Tag Archives: Browning Aircraft Machine Gun Caliber .50 AN-M3

8 November 1950

This painting by famed aviation artist Keith Ferris depicts 1st Lieutenant Russell Brown’s Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star as he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 over Korea, 8 November 1950. (Keith Ferris)

8 November 1950: First Lieutenant Russell J. Brown, United States Air Force, 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, is credited with shooting down a Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighter near the Yalu River while flying a Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star. This may have been the very first time that a jet fighter had been shot down by another jet fighter.

Sources vary, reporting the serial number of Lieutenant Brown’s fighter as 49-713 or 49-717.

A contemporary newspaper quoted Brown:

1st Lieutenant Russell J. Brown. (Air Force Times)

Brown gave a colorful description of the fight in history’s first jet-versus-jet battle last week. He said:

“We had just completed a strafing run on Sinuiju antiaircraft positions and were climbing when we got word that enemy jets were in the area.

“Then we saw them across the Yalu, doing acrobatics.

“Suddenly they came over at about 400 miles an hour. We were doing about 300. They broke formation right in front of us at about 18,000 or 20,000 feet. They were good looking planes—shiny and brand, spanking new.”

INS, Tokyo, November 13

Soviet records reported no MiG 15s lost on 8 November. Senior Lieutenant Kharitonov, 72nd Guards Fighter Aviation Unit, reported being attacked by an F-80 under circumstances that suggest this was the engagement reported by Lieutenant Brown, however Kharitonov succeeded in evading the American fighter after diving away and jettisoning his external fuel tanks.

A Soviet MiG 15 pilot, Lieutenant Khominich, also of the 72nd Guards, claimed shooting down an American F-80 on 1 November, but U.S. records indicate that this fighter had been destroyed by anti-aircraft fire.

What is clear is that air combat had entered the jet age, and that the Soviet Union was not only supplying its swept wing MiG 15 to North Korea and China, but that Soviet Air Force pilots were actively engaged in the war in Korea.

Russian technicians service a MiG-15bis o fteh 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)
Russian technicians service a MiG 15bis of the 351st IAP at Antung Air Base, China, mid-1952. (Unattributed)

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 is a single-seat, single engine turbojet-powered fighter interceptor, designed to attack heavy bombers. Designed for high sub-sonic speed, the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept to 35°. The wings were very thin to minimize aerodynamic drag.

The fighter was 10.102 meters (33 feet, 1.7 inches) long, with a wingspan of 10.085 meters (33 feet, 1 inch). Its empty weight was 3,253 kilograms (7,170 pounds) and takeoff weight was 4,963 kilograms (10,938 pounds).

The Rolls-Royce Nene I and Nene II jet engines had been used in the three MiG 15 prototypes. The British engines were reverse-engineered by Vladimir Yakovlevich Klimov and manufactured at Factory No. 45 in Moscow as the Klimov VK-1. The VK-1 used a single-stage axial-flow compressor, 9 combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. It produced a maximum 26.5 kilonewtons of thrust (5,957 pounds of thrust). The VK-1 was 2.600 meters (8 feet, 6.4 inches) long, 1.300 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches) in diameter, and weighed 872 kilograms (1,922 pounds).

The MiG 15 had a maximum speed of 1,031 kilometers per hour (557 knots) at 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and 1,050 kilometers per hour (567 knots) at Sea Level.

Armament consisted of one Nudelman N-37 37 mm cannon and two  Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 23 mm cannon.

MIG 15 Red 2057A Chinese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, South Korea. A defecting North Korean pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok flew it to Kimpo 1953. It was examined and test flown. This MiG 15 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).
MIG 15 Red 2057. A North Korean Peoples’ Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, Republic of South Korea. A defecting North Korean pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, flew it to Kimpo on 21 September 1953. It was taken to Okinawa, examined and test flown by U.S.A.F. test pilots, including Major Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager. This MiG 15 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force).

The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was redesignated F-80 in 1948. It was a single-seat, single-engine airplane, designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base) 8 January 1944. The P-80A entered production in 1945. Improved versions, the P-80B and P-80C (F-80C) followed.

A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star on display at the Air Force Armaments Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The fighter is marked as F-80C-10-LO 49-713, 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, Kimpo, Korea, 1950.
Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star 49-432 on display at the Air Force Armaments Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The fighter is marked as F-80C-10-LO 49-713, assigned to the 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group, Kimpo, Korea, 1950.

