This week’s plane of the week is the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star.
The Lockheed P-80 was an all-metal straight low-wing aircraft of conventional design and had a tricycle landng gear. The cockpit was unpressurized and had an aft-sliding bubble top canopy. It had an internal fuel capacity of 200 to 285 gallons in two wing tanks and one self-sealing fuselage tank. Armament consisted of six .50 caliber machine guns in the nose with 200 rounds per gun.
The P-80 was the first operational jet fighter used by the U.S. Air Force. Designed and built by Lockheed in 1943 and delivered just 143 days from the start of the design process, production models were flying but not ready for service by the end of World War II.
It got the name “Shooting Star” for its speed. It was the first aircraft ever to pass 500 miles per hour. While it was the fastest plane the Air Force had, it was also one of the least safe. There were a large number of P-80s that just simply exploded. One common problem was in the gas cap. It would fill with jet fuel and combust when the plane reached 200 miles per hour. The plane would then explode. This May have been the cause of the crash that killed the USAF test pilot Richard “Ira” Bong. He ejected from the cockpit, but his parachute wires snagged on the tail.
That is not to say it was not succesful. It was flown on many missions in the Korean War and was developed into three models- the P-80A, B, and C-, the F-94 Starfighter, and the T-33 trainer.
This week’s plane of the week is the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar.
The Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar was an American military transport aircraft developed from the World War II-era Fairchild C-82 Packet, designed to carry cargo, personnel, litter patients, and mechanized equipment, and to drop cargo and troops by parachute. The first C-119 made its first flight in November 1947, and by the time production ceased in 1955, more than 1,100 C-119s had been built.
The Air Force C-119 was initially a redesign of the earlier C-82 Packet, built between 1945 and 1948. The Packet provided service to the Air Force’s Tactical Air Command and Military Air Transport Service for nearly nine years during which time it was discovered to be severely underpowered and structurally insufficient for the loads it was designed to carry. Whoops.
In contrast to the C-82, the cockpit was moved forward to fit flush with the nose rather than its previous location over the cargo compartment. This resulted in more cargo space and larger loads than the C-82 could carry. The C-119 also featured more powerful engines, and a wider and stronger airframe. They could have saved time and money by just doing all that in the first place, but I guess they didn’t look over their design carefully enough.
The C-82 was designed so that vehicles could be easily driven up the ramp in the back and into the cargo hold. To do this, they built it with twin tails like the P-38 Lightning. The tails were attatched to the engines on the wings and were set 14 feet off the ground so even tall vehicles could drive into the hold. This design was carried over into the C-119 and its gunship counterpart, the AC-119. This part of the design was really the only thing that made it remarkable enough to write about. I think it would be interesting to see a modern cargo plane with a tail like that, but they all use high-set tail wings and don’t need it.
Next week: The “star” of the World War II US Air Force. Well, not really.
This week’s plane of the week is the Sopwith Camel.
The Sopwith Camel was a British World War I single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by the Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. It was difficult to handle but very maneuverable and an excellent fighter. The Sopwith Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter of the war. It also served as a ground-attack aircraft, especially towards the end of the war, by which point it was outclassed in the air-to-air role.
The Sopwith Camel was designed based off the earlier Sopwith Pup. The Pup had suffered a similar fate to that which the Camel suffered towards the end of the war in that it was outdated and outclassed. The Camel was larger, faster, more maneuverable and had a large hump in it where the breeches of the twin Vickers machine guns were covered to protect it from the cold. This led pilots to call it the Camel, which was never an official name. It was officially the Sopwith Biplane F.1. However, I chose to use “Camel” for this article due to it being the more common name. After all, Snoopy didn’t fly a Sopwith Biplane F.1, he flew a Sopwith Camel, despite them being one and the same.
The Sopwith Camel was very difficult to fly. It is suspected to be because of a combination of the gyroscopic effects of its powerful rotary engine and its forward center of gravity. It was known as a killer of lesser pilots. I personally suspect that the reason it became the most well-known fighter of World War I is because among the pilots, the Camel was probably considered the “best” plane to fly because it was so challenging. If you could master it, you were the coolest pilot in your neighborhood. It was also credited with being the plane that shot down the Red Baron. Thus, the Camel went down in legend among British pilots and this bled through to their children, who kept this love of the plane going even today. There have been two LEGO sets to date that are highly detailed replicas of the Camel, more than any other one anything.However, there are only eight surviving Camels and thirteen reproductions in existence. So all recent pictures you see on the Internet of the Camel are of one of 21 planes. There are probably thousands of LEGO Camels for each real one, including the reproductions. That’s kind of unfortunate.
