F-80C Shooting Star 49-696 at NMUSAF

The first US turbojet aircraft to enter combat service, the P-80 was also the first product of Lockheed’s secretive “Skunk Works” division headed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Johnson had sketched out the advanced L-133 jet fighter well before the US entered WWII, but this was to remain a paper project, and the XP-80 was to be a completely different and much less radical design.

The prototype XP-80 Lulu Belle flew in January 1944 under the power of a British-supplied de Havilland H.1B Goblin engine; even with the underpowered Goblin, the new fighter could exceed 500mph, but plans were already in place for the slightly larger XP-80A, with the much more powerful GE I-40/J33. Two of these were built, followed by thirteen service-test YP-80As and 563 (from a projected 3,500) production P-80As. Early P-80As had J33-GE-11s, or the license-built Allison J33-A-9, while later blocks had the uprated A-17.

Wartime plans had called for North American to contribute by building the type under license as the P-80N; the end of the war put paid to such plans, but the Shooting Star still served the postwar USAF in large numbers, and numerous high profile public demonstrations and trailblazing flights helped show that the Air Force had entered the jet age in a major way.

The definitive F-80C was based on the P-80B, with an ejection seat and the J33-A-23 engine. Just under 800 new-build examples were bought, and several hundred earlier aircraft were brought up to the later configuration.

The NMUSAF’s F-80C, 49-696, is a combat veteran of Korea, one of the few remaining. This aircraft was transferred to Uruguay in 1958, and was returned to the US in 1970, going on display at Dayton in 1979.

F-80C Shooting Star forward fuselage detail image

The F-80 was the first USAF jet to take part in the Korean fighting, and early on in the air war dominated North Korean IL-10s and Yak-9s. This situation changed in the fall of 1950 as Russian-provided MiG-15s entered the fighting, and although an early encounter between the types resulted in a Shooting Star pilot claiming a kill, but the disparity in performance between the straight-winged F-80 and the swept wing MiG was too great, helping prompt the deployment of F-86s to the theater. The Shooting Star’s performance in the air to ground role also left something to be desired, as the type’s endurance over the battlefield was minimal, especially when operating from Japan. The advent of “Misawa” tanks – standard external tanks fitted with additional sections- alleviated this, and both F-80s and their RF-80 recce counterparts participated in combat air refueling trials using KB-29 tankers, although routine combat AAR operations would have to wait for Vietnam.

RF-80s were pivotal in bringing back intelligence on Communist activities all the way up to the Yalu – and even beyond, keeping an “eye” on MiG bases in Manchuria. The recce Shooting Stars were the first jet reconnaissance aircraft available in Korea, and as such were used early on for runs into ‘MiG Alley”, where piston powered aircraft were at a distinct disadvantage. Even so, the straight winged RF-80s were themselves soon vulnerable, requiring F-80, and later F-86 escorts.

Combat operations by fighter model Shooting Stars wrapped up in late April 1953; in all, F-80s flew over 98,000 sorties in Korea, dropping over 33,000 tons of bombs, and accounting for 37 Communist aircraft, six of those being MiG-15s. In return, 373 Shooting Stars were lost. including seven to MiGs.

The F-80’s heyday was long past as the fighting in Korea gave way to a tense armistice, and by 1954 the F-80C had been withdrawn from frontline use, with the ANG keeping the type in its inventory until 1958.

Richard J. Caruna “Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star”  Scale Aviation Modeller International May 2004

Photo showing a pair of F-80Cs over Alaska with speedbrakes deployed Flying May 1951 p.57

Warren Thompson “Shooting Stars Over Korea” Airpower March 1985 p.22-43, 55 62 photos

David R. McLaren “Lockheed P-80/F-80 Shooting Star: A Photo Chronicle” Sciffer Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-88740-907-5

Richard A. Franks Review of the Airfix 1/72 F-80C kit. Scale Aviation Modeller International July 1997

Color profiles, including Brazilian & Chilean F-80Cs, QF-80F, Navy TV-1, RF-80C Mary Lou, and a Kansas ANG F-80C with a high-visibility scheme Scale Aviation Modeller May 2004
Dave Stern “Blowtorches and Big Birds” The Aviation Historian 12/July 2015 Includes a photo showing a lineup of P-80Bs at Ladd Field, and other Shooting Star shots
“Monogram – QF-80B Target Drone” Model Aircraft November 2016 Building the old 1/48 scale kit as drone 52957.

F-94C Starfire at NMUSAF

T-33 Shooting Star

XP-80R

Review – “Air War Korea”