Airborne Awesomosity

Follow The Shooting Star – The Lockheed P-80


Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star


An answer was needed to counter the Messerschmitt ME-262 jet fighter. The U.S. Air Force gave Kelly Johnson and his team at Lockheed six months to develop a modern jet fighter in 1943.


P-80’s On Flight Line


Bell’s P-59 Airacobra didn’t set the world on fire even with its twin jet engines the aircraft was underpowered.  With this in mind the fact that famed Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson proposed a faster single engined fighter to replace it should seem to be ludicrous.  For an encore he also promised that it would fly within six months of the contract being signed. It did prove to be superior to the early  jets but its day of reckoning came with the Korean War where it was found to be slow to outfight the Mig 15. This should be the end of its story. From here the P-80 found a second life as a trainer.  Known as the T-33 the Shooting Star would go on to train fighter pilot the world over for decades after the Korean War.


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)
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 (P-80A 558 mph at sea level and 492 mph at 40,000 ft)[6] (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)
Guns: 6 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns (300 rpg)
Rockets: 8 × unguided rockets
Bombs: 2 × 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs



Allison J33 Maintenance Korean War 1950

The T-33 Shooting Star would serve as a reliable trainer for decades but the P-80 on which it was based was not without its faults.  The largest issue surrounded the fuel pump which would fail often enough to have Lockheed retrofit all existing P-80’s with an emergency backup. This would not save the life of the number one Pacific ace of World War Two Richard Bong. After surviving combat and accumulating twenty seven kills he was sent home to become a test pilot for Lockheed. During one test flight the fuel pump failed and he ejected inverted to close to the ground for his parachute to open. It is known that he knew the workaround but not why he didn’t use it.


Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star


In the end the design was outmatched by the ever changing landscape of jet development but would go on to outlive most of the other aircraft of its era when it finally found its niche. The P-80 Shooting Star marks the only aircraft that I am aware of that more of the trainer were produced then the primary fighter version. Lockheed produced seventeen hundred fighters and sixty five hundred trainers. The story of Kelly Johnsons Skunk Works designs is legendary and you would be hard pressed to find any of his designs that didn’t go on to serve various air forces around the world for decades. Still in the end the P-80 can be seen as both a success and failure.


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  • aastrovan

    Surprising how much that old aircraft weighs.

    • fodder650

      So for comparisons sake I decided to go get the weight numbers for the P-47 to show this wasn't that porky.

      Empty weight: 10,000 lb (4,536 kg)
      Loaded weight: 17,500 lb (7,938 kg)
      Max. takeoff weight: 17,500 lb (7,938 kg)

  • And STILL in service with Bolivia and Boeing!

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Do they really need anything else?

  • Jeb

    The P-80 also served as the basis for the F-94 Starfire.

    • fodder650

      I should feature the Starfire at some point. So far I have done an article on the XF-90 which was close in design as well. The F-94 stands out to me for the shear amount of unguided rockets it could carry.