May 23, 2023

The legendary Lockheed P-38 Lightning has landed at MotoArt, with the help from our friends at Pima Air and Space Museum. Find out more about 42-12847, a P-38G, and get your own P-38 Lightning PlaneTags.

The Legendary Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning has become an iconic symbol of aviation excellence, a fighter/bomber renowned for its exceptional speed, maneuverability, and distinct twin-boom design. The P-38 is a single-seat, twin piston fighter aircraft, developed by Lockheed Corporation for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). First taking flight in January 1939, the demand for the P-38 grew quickly due to its unmatched performance and versatility. Its turbo-supercharged engines and advanced aerodynamics pushed the boundaries of what was possible in aerial combat. 


Public Domain, Link

One of the P-38 Lightning's most distinctive characteristics is its twin-boom design, which accommodated two engines and a central nacelle. This unconventional configuration provided increased stability and control and allowed for an extensive range of armament options, such as four .50 caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon, nose-mounted in front of the pilot instead of the wings. This allowed a P-38 pilot to easily aim down the barrel of their gun, greatly improving their accuracy and allowing them to hit targets out to 1,000 yards. Its tricycle landing gear, retractable flaps, and streamlined fuselage also contributed to its impressive speed, enabling it to reach top speeds of over 400 mph (640 km/h) at altitudes exceeding 30,000 feet (9,100 meters).

The versatile P-38 Lightning served multiple roles, including long-range escort, ground attack, interception, and reconnaissance. The Lightning's extended range and ability to carry heavy bomb loads made it a formidable weapon against enemy targets, both in the air and on the ground. Its success was further highlighted by the remarkable achievements of renowned top scoring ace pilots like Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire during World War II. In fact, most of the top American aces in the Pacific and CBI theaters flew P-38s . Using tactics like the boom and zoom, the P-38 was unmatched, even by Japanese Zeros. 

Even beyond its effectiveness in combat, the P-38 Lightning made significant contributions to aviation technology. Designed by Lockheed’s chief engineer Hall L. Hibbard and his then assistant, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, the rugged aircraft was one of the first to incorporate an all-metal construction, stressed-skin design, and a fully-enclosed cockpit, which not only improved performance but also enhanced the pilot's comfort and safety. The Lightning's exceptional aerodynamic qualities paved the way for future aircraft design, influencing subsequent generations of fighters. Aircraft such as the Northrop P-61 Black Widow and the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar also featured twin boom designs, and even Lockheed Martin’s newest multi-role fighter shares its design legacy and name - the F-35 Lightning II. 

Tracing the Development of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was the result of a visionary design process and rigorous development. Its creation began in February 1937 when the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation responded to a requirement for a twin-engined, high-altitude, high-speed interceptor, having "the tactical mission of interception and attack of hostile aircraft at high altitude.” Under the guidance of renowned engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, the team at Lockheed embarked on an ambitious project which they called Model 22 and USAAC called the XP-38, which would redefine the possibilities of aerial warfare, just as World War II loomed.



P38 Lightning

 Planes of Fame P-38 - By CindyN, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link


The development of the P-38 Lightning introduced a host of innovative design features and engineering breakthroughs. One of the most notable was its unconventional twin-boom design, which housed the pair of 1,000-hp 12-cylinder turbo-charged Allison engines and fuel stores, while the central nacelle accommodated the cockpit, armament, and other essential components. This configuration provided a streamlined structure that maximized speed and stability.

The XP-38 took to the skies in its successful inaugural flight in January 1939. Much more development was needed, but the USAAC scheduled a speed-dash from March Field in Riverside, California to Mitchell Field in Uniondale, New York to demonstrate the speed of its new prototype. The flight took place on February 11, 1939, with two successful refueling stops in Texas and Ohio. The engine stalled on approach to Mitchell Field and crashed, resulting in a total loss of the plane and a major setback in the development of the P-38. Despite the crash, the USAAC ordered 13 more planes. 

The development process of the P-38 Lightning was not without challenges, but it was sorely needed during the war. The Lockheed team persevered as they faced problems with tail flutter and compressibility, which could rip the tail off or cause the loss of control during a dive. Throughout its development, the P-38 Lightning underwent a series of refinements and upgrades to correct these issues and enhance its capabilities. Lockheed engineers continually improved the aircraft's aerodynamics, fine-tuning the design to minimize drag and maximize efficiency. They also introduced modifications to increase fuel capacity, extending the Lightning's range and operational endurance. 

P-38 Lightning ad
By Unknown author, Public Domain, Link

According to Lockheed Martin , more than 10,000 P-38s, in 18 models, were built during World War II. They flew more than 130,000 missions, shot down more Japanese aircraft than any fighter, and in its role as a reconnaissance aircraft, took 90% of the aerial film captured over Europe. The P-38 Lightning's groundbreaking design and engineering breakthroughs paved the way for future generations of fighter aircraft, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire us today, nearly 90 years later.

P38 Lightning At A Glance

P38 Drawing


  • Manufacturer: Lockheed
  • Serial #: 42-12847
  • Crew: 1
  • Wing Span: 52 Ft 0 In
  • Length: 37 Ft 10 In
  • Height: 9 Ft 10 In
  • Armament: 1x 20mm Hispano M1 Cannon, 4x .50 Bmg Colt-Browning Mg 53-2 Machine Guns, And Various Bomb/Rocket Loads


  • Range: 391 Nm Combat Range
  • Cruise Speed: 336 Kts
  • Ceiling: 39,000 Ft
  • Empty Weight: 12,200 Lb
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 19,800 Lb
  • Rate Of Climb: 2,700 Ft/Min
  • Engine: 2x Allison V-1710-51 Piston Engines

42-12847 - Dumbo!

