The Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star was the first jet fighter to enter US service, but despite an impressively quick development didn’t arrive in time for the Second World War. It saw extensive service early in the Korean War, before being replaced by the F-86 Sabre.
On 17 May 1943 Lockheed were asked to design a fighter around the de Havilland Halford H.1B turbojet. A Lockheed team led by Clarence L. ‘Kelly’ Johnson managed to produce the prototype of their new fighter only 178 days later, a very impressive achievement.
Lockheed already had some experience of jet engines, and had an existing proposal, for the L-133 jet fighter. Late in 1942 they had also been given the design studies for the Bell XP-59B single engined jet fighter, while the specifications and drawings for the Helford turbojet had arrived in March 1943, so they weren’t starting from a totally blank slate.
Four weeks after the May meeting Lockheed presented their proposal, along with a quote for $524,920. On 17 June the AAF approved the project, and a letter contract was approved on 24 June 1943 (for $515,018.40). A formal contract followed on 16 October, and was followed by a series of modifications that saw the price rise to $1,044,355.36, after adding in changes, wing tunnel models and flight tests.
Lockheed decided to adopt a simple design. The XP-80 had low aspect ratio laminar flow wings, a conventional tail and a tricycle undercarriage. The air intakes were installed in the wing roots and fed the Halford engine, which was mounted at the rear of the aircraft. The jet exhaust came out of a straight tailpipe. The cockpit was placed head of the wing, and was covered by a bubble canopy. It was armed with six 0.5in machine guns carried in the nose.
The mock-up was ready by late July 1943 and was inspected by a team of USAAF, Navy and RAF officers on 20-22 July 1943. They only suggested minor changes, and Lockheed continued to press ahead at great speed. As was so often the case, the airframe got ahead of the engine, and the first none flying engine didn’t arrive until 2 November 1943. The XP-80 was officially accepted by the USAAF on 16 November 1943, although at this point it couldn’t yet fly.
In September 1943 Lockheed suggested using the General Electric I-40 engine (later produced as the J33) instead of the Halford. The USAAF agreed to this suggestion, and on 16 February 1944 placed an order for two XP-80A prototypes, powered by the new engine. The XP-80 was thus obsolete before it even made its maiden flight.
In the meantime tests were still going on with the XP-80. The original engine suffered damage when the air ducts collapsed during a ground test on 17 November 1943. The ducts were strengthened, and a new engine arrived on 28 December. The aircraft passed its ground tests, and finally made its maiden flight on 8 January 1944. This first flight only lasted for five minutes, after the undercarriage failed to retract and the ailerons proved to be too sensitive. These problems were both quickly fixed, and a longer test flight went rather better.
The XP-80 then began a series of longer tests. These revealed problems with the engine, the fuel management system, its overall performance and bad stall and spin characteristics. These problems were slowly fixed, and the XP-80 reached a top speed of 502mph during the trials. After the two XP-80As and the first YP-80A were delivered, the XP-80 prototype was sent to the 412th Fighter Group for tactical evaluations. It then went to Muroc Flight Test Base, and finally to the AAF Training Command at Chanute Field, Illinois. It was finally retired on 8 November 1946, and eventually went onto public display at the National Air and Space Museum.
The two XP-80A prototypes featured a number of changes. They were larger and heavier to make space for the I-40 turbojet. The cockpit was further forward - on the XP-80 the pilot had been sitting over the wing leading edge, on the XP-80A he was in front of the wing. The first aircraft entered tests on 10 June 1940 and the second on 1 August. This aircraft had a second seat for an engineering observer. This soon proved to be very useful, after Kelly Johnson was able to solve a problem with unstable air flow in the intact ducts while flying in the engineer’s seat.
The P-80 was put into full scale production. A total of 1,732 aircraft were built, with the last being accepted in June 1950.
Late in 1944 four YP-80s were sent to Europe to demonstrate their capabilities and to help develop tactics for use against the existing German jet fighters. The two that reached the Mediterranean theatre performed this role in Italy and were then returned to the US. The two that went to Britain were less lucky - the first was lost in a fatal crash on 28 January 1945. The second went to Rolls-Royce to test the B-41 (Nene) Turbojet, but this was lost in a crash on 14 November 1945.
The P-80 had a poor accident rate early in its career. By August 1945 eight had been destroyed and seven damaged in accidents, with the loss of six pilots, and the aircraft was grounded on 7 August. Test flights resumed on 1 September and the ban was lifted on 7 November, but even after this the accident rate remained high.
