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F-80 "Shooting Star"

The Shooting Star was the first USAF aircraft to exceed 500 mph in level flight, the first American jet airplane to be manufactured in large quantities, and the first USAF jet to be used in combat.  Designed in 1943, the XP-80 made its maiden flight on January 8, 1944.  Several early P-80s were sent to Europe for demonstration, but World War II ended before the aircraft could be employed in combat.  The aircraft was redesignated in 1948 when "P" for "Pursuit" was changed to "F" for "Fighter."  Of 1,731 F-80s built, 798 were F-80Cs.

Although designated a high-altitude interceptor, the F-80C was used extensively as a fighter-bomber in the Korean Conflict, primarily for low-level rocket, bomb and napalm attacks against ground targets.  With the beginning of hostilities in June 1950, Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (WR-ALC) modernized F-80s assigned to federalized Air National Guard units in a crash program called "Project Hold-Off." On November 8, 1950, an F-80C flown by Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying with the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, shot down a Russian-built MIG-15 in the world's first all-jet fighter air battle.

"Frantic" best describes the pace of some aircraft development programs during World War II. Surely falling into this category was the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star program. By the summer of 1943, the poor performance of the Bell Airacomet spelled the need for the development of a new U.S. jet fighter. Lockheed had been making design studies of such an aircraft and in June 1943 was awarded a prototype development contract with the stipulation that the aircraft be ready for flight in 180 days. Completion of the aircraft actually required only 150 days, but first flight was delayed by engine problems until January 1944. The initial contract was for one plane, at a cost of $515,000. Production of the F-80A, using a different engine (the J-33) began in 1945.

Conventional in basic configuration, the F-80 featured an unswept wing of 13-percent thickness mounted in the low position and, unlike the twin-engine Meteor and the Me 262, had a single engine located in the fuselage behind the pilot. Air was delivered to the engine by side inlets located on the fuselage just ahead of the wing root, and the jet exhaust nozzle was at the extreme end of the fuselage. Adjacent to the fuselage side may be seen the bleed slots that removed the fuselage boundary layer from the engine intake air and thus prevented flow separation inside the inlet. No such slots were provided on the prototype, and intermittent separation did occur in the inlets. "Duct rumble" was the term used to describe this phenomenon because of the alarming noise heard by the pilot. Evident in the photograph is the deployed speed brake located on the bottom of the fuselage. Like the P-38 , the F-80 had a small dive-recovery flap near the leading edge of the lower surface of the wing. Again like later versions of the P-38, the F-80 had power-operated ailerons. The other controls were manually operated. Split trailing-edge flaps provided lift augmentation at low speeds.

The cockpit of production models of the Shooting Star was pressurized and air-conditioned. In the prototype, no air-conditioning was provided so that the temperature resulting from a combination of the high temperatures of the California desert and sustained high Mach number flight at low altitude caused the interior surfaces of the cockpit and controls to become uncomfortably hot. For example, with an ambient temperature of 90 some parts of the aircraft would reach a temperature of 150 in prolonged flight at a Mach number of 0.73. Another advance in cockpit equipment was the ejection seat incorporated in the F-80C model of the Shooting Star. (The first successful manned test of an ejection seat took place in July 1946.)

Although the F-80 was conventional in appearance, the aircraft was the result of a careful synthesis of weight, size, and thrust parameters, as well as close attention to aerodynamic refinement. As a consequence, it had performance far superior to that of the P-59A although the thrust-to-weight ratio of the earlier aircraft was actually about 12 percent greater than that of the F-80A. For example, the maximum sea-level speed of 558 miles per hour was 145 miles per hour greater than that of the maximum speed of the P-59A, which occurred at 30 000 feet. As seen in table V, the climbing performance of the F-80A was also far superior to that of the earlier aircraft; the much smaller wing and resultant drag area of the F-80A no doubt played a significant role in ensuring the higher performance of the Shooting Star. In comparison with the drag area of the famous World War II Mustang, the drag area of 3.2 square feet of the F-80A was about 15 percent lower than that of the earlier propeller-driven aircraft.

The F-80 came too late for operational service in World War II, but the F-80C did see action in the Korean conflict of the early 1950's. Designed as an air-superiority fighter, the F-80 could not compete in that role with the Soviet-built MiG-15 supplied to the opposing forces by the Soviet Union. It was, however, extensively employed in the ground-attack mode. Armament consisted of six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose and externally mounted bombs and rockets.

The F-80 was withdrawn from first-title United States Air Force (USAF) service in 1954; production of the aircraft consisted of about 1700 units. But, this is not quite the end Of the F-80 story. A two-seat trainer version of the aircraft appeared in 19-18. Known in the USAF as the T-33 and in the Navy as the T2V, over 5000 of these trainers were built; a number of them are still in service and can be seen frequently at air bases in different parts of the country. Certainly a long and useful life for an airplane developed in the closing years of World War II.




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