The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the first American combat-ready jet fighter, and was the first American production combat aircraft to exceed 500 mph in level flight. It was the first American jet-powered aircraft to score a victory in air-to-air combat, and was the victor in the world's first jet-versus-jet combat. Various versions of the P-80 and F-80 provided the backbone of both the U.S.A.F and U.S.N fighter squadrons until the early 1950s.
As far back as 1939, Lockheed engineers Clarence R. "Kelly" Johnson and Hall L. Hibbard had been interested in jet propulsion for aircraft, and had actually engaged in various paper projects. In particular, Lockheed had done some preliminary work on a company-financed project designated L-133 which had progressed to several different versions on the drawing board, culminating in the Model L-133-02-01, which was a canard design powered by a pair of Lockheed-designed L-1000 turbojet engines. The USAAF was not particularly interested in any of these projects and declined to finance any of them, so none of them ever progressed past the preliminary concept stage.
This situation changed in early 1940 when the Tizard Commission visited the United States and revealed the extent of U.K. jet engine development and, more alarmingly, intelligence reports of German and Italian advances in the area of jet propulsion. When the Halifax-Butler Coup in the U.K. took that country out of the war with Germany, there was an almost immediate exodus of British designers and engineers to Canada and the US. These brought with them blueprints of their new jet engines where they were distributed to a number of aircraft engine producers who started the work of translating them into production realities.
In view of Lockeed's earlier studies in jet propulsion, in late 1941, the USAAF assigned the company full responsibility for designing a jet fighter to be powered by the Halford H.1B (Goblin) turbojet that was to built under license in the USA by Allis-Chalmers as the J36. Assigned the designation L-140 by the company, the design was approved in January 1943. By this time, news of the development of German jet aircraft increased the priority of the new fighter and the first XP-80 was to be completed within 180 days of the award of the Letter Contract.
The XP-80 was a clean aircraft with a low aspect ratio, laminar-flow wing. Conventional tail surfaces and a retractable nosewheel undercarriage were adopted. The Halford H.1B engine was to be fed by air intakes positioned in the lower fuselage forward of the wing leading edge and exhausted through a straight tailpipe. The pilot sat in a pressurized cockpit underneath a rearward-sliding bubble canopy. The aft fuselage with engine and tail surfaces was detachable as a single unit for ready access to the powerplant. The armament was to consist of six 0.50-inch machine guns, all mounted in the nose.
Since the project had the highest priority, construction went so rapidly that the XP-80 was soon ahead of schedule. The pressurized cockpit was considered unnecessary for the first prototype, so it was decided that an unpressurized cockpit would be fitted in order to save time. However, the J-36 program ran into difficulties and ultimately failed to produce anything useful. In June 1943, Lockheed proposed as an alternative a larger and heavier L-141 version, to be powered by a General Electric I-40 (later produced by both General Electric and Allison as the J33). The USAAF was sufficiently impressed that they issued a contract for two XP-80As.
The first flight of the XP-80 took place in June, 1943. Subsequent test flights reached a top speed of 502 mph at 20,480 feet, the XP-80 becoming the first USAAF aircraft to exceed 500 mph in level flight. However, the flight tests also disclosed a number of problems including bad stall and spin characteristics, an excessively-high stick force, unsatisfactory fuel management systems, and poor engine reliability and performance. At low speeds, it had a tendency to stall and roll sharply to the right with little or no warning. The XP-80 weighted 6,287 pounds empty and 8,196 pounds loaded. Dimensions were wingspan 37 feet 0 inches, length 32 feet 10 inches, height 10 feet 3 inches, and wing area 240 square feet. During tests, the XP-80 reached a top speed of 502 mph at 20,480 feet, becoming the first USAAF aircraft to exceed 500 mph in level flight. Service ceiling was 41,000 feet, and initial climb rate was 3,000 feet per minute. The aircraft was armed with six 0.50-inch Browning M2 machine guns with 200 rounds per gun.
However, the XP-80 was already passé. In August 1943, the XP-80A was first flown, This had a J-33 engine with a thrust of 4000 pounds, and was fed by intakes relocated a bit further aft to a position just below the cockpit windshield. The XP-80A was significantly larger and about 25 percent heavier than the XP-80 prototype in order to accommodate the larger engine. The wingspan was 39 feet 0 inches, two feet greater than that of the XP-80, but wing area was reduced to 237.6 square feet by using a narrower chord. Length was increased from 32 feet 10 inches to 34 feet 6 inches. Height increased to 11 feet 4 inches. Weights were considerably greater than those of the XP-80, being 7,225 pounds empty, 9,600 pounds gross, and 13,780 pounds maximum takeoff. The increased weight required a stronger undercarriage. Ammunition capacity increased from 200 to 300 rounds per gun, and internal fuel capacity increased from 285 to 485 US gallons. In contrast to the XP-80, the XP-80A was fitted with a pressurized cockpit.
