The P-38 Lightning is one of the most unique fighters of WWII in appearance. It comes to IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte as one of two engine aircraft in the set and is loaded with plenty of firepower options. The P-38 played a significant role in Europe almost up until the end of the war but how does it match up in IL-2? Let’s find out!
A flash of Lightning
Over 10,000 P-38 Lightning’s were produced during WWII with this iconic aircraft popping up in battles from Western Europe and Italy to the central Pacific and over the jungles of New Guinea and across the Solomon Islands.
The Lighting was envisioned to be a high altitude bomber interceptor with the ability to defend North America from high flying enemy bombers. Heavy firepower and high altitude performance were the twin callings of the aircraft and the P-38’s twin Allison V-1710 in-line counter rotating engines were hooked up to a turbo-supercharger to help achieve that goal.
The P-38 was a complex aircraft to build and complex to manage. Earlier versions suffered from a number of maladies that hampered its combat effectiveness. In Europe, the P-38’s cockpit had insufficient heating and pilots had issues with cold temperatures during high altitude flight. While the pilot was often freezing, the engines were overheating and over-cooling as the cooling systems on early models proved insufficient. Numerous other engine problems also added to the issues along with a problematic generator, difficult to operate cockpit controls, and difficult to use manual control systems that pilots were sometimes not well trained on.
The P-38 also had some other serious issues. The roll rate of the big aircraft was insufficient and in a close-in dogfight against faster rolling German aircraft, that slow roll proved problematic. The aircraft also suffered from compressibility issues where the aircraft lost control as it approached Mach speed. Numerous P-38’s (and their pilots) were lost in unrecoverable dives.
All of these problems would begin to be addressed and we get to see that in the P-38J-25 that we have in IL-2: Battle of Bodneplatte. This later model of P-38 fought in Normandy and in dwindling numbers to the end of the war. It had power boosted ailerons that helped roll rate at high speeds, dive brakes to allow pilots some degree of control over compressibility issues in high speed dives, and it came with revised radiator systems to improve cooling and engine reliability issues.
The P-38 was never a perfect aircraft but in the right hands it could be wielded as a potent weapon and its range and twin engines proved to be an asset. I’ve talked a lot about the real P-38 so now let’s talk about the virtual one in IL-2.
Contending with the P-38’s pros and cons
The real P-38 suffered from issues that don’t affect virtual pilots such as problems with cockpit heating (though if you open your window in mid winter you may experience the same biting cold – I don’t recommend) and a few issues that transcend both real and virtual.
Though power boosted, the P-38 remains a slow to roll aircraft and struggles to keep up in close quarters dogfight situations. Deliberate maneuvering is essential against aircraft like the FW190 and Bf109 which both have better roll rates. Flying the P-38 in a dogfight situation is a challenge requiring good pilot techniques to stay in the fight and gain the advantage.
Despite the twin engine stature, the P-38 is surprisingly agile with good stall handling and the ability to pull tightly into turns. The P-38 can even hold a turn fairly well and provide a serious challenge to FW190 and Bf109 pilots that are often going to struggle to pull as tightly as the P-38 can.
The P-38 is also blessed and cursed because its size and shape make it easier to spot and easier to recognize than other aircraft. Virtual pilots struggling to ID other types that look alike (P-51, Bf109, P-40, Yak, etc.) should have no such problem with the P-38’s distinctive twin boom design.
The P-38 also has excellent forward visibility and decent rear visibility though side views are somewhat obstructed by the wings. Pilots enjoy a clear sight picture making it easier to track targets and aim effective deflection shots in tight turns or at long ranges.
A fire breathing dragon
The P-38 is a high performing aircraft in IL-2 with a very good climb rate, reasonably good top speed and acceleration, and the ability to sling impressive armament loads. As the P-38 gradually took on more fighter-bomber missions, it’s ability to load up even more bombs became a reality and 1CGS has given us a ton of options to work with.
The P-38’s default four .50cal machine guns are backed up by a single 20mm M2 Hispano cannon that can dish out significant amounts of damage. The tight concentration and excellent forward visibility enable effective long range shooting. In some cases, I was able to pack a Bf109 or FW190 full of concentrated fire for a quick kill before they assumed I was even in range.
Packing bomb and rocket loadouts seems almost natural for the P-38. Two M10 rocket pods with a total of six M8 Bazooka rockets can be carried underneath the aircraft and a wide variety of bomb loadouts can also be carried including 500lb, 1000lb, and the unbelievably powerful 2000lb bombs.
The P-38 can also be configured to carry six 500lb bombs or four 1000lb bombs under the fuselage for a very impressive bomb carrying capability. 4000lbs of total ordinance is similar to some of the medium bombers in the sim.
Visually stunning inside and out
1CGS did another great job with the P-38 and I feel like kudos are especially required here as the P-38’s cockpit and exterior is quite a complex thing to get right.
The unique style, twin booms and impressive firepower concentrated at the nose are all visually represented and the P-38 looks stunning in it’s all metal schemes. There are plenty of skins available although I would love to have seen a few olive drab schemes to go with the bare metal – we may yet see those before Bodenplatte is considered complete.
In the cockpit there’s also plenty to praise. This complex cockpit is visually excellent and the animation for things like the aircraft’s yoke control column and the cockpit opening and closing system are very impressive indeed. Seriously, if you have IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte, go open the canopy and see how complex all of that is.
The P-38J-25 Lighting is yet another win for the IL-2: Great Battles Series and IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte. The Lightning is a Collector Plane (it is one of the two Premium package aircraft after all) that is both competitive in air combat as well as being an absolute beast at the fighter-bomber role.
It has been surprisingly popular in IL-2 multiplayer with plenty of P-38’s being flown in both fighter-bomber and pure fighter roles. That leads me to believe that I’m not the only one that thinks it can effectively fight as a fighter in this late war arena. That it is so effective in the fighter-bomber role just adds to the useful appeal. That ability to operate as both fighter and attacker has really proven popular – lightning really does strike twice!
This is a complex aircraft requiring a careful approach to air combat. However, with the right flying it can be made just as deadly as any of the other aircraft in IL-2: Battle of Bodenplatte. Combine that with the attention to detail, visual appeal, and serious firepower that this fighter brings to the table and I think it’s safe to say that we have another popular entrant to the series. I’m glad that 1CGS was able to make the P-38J-25 and I do hope that we’ll see some of the earlier (and more problem prone) P-38 variants added in future updates to the series.
There are some great community videos out there and here are just a few of them. We have Requiem’s Air Combat Tutorial Library that covers the P-38 in detail on just how to fly the aircraft.
Magz takes the P-38J out for a spin and a detailed overview in this next video.
Wolfpack does a great overview as well covering some of the history of the famous fighter and showing off some great gameplay.