In February 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force received the first production Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star fighter jets - this is how the era of jet propulsion began aviation. Work on the creation of a new fighter jet started several years earlier. Despite a lot of difficulties, the designers successfully coped with the tasks.
The first attempts
In October 1942, Bell began flight tests of its XP-59A Airacomet, the first US-made fighter jet. During the checks it was found that this machine does not have decisive advantages over piston fighters and is not of interest to the army. The production plans for the XP-59A were drastically reduced and decided to develop a completely new aircraft.
By this time, the United States and Britain had agreed to sell the latest Halford H-1 turbojet engine, later designated de Havilland Goblin. With the use of such a motor, Bell had to develop a new aircraft. He received the designation XP-59B.
However, soon this project was abandoned. Bell was loaded with orders, and they decided to transfer the development of the jet fighter to Lockheed. In May 1943, the new contractor received the necessary documentation for the XP-59A / B and a promising engine. In addition, the Air Force issued technical requirements for the future aircraft. Outline design started.
In the design process
On June 15, Lockheed introduced the first version of the project with the L-410 brand name. It was prepared by a group of engineers led by young designer Clarence Johnson. Subsequently, they were entrusted with the further development of the project. Just two days later, the customer approved the project, and preparations began for signing a contract for the work.
On June 24, the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed entered into a formal agreement to develop the XP-80 fighter with the H-1 engine. Only 180 days were allocated for design work and the construction of an experimental aircraft. The start of flight tests was planned for the end of 1943.
Such stringent timing requirements have led to the introduction of a special design approach. All work was planned to be carried out in secrecy in a separate building on the territory of the enterprise. Responsible for the design was a group of 23 engineers led by Kelly Johnson. 105 workers were to be engaged in construction. To accelerate the project, all its participants were freed from other work. Set a 10-hour work day with one day off per week; at the same time, employees constantly processed and spent the night right at the factory. Organizational measures were taken that affected the specifics of design, the supply of materials for construction, etc.
Working in this mode, aircraft manufacturers on July 20 presented a model of the future aircraft. The Air Force Commission studied it and was generally satisfied, although it made almost two dozen proposals. Taking into account the findings of the commission, the development company could proceed with the construction of the first flight prototype.
By early August, 105 workers were working on an experimental XP-80, and the designers had to cope with some difficulties. The need to meet tight deadlines led to a temporary rejection of some decisions. They decided to make the first prototype aircraft without a pressurized cabin and with a simplified composition of equipment.
Experienced aircraft XP-80A Gray Ghost. Photo Airwar.ru
There were problems with the power plant. British colleagues did not have time to deliver the finished H-1 engine, and therefore the XP-80 until a certain time cost it with a wooden layout. At this stage, a proposal arose to use another engine - a promising product of American design or a more powerful modification of the future "Goblin".
The bulk of the construction was completed by the end of October, after which ground checks began. Only in early November, an imported motor arrived, and it was not recommended for use in flight. However, he was immediately put in place of the layout, and the finished car was presented to the customer.
On November 16, representatives of the Air Force signed an acceptance certificate. From the start of design to the delivery of the finished experimental machine, 143 days passed - the contractor met the deadlines and even saved a whole week. While documents were being processed, Lockheed installed the recently received “flight” engine on the aircraft.
Maintenance of the General Electric I-40 / J33 engine with the serial F-80. Korea 1950 Photo by US Air Force
For the neat appearance and elegant contours of the aircraft received the nickname Lulu Belle ("Beauty Lulu"). After coloring in standard colors of the Air Force, the name Green Hornet ("Green Hornet") appeared.
On November 17, new ground tests began using the engine. The first start of the motor ended in an accident. There was a destruction of the air intake ducts due to insufficient strength. Debris got into the engine and slightly damaged it. Nevertheless, it was decided to disassemble it and carefully study it.
A fatigue crack was found in the impeller of a centrifugal compressor. As it turned out, the H-1 was not the first to encounter such a problem. During bench tests, several compressors collapsed due to similar cracks.
One of the cars of the YP-80A pre-production batch. Photo Airwar.ru
The new engine was brought only at the end of December. During this time, Lockheed managed to repair and improve the air intakes. In the last days of the outgoing 1943, the first engine starts took place, incl. with access to maximum performance.
Fighter in flight
On January 8, 1944, the experienced XP-80 took off for the first time under the control of pilot Milo Burham. The flight lasted only a few minutes. The test pilot was unable to remove the chassis and noted the excessive sensitivity of the ailerons, because of which he went to land. The necessary adjustments were made on the ground, and the second flight took place. Within 20 minutes, M. Burham determined the approximate speed and maneuverability, handling, etc.
