P-38 Lightning. Say this to any WWII or big aircraft fan, and they immediately picture the odd, though very beautiful, plane. Ask a German WWII pilot who was on the wrong end of a Lightning or“Der Gabelschwanz Teufel!” - The Fork Tailed Devil. In almost all theatres of the greatest war in history, the P-38 had amazing success.
In 1930’s isolationist America in the midst of the depression, very little Government money was being put into fighter development. There were other issues that needed the money far more desperately. Because of this, America’s Air Forces were beginning to fall behind.
Eventually, a Government order called for the design of a new type of fighter, or as it was then labeled to slip past Government bureaucracy, an ‘interceptor’. It was to carry a massive amount of fuel internally due to the current orders against fighters carrying drop tanks. Two companies, Lockheed and Bell decided to pick up the design competition contract. The legendary aircraft designer Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson was most directly responsible for the P-38’s, submitting several different designs at Lockheed.
Immediately, the XP-38’s performance was near or above the performance requirements satisfying nearly everyone involved in the development. Only a few major problems surfaced throughout the XP-38’s tests: one being a limitation on use of wheel brakes for such a large and heavy fighter, and another big issue would be compressibility. ‘Kelly’ Johnson predicted before the plane ever flew, the problem of compressibility. Once it was noticed in the test program, small ‘floating’ counter balance weights were added to the top and bottom of the stabilizer. Johnson knew this would not solve the problem, and it never really was solved.
The P-38 and its pilots would move on to serve with distinction in the Pacific Theatre, Mediterranean Theatre, and North Africa. The aircraft had some serious troubles in the European Theatre, even though it was one of the most successful ground attack aircraft in this theatre. Strafing with all weapons right down the centerline was a bit easier in this aircraft, as no weapons had to ‘converge’ as with wing mounted weapons. This drastically improved the weapons’ effective range to almost 1000 yards, whereas wing mounted guns usually converged at around 200 yards.
The P-38’s murderous and precise firepower along with its excellent maneuverability in nearly all flight areas, and finally its pilots, would make it into an Aviation Legend.
Installation and Documentation
Simple. Download the 46 MB Flight One Purchasing module/package from SkyUnlimited’s website, and purchase through the relatively simple Flight1 installer. Very shortly after purchase, you will receive your keycode to install. You will be guided right through the whole process to the end with your new P-38 in the hangar ready to go.
Immediately after the SkyUnlimited installer closes, it will open one readme file in .pdf form. This is a quick 4 page ‘Features’ document on the SU P-38; several visual features are included, and the document quickly explains how to access and have fun with these features.
A start menu entry will be added under the programs set with the name of SkyUnlimited Productions. There's an easy access point for every piece of important documentation, and there is a small wealth of information included. From design aspects to history to performance and checklist tables, all one could ask for in this area is there.
The modeling done on this P-38 is some very decent work, especially a few of the small details that caught my eye. Being a P-38 fan, I have a lot of material on the aircraft; including many pictures and technical drawings. Four different P-38 models are included in the ‘Late’ P-38’s Volume I and they are the P-38J, P-38K, P-38L, and the F-5 photo recon aircraft. The differences between these craft are minor, mostly improvements you wouldn’t notice on the outside. Better engines or the addition of new implements were usually the changes between these later models, but there are also some very visible differences.
The P-38J was the first Lightning nearing the design’s true potential with many upgrades, though the majority of these upgrades were only incorporated on the last couple of hundred J models of almost 3,000 produced. These upgrades included dive breaks which were greatly needed; aileron boost to improve roll entry and roll rates; improved cockpit heating; and better engines with automatic supercharger control. Maneuvering flaps and a new cockpit design with a flat bulletproof windscreen were among the other various improvements from earlier Lightnings to the J model. The included J model does not feature the dive breaks, as they probably would not have been on the majority of P-38J models in service.
The P-38K is my personal flagship of this fleet, and it looks much like the J and L models with the exception of different props. The paddle blade propellers have a greater chord which is a visual effect I just like. In 1943, Lockheed took a P-38E and modified it into a prototype using new Allison F-17 engines with upgraded superchargers and paddle blade propellers. This upgrade in both departments was to promise much improved performance at high altitude, though the inability of Allison to produce the quantity of F-17’s needed in that amount of time doomed this model.
The P-38L was truly the “Cadillac” of P-38’s, incorporating the toughest engines into a P-38 yet. The new Allison F-30 engines were equipped to the P-38L, delivering 1,600 HP each. However, the small but noticeable addition of weight slightly marred this improvement. Around 3,800 P-38L’s were produced, it incorporated nearly all the improvements and lessons learned from earlier models. The SU L model incorporates probably the single most important upgrade to the P-38’s in the form of the dive brakes. Located under the wings just outboard of each engine nacelle, they assisted in preventing compressibility which was invaluable. The dive brakes are mapped to the default for Speedbrake extend/retract.
