The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the first operational jet fighter used by the United States Army Air Forces, and saw extensive combat in Korea with the United States Air Force as the F-80. As one of the world's first successful turbojet-powered combat aircraft, it helped usher in the "jet age" in the USAF and other air forces worldwide. One of its claims to fame is in training a new generation of pilots, especially in its closely-related T-33 Shooting Star trainer development.
Concept work began on the XP-80 in 1943 with a design being built around the blueprint dimensions of a British de Havilland H-1 B turbojet, a powerplant to which the design team did not have actual access. Lockheed's team, consisting of 28 engineers, was led by the legendary Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson. This teaming was an early product of Lockheed's Skunk Works, which would surface again in the next decade to produce a line of high-performance aircraft beginning with the F-104 Starfighter.
The impetus behind the development of the P-80 was the discovery by Allied intelligence of the German Me 262 jet in the spring of 1943. Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces Henry H. Arnold believed an airframe could be developed to accept the British-made jet engine, and the Materiel Command's Wright Field research and development division tasked Lockheed to design the aircraft. With the Germans clearly far ahead in development, Lockheed was pressed to develop a comparable jet in as short a time as possible. Kelly Johnson submitted a design proposal in mid-June and promised that the protype would be ready for testing in 180 days. The Skunk Works team, beginning 26 June 1943, produced the airframe in 143 days, delivering it to Muroc Army Airfield on 16 November. However after the Goblin engine was mated to the airframe, foreign object damage during the first run-up destroyed the engine, delaying the first flight until a second engine could be delivered.
The first prototype (44-83020), nicknamed Lulu-Belle (and also known as "the Green Hornet" because of its green paint scheme), flew on 8 January 1944 with Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier at the controls, powered by the replacement Halford H1, taken from the prototype de Havilland Vampire jet fighter. Following its first flight, Johnson said, "It was a magnificent demonstration, our plane was a success -- such a complete success that it had overcome the temporary advantage the Germans had gained from years of preliminary development on jet planes."
The second prototype, designated XP-80A, was designed for the larger General Electric I-40 (an improved Rolls-Royce Derwent engine, later produced by Allison as the J33) engine, with two aircraft (44-83021 and 44-83022) built. 44-83021 was nicknamed the "Gray Ghost" after its "pearl gray" paint scheme, while the second XP-80A, left unpainted for comparison of flight characteristics, became known as the "Silver Ghost". Its first test flight was unimpressive, but most of the problems with the design were soon addressed and corrected in the test program. Initial opinions of the I-40 powered P-80A were not positive, with Lockheed chief engineering test pilot Milo Burcham commenting an aircraft that he very much enjoyed (powered by the Halford engine) had now become a "dog." The XP-80As were primarily testbeds for bigger engines and intake duct design, and consequently were larger and 25% heavier than the XP-80.
The P-80 testing program proved very dangerous. Burcham was killed on 20 October 1944 while flying the third YP-80A produced, 44-83025. The "Gray Ghost" was lost on a test flight on 20 March 1945, although pilot Tony LeVier escaped. Newly promoted to chief engineering test pilot to replace Burcham, LeVier bailed out when one of the engine's turbine blades broke, causing structural failure in the airplane's tail. LeVier landed hard and broke his back, but returned to the test program after six months of recovery. Noted ace Major Richard Bong was also killed on an acceptance flight of a production P-80 in the United States on 6 August 1945. Both Burcham and Bong crashed as a result of main fuel pump failure. Burcham's death was the result of a failure to brief him on a newly installed emergency fuel pump backup system, but the investigation of Bong's crash found he had apparently forgotten to switch on the emergency fuel pump that could have prevented the accident. He bailed out when the aircraft rolled inverted but was too close to the ground for his parachute to deploy.
Several P-80A Shooting Stars were transferred to the United States Navy beginning 29 June 1945, retaining their P-80 designations. At Naval Air Station Patuxent River, one Navy P-80 was modified (with required add-ons, such as a tail hook) and loaded aboard the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt at Norfolk, Virginia, on 31 October 1946. The following day the aircraft made four deck-run takeoffs and two catapult launches, with five arrested landings, flown by Marine Major Marion Carl. A second series of trials was held 11 November.