The Camel appears in literature and popular media as the following:
One of the aircraft flown by Canadian pilot Arthur Roy Brown in the 2008 movie The Red Baron.
The scout flown by the Royal Flying Corps Squadron in the semi-autobiographical air combat book Winged Victory written by Victor Maslin Yeates.
The fighter flown by Biggles in the novels by W.E. Johns during Biggles’s spell in 266 Squadron during the First World War. The first collection of Biggles stories, titled The Camels are Coming, was published in 1932.
The type of aircraft flown by John and Bayard Sartoris in William Faulkner’s Flags in the Dust.
In the Percy Jackson book The Titan’s Curse, Annabeth’s father, a historian, uses a restored and modified Sopwith Camel to aid the heroes at one point during the novel.
Robert Redford’s character flies a Sopwith Camel during the climactic aerial battle scene in the 1975 film The Great Waldo Pepper. And last but certainly not least, it was the plane flown by Snoopy in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comics.
Of course, I use the term “popular” lightly, because I’ve only heard of two of those.
Coming soon: a review of LEGO 10226 Sopwith Camel.
Next week: the Flying Boxcar. Yes, that was its real name.
This week’s plane of the week is the V-1 flying bomb.
The V-1 was a cruise missile of many names (but fortunately not many kills). In Germany it was called the Vergeltungswaffe-1 for the most part, Vergeltungswaffe meaning “retaliatory weapons” or “reprisal weapons”. It’s not hard to imagine why it was shortened to V-1. It was known informally as “Kerschkern”, or cherrystone, and “Maikäfer”, or maybug in Germany and by the Allies as the buzz bomb or the doodlebug. None of those, of course, beat Vergeltungswaffe-1, though. It was called the buzz bomb because of its unique engine sound, which comes from its unique engine.
It was powered by a pulsejet engine. A pulsejet engine is a type of jet engine in which combustion occurs in pulses. A pulsejet engine can be made with few or no moving parts, and is capable of running statically. (it does not need to have air forced into its inlet by forward motion or a fan, like standard jet engine.) The V-1 uses an Argus As 014 pulsejet invented Georg Madelung in 1934.
What made the V-1 so bad at its job was that it was fairly inaccurate. It was launched off a track and then flew automatically to its target. It determined distance via a spinning propeller on the nose. It had a countdown device in it and every thirty rotations of the propeller would tick the countdown down one number. Once it reached zero, the elevators went slack and it dropped out of the sky. Early versions had a different system that unfortunately for the bomb cut power to the engine and alerted all listeners to it having dropped out of the sky. They then knew to get the heck out of Dodge. Or London, as it were. Later versions allowed for powered dives. Even then, it was pretty bad. The first versions would land anywhere within a 19 mile circle of the intended target, while the last versions would land in a circle only 7 miles in diameter. Of course, their intended use was for terror bombing London, so it was for the most part an unqualified success. Sort of.
Only 25% of all V-1s actually hit their targets. The other 75% either had navigational failures or were taken down. It was very easy to shoot down a V-1. They were slow and unmistakeable, and they couldn’t fight back or get out of the way. They were picked off by either Allied pilots or AA gunners. Bored pilots were even known to fly next to a V-1 and ever so gently tip the bomb’s wing with their wing, moving the bomb off course. Only the Hawker Tempest was slow enough to complete this maneuver, or really even shoot it down at all, and only 30 were available. At least 16 bombs were destroyed by flipping them, so the Tempests were fairly effective. It was quite a bit harder for ground troops to hit them because they flew just beyond the effective range of the AA guns and were rather small. Barrage balloons were set up in the hopes that the bombs would snag on the mooring cables and be destroyed, but the Germans simply added cable cutters to the leading edge of the wings. Fewer than 300 bombs were destroyed by balloons. Eventually 70 more Hawker Tempests were purchased with the sole purpose of destroying incoming V-1s. On average, each V-1 killed 1.34 people. Part was from a good Allied defrnce, part was from just an inaccurate missile.