The F-5E was a photo recon version of the later models of the P-38; the photo recon version of the Lightning had been around nearly since the beginning of its military service. Instead of having weapons in the center nacelle nose bay, they could mount several large cameras. These high detail, large exposure cameras could provide excellent intelligence. Combined with the P-38’s capability, these cameras would provide that invaluable intelligence. The camera bulges on the center nacelle nose are very noticeable, and modeled very nicely on the SU F-5. In this regard the F-5 did look different from a combat P-38, however this was essentially the only difference.
The main detail I noticed was, all of the smooth curves and edges on the real P-38s are modeled very faithfully on this craft. Looking at the intercooler bulges on the sides of the booms/nacelles, it just looks dead-on accurate to the real thing. The intakes below the spinners are another very smoothly modeled part of the P-38, a very fine piece of modeling.
All of the regular animations are there. SkyUnlimited seemingly included everything they could think of. Flaps, ailerons, rudders, and elevators of course. Also, several of my favorite extras like prop blade pitch is modeled, as is an opening canopy with windows that can roll down. The cooling vents on the supercharger intakes are animated, along with the oil intercooler flaps on the bottom of each engine.
My most favorite piece of modeling aside of those smooth edges and curves, would have to be the expertly done propellers on each model. A lot of attention to detail was paid in the modeling of the props, both static and spinning. When static, you can actually see the blades respond to pitch control input. When spinning, it just gets better with one of the best spinning prop textures. The second detail I liked the most would be the landing gear. They look very sharp and are modeled with large moving parts and oleos, compressing stiffly on touchdown.
If eye candy and extras are your thing, then SkyUnlimited has you covered in this department. Many visual features are included and greatly add to that immersion factor. The first thing that opens up after installing is a very easy to read and above all quick, guide to these features and the visuals.
It explains everything very succinctly and effectively so that everyone can and will get the most out of their P-38. Along with every regular animation you could ask for, this aircraft also has opening gun bays and the port engine cowling pops right off with an oil pan below to simulate maintenance conditions. Wheel chalks and the entry ladder will pop down with the canopy open and parking brake on; that is what that readme after installation is for, to help you get the most out of these features. A little machine gun effect is included for fun, though the bullets seem to fly a little too far upward. Shells also eject visually, so this can be fun if you love seeing machine gun fire.
The pilot is modeled and animated very well, although he is a bit on the smaller side. The pilots arms are animated to the controls he is manipulating, and his head follows the direction of control input along the pitch and roll axes. Droptanks are included and actually drop off using the FS drop tanks commands, and they can also be used on every included variant. They do hold extra gasoline of course, and actually flutter and fall backwards when released.
The textures included with these P-38s are a lot of fun, including many historical ace paints. Many men flew and became famous in the P-38 during WWII, including America’s top scoring ace. The textures look very nice at medium to long distance, but tend to lose some clarity if you get too close.
The 2D panel in the P-38 package is relatively functional more than anything, still possessing a quality of making you feel as if you are in the real deal. All regular and required gauges are present, most being default or common gauges. Most switches are clickable from the 2D panel, though a few are not. The 2D has what you’ll need for good VFR flying.
The sub-panels included are simplified or default panels for radios, autopilot, and engine controls. They aren’t flashy, but it does keep things easy to manage and simple to use. With these sub-panels, you can easily fly more complex approaches.
This is the best part of this plane, up there with the external model and sounds. The virtual cockpit incorporates most everything you’ll need for a wide range of different flight types, and just about everything is clickable. From regular switches and the mags to the directional cockpit lights that can be adjusted for fun, you will not get tired of this virtual cockpit.
The virtual cockpits are nearly identical for all P-38 models included, aside of the photo recon VC, which includes a small panel with camera shutter controls just to the left of the mags.
The gauges are relatively simple and have the slower or ‘normal’ update speed which I don’t mind. After seeing some real antique gauges update slowly, this is actually more accurate in some cases. Every gauge I needed for flight is there, and easy to see. At 1.00 and 0.75 zoom, the virtual panel and gauges are quite easy to read, just about everything can be seen well. In fact, I fly this one at 0.65 to simulate better peripheral vision. I can still easily read each important gauge, and tool tips are included for almost every gauge and switch. I included a shot back from .35 zoom so you can get a panoramic kind of view in the VC.
If you like clickable virtual cockpit stuff, then this is your plane. Nearly everything, I mean 95% of everything, is clickable in this VC and that adds to the experience. I love being able to fine tune my engine settings in any situation, along with being able to control just about every other important flight setting. Along with that, several extra switches are animated and clickable just for fun.