The F-80C was 34 feet, 5 inches (10.490 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 9 inches (11.811 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters). It weighed 8,420 pounds empty (3,819 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 16,856 pounds (7,645 kilograms).

The F-80C was powered by either a General Electric J33-GE-11, Allison J33-A-23 or J33-A-35 turbojet engine. The J33 was a development of an earlier Frank Whittle-designed turbojet. It used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, eleven combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine section. The J33-A-35 had a Normal Power rating of 3,900 pounds of thrust (17.348 kilonewtons) at 11,000 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 4,600 pounds (20.462 kilonewtons) at 11,500 r.p.m., for Takeoff.  It was 107 inches (2.718  meters) long, 50.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms).

The F-80C had a maximum speed of 594 miles per hour (956 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 543 miles per hour (874 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 46,800 feet (14,265 meters). The maximum range was 1,380 miles (2,221 kilometers).

The F-80C Shooting Star was armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted in the nose.

A Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, makes a JATO-assisted takeoff from an airfield in the Republic of South Korea, circa 1950. (U.S. Air Force)

Lockheed F-80C-10-LO Shooting Star 49-713, flown by Albert C. Ware, Jr., was lost 10 miles north of Tsuiki Air Base, Japan, 23 March 1951.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 September 1948

Major Richard L. Johnson, United States Air Force.
Major Richard Lowe Johnson, United States Air Force. (Unattributed)
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre.
Major Richard L. Johnson with the record-setting North American Aviation F-86A Sabre. (Unattributed)

15 September 1948: Major Richard L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Air Materiel Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course,¹ flying the sixth production North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre, serial number 47-611, at Muroc Air Force Base, California (renamed Edwards AFB in 1949).

The air temperature was 70° F. (21° C.) with very little wind. Making four consecutive passes at an altitude of 75–125 feet (23 to 38 meters), the Sabre averaged 670.98 mph (1,079.84 kilometers per hour) — 0.889 Mach. The slowest pass was 669.830 miles per hour and the fastest was 672.762 miles per hour (1,077.987 and 1,082.705 kilometers per hour, respectively) — 0.8875–0.8914 Mach.

Major Richard L Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 SABRE, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)
Major Richard L. Johnson, USAF with F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-611 and others at Muroc AFB, 15 September 1948. Note the gun port doors on this early production aircraft. They opened in 1/20 second as the trigger was pressed. Proper adjustment was complex and they were soon eliminated. (Image from F-86 Sabre, by Maurice Allward, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1978, Chapter 3 at Page 24.)

North American claimed that any F-86 coming off the assembly line could beat this world record speed. The record stood until 1952 when it was broken by an F-86D Sabre.

The Associated Press reported:

Air Force Tells Of New Speed

NEW YORK(AP) — The Air Force announced Saturday a new world speed record of 670.981 miles an hour, made with a fully armed standard jet fighter, the North American F-86.

The mark was set Wednesday. It is 20 miles an hour faster than the record set in August, 1947, by a Navy research plane, the Douglas D-558.

It was the first world speed mark in history for a production model aircraft ready to fight.

The pilot was Maj. Richard L. Johnson, slender quiet-spoken test flier for the Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Airbase near Dayton Ohio. He flew the course at Muroc Lake, Calif., where the record was raised three times last year.

Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force chief of staff, announced the new mark at Mitchel Field, Long Island, where he participated in one of the numerous shows being held in observance of the first anniversary of the Air Force.

Eugene Register-Guard, Saturday, 18 September 1948, Page 1, Column 7.

Major Johnson had made a previous speed record attempt flying a different Sabre, but due to a technical problem with the timing equipment, that attempt was disqualified.

47-605 was the first production F-86A-1-NA Sabre. (U.S. Air Force)
F-86A-1-NA 47-605 was the first production Sabre. It first flew on 20 May 1948. (U.S. Air Force)

47-611 was from the first production block of thirty-three F-86A-1-NA Sabres (originally designated P-86A) and was built at North American Aviation’s Inglewood, California, plant. Its NAA serial number was 151-38438.

The F-86A was a single-seat, single-engine, swept-wing day fighter, powered by a turbojet engine. The airplane’s design team was headed by Edgar Schmued, who was also responsible for North American’s legendary P-51 Mustang of World War II.