The P-80 entered regular service with the 31st Fighter Squadron, 412th Fighter Group, which received three YP-80As in 1945 at Bakersfield, California. They were followed by seventeen P-80As and the group began to convert from the P-51D and Bell P-59. It was hoped that the group would serve against the Japanese, but it wasn’t ready in time. The group was inactivated in July 1946.
After this false start, the P-80 was used to equip an increasing number of units during the late 1940s, becoming the F-80 during this period. By 1950 twelve squadrons of the Far East Air Forces were equipped with the F-80C, and one reconnaissance squadron had the RF-80A. The Shooting Star was thus in place when the Korean War broke out in June 1950.
At first the F-80 was the best fighter in the skies over Korea. After the outbreak of the war it was used to help escort transport aircraft that were evacuating US personnel in danger of being overrun. They were then used on fighter sweeps over North Korea, to intercept North Korean bombers and attack aircraft and to support the ground troops.
The fighter role began to fade away after the arrival of the MiG-15 in Korea. On 7 November 1950 Lt Russell J. Brown shot down a MiG-15, the first jet-on-jet victory in air warfare, but the arrival of the MiGs meant that the Shooting Star was no longer able to dominate the skies. Instead it was used as a fighter-bomber, while the F-86 Sabre took over the air superiority role. During 1951 the fighter-bomber units also converted to the F-86, leaving the RF-80As as the only version of the Shooting Star still in front line service in Korea at the armistice. During the war the F-80C flew 98,515 sorties, claimed 31 enemy aircraft in the air and 21 on the ground, but at the cost of 14 aircraft shot down by enemy aircraft, 113 by ground fire and 150 lost in accidents, a third of the total production of the F-80C.
The same pattern took place in the Continental United States, where the F-80 was largely phased out in 1950-51, while the RF-80A/C remained in use until 1957. The F-80C also saw service with the Air National Guard, from 1948 until 1958 (although any units that fought in Korea converted to other aircraft before they went).
The first prototype was powered by the de Havilland Halford H.1B turbojet. It was armed with six .50in machine guns, and had an unpressurized cockpit. After the fifth flight the blunt wing and tail tips were replaced with rounded tips, and sharp leading edge fillets were added at the wing roots.
The two XP-80As were powered by a General Electric I-40 turbojet. The air intakes were moved back, and the cockpit slightly forward, at least compared to the wings. The wing span was increased by 2ft but the wing chord was reduced, leading to a slight reduction in wing area. Length went up by almost two feet, and maximum weight from 8,916lb to 13,780lb. More ammo was carried and the internal fuel capacity rose from 285 to 485 gallons. The second aircraft was also given the ability to carry a drop tank below each wing.
Thirteen YP-80As wre ordered on 10 March 1944. They were almost identical to the XP-80A. Manufacturer’s trials began on 13 September 1944. The first aircraft was later used by NACA for tests in high speed trials, the second was completed as the prototype XF-14 reconnaissance aircraft and the fifth was used by Rolls Royce to test the prototype of the Nene turbojet.
The first 1,000 P-80As were ordered on 4 April 1944, followed fourteen months later by a massive order for 2,500 further aircraft. However this didn’t last for long, and after VJ Day the second contract was cancelled and the first turned into one for 917 aircraft, to be made up of a mix of P-80As, P-80Bs and FP-80As.
The first 345 aircraft were completed as the P-80A-1-LO, powered by a 3,850lb thrust GE J33-GE-11 engine or the Allison J33-A-9, the same engine built by General Motors.
The next 218 aircraft were started as the P-80A-4-LO, powered by a 4,000lb thrust Allison J33-A-17. The older aircraft were later given the same engines. Most were completed as P-80As, but thirty eight were completed as FP-80A-5-LO reconnaissance aircraft instead.
Deliveries of the P-80A began in February 1945 and ended in December 1946.
The ninth P-80A-1 was turned into the prototype for the P-80B by giving it a 4,000lb thrust Allison J-33-A-17 turbojet and a thinner wing. This aircraft was later turned into the XP-80R in an attempt to break the world’s speed record.
The P-80B was the first post-war version of the aircraft. It had the thinner wing introduced on the XP-80B, an ejector seat and could use jet assisted take off bottles. It was still armed with 0.50in machine guns, but saw a move from the M-2 to the M-3. Fuel capacity was reduced in order to make space for water-alcohol bottles. A total of 240 P-80Bs were built, 209 as the -1 and 31 as the -5, which was given canopy defrosting and low temperature greases and rubber and was intended for service in Alaska. 117 F-80Bs were later upgraded to the F-80C standard as the F-80C-12-LOR and were used with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Squadrons.
