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Lockheed P-80 / F-80 Shooting Star Fighter / Fighter-Bomber (1945)

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 1/12/2014

Though developed as early as 1943, the P-80 arrived too late to be used in World War 2 but went on to play a role in the Korean War.

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Picture of Lockheed P-80 / F-80 Shooting Star
Pic of the Lockheed P-80 / F-80 Shooting Star
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The Lockheed P-80/F-80 Shooting Star is undoubtedly the world's most successful first generation jet-powered fighter. Appearing by the last few months of World War 2, the Shooting Star failed to undertake a single combat sortie in the conflict but would prove her worth in the upcoming Korean War as well as in her two very important derivatives - the two-seat trainer T-33 and the F-94 Starfire all-weather interceptor - both based highly on the existing P-80/F-80 air frame. The P-80 was developed from the brilliant mind of Lockheed's Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, designer of the legendary twin-boom P-38 Lightning. Had the war in Europe progressed a few more months, the air war would have assuredly taken on a distinctly different look.

Background

Everything changed on July 25th, 1944, when a lone British twin-engine, piston-powered De Havilland DH.98 Mosquito - on its merry way to take pictures over Munich - encountered a twin-engine German Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. The Me 262 opened fire on the unsuspecting two-man crew and - perhaps through ingrained training or pure instinct - the Mosquito banked and dodged to safety, managing to turn tail and run. This was the first meeting ever against a jet-powered foe and the fact that the Germans were able to field such a lethal implement was a new realization for the Allies. Jet power promised speed and greater flight loads that would lead directly to more potent armament options. It seemed that the Germans held the upper hand.

Had Adolf Hitler not meddled in the development of the Me 262 as a fighter (he envisioned these aircraft as fighter-bombers instead of fighters charged with defense of the Reich's airspace), manufacturing of fleets of such aircraft would have prolonged the war by a potential years let alone months. The British and Americans (and Soviets and Japanese for that matter) all had viable jet programs under development at the time but none were to the extend as that of the German Empire. The Germans developed the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet which, despite its limited range, held some combat value in speed and firepower, particularly when it came to raking Allied bomber formations. The Heinkel He 162 Volksjager was a simplified single-seat, jet-powered fighter meant for a crop of pilots requiring little in the way of training to operate. The Horten brothers found limited trials success with the world's first stealth aircraft in the Horten Ho 229 flying wing. Such was the expediency as to which the Allies would have to react to head-off this expanding German technological front.

While the Bell P-59 Airacomet became America's first "true" jet aircraft, the system lacked in all major combat qualities and made itself an unfeasible system to field, having no more usefulness than that of a jet trainer. As it stood, the P-59 failed to keep up with even the latest piston-powered fighter mounts through the ensuing mock dogfights and was, therefore, produced in limited quantity for the USAAF. At any regard, the seemingly limited exploits of his P-59 paved the foundation for a revolution in American jet-powered aircraft - these new-fangled implements that were to fly without the need for propellers.

The relative failure of the P-59 forced the US Army to continue a pursuit of other avenues for a jet fighter aircraft capable of matching the enemy and fulfilling this need through a rather limited window of time. While Lockheed was already committed to large-scale production of its fabled P-38 Lightning series (designed and developed by the great Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson), it showed great interest in the development of such an aircraft. However, the Army would much rather have its proven P-38s in the skies as opposed to diverting Lockheed company resources to fund and develop such an experimental endeavor. But as the P-59 reached its limited potential, the US Army refocused its attention on the Lockheed interest and the two became joined at the hip in producing America's first true jet fighter.

The new specification emerged in May of 1943 and called for a jet-powered high-altitude interceptor centered around a capable powerplant - this becoming the British de Havilland Halford H-1 Goblin engine to be developed in 180 days from reception of the official government contract. One can only imagine Johnson licking his lips at the prospect of such a challenge (his firm would be responsible for the cutting-edge SR-71, U-2 and F-117 projects some decades later). The company designation of "Project MX-409" was assigned and the government contract came on June 17th for development of the "XP-80".

Development

An initial design was formulated and presented by Lockheed and ultimately approved for by the US Army. Work began at a frenetic pace and, amazingly, Lockheed engineers produced a working ground concept in 141 days. The engine arrived from Britain and was installed almost immediately. The design centered around a clean fuselage, tapered straight-tipped wings and a single-seat pressurized cockpit under a bubble canopy. The engine and cockpit were situated close to the center of the fuselage for a proper center of gravity. The completed prototype was trucked in pieces from Lockheed's Burbank facilities to the open air confines of Muroc Army Air Field in the Mojave Desert.

