Tamiya P-38
Tamiya P-38 F/G Photo Recon Conversion

Easily the most recognizable aircraft silhouette in the United States arsenal during WWII.  The unorthodox design of the P-38 owed its development to the foresight of a small group of Army Air Corps officers who, concluded that unacceptable limitations were being placed on fighter design by “peacetime” thinking.  With fuel loads dictated by the size of the American mainland and overall weights limited by available engine powers, the amount of armament would be effectively limited to about 500 lbs, which approximated to one .30 cal and one .50 cal machine guns plus a few hundred rounds.  To carry double this armament, a twin engine fighter seemed to be essential.  To overcome prejudice towards development of a twin engine design, the Army Air Corps officers called it an interceptor rather than a pursuit.

P-38 Advertisement

In 1936, a general specification for two high altitude interceptors was issued.  It called for an aircraft with a high rate of climb, a speed of 360 mph at 20,000 feet and an endurance of one hour at full throttle.  Both were expected to carry a heavy armament (by mid ‘thirties standards), to have engine turbo superchargers and tricycle undercarriages.

Although Lockheed had never built a fighter, they made the decision to enter the competition.  The responsibility for the new design was handed off to the two man team of Hal Hibbard as chief engineer and Kelly Johnson.  The P-38 was designated Lockheed Model 22.  For the time, it was a complex design and not an easy aircraft to produce.  The development was a long process with a number of problems to solve.  In fact, the Lightning was not considered combat ready until the August of 1940 with the appearance of the P-38E.  While it was placed into service with ever increasing numbers, the true performance of the Lightning would not be realized until November 1944 when the late P-38J’s were delivered with hydraulic combat maneuvering flaps to control the problem of compressibility.

Why I Had So Much Fun With This Kit
Floquil Paint
Tamiya P-38 Build Review & F-4 Photo Recon Conversion
Haze Paint
8th Photo Recon
What is Haze Paint?
8th Photo Recon Scrapbook
Lockheed P-38 Photo Recon Production
Model   Built Serial # Date
  F-4-1-LO 2 41-2098 ---- 41-2099 Mar 42
    36 41-2121 --- 41-2156 Mar 42 - May 42
    14 41-2158 --- 41-2171 April 42 - June 42
    46 41-2173 --- 41-2218 May 42 - Aug 42
    1 41-2220 Aug 42
  F-5-2-LO 1 41-2157 July 42
  F-4A-1-LO 20 41-2362 --- 41-2381 Aug 42
  F-5A-1-LO 20 42-12667 --- 42-12686 Aug 42 - Dec 42
  F-5A-3-LO 20 42-12767 --- 42-12786 Oct 42
  F-5A-10-LO 20 42-12967 --- 42-12986 Nov 42 - Jan 43
  F-5A-10-LO 60 42-13067 --- 42-13126 Dec 42 - Jan 43
  F-5A-10-LO 60 42-13267 --- 42-13326 Mar 43
  F-5B-1-LO 90 42-67312 --- 42-67401 Sept 43 - Oct 43
  F-5B-1-LO 110 42-68192 --- 42-68301 Dec 43 - Jan 44
  Total 500  
Modification Center Conversions and Special USAAF Modifications
P-38J F-5C-1-LO 123    
P-38J-15 F-5E-2-LO 100    
P-38J-25 F-5E-3-LO 105    
P-38L F-5E-4-LO 500    
F-5B-1 F-5F 1 42-68220  
P-38L-5 F-5F-3-LO (Unk.)    
P-38L-5 F-5G-6-LO 63    
  Total (>892)  
Modified (XXX) does not include mods accomplished at depots, Langford Lodge or Fresno. There is evidence that some CBI fighters had complete photographic noses installed, or fighter noses were reworked at second or third echelon facilities
Lockheed P-38 Photo Recon Variants
F- 4
Lockheed F-4 Lightning

The F-4’s were the only variant designed from the outset for photo reconnaissance.  Based on the P-38E airframe, they were given the Lockheed model number 222-62-13 and were the only photo recon variant built by Lockheed in Burbank.  The F-4 was the first P-38 that could carry two external fuel tanks.  Initially designed for only two vertically mounted K-17 cameras, most were seen with the same two additional oblique K-17 mounts found on the F-4A’s.  There were also a few F-4’s that retained the two uppermost 0.50 cal machine guns.

F- 4A
Lockheed F-4A Lightning

The F-4A’s were modifications of a P-38F.  There were only 20 modified (41-2362 --- 41-2381).  Outwardly indistinguishable from an F-4 with oblique mounted cameras.  It is important to check aircraft serial numbers because the F-4 and F-4a are often incorrectly identified in photograps. Frequently, the numbers seen on the nose are the last two digits of the aircraft serial number, so it would more than likely be 62 – 81.