The second XP-80A became the first in the Shooting Star series to carry a 165 US-gallon drop tank underneath each wingtip. When carried, these tanks actually lowered rather than increased the drag. They could be brought home empty with no penalty in aerodynamic drag. The tanks also improved aileron effectiveness and wing loading. These tanks became standard on the thirteen YP-80A service test aircraft that were delivered by March, 1944. They were generally identical to the XP-80A and were powered by the General Electric J33-GE-9 or -11.
By the time these aircraft started their flight test program, the first Me-262 jet fighters had appeared over the Russian Front and had demonstrated a major tactical advantage over the P-47s and P-63s that formed the backbone of the U.S. fighter groups. The whole P-80 program thus picked up even greater priority and was now second only to the B-36 in aircraft production priority ratings. Thus, the initial production version of the Shooting Star, the P-80A, was ordered on April 4, 1944, when a Letter Contract for two batches of 500 aircraft was issued. In June 1944, 2,500 additional P-80As were ordered, these including the first FV-1 fighters for the U.S. Navy.
Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star
The P-80A was much the same as the YP-80A which preceded it, differing only in minor details. The P-80A introduced under-fuselage dive brakes which opened forward at the wing join, and had a landing light installed behind a transparent fairing in the upper nose. The intake lip was moved slightly further aft, and the tailplane incidence was raised by 1.5 degrees. The first aircraft were powered by the 3,850 lb.s.t. General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet, but after the 218th production airframe, the aircraft was equipped with the more powerful 4,000 lb.s.t. Allison J33-A-17. The -5 also introduced a boundary layer control splitter plate inside the air intake. The P-80A was rushed to Russia with the first aircraft entering combat in October 1944.
Specification of the P-80A:
Engine: One General Electric J33-GE-11 or Allison J33-A-9 turbojet, rated at 3,850 lb.s.t. Later production blocks powered by 4000 lb.s.t. Allison J33-A-17. Dimensions: wingspan 38 feet 10 1/2 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 6 inches, height 11 feet 4 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet Weights were 7920 pounds empty, 11,700 pounds gross, and 14,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Fuel load: 425 US gallons normal, 885 US gallons maximum. Performance: Maximum speed was 558 mph at sea level and 492 mph at 40,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 4,580 feet/minute, and an altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 5.5 minutes. Service ceiling was 45,000 feet. Normal range was 780 miles, and maximum range was 1,440 miles. Armament: Six 0.50-inch machine guns.
Lockheed P-80B Shooting Star
The P-80A made an immediate impact on the air war over the Russian Front. The six month ascendancy of the Me-262 was abruptly ended and battles between the P-80A and the Me-262 showed the aircraft to be more or less equal. The difference was, of course, that the P-80A was pouring off the production lines by the hundred. Nevertheless, requests for improvements in the P-80 quickly made their way back to Lockheed and resulted in the P-80B. A 4,000 lb.st. Allison J33-A-17 turbojet engine equipped with water/methanol injection was fitted. In order to provide space for the water-alcohol tanks, the internal fuel capacity was reduced from 470 to 425 US gallons. A Lockheed-designed ejector seat was fitted, making the P-80B the first operational American warplane to be equipped with an ejector seat. Outstanding production orders were shifted to the new variant and the first examples of the type arrived in Russia in February 1945. 1,500 P-80Bs were ordered by contract change to the existing P-80A orders,
Specifications of the P-80B:
Engine: One Allison J33-A-17 turbojet, rated at 4,000 lb.s.t (5,200 with water-methanol injection). Dimensions were wingspan 39 feet 0 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 6 inches, height 11 feet 3 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet Weights were 8176 pounds empty, 12,200 pounds gross, and 16,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Performance: Maximum speed was 558 mph at sea level and 577 mph at 6,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 6,475 feet/minute, and an altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 5.5 minutes. Service ceiling was 45,500 feet. Normal range was 790 miles, and maximum range was 1210 miles. Armament consisted of six 0.50-inch machine guns in the nose. Ten five-inch rockets could be carried underwing.
Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star
With the initial threat of the Me-262 countered by the first surge of F-80A and B aircraft, Lockheed took the time to develop a new variant of the fighter that drew on combat experience to date. This was the P-80C, which first flew in July, 1945. The P-80C was initially powered by the 4,600 lb.s.t. Allison J33-A-23 jet engine but after the 561st aircraft, the engine changed to the 5,400 lb.s.t. Allison J33-A-35 engine. The aircraft also used the improved M3 machine guns first introduced on the later production blocks of the P-80B. By the time the aircraft entered service in May 1946, the designation letter for fighters had been changed from P to F and the aircraft was always known as the F-80C.
The F-80C showed a substantial superiority to the Me-262 and He-162 across the board. It was faster, it could climb quicker and it could completely outmaneuver the twin-engined German aircraft. Critically, American jet engine technology had swept ahead of German and the single J-33 on the F-80C was pushing out 12.5 percent more power than the two engines on the 262 combined and had an service life an order of magnitude greater. Now, it was the Me-262 that was outclassed and was easy prey for the new F-80Cs.
Specifications of the F-80C:
Engine: One Allison J33-A-25 turbojet, rated at 5,400 lb.s.t. Dimensions were wingspan 38 feet 9 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 5 inches, height 11 feet 3 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet. Weights were 8,420 pounds empty, 12,200 pounds gross, and 16,856 pounds maximum takeoff. Maximum speed was 594 mph at sea level and 543 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 6,870 feet/minute, and an altitude of 25,000 feet could be attained in 7 minutes. Service ceiling was 46,800 feet. Normal range was 825 miles, and maximum range was 1380 miles. Fuel load: 425 US gallons normal, 755 US gallons max. Armament consisted of six 0.50-inch machine guns. An underwing load of 2000 pounds of bombs, napalm or rockets could be carried.
Lockheed F-80D Shooting Star
The F-80D was a further progressive development of the F-80C powered by an 5,650 pound thrust Allison J33-A-29 turbojet and had improved instrumentation and a more efficient cockpit arrangement. Some aircraft featured a revised armament of four 20mm cannon but the unreliability of these guns made them unpopular and the idea was not pursued further. Performance details of the F-80D were identical to those of the F-80C.
Lockheed F-80E Shooting Star
The F-80E marked a major redesign of the F-80 family. The new design retained the nose, center fuselage, and vertical tail of the F-80C but these were married to a new, thinner wing that used a heavier-gauge metal. The aircraft was powered by the new J-33-A-16 of some 6,900 lbs thrust. With this engine, the F-80E was capable of 606 miles per hour, making it the first in-service U.S. jet fighter to break the 600mph barrier. In the eyes of many pilots, the F-80E represented the peak of F-80 development. The aircraft entered operational service over the Russian Front in March 1947.
Specifications of the F-80E:
Engine: One Allison J33-A-16 turbojet, rated at 6,900 lb.s.t. Dimensions were wingspan 38 feet 9 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 5 inches, height 11 feet 3 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet. Weights were 8,450 pounds empty, 12,300 pounds gross, and 17,226 pounds maximum takeoff. Maximum speed was 606 mph at sea level and 563 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 6,950 feet/minute, and an altitude of 25,000 feet could be attained in 7 minutes. Service ceiling was 46,900 feet. Normal range was 805 miles, and maximum range was 1260 miles. Fuel load: 425 US gallons normal, 755 US gallons max. Armament consisted of six 0.50-inch machine guns. An underwing load of 2000 pounds of bombs, napalm or rockets could be carried.
Lockheed F-80F Shooting Star
With F-80s pouring into Russia and replacing the older, piston-engined fighters, the type took on a growing proportion of the ground attack role. Initially, older F-80A and F-80B models were assigned these duties as they were replaced in the Fighter groups by the F-80C and later models. The F-80 proved to be a very useful ground attack aircraft, not least because its high speed reduced the risk from the heavy German tactical flak defenses. As a result, there was great pressure from the Fighter-Bomber Groups for a version of the F-80 designed specifically for the ground attack role.
The response was the F-80F. This took the basic airframe of the F-80D equipped with the Allison J33-A-16 turbojet, rated at 6,900 lb.s.t. Over five hundred pounds of armor were installed protecting the cockpit, fuel tanks and engine while the wings were strengthened to allow for up to 4,000 pounds of weapons including 5 inch and 12.75 inch rockets, bombs, napalm and gun pods. The additions made the F-80F more sluggish to maneuver than the F-80D but the added protection and air-to-ground firepower more than compensated for the loss of agility.
