The F-80 Shooting Star – America’s First Combat Jet
America Enters the Jet Age
The F-80 shooting star was the U.S. military’s first operational jet aircraft. The first American built jet was the Bell P-59 Airacomet. The P-59 had a British Whittle engine. Bell was unable to fulfill its commitment for the new design so the contract went to Lockheed. The result was the P-80 Shooting Star.[i]
The first XP-80, fitted with a British de Havilland Goblin engine, made its first flight on January 9, 1944. The flight broke an American speed record. It reached a speed of 502 mph (803 kph) becoming the first American plane to exceed 500 mph. The second XP-80, fitted with an American General Electric J33 engine flew on June 11, 1944.[ii]
In 1947 a Shooting Star was modified to make a record flight. This modified Shooting Star was an XP-80R, nicknamed “Racey”, achieved a speed of 623.8 mph (998 kph) on June 19, 1947. [iii]
[i] U.S. Fighters: Army – Air Force 1925 to 1980s by Lloyd S. Jones © 1975 Aero Publishers, Ltd.
[ii] U.S. Fighters: Army – Air Force 1925 to 1980s by Lloyd S. Jones © 1975 Aero Publishers, Ltd.
[iii] U.S. Fighters: Army – Air Force 1925 to 1980s by Lloyd S. Jones © 1975 Aero Publishers, Ltd.
Development and Combat
The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) decided to ship two YP-80As to England and two to Italy. Part of the reason for sending them was to boost morale of the USAAF bombers crews. The Luftwaffe had flown jet and rocket powered fighters against the bombers. Knowing American jet fighters were in Europe could reassure the bomber crews the U.S.A. would match the German technology. The two YP-80As arrived in England, in crates, on December 30, 1944.[i]
In January 1945 Colonel Marcus Cooper flew the first American jet outside the United States. On January 28 Major Fredrick Austin Borsodi was killed when a mechanical failure caused his YP-80A to crash. The surviving YP-80 in England was loaned to Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce fitted it with a Nene B.41 engine. An engine failure resulted in the destruction of this aircraft on November 14, 1945.[ii]
In Italy Major Ed LaClare of the 94th Fighter Squadron flew “two operational sorties” in a YP-80, according to the 1st Fighter Group’s official history. It didn’t engage in combat. The two YP-80s in Italy returned to the U.S. in June 1945. One of these YP-80s crashed twice. The second crash was August 2, 1945. This made that YP-80 a total loss.[iii]
In a tragic Irony Major Richard Bong, the top American Ace, died in a P-80 crash on August 6, 1945. This is the same day the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The Stars and Stripes reported Major Bongs burial, which took place on August 8, in the same issue that reported the August 9 atomic bombing of Nagasaki.[iv]
A TF-80C, a two-seat trainer version was constructed in August 1947. Soon this trainer version, designated T-33, went into production. The United States Air Force (USAF) changed the aircraft designation of “P” for “Pursuit” to “F” for “Fighter”. The Shooting Star’s designation became F-80 in June 1948. Lockheed modified the T-33’s airframe to construct an all-weather fighter. The first prototype, the YF-94, flew on April 16, 1949. [v]
On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations branded North Korea an aggressor and the United States and other countries sent forces to aid South Korea. The People’s Republic of China and The Soviet Union supported North Korea.
On June 27 eight North Korean Il-10 bombers attempted to attack an airfield and the USAF transports on it. Four F-80Cs shot down 4 of the bombers. The remaining bombers broke off the attack. The rules of engagement prohibited the Shooting Stars from chasing down the surviving bombers. Lieutenant Robert E. Wayne scored two of the kills, Captain Ray Schillereff and Lieutenant Robert Dewald shot down the other two bombers. These were the first air-air kills for American jets.[vi]
On June 30 a North Koran Yak-9s strafed the airfield at Suwon and destroyed an F-82G on the ground. F-80C pilot 1st Lieutenant Charles Wurster shot down one of the Yak-9s. Lieutenant Wurster shot down another piston engine aircraft on July 17. One of the P-80 losses was its squadron commander.[vii] The North Korean pilots in their World War II vintage aircraft were no match for the American and Allied pilots in their World War II vintage aircraft.
The situation changed on November 1 when Soviet Air Force pilots flying MiG-15s entered combat. The first air combat between piloted jet aircraft occurred on November 1, 1950. Soviet MiG-15 pilot, Lieutenant Semyon F. Khominich shot down a USAF F-80. On November 8 USAF F-80 pilot, Lieutenant Russell J. Brown, claimed and received credit for shooting down a MiG-15. Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov, the MiG-15 pilot, pulled his fighter out of its dive at low altitude and returned to base.[viii] The next day Lieutenant Commander W.T. Amen, flying an F9F Panther, scored the first jet-vs-jet kill by an American flown jet.
The F-86s arrived in Korea on December 13. On December 17 a flight of four F-86As flew a fighter sweep. The flight used F-80 call signs to make the Communists believe they would be going to engage the World War II vintage jets. A flight of MiG-15s came to intercept the American jets. Lt. Colonel Bruce H. Hinton shot down one of the MiGs before the Communist fighters disengaged.[ix]
On April 1951 B-29 Superfortresses, with 100 F-80 and F-84s escorting them, went on a daylight mission against North Korea. Soviet flown MiG-15s easily flew past the escorts and shot down three B-29s and damaged 7 others. The damaged B-29s were written off. This mission made the USAF discontinue daylight B-29 bombing missions.[x]
During the Korean War the USAF lost 277 F-80s and 9 F-94s from all causes on combat missions. Another 91 F-80s and 6 F-94s were lost from non-operational causes.[xi] In air-air combat the F-80s shot down 16 enemy aircraft and lost at least 15.
