Aircraft Comparison By

Lockheed P-38 Lightning vs Supermarine Spitfire

The P-38 Lightning and the Spitfire are two of the most legendary fighter aircraft in history. They have unique strengths and weaknesses; both were used extensively during World War II. I have often been asked which one is better, and my answer is always the same.

Aircraft: Lockheed P-38 Lightning Supermarine Spitfire
Lockheed P 38 Lightning N25Y
Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910 SH F
Country: United States United Kingdom
Manufactured: from: 1941 to: 1945 from: 1938 to: 1948
ICAO: P38 -
Price: $0.1 million $0.016 million
Avionics: - -
Engine: 2x Allison V-1710-111/113 1x Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 V-12
Engine Type: Piston Piston
Power: 1,600 horsepower 1,470 horsepower
Max Cruise Speed: 360 knots
667 Km/h
320 knots
593 Km/h
Approach Speed (Vref): 91 knots 68 knots
Travel Range: 1,995 Nautical Miles
3,695 Kilometers
960 Nautical Miles
1,778 Kilometers
Fuel Economy: - -
Service Ceiling: 44,000 feet 37,000 feet
Rate of Climb: 4750 feet / minute
24.13metre / second
2600 feet / minute
13.21metre / second
Take Off Distance: 670 metre
2,198.14 feet
306 metre
1,003.92 feet
Landing Distance: 700 metre
2,296.56 feet
242 metre
793.95 feet
Max Take Off Weight: 9,798 Kg
21,601 lbs
3,039 Kg
6,700 lbs
Max Landing Weight: 7,938 Kg
17,500 lbs
3,000 Kg
6,614 lbs
Max Payload: 1,800 Kg
3,968 lbs
500 Kg
1,102 lbs
Fuel Tank Capacity: 1,162 gallon
4,399 litre
102 gallon
386 litre
Baggage Volume: - -
Seats - Economy: 1 seats 1 seats
Seats - Business Class: - -
Seats - First Class: - -
Cabin Height: - -
Cabin Width: - -
Cabin Length: - -
Exterior Length: 11.53 metre
37.83 feet
9.12 metre
29.92 feet
Tail Height: 3.9 metre - 12.80 feet 3.48 metre - 11.42 feet
Fuselage Diameter: 1 metre
3.28 feet
0.9 metre
2.95 feet
Wing Span / Rotor Diameter: 15.85 metre
52.00 feet
11.23 metre
36.84 feet
Wing Tips: No Winglets No Winglets
More Info: Lockheed P-38 Lightning Supermarine Spitfire
Data presented is for entertainment purposes and should not be used operationally.

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About the P-38 Lightning

The P-38 was first flown on January 27, 1939, and soon gained a reputation for its speed and agility. It is most well known for its role in the Pacific theater during World War II, where it was used as a fighter escort and a long-range bomber.

Its unique design also allowed it to excel in photographic reconnaissance missions.

The P-38 could fly higher and faster than any other American fighter plane at the time, with a maximum altitude of 44,000 feet and a top speed of over 400 mph. Its impressive performance made it the only Allied fighter used continuously throughout the war – from Pearl Harbor to victory in Europe.

Lockheed produced nearly 10,000 P-38s, with popular nicknames such as “Lightning” and “Fork-Tailed Devil.” Several examples of this iconic aircraft can still be found flying today as a testament to its enduring legacy.

Why was the P-38 Lightning developed and built?

The P-38 was developed to meet specific requirements by the USAAC, including a top speed of 360 mph at 20,000 feet, a climb to 20,000 feet in 6.5 minutes, and a range of 1,220 miles.

It was also required to be able to carry 1,000 pounds of bombs and be armed with a heavy caliber machine gun in the nose and light machine guns on the wings. The P-38 met these demands with its unique twin-engine design and an impressive array of armaments, including four .50 caliber machine guns and one 20 mm cannon.

This made it one of the most versatile fighter planes in World War II, capable of performing high-altitude interception missions and ground attack and reconnaissance roles. Its superior flight performance also earned it fame as a prosperous long-range escort for bomber groups during the war.

