Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars movies is about as recognizable as Darth Vader or a lightsaber. It’s a smuggling ship, hot rod and plot device all rolled into one. After all, it’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. It also shares some similarities with another famous and strange looking vehicle, the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. While it’s important to note that one of them is fictional, both served their star systems well. Both the Millennium Falcon and the P-38 are deceptively fast, look weird as hell and they served pivotal roles in their respective universes.
In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker derides it as a piece of junk before it swoops in at the last second and disables Darth Vader’s TIE fighter and saves the day at the end of the movie. In the next movie Empire Strikes Back, it successfully evades an entire squadron of TIE fighters before hiding inside an asteroid/space worm. After being stolen and stored on the desert junk planet of Jakku, The Force Awakens depicts the Falcon outflying the best of the First Order’s pilots with Finn and Rey in the cockpit. It does this all while being mocked as a goofy looking piece of flying junk. With Lando Calrissian as a pilot, the Millennium Falcon fires the last shots that destroy the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning served the United States armed forces primarily in the Pacific theater of World War II and was utilized in just about every role possible ranging from a bomber escort to photo reconnaissance. A pilot and Medal of Honor recipient by the name of Richard Bong had 40 confirmed enemy aircraft kills while seated in the cockpit of a P-38. During the course of the war, it was referred to as “the fork-tailed devil.” Its large airframe and twin boom design allowed it to be fitted with all manner of .50 caliber machine guns, bombs, cannons and rockets. It was powered by two giant supercharged 28-liter 12-cylinder engines which allowed it to go much faster than any other fighter plane in the world when it was introduced in 1940.
According to Wookiepedia, the Millennium Falcon started life as a Corellian YT-1300f freighter ship meaning that it was essentially the Ford Econoline van of the Star Wars universe. After smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca got a hold of it, they hot-rodded it to become one of fastest ships in the entire galaxy. Among the speed upgrades are weapons modifications and advanced stealth/cloaking equipment. Their mods made it perfect for smuggling and remaining unseen and also acting as a one ship battle station capable of outrunning or outgunning every fighter ship it came in contact with. For armament, it sports eight total blaster cannons on both sides of the pancake shaped craft and numerous other guns that allowed it to fulfill its role as the deus ex machina in more than one Star Wars film.
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was developed in the late 1930s as a long range fighter plane capable of doing whatever it is you asked it to do. Lockheed engineers Hall L. Hibbard and Clarence Johnson devised the goofy looking plane. By the time World War II rolled around, the P-38 was responsible for the first ever confirmed American downing of a German aircraft. In the Pacific Theater, its long range allowed it to intercept Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who helped orchestrate the Pearl Harbor attack. P-38 test pilot Col. Ben Kelsey was noted as saying that the P-38 would:
“would fly like hell, fight like a wasp upstairs, and land like a butterfly.”
The P-38 was also faster than both the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero and the German Messerschmidt BF-109 in their top speeds and could absorb more damage than many other aircraft in similar roles. It was beloved by its pilots.
Both vehicles became characters of themselves in their tours of duty on the movie screen and real life. The Falcon and the P-38 both had wide unconventional airframes covered in all manner of weaponry and equipment that made them perfect multi-role fighters. When it came to speed, the Falcon and the Lightning both lived up to their names by being top of their class and outperforming every other craft.