First conceived in 1937 by Lockheed chief engineer Hall L. Hibbard and his then assistant, Clarence Kelly Johnson, the twin-boomed P-38 was the most innovative plane of its day, combining speed with unheard-of advances: two supercharged engines and a potent mix of four 50-caliber machine guns and a 20-mm cannon.
Upon its official introduction in 1940, the P-38 was capable of climbing to 3,300 feet in a single minute and reaching 400 mph, 100 mph faster than any other fighter in the world. It also doubled as an intimidating long-range threat, capable of carrying a larger payload than early B-17s and boasting a range of 1,150 miles.
Its versatility and ruggedness were legendary. It could sink a ship. Strafed enemies on the ground. Crippled tanks. Destroyed entrenched pillboxes and shot down numerous fighters and bombers in all theaters of war.
When a long-range battle-tested airplane was needed for the Allies first round-trip mission to Berlin, a modified P-38 was chosen. And in 1943, when code breakers learned of a key inspection flight in the Pacific by Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the attack on U. S. installations in Hawaii, sixteen P-38 pilots were dispatched to fly a five-leg, nearly 1,000 mile-long mission.
It proved to be a turning point in the war. After intercepting the admiral and his escort of Zero fighters, Japanese naval morale was crushed, and Allied morale soared. The intercept helped set the stage for an Allied victory in the Pacific.