It all started for the twin boom aircraft called “der Gabelschwanz-Teufel” (“fork-tailed devil”) by the Luftwaffe and known by American pilots as the “Lightning” on June 23, 1937 when Lockheed won a design competition with their Model 22. They were received a USAAC government contract for $163,000 to build a prototype XP-38 – an airplane that ended up costing Lockheed an additional $761,000 to complete.
The prototype XP-38 was designed and built by Clarence Kelly Johnson and a team of designers in Lockheed’s Burbank, California facility under tight security.
At the time, the design was considered unorthodox – although Howard Hughes later claimed that Lockheed had stolen his design for a twin-boom aircraft, which he designated the Hughes D-2 (and which preceded the Hughes XF-11) – however the proven design was later mimicked by Northrop in their P-61 Black Widow night fighter/interceptor.
With it’s twin supercharged engines, the P-38 had both power and speed making it faster than existing fighter aircraft, and was so well built that it could take heavy damage – including the loss of one engine – and still fly back to base. The P-38 further distinguished itself as being the only American fighter aircraft in production throughout American involvement in the war, from Pearl Harbor to Victory over Japan Day.
On this day – January 27, 1939 – the XP-38 first flew with Ben Kelsey at the controls.