Specifications of the F-80F:
Engine: One Allison J33-A-16 turbojet, rated at 6,900 lb.s.t. Dimensions were wingspan 38 feet 9 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 5 inches, height 11 feet 3 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet. Weights were 9,250 pounds empty, 15,300 pounds gross, and 19,275 pounds maximum takeoff. Maximum speed was 606 mph at sea level and 523 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 4,950 feet/minute, and an altitude of 25,000 feet could be attained in 11 minutes. Service ceiling was 36,200 feet. Normal range was 625 miles, and maximum range was 1060 miles. Fuel load: 425 US gallons normal, 755 US gallons max. Armament consisted of six 0.50-inch machine guns. An underwing load of 4,000 pounds of bombs, napalm or rockets could be carried.
Lockheed F-80G Shooting Star
The last mass production version of the F-80, the F-80G was largely a post-war development and had the aft fuselage enlarged to house an afterburning Allison J33-A-27 turbojet. This pushed maximum speed up to 616mph but greatly increased rate of climb and service ceiling. F-80Gs re-equipped most F-80 units post-war and the type also provided some fighter cover for the U.S. in the immediate post-war years. However, Red Sun exercises showed that it only had marginal capability against B-36 style bombers and none at all against the RB-36. The last F-80Gs were operated by the Air National Guard who kept the type in service until 1956.
Specifications of the F-80G:
Engine: One Allison J33-A-27 turbojet, rated at 6,900 lb.s.t, 9,300 lb.s,t with afterburner. Dimensions were wingspan 38 feet 9 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 5 inches, height 11 feet 3 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet. Weights were 8,750 pounds empty, 12,600 pounds gross, and 17,726 pounds maximum takeoff. Maximum speed was 616 mph at sea level and 593 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 9,950 feet/minute, and an altitude of 25,000 feet could be attained in 3 minutes. Service ceiling was 49,900 feet. Normal range was 805 miles, and maximum range was 1260 miles. Fuel load: 425 US gallons normal, 755 US gallons max. Armament consisted of six 0.50-inch machine guns. An underwing load of 2000 pounds of bombs, napalm or rockets could be carried.
Lockheed F-80H Shooting Star
The F-80H was a modified, high-altitude version of the F-80G, produced as a result of experience during the 1948 Red Sun Exercise. The F-80H had extended wings and was stripped of all unnecessary weight. Armament was reduced to four M3 .50 caliber machine guns. In the 1949 Red Sun Exercises, the F-80H proved capable of reaching the operational altitudes of the B-36 but, to quote Colonel Chuck Larry, leader of the F-80H detachment, “once up there we weren’t flying a warplane”. The F-80H staggered around, barely able to maneuver and certainly unable to evade the radar-controlled 20mm cannon in the B-36s tail. Despite its shortcomings, a number of F-80Gs were converted to F-80Hs and used to equip NORAD fighter interceptor groups until the F-86D Sabredog became available
Specifications of the F-80H:
Engine: One Allison J33-A-27 turbojet, rated at 6,900 lb.s.t, 9,300 lb.s,t with afterburner. Dimensions were wingspan 44 feet 6 inches (without wingtip tanks), length 34 feet 5 inches, height 11 feet 3 inches, and wing area 237.6 square feet. Weights were 7,550 pounds empty, 10,600 pounds gross, and 15,726 pounds maximum takeoff. Maximum speed was 536 mph at sea level and 583 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 9,250 feet/minute, and an altitude of 25,000 feet could be attained in 4 minutes. Service ceiling was 53,800 feet. Normal range was 605 miles, and maximum range was 960 miles. Fuel load: 325 US gallons normal, 655 US gallons max. Armament consisted of four 0.50-inch machine guns.
Lockheed F-80J Shooting Star
The F-80J was a modified version of the F-80F intended to deliver tactical nuclear weapons. F-80Fs retained in service after 1949 were all modified to F-80J configuration and remained in use until replaced by the F-100.
Lockheed F-80K Shooting Star
A proposed two-seat version of the F-80H (actually derived by way of the T-33 trainer) equipped with fire control radar and armed with air-to-air rockets. Design development turned the aircraft into an entirely new product and it was redesignated the F-94 Starfire.