Here’s What Was Special About The P-80 Shooting Star
Let’s take a closer look at the first fighter jet in American military history.
The Lockheed P-80, dubbed ‘the Shooting Star’ for its unrivaled speed, was the first jet fighter to be manufactured and used operationally by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).
The Lockheed team, led by the talented Clarence L. ‘Kelly’ Johnson, delivered the XP-80 Shooting Star prototype in exactly 143 days, a record time that was seven days ahead of schedule. The second prototype was designed to host a larger General Electric I-40 engine.
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star Jet Fighter:
With its test flight proving unimpressive, the Lockheed team came up with a third prototype that, much like the earlier versions, gathered negative opinions and needed extensive improvements. In late 1945, two pre-production shooting star P-80s saw very limited service in Italy with the USAAF on a successful recon mission.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the P-80 Shooting Star and what made it a standout military aircraft.
History Of The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star
During World wᴀʀ II, the USAAF lagged far behind in terms of military aircraft production. Considering it was a period when jet propulsion was still an innovation not fully understood by the human race, American aircraft engineers and test pilots faced many challenges, incidents, and accidents that sometimes proved fatal.
While test flighting the third Lockheed P-80 prototype, pilots Milo Burcham and Major Richard “Dick” Bong lost their lives in two separate crashes involving the same model aircraft. Both crashes resulted from a main fuel pump failure.
Despite the harrowing start, the Lockheed team, with the help of British aeronics and some untested aerodynamic theories, went ahead and successfully built the record-breaking transcontinental weapon that would be the P-80 Shooting Star.
It would become the USAAF’s first true operational fighter jet. In the last year of the Second World wᴀʀ, the Shooting Star began service and first saw combat during the Korean wᴀʀ, engaging Russian MiG-15s in the world’s first jet vs jet clash on November 8th, 1950.
After numerous failed attempts, the US now had a high performance, first-generation subsonic jet. Not only that, but they had a fighter jet capable of matching Germany’s swept-wing Messerschmitt Me-262, which was heavily armed as well as strikingly fast, and had dominated the skies in the mid-1940s.
The Lockheed P-80 was undoubtedly the world’s most successful first-gen fighter jet with its record-breaking speed and strong combat attributes. Manufactured in 1945, the Lockheed P-80 shooting star ultimately saw large-scale production with a total of 1,715 copies built.
P-80 Performance Specs
The P-80 Shooting Star drew its power from a single de Hallivard-built Halford H1 Goblin turbojet engine (later renamed deHavilland Goblin) with a single-stage double-sided centrifugal compressor. The engine had fourteen stainless steel combustion chambers, a single-stage axial turbine, and a wet sump oil system. The turbojet engine packed a massive 4,600 lbf of dry thrust and 5,400 lbf with water injection.
The P-80 shooting star had a maximum speed of 594 MPH and a standard range of 1,200 nautical miles. The aircraft could also fly up to a service ceiling of 46,800 feet with a rapid 6,870 feet climb rate, casually securing a spot among the best Lockheed fighter jets and best in the world during its time.
The aircraft could also carry massive artillery in the form of six 12.7 mm M3 Browning heavy machine guns embedded in the nose of the aircraft for increased accuracy, two 992 lb bombs, and eight high-velocity aircraft unguided rockets.
The plane’s design was centered around tapered straight-tipped wings, a clean fuselage, and a single-seat pressurized cockpit inside a bubble canopy. The aircraft’s engine and cockpit were situated close to the center of the fuselage for a conventional center of gravity.
The straight-winged aircraft was also fitted with an all-metal mechanical structure and a tricycle undercarriage arrangement. The future of jet-powered flight was now in clear view with the P-80 shooting star surpassing the 500 MPH mark.
Shooting Stars In Korea
The F-80A (a designation the P-80 received after a change in the American aircraft naming system) eventually saw extensive combat during the Korean war. With its powerful boost and god-speed parameters, the Lockheed F-80A proved a successful warplane. It’s main features were its thrust-to-weight ratio and an extraordinary roll speed; the aircraft proved to be a formidable opponent in the skies.
Despite proving successful, the Shooting Star’s straight wings were an apparent drawback that compromised the aircraft’s aerodynamics and ability to out-maneuver enemy planes. Such rivals came in the form of the Soviet-built Korean MiG-5s, Yak-9s and II-10s which were swept-winged and therefore faster and more agile.
In total, USAAF pilots claimed to have shot down around six enemy MiG-5s in Korea, but this was never proven. The Lockheed Shooting Star was inevitably replaced by the much more aggressive F-80 Sabre. The Shooting Star was re-assigned to ground missions, and was eventually retired.
Considering the P-80’s break-neck speed, this jet transitioned into a great racing aircraft. The plane went on to secure world records for the fastest transcontinental flight from Long Beach to New York without a refueling stop. It then went on to secure a record for the fastest flight to Washington from New York, which it achieved in barely 20 minutes, while clocking an average speed of 424 MPH.