Lockheed F-4 Lightning Photo Recon
Lockheed F-4 Lightning Photo Recon
F- 5, F- 5A, F- 5B, F-5C
Lockheed F-5A Lightning

There was only one F-5 produced based on the P-38E.  The F-5A’s were modifications of late production P-38G’s.  The F-5B used the same modification on the P-38J airframe.  The F-5C used the same camera arrangement with a improved installation.  The F-5 camera arrangement could be configured differently with a mixture of K-17 and K-18 cameras in various focal lengths.

Lockheed F-5A Lightning Photo Recon
Lockheed F-5A Lightning Photo Recon
F- 5E
Lockheed F-5E Lightning

The F-5E was a modification of the P-38J and P-38L airframes. They differed from the F-5B by having prominently bulged oblique ports.  The F-5E usually carried a mixture of K-17 and K-22 cameras.

Lockheed F-5E Lightning Photo Recon
Lockheed F-5E Lightning Photo Recon
F- 5F
Lockheed F-5F Lightning

The single F-5F was a modification of an F-5B-1. The F-5F-3 used the P-38L-5 airframe. It had extended lower camera bays and repositioned oblique camera ports. The modifications were done at Dallas.  It is unknown how many conversions were done.

Lockheed F-5F Lightning Photo Recon
Lockheed F-5F Lightning Photo Recon
F- 5G
Lockheed F-5G Lightning

The F-5G was a conversion of the P-38L-5.  The nose was completely reshaped and housed four standard cameras plus a forward oblique camera in the nose cap.

Lockheed F-5G Lightning Photo Recon
Lockheed F-5G Lightning Photo Recon
Photo Reconnaisance Cameras of WWII

The K-17 was a 9" x 9" format (negative size) mapping and reconnaissance camera. It had three major components: a body, containing most of the mechanics and controls; a detachable magazine for 9 1/2" wide roll film; and a lens cone, with 6", 12", or 24" focal length options. The K-17, like the K-18 was developed and built by the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company.

The K-18 reconnaissance camera differed markedly from the K-17 in construction. The K-18 body and lens cone were built as a single unit housing a 24" focal length lens. Film format was 9" x 18".

Both of these cameras were normally operated from a 24 VDC electrical source, but could be manually operated by a hand crank and shutter lever. Both were fitted with a connector for an intervalometer that fired the camera at an interval set by the aerial photographer. All used a vacuum applied to the film magazine to flatten the film surface before each exposure.

While these cameras were normally clamped into mounts, a pair of handles and a viewfinder could be fitted to K-17's and K-18's for hand-held operation. What "hand-held" meant is subject to interpretation, as these cameras were not lightweights. With a 200 foot roll of film, the A-5 film magazine used with the K-17 weighed 30 pounds. A complete K-17 with 12" lens cone and a full magazine weighed about 55 pounds. With a 24" lens instead of the 12", the weight climbed to near 75 pounds.

Both of these cameras used 9 1/2" wide Eastman Aerial Safety film. Film emulsions were Class L and Class N. Class L was the "normal" high-speed panchromatic film. The common lengths of film rolls were 200 feet and 75 feet. (Two hundred feet was the maximum film load for an A-5 or A-5A magazine. The A-7 magazines used with K-18 cameras held a maximum of 75 feet).

Recon Pilot
Lockheed P-38 Advertisement
Lockheed P-38 Advertisement 2

Stanaway, John and Rocker, Bob. The Eightballers: Eyes of the Fifth Air Force. Atglen: Schiffer Military, 1999

Scutts, Jerry. Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Wilshire: The Crowood Press, 2006

Bodie, Warren M. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Hiawassee: Widewing Publications, 1991

Davis, Larry. P-38 Lighghtning in Action. Carrollton: Squadron Signal, 1990

Doyle, David. P-38 Lighghtning in Action. Carrollton: Squadron Signal, 2017

O'Leary, Michael. USAAF Fighters of World War Two in Action. Poolen, New York, Sydney: Blandford Press, 1986

Doyle, David. P-38 Lighghtning, Vol. 1. Carrollton: Atglen: Schiffer Military, 2019

Ethel, Jeffrey L., Watenabe, Riyku. P-38 Lightning. New York: Crown Publications, 1991

Aero Detail 28 Production Team. Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Tokyo: Dainippon Kaiga Co, 2000

Green, William and Swanborough, Gordon. The US Army Air Force Fighters Part 2. New York: Arco Publishing Co, 1978

Edward Maloney. Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Fallbrook: Aero Publishers, 1968