What purpose did the P-38 Lightning serve?

It served as an escort for bombers and a long-range fighter and was used extensively in the Pacific Theater of World War II. It was also used for photographic reconnaissance missions.

About the Supermarine Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire was a British single-seat fighter aircraft during World War Two. It first flew in 1936 and entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1938. Despite initial production troubles, it quickly proved to be a deadly and versatile fighter, able to engage enemy aircraft and conduct ground attacks.

The Spitfire played a crucial role in repelling Luftwaffe air raids during the Battle of Britain, with many pilots attributing their survival to its agility and firepower.

In total, 20,341 Spitfires were built for the RAF and other Allied forces, making it the most widely produced British combat aircraft ever.

Also Read: Supermarine Spitfire

Why was the Supermarine Spitfire developed and built?

The Spitfire’s development can be traced back to a 1934 Air Ministry specification. This specification called for a high-performance fighter with an armament of eight wing-mounted machine guns. The Supermarine company, led by chief designer RJ Mitchell, designed its design in response to the specification.

Spitfire’s design had several advantages that set it apart from other competing designs at the time. One such advantage was its sleek, aerodynamic shape, allowing for improved speed and maneuverability. It also featured retractable landing gear and an enclosed cockpit, both innovations at the time.

Despite initial skepticism and delays in production, the Spitfire proved its worth during WWII as one of the top Allied fighters. Its iconic shape and performance continue to capture the imaginations of aviation enthusiasts worldwide.

What purpose did/does Spitfire serve?

The Spitfire, a British fighter plane primarily used during World War II, served several essential purposes.

Firstly, it was responsible for defending British airspace against enemy attacks.

It played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain and successfully defended the country against German air assault.

It was also used for reconnaissance missions and dogfights with enemy planes.

In addition to its military uses, Spitfire also broke several speed records and aided in developing future aircraft designs.

How are the P-38 and Spitfire Different?

The P-38 had a unique design with twin engines mounted on either side of the fuselage, while the Spitfire was a single-engine aircraft. The P-38 also had longer-range capabilities, allowing it to escort bombers on long-distance missions.

How are the P-38 and Spitfire similar?

The P-38 Lightning and the Spitfire were renowned fighter planes used by allied forces during World War II.

Both planes had a maximum speed of around 400 miles per hour and could reach altitudes of over 30,000 feet. In terms of armaments, both had machine guns and could carry bombs or missiles for aerial attacks.

What’s better about the P-38?

Several specs make the P-38 a better choice:


The P-38 Lightning was designed with twin engines mounted on either side of the fuselage, which were joined by a center section. This allowed for more aerodynamic stability as well as efficient fuel usage. The aircraft also featured a unique “twin-tail” configuration and was one of the first planes equipped with the tricycle landing gear.


Both planes had a maximum speed of around 400 miles per hour and could climb to an altitude of over 30,000 feet. The P-38 had a range of 2,000 miles, while the P-51 could only travel 1,500 miles.


The P-38 was armed with one 20 mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns, while the P-51 was equipped with six .50 caliber machine guns.

What’s better about the Spitfire?

The Spitfire is a British WWII fighter plane known for its unmatched speed and maneuverability. What made this well-loved aircraft so special?


The Spitfire’s design set it apart from other fighter planes of its time. Its sleek shape and powerful engine made it incredibly fast and agile, while its elliptical wings provided excellent control.


The Spitfire was also equipped with some of the best avionics of its time, including a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and high-quality elliptical wings.


While other planes focused on heavy armaments, the Spitfire was designed with a minimalist approach – carrying only the essential weapons needed for battle.


So, which plane is better – the P-38 Lightning or the Spitfire? While both are excellent aircraft, Spitfire has a slight edge in design and performance. However, the P-38 is armed with more powerful weapons, so it depends on what you’re looking for in a fighter plane. Ultimately, both are incredible machines that played a vital role in WWII.

About the Author

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With a passion for aviation, as well as surfing and scanning the web, Rocco is in his element analyzing aircraft data and the differences and similarities between aircraft.