The P-80C was the final production version and the first to be purchased with post-war funds. The original version was powered by the 4,600lb Alison J33-A-23 engine. This was used in 113 P-80C-1s, 75 P-80C-5s and 50 TO-1s (for the Navy and Marine Corps). Another 561 aircraft were delivered as the F-80C-10-LO, powered by the 5,400lb thrust J-33A-35 engine.
The P-80C was given two extra wing pylons, and could carry sixteen 5in rockets. In service they were given the ability to carry under-tip ‘Misawa’ fuel tanks or Fletcher centreline tip tanks.
The F-80D would have been a version of the aircraft powered by a J33-A-29 turbojet and with a cockpit based on the T-33A trainer. None were built.
The F-80E would have been a major development of the aircraft, using swept wings and tail surfaces. None were built.
The XF-14/ XFP-80 was the prototype for an unarmed reconnaissance version of the aircraft, built using the second YP-80A. The nose guns were replaced with cameras, in a fairly simple installation. The aircraft was destroyed in an in-flight collision on 6 December 1944.
The XFP-80A was the second prototype for a reconnaissance version, and had a modified nose that hinged up to allow access to the equipment.
The ERF-80A was a F-80A-1 modified to test new camera equipment.
F-14A/ FP80A/ RF-80A
The F-14A was the production version of the reconnaissance aircraft. 38 were built by converting P-80A-5s as they were under construction and another 114 were built from new as reconnaissance aircraft. The F-14A had a similar nose to the XFP-80A, and carried one K-17 camera with a 6in lens and two K-22 cameras with a 24in lens. When first built they were powered by the 3,850lb thrust General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet. In 1953 98 F-14As were updated and given a 5,400lb thrust Allison J33-A-35 engine.
The RF-80C was a reconnaissance aircraft produced by modifying 70 F-80As in 1951. They were given the J33-A-35 engine and an improved camera nose.
The P-80N-NT was the designation given to 1,000 P-80As that would have been built by North American. The contract was awarded on 19 January 1945 but cancelled after VJ Day before any had been built.
The XP-80R was the modified XP-80B and was built in an attempt to break the world’s speed record of 615.8mph, which had been set on 7 September 1946 by a Gloster Meteor F.4.
The XP-80R kept the J33-A-17 engine, but had new experimental NACA flush air intakes and a low profile canopy. In October 1946 this version failed to break the record, struggling to average 600mgh.
The aircraft was then given a 4,600lb thrust Allison Model 5400 engine with water methanol injection, clipped wings with sharper leading edges and the standard air intakes. This version was more successful, and on 19 June 1945 Colonel Albert Boyd, chief of the flight test division of the Air Material Command set a new record of 623.738mph (1,003.811km/ h).
The P-80Z was originally a designation for a much improved version of the aircraft, which later developed in the XP-90. The designation was then re-used for the early versions of the P-80B.
The DF-80A was the designation for F-80As that were modified to serve as drone directors
The QF-80A was the designation for F-80As that were turned into radio controlled drones, but with their standard controls retains for ferrying. The first was flown in December 1946, and the three aircraft were delivered in June-July 1947.
The QF-80C was the designation given to F-80Cs that were converted for use as remote controlled drones. Some were given fallout sampling equipment for use during atmosphere nuclear tests.
The QF-80F was a modified version of the QF-80A and QF-80C with better radio control equipment and a runway arrestor hook.
TP-80C/ TF-80C/ T-33A
The TP-80C was the first trainer based on the P-80. 128 TF-80Cs were built, but later became the T-33A-1-LO.
The TO-1 was the designation for fifty aircraft acquired by the US Navy, made up of 49 P-80C-1s and one P-80C-5-LO. They were designated as TO-1 jet trainers until 1950 when they became TV-1s. Lockheed also suggested two naval versions of the Shooting Star, but neither was accepted by the Navy.
Engines: Alison J33-A-23 or J-33A-35
Power: 4,600lb or 5,400lb thrust
Wing span: 39ft 9in
Length: 34ft 5in
Height: 11ft 3in
Empty weight: 8,420lb
Loaded weight: 12,200lb
Maximum weight: 16,856lb
Maximum speed: 594mph at sea level
Cruising speed: 439mph
Service ceiling: 46,800ft
Normal range: 825 miles
Maximum range: 1,380 miles