The propellers on both engines of most conventional twin-engined aircraft spin clockwise (as viewed from the pilot seat). Counter-rotating propellers generally spin clockwise on the left engine and counter-clockwise on the right. The advantage of such designs is that counter-rotating propellers balance the effects of torque and P-factor, eliminating the problem of the critical engine.
In designing the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the decision was made to reverse the counter-rotation such that the "tops" of the propeller arcs move outwards, away from each other. Tests on the initial XP-38 prototype demonstrated greater accuracy in gunnery with the unusual configuration. The counter-rotating powerplants of the German World War II Henschel Hs 129 ground attack aircraft, Heinkel He 177 heavy bomber and Messerschmitt Me 323 transport used the same rotational "sense" as the production P-38 did.
Drawbacks of counter-rotating propellers come from the fact that, in order to reverse sense of rotation of one propeller, a gearbox needs to be used or the engine installation must be different. This may increase weight (gearbox), or maintenance and spare parts costs for the engines and propellers, as different spare parts need to be produced in lower numbers, compared to a conventional installation.