The F-86A had the same dimensions as the prototype XP-86 which had first flown almost two years earlier. The F-86A was 37 feet, 6.6 inches (11.445 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 8.9 inches (4.493 meters). It had an empty weight of 10,093 pounds (4,578 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 15,876 pounds (7,201 kilograms).

North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-605, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86 wings’ leading edges were swept to 35° and included leading edge slats, which automatically extended at low speed to provide an increase in lift.

The F-86A was initially powered by a General Electric TG-190A (J47-GE-1) turbojet engine. This was a major improvement over the Chevrolet-built J35-C-3 that had powered the prototype, and it produced almost 25% greater thrust. The J47-GE-1 was rated at 4,850 pounds of thrust (21.57 kilonewtons), or 5,820 pounds (25.89 kilonewtons) with water injection. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor, eight combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,475 pounds (1,123 kilograms).

Early in F-86A production, the engine was standardized with the J47-GE-13, which was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.13 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) “wet.” The -13 had the same exterior dimensions as the -1 engine, but weighed 50 pounds (23 kilograms) more.

North American Aviation F-86-A-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc./Chicago Tribune)
North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre 47-630. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

The F-86A had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,093 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 601 miles per hour (967 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The service ceiling as 48,000 feet (14,630 meters) and it could climb to 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) in 10 minutes, 24 seconds. It had a range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre, a license-built F-86E, shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane's nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels' rifling. (Royal Canadian Air Force)
This photograph of a Canadair CL-13 Sabre (a license-built F-86E) test-firing its guns shows the firepower of the six .50-caliber machine guns placed close together in the airplane’s nose. The smoke trails show the spin of the bullets caused by the gun barrels’ rifling. The total rate of fire is approximately 7,200 rounds per minute. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Designed as a day fighter, the F-86 Sabre was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 267 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. The F-86A-1-NA had electrically-actuated doors covering the gun ports to maintain the aerodynamically clean surface. Because of their complexity, these doors were deleted beginning with the F-86A-5-NA aircraft.

The fighter could also carry bombs or rockets.

In this photograph, the record-holding North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, 47-611, is seen suspended from a crane while it conducts armament tests. It has just launched a 5-inch High Velocity Aerial Rocket. (U.S. Air Force)

Dick Johnson flew the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt during World War II. Following the war, he was selected for test pilot training. He was the second U.S. Air Force pilot to be publicly acknowledged for breaking the “sound barrier.” During the Korean War, Johnson was sent to supervise field installations of improvements to the F-86. He was “caught” flying “unauthorized” combat missions and was sent home.

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson resigned from the Air Force in 1953 to become the Chief Test Pilot for Convair. He flew the YF-102, the F-106 Delta Dart (which had originally been designated F-102B) and the B-58 Hustler supersonic strategic bomber. He was Chief Engineering Test Pilot for the F-111 “Aardvark.” In 1977, Dick Johnson, now the Director of Flight and Quality Assurance at General Dynamics, retired. He died 9 November 2002.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9866

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 August 1951

Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force
Colonel Fred J. Ascani, United States Air Force

17 August 1951: In order to demonstrate the capabilities of the United States Air Force’s new day fighter, Colonel Fred J. Ascani, Vice Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, had been assigned to take two new North American Aviation F-86E Sabres from the production line at El Segundo, California, to the National Air Races at Detroit, Michigan. He was to attempt a new world speed record.

Colonel Ascani selected F-86E-10-NA 51-2721 and 51-2724. They received bright orange paint to the forward fuselage and the top of the vertical fin. Bold numbers 2 and 4 were painted on their sides.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (FAI)
Colonel Fred J. Ascani with the Thompson Trophy, 1951. (AP)

Flying Number 2, F-86E 51-2721, Fred Ascani flew a 100-kilometer closed circuit at an average speed of 1,023.04 kilometers per hour (635.69 miles per hour), and set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers.¹

For his accomplishment, Colonel Ascani was awarded both the Thompson Trophy and the MacKay Trophy.

The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35° based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.

