The P‑38 had several variations which made it all the more versatile for use in combat.
The Lightning was noted for its powerful firepower in the nose of the plane, but it could also be outfitted with rockets or bombs as part of its armament.
In addition to installing rockets under the wings or switching out the fuel tanks on the bottom for 500‑lb bombs, some P‑38s were designed and built for specific functions:
"Photo Joes" were gigantic flying cameras, used to take pre-mission target and surveillance photos.
"Night Fighters" (AKA "Night Lightning") guns had special blast shields on the muzzles to prevent blinding the pilots when they were fired.
"Droopsnoots" were converted P‑38Js with a complete bombardier's station located in the nose
"Pathfinders" had special ground-mapping radar.
Surveillance is key in any battle, and many P‑38Ls were converted to camera-equipped F‑4s and F‑5s (affectionately called "Photo Joe") for this purpose.
(See section on Photo Recons here.)
The F‑5G carried five powerful aerial cameras which could take pictures vertically and obliquely. (View a close-up of the side camera.)
What they didn't have, however, were guns. Photo Recon pilots were unarmed and alone. These planes were much faster than their fellow P‑38s because they had no heavy armament, ammo or ordnance.
Photo recon P‑38s were used in critical missions for photographing troop movements, airfields and potential targets or, most importantly, bomb-damage assessment.