The P-38F Lightning

The origin of the Portuguese Lightning was similar to the Airacobra fleet, also presented  in our site : during November 1942, 3 Fighter Groups were sent from England to North Africa being part of the Torch Operation.

They were:

1st Fighter Group : Squadrons 27,71 and 94

14th Fighter Group : Squadrons 48 and 49

82nd Fighter Group : Squadrons 95, 96, and 97.

The Group made this movement from 13 to 15 November 1942 (Ref. 7 and 14), , and arrived at Tafaraoui, near Oran.

However, not all went as planned and in November 15, two USAAF pilots, Lt.Jack Ilfrey first and Capt.Jack Harmon after, landed at Lisbon Airport in emergency.

They belonged to the 94th Fighter Squadron, equipped at that time with the P-38F and P-38G models of the Lightning.

This at least was the story known until  recently, because a third Lightning may have landed in Portugal: see Note 1 below.

The P-38F and P-38G were externally identical (Ref. 8 and 9). The differences could be found in a more modern version of the Allison engine (the F model had a V-1710-F5 / V-1710 -48-53 with 1,225 HP and the G model the V-1710-F10 / V-1710-51-55 with 1,325 HP). The wing reinforcement in the G model also allowed a useful weapon load increase per wing station. The G model, with this modification, could fly 2,000 miles.

The aircraft was equipped with a 20 mm M1 cannon, and 4 Colt-Browning MG 53-2 machine guns , with 500 rounds per gun,  and was able to carry two bombs of 325, 500 or 1.000 lbs. It had a gun sight of the 3A model and a cine camera. The oxygen system was of the A-9A model.

Looking at the serials in the take-off records (Ref.16), it can be seen that the first pilot was flying  an F model and the second a G model. From the connection serial number /constructor number, it follows that the complete designations of the two aircraft were:
Model A.A.F. serial * L.A.C.constructor number **
P-38F-1-LO 41-7587 222-5714
P-38G-1-LO 42-12738 322-7172

* - Army Air Force serial
** - Lockheed Aircraft constructor number

Taking a chance, Lt.Ilfrey was able to take off again and arrive at Gibraltar .The opportunity came when a Portuguese pilot who was kneeling in the aircraft wing receiving some explanations concerning the aircraft panel, became less attentive by the surprise provoked by the arrival of the second aircraft. He was violently thrown off by  the propeller blow after a quick start of the engines. This would become a difficult situation for the Portuguese authorities , because this type of procedure was against the international law concerning interned aircraft.

The second aircraft flown by Capt. James Harman was then interned. According again to Ref.16, the aircraft that stayed in Portugal was the P-38G.

This situation is now confirmed for the first time, from the Portuguese side, by document source (Portuguese Air Force Archives - Ref.12) that states the following: "...the aircraft Lockheed Lightning model P-38G-1-LO with the serial 335 equipped with two Allison engines and two Curtiss constant speed propellers, is assigned to Ota Airbase and incorporated in the Airacobra Squadron (the OK Squadron)..."

 Operation of the Lightning in Portugal

The activity of the Lightning in Portugal was very reduced. It was known at the time by the name "The General's airplane" because it was towed out of the hangar when there were important visitors...

Lt.Solano de Almeida had the dream of flying the Lightning to Africa, and in line with this idea, one beautiful morning he took off from Ota for a test flight (not authorized by the Base Commander), overflying Lisbon. Upon his return to the Base, he was summoned to the base Commander who delivered a strong reprimend...and allowed him from then on to fly the very special and unique aircraft !

However, sometime later , fuel leaks under the wings began to show, demanding an inspection of the wing fuel tanks. After unscrewing what seemed thousands of screws (using for that effect an unscrewing machine based on a landing gear motor of a retired Airacobra...), it was confirmed that the self sealing rubber tanks were leaking badly, and there were no means to repair them.

Some efforts were made trying to replace the rubber tanks  with metallic ones , but these were fruitless, and this situation together with  a general lack of spares, did not allow any further flights.