The F-94 in aerial combat had many aerial firsts. An F-94 was lost in air-air combat. A Po-2 scored the kill. It is the only bi-plane to ever shoot down a jet.[xii] The first aircraft shot down by F-94s was an American C-119 on May 24, 1951. The C-119 had an inflight emergency and the passengers and crew bailed out. When the C-119 continued flying two F-94s shot it down. On the night of January 30, 1952 an F-94, crewed by Captain Benjamin L. Fithian and 1st Lieutenant R. S. Lyons shot down a piston engine fighter. It is believed to be the first time an aircraft shot down another aircraft without either crew seeing the opposing aircraft. On May 10, 1952 an F-94 scored the first jet-vs-jet kill at night. The opposing aircraft was a MiG-15.[xiii]
[i] Defense Media Network, Project Extraversion: P-80 Shooting Stars in World War II, by Robert F. Dorr, April 15, 2013, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/project-extraversion-p-80-shooting-stars-in-world-war-ii/, last accessed 0/26/19.
[ii] Defense Media Network, Project Extraversion: P-80 Shooting Stars in World War II, by Robert F. Dorr, April 15, 2013, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/project-extraversion-p-80-shooting-stars-in-world-war-ii/, last accessed 0/26/19.
[iii] Defense Media Network, Project Extraversion: P-80 Shooting Stars in World War II, by Robert F. Dorr, April 15, 2013, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/project-extraversion-p-80-shooting-stars-in-world-war-ii/, last accessed 0/26/19.
[iv] The Stars and Stripes, August 9, 1945. “Atom Raises Nagasaki” and “Maj. Dick Bong Buried in Tiny Burial Ceremony”.
[v] Defense Media Network, Project Extraversion: P-80 Shooting Stars in World War II, by Robert F. Dorr, April 15, 2013, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/project-extraversion-p-80-shooting-stars-in-world-war-ii/, last accessed 0/26/19.
[vi] History.com, A new Era in Aerial Warfare Began During the Korean War, https://www.historynet.com/a-new-era-in-aerial-warfare-began-during-the-korean-war.htm, last accessed 10/29/19.
[vii] History.com, A new Era in Aerial Warfare Began During the Korean War, https://www.historynet.com/a-new-era-in-aerial-warfare-began-during-the-korean-war.htm, last accessed 10/29/19.
[viii] Knez, Saso, Diego Fernando Zampini and Joe L. Brenan “Korean War Database” archived, June 3, 2013 at the Wayback Machine AirCombat Information Group (ACIG), October 28, 2018.
[ix] Knez, Saso, Diego Fernando Zampini and Joe L. Brenan “Korean War Database” archived, June 3, 2013 at the Wayback Machine AirCombat Information Group (ACIG), October 28, 2018.
[x] National Interest.org, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/russia-built-their-mig-15-fighter-jet-thanks-american-ally-91376, last accessed 11/2/19.
[xi] Big Book of Warfare and Other Stuff, USAF Losses during the Korean War, https://www.alternatewars.com/BBOW/Stats/USAF_Losses_Korea.htm, last accessed 11/1/19.
[xii] Quora.com, https://www.quora.com/Did-a-Po-2-really-shoot-down-an-F-94-during-the-Korean-War-If-so-how-is-this-possible, last accessed 11/1/19. The Po-2 scored it’s kill by air combat maneuvering (ACM) rather than gun or missile fire.
[xiii] Defense Media Network, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/air-power-lessons-from-the-korean-war/2/, last accessed 11/1/19 There was another B-29 daylight mission on October 23. On that mission MiG-15s shot down 6 of the 9 raiding B-29s.
The Bay of Pigs
On April 15, 1961 counter-revolutionary forces in B-26 Invaders[i] attacked the Cuban air base at San Antonio. A B-26 destroyed a T-33A on the ground. Lt. Alberto Fernández took off in a T-33A and became the first Cuban Air Force pilot to scramble during the invasion. He was unable to make an interception. One T-33A, piloted by Captain Orestes Acosta went off on a reconnaissance mission and was lost. Lt. Fernández shot down a B-26B, crewed by Matías Farías and Eddie González, with a T-33A numbered 711. Lt. Fernández flew a second T-33A sortie, numbered 703, and sank the damaged supply ship “Houstorí”. Captain Alvarado Prendes, flying 711, made some passes at an LCT. An anti-aircraft shell struck 711 but Captain Prendes landed the aircraft safely. Mechanics made repairs and 40 minutes later Captain Prendes took off and shot down a counter-revolutionary B-26. He fired on another B-26 and broke off the attack when he realized the second B-26 was a friendly aircraft. Captain Enrique Carreras also scored a kill. AnotherT-33A pilot, Captain ‘Willy’ Figueroa, fled the scene of the action when he saw the anti-aircraft fire. He was arrested on landing for cowardice in the face of the enemy. Lt. Rafael Del Pinto also shot down a B-26. Captain Prendes, while on a bombing mission, downed another B-26. Lt. Del Pinto severely damaged another B-26. A Sea Fury pilot Lieutenant Douglas Rudd shot down the damaged B-26. Captains Carreras and Prendes each shot down a B-26 on the 19th.[ii]
[i] The Douglas B-26 was later designated the A-26. It is not the World War II Martin B-26 Marauder.
[ii] Bay of Pigs – The Men and Aircraft of the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force, by Paul MacPhail, https://www.laahs.com/bay-of-pigs/, last accessed 11/3/19.
F-80C Shooting Star Stats
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