After assembly, the XP-80 was run through some basic engine exercises on the ground and it was soon found that the jet produced such suction that the intake fittings of the airframe were being pulled into the aircraft itself. After some finger-pointing between Lockheed and de Havilland (owners of the Goblin engine), Lockheed went ahead and revised the intakes to successfully counter the problem at the expense of a delay to the project.


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Specifications for the
Lockheed P-80 / F-80 Shooting Star
Fighter / Fighter-Bomber


Focus Model: Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Lockheed Corporation - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1945
Production: 1,715


Crew: 1


Length: 34.42ft (10.49m)
Width: 38.75ft (11.81m)
Height: 11.25ft (3.43m)
Weight (Empty): 8,175lbs (3,708kg)
Weight (MTOW): 15,999lbs (7,257kg)


Powerplant: 1 x Allison J33-A-21 turbojet engine generating 4,500 lb of thrust.


Maximum Speed: 577mph (928kmh; 501kts)
Maximum Range: 790miles (1,271km)
Service Ceiling: 45,499ft (13,868m; 8.6miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 5,000 feet per minute (1,524m/min)


Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
STANDARD:
6 x 12.7mm M2 Browning machine guns

OPTIONAL:
2 x 1,000lb conventional bombs
8 x 2.75-inch HVAR air-to-surface rockets


Variants:
XP-80 - Base Prototype; fitted with British de Havilland Harlan H-1B Goblin engine of 2,460lbs thrust; clipped wings; centralized cockpit and engine.


XP-80A - Revised prototype; 2 examples produced; fitted with General Electric I-40 powerplant; larger and heavier revision of XP-80; elliptical equitapered wings; forward-fitted cockpit with rearward-set engine; increased weight and surface areas; 6 x 12.7mm machine guns.

YP-80A - Pre-Production Evaluation Aircraft; 13 examples produced.

P-80R - High-Speed P-80A Modification; sans machine guns; revised canopy; extra fuel tank; broke world speed record at 623.8mph.

XF-14 - Single Example Photo-Reconnaissance Prototype Model for USAAF; developed from YP-80A.

F-14A - Photo-Reconnaissance Model converted from production P-80A models; redesignated to FP-80A; 222 examples.

XFP-80A - Photo-Reconnaissance Model with hinged nose assembly for easy access; sans machine guns.

P-80A - Initial production models; fitted with General Electric J33 (I-40) powerplant (J33-9 or J33-11 series) of 4,000lbs thrust; wingtip fuel tanks; deliveries in February of 1945; 524 examples produced; redesignated to F-80A.

ERF-80A - Single Example of the P-80A with a redesigned nose assembly.

EF-80 - P-80A airframe set aside for trialing prone pilot position flight.

FP-80A - Photo-Reconnaissance Models based on the P-80A; 152 examples delivered; redesignated to RF-80A.

RF-80A - USAF Designation of FP-80A.

XP-80B - "Improved" P-80A Model; improved performance from J-33 engine; single example produced.

P-80B - Improved J-33 powerplant; ejection seat; 240 examples produced; redesignated as F-80B.

P-80C - Definitive Shooting Star; J33-A-35 engines; ejection seat; wingtip fuel tanks; 797 examples produced.

RF-80C - Improved Photo-Reconnaissance Model based on the P-80C production version.

F-80 - Redesignated from Pursuit to Fighter by USAF of all USAAF P-80 models.

F-80A - Redesignation of P-80A.

F-80B - Redesignation of P-80B.

F-80C - Redesignation of P-80C.

DF-80A - Drone Director Conversion Models of F-80A.

ERF-80A - Single Example P-80A with modified nose assembly.

QF-80A - Target Drone Conversions of F-80A Models

QF-80C - Target Drone Conversions of F-80C Models

QF-80F - Target Drone Conversion

Q-80 - Proposed Redesignation of QF-80

TO-1/2 - Naval trainer variant

TP-80C - Initial Designation for TF-80C trainers

TF-80C - Prototype T-33 Designation

T-33A "Shooting Star" - TF-80 Trainer redesignated; 6,557 examples produced.

F-94 "Starfire" - All-Weather Interceptor based on the P-80/F-80 airframe.


Operators:
Brazil; Chile; Columbia; Ecuador; Peru; Uruguay; Yugoslavia; United States