The first phase of flight tests lasted a little over a week. It was possible to obtain a speed of up to 750 km / h and determine maneuverability indicators. At the same time, the engine showed insufficient traction and reliability, the loads on the control handle were excessive, etc.
From January 17 to January 27, the aircraft was in service, while various systems were being finalized. Also, the aerodynamic appearance has changed slightly. At the end of the month, the car was again lifted into the air and confirmed the full benefit of the changes.
In early February 1944, the Green Hornet was handed over to the 412th fighter group for military trials. At this stage, the aircraft set a new speed record of 800 km / h, tested on-board weapons and showed its capabilities in training air battles.
Back in the summer of 1943, the Air Force and Lockheed discussed the development prospects of the XP-80 project. For all its advantages, such an aircraft was faced with certain limitations. There was a proposal to develop its modification with a more powerful General Electric I-40 engine. Other improvements to the original design were also proposed.
Already in September, the team of C. Johnson proposed the project L-141. This aircraft was larger and heavier than the previous L-140 / XP-80, but due to the I-40 engine it had advantages in all basic characteristics. The customer approved the proposal, however, its prospects directly depended on the progress of ongoing work on the XP-80.
Preparation of design documentation for L-141 started at the very beginning of January 1944 and lasted about 10 days. A number of additional research and development was required, but this did not stop the customer. On January 21, they decided to build two prototypes of the L-141, as well as begin preparations for the assembly of pre-production aircraft. Only 130 days were allocated to complete the design and construction of the experimental machines. A few days later, the prototypes L-141 received the XP-80A index, pre-production machines - YP-80A.
Despite the continuity of designs, the XP-80A actually had to be re-designed. The construction of two prototypes began in mid-March, and in June they were brought to the test. The first prototype fighter was painted gray, which is why the nickname Gray Ghost ("Gray Ghost") appeared. The second was left unpainted. Cars were significantly different from each other. So, on the second one an additional cabin was provided for the test engineer.
The next test
The first flight of the Phantom took place on June 10, 1944. Pilot Tony Levier noted good speed and acceleration characteristics. There were problems with the control systems, aileron shaking was observed at high speeds, the air conditioning system supplied hot air to the cabin, etc.
One of the identified deficiencies threatened with an accident. A stall was observed in the air intake channel, which could disrupt the engine. The whistle from this phenomenon was heard not only in the cockpit, but also on the ground. This problem was taken up by the chief designer himself. He performed several flights in the second cockpit of the engineer, got acquainted with the phenomenon and found an effective solution. Several slots on the edge of the air intake bypassed the boundary layer and stabilized the flow.
Flight tests of the XP-80A Gray Ghost lasted until March 20, 1945 and ended in an accident. In the next flight, the engine collapsed, and the entire tail was literally chopped off. T. Levier escaped with a parachute. The second two-seat aircraft by this time managed to become a flying laboratory for testing new engines.
An official order for a pre-production batch of YP-80A aircraft appeared on March 10, 1944 - a few months before the flight of the prototype XP-80A. The contract stipulated the supply of 12 cars. Later ordered an intelligence modification under the designation XF-14. Equipment for the Air Force was to be minimally different from the existing single-seat prototype.
The only experienced XP-80 at the National Museum of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Wikimedia Commons Photos
On September 13, 1944, the first YP-80A took off, followed by other pre-production vehicles. The tests of the first two aircraft passed without problems. On October 20, a third fighter crashed in its first flight; pilot M. Burham died. In this regard, the order was supplemented to receive the required 12 aircraft.
In the fall of the same year, several ready-made aircraft were handed over to the Air Force to work out operational issues and combat use. In the future, all 12 fighters were used in various organizations, units and formations. They were used in military tests, according to the results of which there was a recommendation for adoption.
The first order for the full-fledged P-80A Shooting Star series appeared in April 1944, long before the completion of work on experimental and pre-production aircraft. The contract stipulated the supply of two batches of equipment with a total number of 500 units. In February 1945, the army received the aircraft of the first P-80A-1-LO series and began their development.
Serial F-80A at the Air Zoo Museum. This aircraft managed to serve both in combat and in the training unit. Wikimedia Commons Photos
Then there were new contracts and deliveries, rearmament, etc. The main operator of such equipment was the Air Force. Several vehicles were transferred to study the Navy. For use on the deck of aircraft carriers, they were finalized with the installation of new equipment.
A few years later, the fighters, renamed F-80, first took part in real battles. Together with the later and more advanced jet aircraft, they were used during the war in Korea. The operation of such equipment continued until the mid-fifties. Then new programs for rearmament and transition to other aircraft began. The era of jet combat aircraft, launched by the P-80 project, was gaining momentum.