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P-80 Shooting Star
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The P-80 Shooting Star, produced by Lockheed, was the first U.S. operational jet fighter. Its development has an interesting history. Although engineers at Lockheed looked into producing a jet fighter before the start of World War II, the lack of engines with enough power and sufficient reliability caused them to shelve the project. In 1943 the development of the P-80 Shooting Star became possible with the advent of a jet engine with sufficient reliability and power to propel an aircraft. It was developed in Great Britain.
Lockheed built their first jet fighter prototype of the P-80 Shooting Star around the British engine less than five months after obtaining it. It took several more months to overcome engine reliability issues. The P-80 Shooting Star prototype took to the sky in January of 1944.
However, although the engine produced enough thrust to power the aircraft, lack of reliability was still a serious factor. Eventually General Electric developed a turbojet engine that was suitable for the first production aircraft. During early testing, it propelled the P-80 Shooting Star at speeds of over 500 mph. That was faster than all propeller driven aircraft and early British jet aircraft of the time.
The production P-80 Shooting Star was deployed to Italy in small numbers just prior to the end of World War II. There were a total of 45 of the aircraft deployed when the war ended. None saw action.
In November of 1945 the first all-jet U.S. Air Force Squadron equipped with the P-80 Shooting Star, the 412th Fighter Group, was formed. They were stationed at March Field in California.
The first duties of the P-80 Shooting Star consisted of replacing propeller driven fighter aircraft, taking over their missions throughout the United States Air Force.
P-80 Shooting Star aircraft were used as escorts for cargo transport during the Berlin Air Lift in 1948. This was in response to Russian aircraft harassing allied aircraft on mercy missions delivering supplies.
P-80 Shooting Star aircraft were soon equipped with more powerful engines which enabled them to fly with more fuel and ordnance.
P-80 Shooting Star aircraft first saw combat during the Korean War flying with the 8th, 35th and 51st Fighter Groups. On June 27, 1950 four P-80 Shooting Star aircraft were credited with the downing of four North Korean ground attack propeller driven aircraft. On November 8, 1950 a P-80 Shooting Star was credited with the downing of a North Korean jet fighter in what may have been the first jet air-to-air combat.
Throughout its service life, the P-80 Shooting Star was upgraded and improved. It was equipped with more powerful engines, an ejection seat, and a canopy with explosive bolts for emergency bail-outs.
Eventually the P-80 Shooting Star was replaced in the air to air combat role by faster and more maneuverable jet aircraft. However they continued to be used as ground attack aircraft.
While the U.S.A.F. was the primary user of the 1,715 P-80 Shooting Star aircraft produced, its two T-33 seat trainer version was used by the U.S. Navy and the air forces of some 30 countries throughout the world into the 1990's. Over 6,500 of the trainer versions were produced.