going on in Europe, the "AAF", (the U.S.A.F. was still part of the Army until 9-18-1947, when the U.S. Army Air Force became the United States Air Force, and thus became a stand-alone, full fledged branch of the United States Military.)

    The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was having great success in the air war over Europe and someone in the Air Force brass came up with the idea of "modifying" an existing P-38 into a two-place plane by stretching the fuselage by 4 or 5 feet in order to have room for a reconnaissance photographer in a seat several feet forward of the pilot's seat, near the nose of the plane.

    My brother-in-law, who had been a sheet metal worker prior to the war, and who had subsequently taken a job in the Experimental Engineering Dep't at Wright Field in Dayton was given the task of performing the necessary sheet metal work to accomplish this modification.

    As a side note, during WW 2 and for some time after the war, "Old" Wright Field in Dayton, and Patterson Field in Fairborn were two totally separate Commands;

    Some interesting facts and history about this subject in the link above.

    As I have been researching all of this in order to tell this story, I'm also remembering what it was like living near Wright Field during WW2. The "security" was unlike anything I have ever seen, before or since! As an example: I remember there being signs posted every so many feet along the perimeter fence: something to the effect that: "All Trespassers Will Be Subject To Lethal Force!" And believe me......they weren't kidding! I vaguely recall something about a small child being shot and killed; And because there were ALWAYS all sorts of military planes flying around in the air above Dayton and vicinity, and many were executing landings at both Old Wright Field, (in Dayton), and at Patterson Field, (a few miles up the road in Fairborn), there was always someone pulling over and stopping to watch a plane landing, (even though there were signs all over the place that practically threatened to shoot anyone who even "slowed down" or "looked sideways" as a plane landed!)

    Probably the very best example of all this, also turned out to be not only a violation of the law, but also a "near disaster", (with the "law-breaker" turning out to be...."a HERO"! ) I'll attempt to tell about this from memory;

    The west perimeter fence of Old Wright Field is bordered by Harshman Road; sometime during the mid 1940's while WW 2 was still going on, a car driven by a man who was some kind of "out-of-town salesman" was proceeding down Harshman Road; (this is quite close to where the Museum of The U.S.A.F. is now); anyway, this guy in this car sees a jet plane that appears to be about to land on this runway that the "approach to", is right over this guy's car, (which he has illegally parked by the fence), in order to rubberneck the jet that is about to land!

    Note: The end of the runway is only maybe a hundred feet "inside of the fence; (I'm not certain of this).....but I seem to remember that the "jet" was a T-33, (which is the "trainer" version of the Lockheed P-80 "Shooting Star"); as the jet is making his approach, he's directly "in-line" with the guy's illegally parked car; the Jet is also "a little "low"! So DAMNED "low" in fact, the T-33 is about to "pass over the car", it is so "low" that the gear (or else the belly of the plane) actually SMACKS the roof of the car! The resulting "impact" causes the T-33 to "bounce UP-wards", which then causes the belly of the plane to actually "scrape" the top of the fence, and the T-33 then impacts the ground some distance "inside of the fence", rather than "going THROUGH the fence", (which authorities say would have caused the "loss" of the plane, and the "loss" of it's pilot! ) As it happened, the T-33 actually touched down on the VERY END of the runway approach, (on it's wheels), (with the only "harm done" being the pilots "trousers"......), and a few scratches on the belly of the T-33.

    (I hadn't thought about any of this when I started to post this, (and I was only about 15 yrs old at the time), so please forgive me if I got anything "mixed up"!

    Everything that went on at Wright Field during WW 2 was considered Top Secret, and my BIL was not allowed to mention anything about this modification at the time, even though after he had completed all of the sheet metal work, and all of the camera gear had been installed, they had taken a series of photographs of the modified plane, and my BIL had been given a set of the pictures, with the understanding that they were to still be considered Top Secret until sometime after the war was over. Not only did my BIL refrain from showing any of his family members these pictures that he had been given, he didn't even mention anything about working twelve hour shifts for several months in order to get this project completed.

    While I'm not completely certain exactly when I first became aware of him working on this project, I do remember that the first time I ever saw these very remarkable photographs, was sometime after 1974, and probably more like maybe 1975 or 1976.

    The first (and I think, ONLY time) that I ever saw these pictures was well into the 1970's, probably about 1976 or so; by then, my BIL and my sister had moved to Gulfport Florida shortly after the war and when I had taken a load of new cars to Florida, and while I was in St.Petersburg delivering cars and was visiting my sister, my BIL finally showed me the pictures of the ONLY 2-place P-38. I remember thinking at the time that given the performance of the P-38 it should have made a great photo reconnaissance plane. If I'm not mistaken, I seem to remember that by the time the modification was completed, the war in Europe had already ended. So I have no idea how successful the 2 place P-38 project turned out to be, as I never heard.

    Charley C
  2. Deltic


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    May 21, 2013

    I think I have a picture of a two seat lightning on my other computer. It will be about a month before I can check. IIRC the front seat was very cramped and there was almost no way to bail out of the plane. If you need a second crewman a Mosquito would be a better plane.

  3. RonS

    RonS Millennium Member

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    May 27, 1999
    Oh, USA
  4. Baba Louie

    Baba Louie

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    Sep 6, 2001
    Trainer with second seat behind pilot or Bomber with guns removed and plexiglass nose w/ Norden bombsight?
    (going from memory from building models as a kid)

    ETA: after I posted I read RonS's link... not Trainer but Nightfighter
  5. elkhart


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    May 13, 2011
    Very interesting, thanks for posting.