Lockheed Shooting Star-Clarence Kelly's 143 day wonder

By Willie Bodenstein

When Lockheed's Clarence Kelly was instructed to design a jet powered aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) he did so and the F-80 Shooting Star had its first flight a mere 143 days after he first sat down behind the drawing board. The Skunk Works team, beginning 26 June 1943, produced the airframe in 143 days, delivering it to Muroc Army Airfield on 16 November. In spite of the huge effort it was however still too late for it to be used during WWII but was however used extensively during the opening stages of the Korean conflict. Outclassed by the sweptwing Mig-15 the F-80 was replaced by the North American F-86 Sabre. The closely related T-33 Shooting Star trainer would remain in service with the U.S. Air Force and Navy until the 1970s and many still serve in a military role or are in private hands.

The Shooting Stars testing phase was not without incidents and accidents. The first fatality occurred on 20 October 1944 when Burcham flying the third production model was killed. On 20 March 1945 Tony Levier bailed out when a broken turbine blade damaged the tail plane. He broke his back but was back in the saddle six months later. On 6 August Major Richard Bong lost his life whilst on an acceptance flight. The cause of the crash was the failure of the main fuel pump, which also caused Burcham's death. In Italy test pilot Major Frederic Borsodi was killed when his aircraft caught fire.

The USAAF none the less placed an initial order for 344 in February 1945. By the end of July 1945 83 were delivered to Muroc Army Airfield. Production continued at Lockheed as the USAAF had indicated that some 5,000 aircraft would be ordered. After the war this was reduced to 2,000 of which 1,714 were eventually taken on service at a price of 100,000 Dollars each. Production ceased in 1950. The T-33 however proved a bigger success, 6,557 were produced.

On 27 January 1946 the Shooting Star wrote its name in the record books when Colonel William H. Councill flew a P-80 (P for pursuit) nonstop across the U.S. to make the first transcontinental jet flight. He completed the 2,457 miles (3,954 km) run between Long Beach and New York in 4 hours, 13 minutes 26 seconds at an average speed of 584 mph (940 km/h). In July 1946 the Soviets started the blockade of Berlin and the USAAF dispatched a squadron of Shooting Stars led by Colonel David C Schilling to Germany. Schilling and his squadron became the first to make the west-t-east crossing in single engine jets. On 19 June 1947 a P-80B prototype, modified as a racer, piloted by Colonel Albert Boyd set a new world air speed record for jet powered aircraft. The P-80B was clocked at 623.73 mph (1,004.2 km/h).

The US Navy (USN) and Marines were then still flying Vought Corsairs and in the late 1940s fifty F-80s were transferred to the USN and sixteen to the Marines to be used in the jet transitional training role. The Shooting Stars proofed so successful that the USN ordered 698 T-33 two seater trainers. A carrier capable version, the T2V entered went into service during 1957.

The longest serving Shooting Stars in Korea were those of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing that were deployed during June 1950 and served until May 1953 when replaced by the F-86 Sabre. The 35th Fighter-Interception Group used the F-80s for some months only before converting to the venerable P-51 Mustang. F-80 losses were high. Of the total of 277 deployed 113 were destroyed by ground fire whilst 14 were shot down in air to air encounters. F-80s accounted for 17 enemy aircraft shot down and the destruction of a further 24 during ground attacks operations.

A true Warbird the F-80, that in 2018 will celebrate its 75th birthday, and particularly the training version, T-33, has found a new lease in life in the Warbird movement with a large number flying in the USA.

Specifications (P-80C/F-80C)

General characteristics
Crew: One
Length: 34 ft 5 in (10.49 m)
Wingspan: 38 ft 9 in (11.81 m)
Height: 11 ft 3 in (3.43 m)
Wing area: 237.6 ft² (22.07 m²)
Aspect ratio: 6.37
Empty weight: 8,420 lb (3,819 kg)
Loaded weight: 12,650 lb (5,738 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 16,856 lb (7,646 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Allison J33-A-35 centrifugal compressor turbojet, 5,400 lbf (24.0 kN)

Maximum speed: 600 mph, Mach .76 (P-80A 558 mph at sea level and 492 mph at 40,000 ft)[7] (965 km/h)
Cruise speed: 410 mph (660 km/h)
Range: 1,200 mi (1,930 km)
Service ceiling: 46,000 ft (14,000 m)
Rate of climb: 4,580 ft/min (23.3 m/s) 5.5 min to 20,000 ft (6,100 m)
Wing loading: 53 lb/ft² (260 kg/m²)
Thrust/weight: 0.43
Lift-to-drag ratio: 17.7

Guns: 6 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M3 Browning machine guns (300 rpg)
Rockets: 8 × 127mm unguided rockets
Bombs: 2 × 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs

Classic Aircraft

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