Aircraft Comparison By

P-38 Lightning vs P-51 Mustang

Which fighter plane is better, the P-38 or the P-51? This has been a topic of debate for many years. Both aircraft have pros and cons, but which one comes on top? In this blog post, I will compare and contrast the two planes to see which one comes out on top. Stay tuned to find out!

Aircraft: Lockheed P-38 Lightning North American P-51 Mustang
Lockheed P 38 Lightning N25Y
North American P 51 Mustang INA Macon Belle
Country: United States United States
Manufactured: from: 1941 to: 1945 from: 1940 to: 1945
ICAO: P38 P51
Price: $0.1 million $0.59 million
Avionics: - -
Engine: 2x Allison V-1710-111/113 1x Packard (Rolls Royce) V-1650-7 Merlin
Engine Type: Piston Piston
Power: 1,600 horsepower 1,720 horsepower
Max Cruise Speed: 360 knots
667 Km/h
383 knots
709 Km/h
Approach Speed (Vref): 91 knots 87 knots
Travel Range: 1,995 Nautical Miles
3,695 Kilometers
1,434 Nautical Miles
2,656 Kilometers
Fuel Economy: - -
Service Ceiling: 44,000 feet 41,900 feet
Rate of Climb: 4750 feet / minute
24.13metre / second
3200 feet / minute
16.26metre / second
Take Off Distance: 670 metre
2,198.14 feet
366 metre
1,200.77 feet
Landing Distance: 700 metre
2,296.56 feet
457 metre
1,499.33 feet
Max Take Off Weight: 9,798 Kg
21,601 lbs
5,490 Kg
12,103 lbs
Max Landing Weight: 7,938 Kg
17,500 lbs
5,490 Kg
12,103 lbs
Max Payload: 1,800 Kg
3,968 lbs
910 Kg
2,006 lbs
Fuel Tank Capacity: 1,162 gallon
4,399 litre
269 gallon
1,018 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
9.8 metre
32.15 feet
Tail Height: 3.9 metre - 12.80 feet 4.08 metre - 13.39 feet
Fuselage Diameter: 1 metre
3.28 feet
0.9 metre
2.95 feet
Wing Span / Rotor Diameter: 15.85 metre
52.00 feet
11.28 metre
37.01 feet
Wing Tips: No Winglets No Winglets
More Info: Lockheed P-38 Lightning North American P-51 Mustang
Data presented is for entertainment purposes and should not be used operationally.

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning

P 38 Lightning at Chino Airshow 2014
airwolfhound Lockheed P-38 Lightning at Chino Airshow 2014

The P-38 was nicknamed the “fork-tailed devil” by the German Luftwaffe and for a good reason. This versatile aircraft could fly at nearly 400 mph and hold its own in air-to-air combat and ground attack missions.

Even legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh praised the plane, stating that it was “the quickest in climbing, most maneuverable, and most graceful in design” of all the American fighters during WWII. Some famous pilots who flew the P-38 include medal of honor recipient Richard Bong and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

While it may have had its share of difficulties, such as high landing speeds and engine trouble, if not properly maintained, the P-38 proved a valuable asset to allied forces. It will always be remembered as one of the most iconic planes in history.

Why was the P-38 developed and built?

The P-38 was designed as a high-altitude interceptor, capable of reaching speeds of over 400 miles per hour. It featured a unique twin-boom design and was outfitted with four 50-caliber machine guns and one 20mm cannon, making it a formidable fighter in combat.

The P-38 made its first flight on January 27th, 1939, with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls.

It quickly proved a success and entered into service in 1941, earning the nickname “Lightning” for its speed and agility. The P-38 saw extensive use during World War II, serving in every theater of war and becoming the airplane of choice for many famous pilots, including Richard Bong (the highest-scoring American ace) and Charles Lindbergh (famous for his solo transatlantic flight).

What purpose did the P-38 serve?

In addition to its role as a fighter, it proved to be highly effective as a fighter-bomber and a night fighter. Its unique design – with twin engines and a central fuselage – allowed for more incredible speed and maneuverability than other planes of its time.