The immersion factor definitely goes up when you can click just about anything you can see in front of you. You can roll the windows down and open the canopy simply by clicking the indicated spots. Shift+E and Shift+E+2 will open the canopy and port window respectively; the starboard window must be clicked from inside the VC. You can find the cranks for the windows beneath each one, simply click and watch a window go down. For convenience in the sim, the yoke can be clicked to make it disappear. You simply click the brown cloth cover at the yoke’s base to make it disappear and reappear. Another neat little feature, is a control lock rod that can also be clicked and moved into position on the yoke. The night lighting is a basic soft red flood light, it gets this job done effortlessly.
Recently, I had the privilege of going to a great airshow here in Arizona, and many WWII warbirds were the openers for the show. Seeing all kinds of warbirds, and hearing them, was that much better. One thing I’ve noticed about the included sounds in this sim is that they’re quite accurate to what I heard from the ground at the show.
I’ve never heard a P-38 from the inside, but the author of these sounds has heard it and recorded them from a real P-38. David Copley has been a P-38 fan for the majority of his time in aviation, and actually recorded these sounds from one of his many trips to see the P-38 ‘Glacier Girl’ and others. I can attest to the quality of at least the external sounds; hearing the real P-38 fly over at the show was shocking for one reason. I never knew how quiet these old inline warbirds were, but they simply seem to whisper overhead. There is no loud cracking or whipping of props that you can hear, and I noticed that in this sound package. Until you really crank it up, it’s surprisingly quiet.
Along with a throaty sounding Allison V-12 sound, there is also a whine to the rear of the sound at full power. This is a neat sound nuance, actually hearing the superchargers spool up and whine along. The sounds of this package are among the best warbird sounds out there.
Many of us in the FS world know the name Jerry Beckwith, and he’s the man to do flight dynamics. He was directly involved in the SkyUnlimited P-38’s dynamics. Flying this P-38 is a whole new set of challenges and pleasures, and as with any new aircraft that flies realistically, it will take some adjusting time. Once accomplished, you can climb into your P-38 with confidence, and show those instructors how it is done.
You will find takeoffs are wonderfully easy in this plane, the counter rotating props simply eliminate that takeoff ‘swing’. If there is no wind, she will simply roll right down the centerline and lift off gracefully. Even though it is hard to tail strike on takeoff, I wouldn’t advise jerking the yoke backwards as it can happen.
Once in the air, you’ll notice you'll have to learn to control this aircraft in a new way. It is sensitive along certain axis of flight, especially the pitch. I do not mean you tap the stick forward and you are immediately diving, I mean learning to level and trim this aircraft will be new to you. Once you decide you would rather just zoom and boom through the skies, well, this is where you are going to have a blast. The P-38 can make it to 20,000 ft in around 6.5 to 7 minutes, so you can imagine the kind of power strapped to your back.
After reading more on the P-38, it had a long list of ‘pros’ with only a few ‘cons’. One of the biggest negative issues aside of compressibility, was the time it would take a pilot to become proficient in the aircraft. A commanding officer of a P-38 group specifically commented on how much longer it would take to become a professional ‘38 pilot. He mentioned that after nearly twice the time it took to become proficient in a single engine fighter, could a pilot hope to be an expert. However, in addition, once that level of skill was attained, the pilot could be unbeatable in this aircraft. As any good aircraft will, this one will take you a little bit of practice to look like a pro on landing. Once you have learned how to roll on a ‘greaser’, it’s just too much fun.
Another note for landing: Flare and land on the main gear. Do not let the nose wheel touchdown first, this could cause some serious problems in real life. In these shots it looks like the nose will touch first, but I always gently pull back on the yoke at the last second.
I couldn’t quite get it to snap into a sudden stall in clean or dirty configurations, it just gently fell. You won’t be stalling the P-38 very often with this much power.
I simulated an engine out on one pattern. I killed the fuel, mags, and feathered the prop. The prop came to a full stop after a couple seconds, and the P-38 handled reasonably well with an engine out. Landing with one engine out was a new challenge in itself, and I was able to set it down nicely. Real P-38 pilots often mentioned the decent single engine handling, and many a pilot limped his wounded P-38 home on one engine.
Performance on this craft is what I hope for in FS aircraft; very smooth from every perspective and especially in the detailed VC. I only lost 5-15% in frame rates from a default aircraft. Locked at 26 FPS, that’s down no more than 2-4 FPS which is excellent for the complexity of the package. The external model incorporates many extras like opening panels and engine cowlings exposing a nice engine, yet I don‘t see significantly reduced frames. You will not be disappointed by this aircraft’s performance, it seemed very smooth on my machine.
The SkyUnlimited P-38 Vol. It definitely fills a realism gap, they’re simply what I call the best P-38’s for the FS world. From doing technical training in a legendary fighter, to blasting around the skies, you will have a lot of fun no matter how you decide to fly this aircraft.
I personally enjoyed training at Luke just like the real P-38 pilots did back in the 40’s, and flying the occasional sortie. If you’re a WWII Warbird or P-38 fan, this is simply right up your alley. If not, consider giving it a try, you might find warbirds to be more to your liking than you thought.
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