The Navy had already begun procuring its own jet aircraft, but the slow pace of delivery was causing retention problems among pilots, particularly those of the Marines who were still flying Corsairs. To increase land-based jet transition training in the late 1940s, 50 F-80Cs were transferred to the Navy from the Air Force in 1949 as jet trainers. Designated TO-1 by the Navy (changed to TV-1 in 1950), 25 were based at Naval Air Station North Island, California, with VF-52, and 16 assigned to the Marine Corps, equipping VMF-311 at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. These aircraft were eventually sent to reserve units. The success of these aircraft led to the procurement by the Navy of 698 T-33 Shooting Stars (as the TO-2/TV-2) to provide a two-seat aircraft for the training role. Lockheed went on to develop a carrier-capable version, the T2V SeaStar, which went into service in 1957.
The Shooting Star began to enter service in late 1944 with 12 pre-production YP-80A's one of which was destroyed in the accident that killed Burcham. A thirteenth YP-80A was modified to the only F-14 photo reconnaissance model and lost in a December crash), Four were sent to Europe for operational testing (two to England and two to the 1st Fighter Group at Lesina, Italy) but when test pilot Major Frederic Borsodi was killed in a crash caused by an engine fire on 28 January 1945, demonstrating YP-80A 44-83026 at RAF Burtonwood, the YP-80A was temporarily grounded. Because of the delay the Shooting Star saw no combat in World War II.
The initial production order was for 344 P-80As after USAAF acceptance in February 1945. Eighty-three (83) had been delivered by the end of July 1945 and 45 assigned to the 412th Fighter Group (later redesignated the 1st Fighter Group) at Muroc Army Air Field. After the war, production continued, although wartime plans for 5,000 were quickly reduced to 2,000 at a little under $100,000 a copy. A total of 1,714 single-seat F-80A, F-80B, F-80C and RF-80s were manufactured by the end of production in 1950, of which 927 were F-80Cs (including 129 operational F-80As upgraded to F-80C-11-LO standards). However, the two-seat TF-80C, first flown on 22 March 1948, became the basis for the T-33 trainer, of which 6,557 were produced.
The P-80B prototype, modified as a racer and designated XP-80R, was piloted by Colonel Albert Boyd to a world air speed record of 623.73 mph (1004.2 km/h) on 19 June 1947. The P-80C began production in 1948; on 11 June, now part of the United States Air Force, the P-80C was officially redesignated the F-80C.
The USAF Strategic Air Command had F-80 Shooting Stars in service from 1946 through 1948 with the 1st and 56th Fighter Groups. The first P-80s to serve in Europe joined the 55th Fighter Group (later redesignated the 31st FG) at Giebelstadt, Germany, in 1946, remaining eighteen months. When the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin, a squadron of the 56th FG led by Col. David C. Schilling made the first west-to-east Atlantic crossing by single-engined jets in July, flying to Germany for 45 days in Operation Fox Able I. Replaced by the newly F-80-equipped 36th Fighter Group at Furstenfeldbruck, the 56th FG conducted Fox Able II in May 1949. That same year F-80s first equipped the 51st Fighter Group, based in Japan.
The 4th (Langley Air Force Base, Virginia), 81st (Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico), and 57th (Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska) Fighter Groups all acquired F-80s in 1948, as did interceptor squadrons of the Air Defense Command. The first Air National Guard unit to fly the P-80 was the 196th FS of the California ANG in June 1947.
Four units of F-80s saw duty in Korea:
One unit of RF-80A saw duty in Korea:
Of the 277 F-80s lost in operations (approximately 30% of the existing inventory), 113 were destroyed by ground fire and 14 shot down by enemy aircraft. F-80s are credited by the USAF with destroying 17 aircraft in air-to-air combat and 24 on the ground. Major Charles J. Loring, Jr. was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while flying with the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing on 22 November 1952.