North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E Sabre was an improved F-86A. The most significant change was the incorporation of an “all flying tailplane” in which the entire horizontal tail moved to control the airplane’s pitch. The tailplane pivoted around its rear spar, allowing the leading edge to move up or down 8°. The elevators were mechanically linked to the tailplane and their movement was proportional to the tailplane’s movement. Control was hydraulic, and this provided improved handling at high speeds where compressibility could “freeze” control surfaces. There were systems improvements as well, with “artificial feel” to the hydraulic controls to improve feedback to the pilot and prevent over-controlling. Beginning with Block 10 aircraft, the “V”-shaped windscreen of the earlier models was replaced with an optically flat laminated glass windshield.

Fred Ascani in the cockpit of F-86E
Fred Ascani in the cockpit of North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2724. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-86E was 37 feet, 6.5 inches (11.443 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.4 inches (11.313 meters) and overall height of 14 feet, 1 inch (4.293 meters). Its empty weight was 10,555 pounds (4,787.7 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 16,436 pounds (7,455.2 kilograms).

The F-86E was powered by a General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet engine. The J47 was an axial-flow turbojet with a 12-stage compressor and single stage turbine. The J47-GE-13 was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust and 6,000 pounds (“wet”). The engine was 12 feet, 0.0 inches (3.658 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.0 inches (0.991 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,525 pounds ( kilograms).

The F-86E Sabre had a maximum speed of 679 miles per hour (1,092.7 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 601 miles per hour (967.2 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 47,200 feet (14,386.7 meters).

The F-86E carried 437 gallons (1,654.2 liters) of fuel internally and could carry two 200-gallon (757.1 liter) drop tanks under the wings. Maximum range was 1,022 miles (1,645 kilometers).

The F-86A, E and F Sabres were armed with six Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns with 1,602 rounds of ammunition.

6,233 F-86 Sabres were built by North American at Inglewood, California and Columbus Ohio. Another 521 were assembled by Fiat and Mitsubishi. 1,815 CL-13 Sabres were built by Canadair, and 115 CA-26 and CA-27 Sabres by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia. Total production for all types and manufacturers was 8,684. North American Aviation built 336 F-86Es and 60 more were built by Canadair (F-86E-6-CAN).

In order to emphasize that Colonel Ascani’s record-setting Sabre was a standard production airplane, it was immediately sent into combat with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, at Suwon Air Base, Korea. There, it was christened THIS’LL KILL YA. On 3 May 1953, 51-2721 was damaged during a landing accident at Kimpo Air Base, but it was repaired and returned to service.

The FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952.
A group of Allied pilots stand with the FAI World Speed Record holder, North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre 51-2721, at Suwon Air Base, Korea, circa 1952. Its pilot, Lieutenant Jack L. Price, has named it THIS’LL KILL YA.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10429

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 August 1945

Major Richard Ira Bong, United States Army Air Forces. (U.S. Air Force)

6 August 1945: After serving three combat tours flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning in the Southwest Pacific, Major Richard Ira Bong, Air Corps, United States Army, was assigned as an Air Force acceptance test pilot for new Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighters at the Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California.

The P-80A was a brand new jet fighter, and Major Bong had flown just 4 hours, 15 minutes in the type during 12 flights.

Shortly after takeoff in P-80A-1-LO 44-85048, the primary fuel pump for the turbojet engine failed. A back-up fuel pump was not turned on. The Shooting Star rolled upside down and Bong bailed out, but he was too low for his parachute to open and he was killed. The jet crashed at the intersection of Oxnard Street and Satsuma Avenue, North Hollywood, California, and exploded.

Site of the crash of Major Richard I. Bong’s Lockheed P-80A-1-LO fighter, 44-85048, at Oxnard Street and Satsuma Avenue, North Hollywood, California. (Contemporary news photograph)
General Douglas MacArthur with Major Richard I. Bong.
General Douglas MacArthur with Major Richard I. Bong.

Richard I. Bong was known as the “Ace of Aces” for scoring 40 aerial victories over Japanese airplanes between 27 December 1942 and 17 December 1944 while flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented by General Douglas MacArthur, 12 December 1944. [The following day, General MacArthur was promoted to General of the Army.]

The citation for Major Bong’s Medal of Honor reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty in the Southwest Pacific area from 10 October to 15 November 1944. Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Major Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down eight enemy airplanes during this period.”

General of the Army Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold and Major Richard I. Bong, circa 1945.

