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.
It was built in a circus tent.