Even though only a few of the 10.000 units manufactured between 1941 and 1945 have survived, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning has proven itself to be a true artist of survival. Like the now restored “Glacier Girl”, which was salvaged in 1992 after spending 50 years buried under Greenland's ice. It now circles over US soil once more.
The only fully operational P-38 currently stationed in Europe can be seen at Hangar‑7 in Salzburg or various spectacular airshows. Extensive care is essential to keep this more than 70-year-old aviation jewel in shape. Therefore it is routinely moved to Hangar‑8, where it receives special services at maintenance intervals of 20, 50 and 100 flying hours.
The most comprehensive checkup takes place once a year during the “Annual Inspection”, when a team of five mechanics and one electrician spend an average of 850 hours working on the P-38 Lightning to ensure the highest level of flight safety. Wings, brakes, propellers and tires are tested thoroughly, and all hydraulic components and filter elements are replaced if necessary. In addition to new consumables such as seals and screws, 25 liters of hydraulic oil, 88 liters of motor oil and (every two years) 160 liters of pure cooling liquid are put into the aircraft.
With regard to steering, all amplitudes and rope tensions are measured and adjusted. All electrical equipment, including the radio and navigation system is subject to a complete functional check. The landing gearis extended and retracted, and the whole airframe is checked for fissures and cracks both visually and with the help of non-destructive testing methods (NDT). The power supply is fitted with new oil, filters and spark plugs, and the ignition is adjusted before a ground run is performed. Last year the right engine had to be replaced completely, which delayed the season until July.
The all-encompassing technical overhaul is only one part of the big yearly inspection. The P-38 is also aesthetically refurbished by eliminating all traces of usage and a thorough clean of the whole aircraft from windows to wing tips. The time spent at Hangar‑8 can also be used to incorporate new technical innovations. Like last year, when the Lightning was equipped with a new smoke system during its “Annual Inspection”. This ensures that participation in spectacular airshows can be done safely, while allowing spectators follow the aircraft maneuvers from the safety of ground.