The aircraft was finally retired, together with the remaining Airacobras, in March 19, 1950, being cut up  and sold for scrap.

Serial numbers

As mentioned above, the Lightning received the serial 335, when in June 23, 1943  (Ref.3) it was assigned to the Airacobra Squadron, receiving at the same time the code OK-T.

In October 1943 (Ref.13) , due to the retirement of the Airacobra with the serial 301, the Airacobra 300 received the serial 301 and the Lightning serial was changed from 335 to 300, as it is shown in the photo above (the only known so far).

 Colour schemes

As can be seen in the photo above, it appears that the Lightning was camouflaged. It also had an inscription on the port side of the nose saying "Não faz mal..." (It doesn't matter...).It seems that this phrase was based in the philosophy used towards the aircraft of interned origin and all the difficulties to fly them . This saying was liked by the foreign personnel staying in the Base for instruction, which used it a lot. There is a photo of a Liberator, also interned, with the same inscription !
As it was mentioned in the Airacobra datasheet, the question of the colour schemes of these aircraft remains  to be studied further.


 Note 1 - Ref.15 states "...On 23 December 1942, Lt.Col.William Covington led a flight of 51 P-38 Lightnings of the 82nd F.G. to Gibraltar...." . The flight was attacked by German fighters of 14/KG40 and the mentioned Ref. relates further on in the text , the results of the encounter with the German fighters: "... an unnamed pilot from 14 Staffel shot down the P-38 flown by Lt.Earl Green of the 95th F.S. Lt.Green survived and managed to evade to Spain. Lt Broadhead of the 96th F.S. was forced back to St.Eval,  whilst Cap.Buddy Strozier also of the 96th F.S. force-landed in Portugal. Finally, Lt.T.S.Miller of the 97th F.S. crash landed in Spain..."

It seems that this  P-38 landed in Portugal remained  in good shape, as the author differentiates between forced landing and crash landing, being the former the case of the Portuguese incident.

Unfortunately nothing else is known of this aircraft.This information was published to our knowledge, for the first time in the mentioned reference, and as such we are already researching to confirm this situation..


1 - US Army Air Force Fighters - Part 1 - William Green and Gordon Swanborough - MacDonald and Jane's - London -1977

2 - Spitfires and Hurricanes in Portugal - Mário C.Lopes - Dinalivro - Lisboa 1994

4  - Ordem de Serviço (Base Order) nº 189 of July 8, 1943 of Air Base 2 Ota

5 - Commander Austem Godman Solano de Almeida interviewed by Luis Tavares in September 18, 1978.

6 - US Army Air Force Fighters - Part 2 - William Green and Gordon Swanborough - MacDonald and Janes London 1978

7 - P-38 Lightning in Action - Gene B.Stafford - Squadron Signal Publications - Aircraft No.25 -Carrollton 1976

8 - Lockheed P-38 Lightning - Roy Cross - Kookaburra Publications - 1969

9 - Lockheed P-38 Lightning - Edward T.Maloney - Aero Publishers- Fallbrook -1968

10 - "Wreckovery" in Aviation News 10-23 August 1984

11 -

12 - Ordem de Serviço (Base Order) nr.247 of September 4, 1943 from B.A.2 - Ota

13 - Ordem de Serviço (Base Order) nr.279 of  October 6, 1943 from B.A.2 - Ota

14 - The Mighty Eighth  (A History of the US 8th Army Air Force)- Roger Freeman - Doubleday and Company, Inc. - New York 1970

15 - Bloody Biscay - The History of VGruppe/Kampfgeschwader 40 - Chris Goss - Crécy Publishing Ltd- 1997 . An   excellent book about the combats in the bay of Biscay and the Atlantic with Allied aircraft and German ones from the KG 40.

16 - Documents from American records (US Controller/Gloucester, dated November 20, 1942) made available by Mr.M.C.Lopes to the Portuguese Air Force Historic Archive