It was even used for photo reconnaissance missions, where its long-range capabilities came in handy. But its most extraordinary claim to fame may be the aircraft flown by famous aviator Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in 1947. The P-38’s contributions to the war effort and advancements in flight make it a proud part of American history.

The North American P-51 Mustang

North American P 51 Mustang INA Macon Belle
Robert Sullivan North American P-51 Mustang ‘INA Macon Belle’

The P-51 Mustang’s reputation as a fierce and agile fighter precedes it for a good reason. With a top speed of 710 km/h and a wingspan of 11 meters, this powerful aircraft served as a single-seat bomber during the Korean War, World War 2, and other conflicts. Designed by Edgar Schmued and manufactured by North American Aviation, the P-51 Mustang was equipped with a Packard V-1650 Merlin engine and cost approximately $50,000 in 1945.

But don’t let its hefty price tag fool you – the P-51 Mustang more than earned its keep during its service. Its impressive performance in air-to-air combat and its capability for long-range escort missions solidified its place in history as one of the most successful fighters of all time.

Why was the P-51 developed and built?

The P-51 Mustang was born out of necessity during World War II. As the Allied bombers made their way deep into German territory, they needed a way to protect themselves from enemy fighters. Enter the P-51 Mustang, which proved to be the perfect solution.

Its use of a reliable engine allowed for longer flight times, and its internal fuel capacity meant it could even accompany bombers on missions without requiring external tanks.

But it wasn’t just its practical features that made it a success – its sleek design and powerful performance quickly elevated it to legendary status among pilots.

What purpose did the P-51 serve?

The P-51 Mustang was a powerful tool during World War II, often used for long-range escort missions and single-seat fighter attacks. It was also utilized as a fighter bomber, capable of hitting targets with precision and speed. Over 15,000 P-51s were produced during the war, proving formidable opponents against German forces.

How are the P-38 and P-51 different?

The P-38 and P-51 were iconic fighter planes used during World War II, but they had distinct differences in speed, range, maneuverability, and cost.

The P-51B/C/D was superior in all of these categories except for the climb rate, where the P-38 had a slight edge. Regarding reliability and ease of maintenance and operation, the P-51 was the clear winner. The P-51 proved a more versatile and cost-effective option for military missions.

How are the P-38 and P-51 similar?

Despite their differences, the P-38 and P-51 shared some fundamental similarities. Both planes had powerful engines that allowed for high speeds and long flight times. They also had large fuel capacities, giving them the range needed to accompany bombers on missions. In terms of design, both planes featured a unique twin-engine/central fuselage configuration that set them apart from other fighters of their time.

What’s better about the P-38?

Regarding WWII fighter aircraft, the P-38 Lightning stands out for its unique design and superior performance.


What sets the P-38 apart from other planes is that it features two engines instead of just one. This not only allows it to reach higher altitudes but also makes it less susceptible to engine failure in combat situations. In addition, the P-38’s impressive arsenal includes a mix of four 50-caliber machine guns and a 20-mm cannon, making it a formidable force in dogfights.


And let’s not forget the sleek design that inspired its nickname – the “Fork-Tailed Devil.” When considering all these factors, it’s clear why many think the P-38 to be one of the best fighters of WWII.

What’s better about the P-51?

The P-51 might not be as flashy or famous as some WWII fighter planes, but it has impressive specs.


Its new wing profile allowed for less drag and higher speeds, even with a smaller engine like the Merlin. And let’s not forget about those big fuel tanks – this little plane could fly for hours and hours. Its long-range made it the perfect choice for escort missions, protecting bombers on their way deep into enemy territory.


The P-51 was also equipped with a powerful engine, the Merlin V-1650. This engine gave the plane a top speed of over 400 mph, making it one of the fastest fighters of its time.


So which plane is better – the P-38 or the P-51? It’s hard to say. They both have their unique strengths and weaknesses. But one thing is for sure – these two planes were both instrumental in winning WWII.

About the Author

author photo
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.