Korean War: Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star

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Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Photograph Source: Public Domain

P-80C Shooting Star Specifications:

General

  • Length: 34 ft., 5 in.
  • Wingspan: 38 ft., 9 in.
  • Height: 11 ft., 3 in.
  • Wing Area: 237.6 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 8,420 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 12,650 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Power Plant: 1 × Allison J33-A-35 turbojet
  • Range: 1,200 miles
  • Maximum Speed: 600 mph
  • Ceiling: 46,000 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 6 × 0.50 in M3 Browning machine guns
  • Rockets: 8 × 127mm unguided rockets
  • Bombs: 2 × 1,000 lb. bombs

    P-80 Shooting Star - Background:

    In April 1941, prior to the United States' entry into World War II, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold viewed a demonstration of Great Britain's Gloster E.28/39 jet aircraft.  Provided with the plans for the aircraft's power plant, a Power Jets W.1 engine, he returned home and initiated a jet fighter program for the US Army Forces.  This resulted in the disappointing Bell P-59 Airacomet which compared unfavorably to newer piston engine fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang and Chance Vought F4U Corsair.  In the late spring of 1943, Allied intelligence provided information regarding the advanced development of the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Me 262.  Concerned about the potential of the German jet fighter, Arnold again approached the British and received a multitude of files and blueprints relating their jet engine research.

    P-80 Shooting Star - Design & Development:

    Assessing this material, Arnold concluded that an American-made airframe could be created to accept one of the existing British engine designs.  That May, he issued a specification for a jet-powered interceptor centered on the Halford H-1 (de Havilland Goblin) engine with the requirement that a flyable prototype be ready in 180 days.

      Contracting with Lockheed, design of the aircraft was assigned to a team led by Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson.  Having already achieved fame for creating the P-38 Lightning, Johnson would later design such notable aircraft as the U-2, F-104 Starfighter, and SR-71 Blackbird.  Working at a frantic pace, Johnson's team produced the XP-80 Shooting Star in a little over 140 days.  

    Taken to Muroc Army Air Field (present-day Edwards Air Force Base) in the California desert, the prototype, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was assembled that November.  Johnson's design featured a smooth fuselage with tapered, straight wings, pressurized cockpit with a bubble canopy, and twin intakes for the engine.  The XP-80 design varied from other early jets such as the Me 262 and Gloster Meteor in that the engine was placed within the fuselage rather than in nacelles under the wings.  For armament, the new type possessed six .50 cal. machine guns mounted in the nose.  After a delay caused by issues during ground testing, the XP-80 first flew on January 8, 1944 with Lockheed test pilot Milo Burcham at the controls.  Performing well and demonstrating a top speed of 502 mph, the aircraft's development was advanced.

    P-80 Shooting Star - Early Problems:

    Pleased with the XP-80's performance, the USAAF requested prototypes utilizing the larger, more powerful General Electric I-40 engine.  Dubbed the XP-80A, two were built and nicknamed Gray Ghost and Silver Ghost due their paint schemes.  These aircraft proved less impressive than their predecessor and Burcham was particularly critical of the aircraft.  Despite this, development pressed forward and twelve pre-production aircraft were constructed under the designation YP-80.  As testing continued, problems emerged with the aircraft's fuel pump which resulted in crashes that killed Burcham and USAAF top-scorer Major Richard Bong.  Additionally, one of four YP-80s sent to Europe for operational testing was lost and its pilot killed due to an engine fire. 

    P-80 Shooting Star - Production & Variants:

    Initial orders of P-80As began reaching operational squadrons in the summer of 1945.  Arriving too late for service in World War II, the type was soon followed by the P-80B which featured an ejection seat and more powerful engine.  In 1948, production commenced on the P-80C which would become the definitive edition of the Shooting Star.  Powered by an Allison J-33-A-35 engine, this variant also saw the addition of fuel tanks to the aircraft's wingtips.  During the late 1940s, the majority of P-80s were modernized to the P-80C standard.  Also in 1948, the aircraft designation changed to F-80 as the new US Air Force altered its numbering practices.  While the bulk of production consisted of fighter variants, the USAF also produced a reconnaissance variant known as the FP-80 and later RF-80.  A versatile airframe, the Shooting Star served as the basis for other aircraft such as the F-94 Starfire and the highly successful T-33 trainer.

    P-80 Shooting Star - Operational History:

    Arriving in larger numbers after the end of World War II, P-80s gained notoriety through a variety of public relations efforts.  In January 1946, a P-80 flown by Colonel William H. Councill completed the first jet-powered transcontinental flight while a year later a specially-modified Shooting Star set a new world air speed record (623.73 mph).  With the beginning of the blockade of Berlin by the Soviet Union in June 1948, F-80s were deployed to Germany as a deterrent against further aggression.  As the Shooting Star increasingly filled USAF squadrons, it was also auditioned by the US Navy and US Marine Corps.  Though not obtained for combat use, both utilized the aircraft in training roles and later purchased T-33 trainers.

    With the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, the Shooting Star made its combat debut.  That November, a F-80 pilot, Lieutenant Russell J. Brown, made the first kill claim for jet vs. jet combat when he downed an enemy MiG-15.  As the conflict developed, the F-80 soon found itself at a disadvantage to smaller and faster MiG.

      A key component of this was due to the MiG's swept wings which increased speed and improved maneuverability.  With the arrival of the North American F-86 Sabre, the F-80 was removed from air superiority duties and shifted into ground attack and defensive roles. 

    Never intended as a ground strike aircraft, F-80 losses quickly increased.  During its use in Korea, 113 Shooting Stars were lost to ground fire while an additional 14 were downed by enemy fighters.  A further 150 were lost to other causes for a total of 277.  This represented nearly a third of all F-80 production.  While in use, the F-80 claimed 17 Communist aircraft in air-to-air combat and destroyed a further 24 on the ground.  Largely retired from frontline service after the war, F-80s were sold to a variety of other nations, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay, which employed them into the 1970s. 

    Selected Sources