A great deal of thanks goes out to for this invaluable information on 42-12847.


Thank you Pacific Wrecks for the use of this photo of Dumbo, with pilot John C. Dunbar, which was taken by Richard E. Smith in 1943


Built at Lockheed’s Burbank plant as c/n 222-7281, 42-12847was then disassembled and shipped to the South West Pacific Area. Upon arrival, it was reassembled and assigned to the US Army Air Force 5th AF, 35th Fighter Group (35th FG), 39th Fighter Squadron (39th FS).  The 39th FS was nicknamed “Cobra in the Clouds” and operated the P-39 Airacobra, P-38 Lightning, P-47D Thunderbolt and P-51D Mustang. The 39th FS had been deployed to Australia January 23, 1942,  shortly after the start of America’s involvement in World War II.



John C. Dunbar
Thank you Pacific Wrecks for the use of this photo of John C. Dunbar with the plane


42-12847 was assigned to 1st Lt John C. Dunbar , who had been given the nickname "Dumbo" by his fellow pilots of the 39th. Dunbar christened his P-38 “Dumbo” as well, and painted its nose art himself - a three to four feet high image of the Disney cartoon character Dumbo, with a cloud of dust, nuts and bolts trailing behind him. Assigned nose number 37, it flew combat missions over New Guinea which was a strategic island during World War II, for both the Allied and Japanese Imperial Forces.


On September 2, 1943, piloted by Lt. Hamilton Laing, Dumbo force landed at Terapo Airfield. Laing was unhurt in the crash. The P-38 remained in situ for decades until it was rediscovered in 1980. The nose section was recovered by the Royal Australian Air Force on June 13, 1980, for the Papua New Guinea National Museum (PNG War Museum). This section was added to the P-38F Lightning 42-12647 on display. In 2002, the rest of 42-12847 was salvaged by Robert Greinert , an Australian warbird restorer, and co-founder of the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society. It is currently being restored in Australia.


P-38 Lightning
Thank you Pacific Wrecks for the use of this photo, which was taken at a storage hangar in Bankstown Airfield, Australia by Justin Taylan, June 13, 2003


35th Fighter Group Aircraft


The U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), 5th Air Force (5th AF), 35th Fighter Group (35th FG) operated in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) during World War II. This group included the 39th Fighter Squadron (39th FS), 40th Fighter Squadron (40th FS) and 41st Fighter Squadron (41st FS). Here are some of the aircraft flown by the 35th Fighter Group.


P-38 from 39th Fighter Squadron


P38 Lightning of the 39th FS 35th FG

This P-38 photo was taken by Alexander Balogh Jr. He was a Master Sergeant and mechanic of the 41st Squadron- 35th Fighter Group, and later the 475th Fighter Group  "Satan's Angels." Read more about the photo, his service and see more photos here. Photo used with permission of his son Keith.


Airacobra Squadron

P-39 Airacobra's 39th FS 35th FG USAAC Circa 1941, photo by by Alexander Balogh Jr., used with permission from his son Keith.


MotoArt’s P-38

Dave Hall and the MotoArt team have always appreciated the honor in working closely with Pima Air & Space Museum to acquire material for some rare or noteworthy aircraft. PlaneTags such as the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, F-86 Sabre, PBY Catalina, HU-25A Guardian, Titan II Missile and more have been created with material acquired from Pima. When MotoArt owner Dave Hall was offered the original material from 42-12847 which had been replaced during the P-38 restoration project, he was beyond thrilled. “The P-38 Lightning was a groundbreaking aircraft, truly an icon, and we are honored to share what remains of Dumbo with PlaneTags collectors and aviation enthusiasts.” 


P-38 aviation collectible

Pima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air and Space Museum is a renowned institution that holds a steadfast commitment to preserving the rich history of aircraft. Situated in Tucson, Arizona, this sprawling museum showcases a vast collection of over 400 aircraft, making it one of the largest aviation museums in the world. With great dedication and care, the museum diligently restores and maintains these aircraft, ensuring that they remain in pristine condition for future generations to appreciate. Their commitment to preserving aircraft history goes beyond the mere display of planes; it encompasses a comprehensive approach to education, research, and conservation. Through engaging exhibits, interactive displays, and informative programs, the Pima Air and Space Museum actively fosters an understanding of aviation's significance and its impact on our world. Visitors can immerse themselves in the captivating stories of these aircraft and the pioneers who flew them, gaining a deeper appreciation for the technological advancements and the spirit of innovation that have shaped aviation history. The Pima Air and Space Museum's unwavering dedication to preserving and sharing aircraft history is an invaluable contribution to the legacy of flight and an inspiration for all aviation enthusiasts.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning PlaneTags

The Lockheed P38 Lightning PlaneTags will be sold on beginning May 25, 2023 at noon PT. This is a very small run, with only 650 in the series.


P 38 Lightning PlaneTags


So many collectors and P-38 aficionados have asked for this aircraft. PlaneTags collectors and fans of the Lightning should definitely order one while they can. 



In Case You Missed These: Lockheed PlaneTags

Here are some of the blogs we have written, about the legendary Lockheed aircraft we have made PlaneTags with, excluding the SR-71 Blackbird which we no longer have in stock.