The Lockheed P-80-1-LO was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine low-wing monoplane powered by a turbojet engine. The fighter was designed by a team of engineers led by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson. The prototype XP-80A, 44-83020, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was first flown by test pilot Tony LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards Air Force Base), 8 January 1944.

Lockheed P-80A-1-LO shooting Star 44-85004, similar to the fighter being test flown by Richard I. Bong, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-80A was a day fighter, and was not equipped for night or all-weather combat operations. The P-80A was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10½ inches (11.849 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). The fighter had an empty weight of 7,920 pounds (3,592 kilograms) and a gross weight of 11,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms).

Early production P-80As were powered by either an Allison J33-A-9 or a General Electric J33-GE-11 turbojet engine. The J33 was a licensed version of the Rolls-Royce Derwent. It was a single-shaft turbojet with a 1-stage centrifugal compressor section and a 1-stage axial-flow turbine. The -9 and -11 engines were rated at 3,825 pounds of thrust (17.014 kilonewtons). The J33s were 8 feet, 6.9 inches (2.614 meters) long, 4 feet, 2.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,775 pounds (805 kilograms).

The P-80A had a maximum speed of 558 miles per hour (898 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 492 miles per hour (801 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The service ceiling was 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).

Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85155, similar to the jet fighter which Major Bong was flying, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Several hundred of the early production P-80 Shooting stars had all of their surface seams filled, and the airplanes were primed and painted. Although this process added 60 pounds (27.2 kilograms) to the empty weight, the decrease in drag allowed a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) increase in top speed. The painted surface was difficult to maintain in the field and the process was discontinued.

The P-80A Shooting Star was armed with six air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted in the nose.

Dick Bong poses with “Marge,” his Lockheed P-38J Lightning. A large photograph of his fiancee, Miss Marjorie Vattendahl, is glued to the fighter’s nose.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 April 1949

Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
Anthony M. "Tony" LeVier.
Anthony M. “Tony” LeVier.

16 April 1949: At Van Nuys Airport, California, test pilot Tony LeVier and flight test engineer Glenn Fulkerson made the first flight of the Lockheed YF-94 prototype, serial number 48-356. The aircraft was the first jet-powered all-weather interceptor in service with the United States Air Force and was the first production aircraft powered by an afterburning engine.

Two prototypes were built at Lockheed Plant B-9, located on the east side of Van Nuys Airport. Two TF-80C-1-LO (later redesignated T-33A) Shooting Star two-place trainers, 48-356 and 48-373, were modified with the installation of air intercept radar, an electronic fire control system, radar gun sight, four Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber (12.7 × 99 NATO) aircraft machine guns and a more powerful Allison J33-A-33 turbojet engine with water-alcohol injection and afterburner. The rear cockpit was equipped as a radar intercept officer’s station.

Right side profile of the Lockheed YF-94A Starfire prototype, 48-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
Right side profile of the Lockheed YF-94 prototype, 48-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

It was initially thought that the project would be a very simple, straightforward modification. However, the increased weight of guns and electronics required the installation of a more powerful engine than used in the T-33A. The new engine required that the aft fuselage be lengthened and deepened. Still, early models used approximately 80% of the parts for the F-80C fighter and T-33A trainer. The Air Force ordered the aircraft as the F-94A. Improvements resulted in an F-94B version, but the definitive model was the all-rocket-armed F-94C Starfire.

The Allison J33-A-33 was a single-shaft turbojet engine with a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, 14 combustion chambers and, a single-stage axial flow turbine. The engine was rated at 4,600 pounds of thrust (20.46 kilonewtons) and 6,000 pounds (26.69 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J33-A-33 was 17 feet, 11.0 inches (5.461 meters) long, 4 feet, 1.3 inches (1.252 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,390 pounds (1,084 kilograms).

Originally a P-80C Shooting Star single-place fighter, 48-356 had been modified at Lockheed Plant B-9 in Van Nuys to become the prototype TF-80C two-place jet trainer (the designation was soon changed to T-33A), which first flew 22 March 1948. It was then modified as the prototype YF-94. 48-356 was later modified as the prototype F-94B. It is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, and is in storage awaiting restoration.

Underside of the prototype Lockheed YF-94A Starfire, 49-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego air & Space Museum Archives)
Underside of the prototype Lockheed YF-94, 49-356, during its first flight, 16 April 1949. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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