First flight: 1944
Role: Jet Fighter
Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin
F-80 Shooting Star
Known as the first operational jet fighter used by the United States Air Force, F-80 Shooting Star helped usher in the Jet Age in the USAF as well as other air forces across the world.
Designed by Lockheed in 1943, the F-80 was the first functioning jet to have its jet engine integrated into the main fuselage. This was unique in the fact that most jet fighters of the time usually had two jet engines mounted in external pods, but as the technology progressed, only one engine was required and deemed more effective when mounted in the fuselage. Another interesting fact about the design of the F-80 is that the jet was completely designed around the engine. Lockheed’s Skunk Works division was tasked to create the F-80 around the British de Havilland H-1 B turbojet. The main reason this aircraft was pushed quickly into creation was intelligence. In the spring of 1943, the Allied Intelligence network discovered that the Germans had already created the Me 262 jet. Lockheed was given the mission of creating the F-80 as soon as possible because the Germans were already clearly farther ahead in development of jet fighters. The F-80 Shooting Star first took to the skies on January 8, 1944 and was such a success that the Allies no longer felt the Germans had an advantage.
Due to several production issues, the F-80 Shooting Star did not see combat during World War II. After the war, a few variations were created and sent to the USAF as test planes, while one was modified as a racer and set a world air speed record of 623.73 mph on June 1947. The F-80 first saw active combat service in the Korean War. During the Korean War the F-80 started out as a jet-versus-jet aircraft but was eventually replaced by the F-86 Sabre, which could better combat the MiG-15. The F-80 was then assigned to ground attack missions, advanced flight training, and air defense in Japan. The USAF used the F-80 in fighter-bomber wings as well as fighter-interceptor wings. By the end of the Korean War, the only F-80’s still deployed were used in photo-recon missions.
While the F-80 Shooting Star did not see a long career involving combat, it still played a major role in aviation history. Whether it was combat or training, the Shooting Star shot across the skies as one of the USAF’s historical jets.