Tag Archives: Kelly Johnson

3 February 1946

Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation. (TWA)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049 Constellation. (TWA)

3 February 1946: Transcontinental and Western Airlines (“The Trans World Airline”) inaugurated non-stop passenger service from Los Angeles to New York with it’s Lockheed L-049A Constellation, Navajo Skychief, NC86503.

Jack Frye
William John (“Jack”) Frye

Captain William John (“Jack”) Frye, president of the airline, and his co-pilot, Captain Lee Flanagin, T&WA’s Western Region Operations Manager, were at the controls with Captain Paul S. Frederickson and Captain A.O. Lundin aboard as relief pilots. Flight Engineers Paul Henry and E.T. Greene completed the flight crew. In the passenger cabin were flight attendants Dorraine Strole and Rita P. Crooks. The 44 passengers were primarily news reporters.

Navajo Skychief departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 12:59:12 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, and flew across the country at an altitude of 15,000–17,000 feet (4,572–5,182 meters), taking advantage of tailwinds throughout the flight. The Constellation crossed over LaGuardia Airport, New York, at 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) at 11:27 a.m., Eastern Standard Time.

The 2,474-mile (3,954.2 kilometer) Great Circle flight took 7 hours, 27 minutes, 48 seconds, averaging 329 miles per hour (529.5 kilometers per hour), setting a National Aeronautic Association transcontinental speed record for transport aircraft.

With 52 persons aboard, this was the largest number carried in commercial passenger service up to that time.

The four Duplex-Cyclone engines burned 450 gallons (1,703.4 liters) of gasoline per hour. On landing, 610 gallons (2,309.1 liters) of fuel remained.

A TWA stewardess. (LIFE Magazine)
A TWA stewardess. (LIFE Magazine)

Navajo Skychief (c/n 2024) had been delivered to Transcontinental and Western on 20 December 1945. It remained in service with TWA until March 1962. During that time it was also named Star of the Nile and Star of California. The Constellation was scrapped in May 1964.

The Lockheed Constellation first flew in 1942, and was produced for the U.S. Army Air Corps as the C-69. With the end of World War II, commercial airlines needed new airliners for the post-war boom. The Constellation had transoceanic range and a pressurized cabin for passenger comfort.

The Lockheed L-049 Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 3 inches (29.032 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.490 meters) and an overall height of 23 feet, 8 inches (7.214 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Navajo Skychief, Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049A Constellation, NC 86503. (Ed Coates Collection)

The L-049 was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 745C18BA3 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff, (five minute limit) and drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289.11 kilograms).

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (503.72 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429.3 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

22 C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were built. Designed by the famous Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

TWA Lockheed Constellation.
TWA Lockheed Constellation.

Jack Frye had founded the Aero Corporation of California, which would later become Transcontinental and Western, on 3 February 1926. He died at Tucson, Arizona on 3 February 1959 at the age of 55 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

26 January 1946

Colonel William H. Council, U.S. Army Air Corps, in teh cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Colonel William H. Councill, U.S. Army Air Forces, in the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

26 January 1946: Colonel William Haldane Councill, U.S. Army Air Forces, a test pilot at the Flight Test Division, Wright Field, Ohio, made a record-breaking flight from Daugherty Field (Long Beach Airport), California, to overhead LaGuardia Airport, New York, in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds. He was piloting a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, serial number 44-85123. This flight set a new transcontinental speed record for the 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers), averaging 584.82 miles per hour (941.18 kilometers per hour).

Colonel Councill was accompanied by two other P-80s flown by Captain John S. Babel and Captain Martin I. Smith. This was the longest non-stop flight by a jet aircraft up to that time.

Colonel Councill’s P-80A had been modified with the installation of a 100-gallon (379 liters) fuel tank in the nose. Along with 300-gallon (1,135 liters) wing tip tanks, the Shooting Star’s maximum fuel load had been increased to 1,165 gallons (4,410 liters).¹

The P-80s flown by Captains Babel and Smith also had the nose fuel tank installed, but carried 150-gallon wing tip tanks. They had to stop at Topeka, Kansas to refuel. Ground crews met them with four fuel trucks, and they were airborne in 4 minutes and 6 minutes, respectively.

Colonel William H. Councill, U.S. Air force, waves from the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85123. (AP Wirephoto, Oklahoma Historical Society)
Colonel William H. Councill, U.S. Air Force, waves from the cockpit of his record-setting Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, 44-85123. (AP Wirephoto, Photograph 2012.201.B0243.0237, Oklahoma Historical Society)

William Haldane Councill was born 5 October 1911 at Bellevue, Pennsylvania. He was the second of four children of William Mansfield Councill, a manager for a fireproofing company, and Bertha Etta Wing Councill.

William H. Councill. (The Thistle of 1933)

Bill Councill studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), and the Delta Upsilon (ΔΥ) fraternity. He was also a member of the Scabbard and Blade, and co-chairman of the Military Ball. Councill graduated in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree (B.S.M.E.).

William H. Councill was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Engineer Reserve, 1 June 1933. He was appointed a flying cadet and trained as a pilot, 1 October 1933 to 14 October 1935. He then received a commission as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve.

Lieutenant Councill married Miss Lillie Louise Slay at Wahiawa Heights, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 18 April 1936. They would have one daughter, Frances, born in 1943.

On 1 October 1938, Councill’s reserve commission was converted to second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army. Councill was promoted to first lieutenant, 1 October 1941.

During this time William Councill held a parallel commission in the Army of the United States. He was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 9 September 1940, and captain, A.U.S., 1 February 1942. On 1 March 1942, he was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (A.C.), and to lieutenant colonel, 19 December 1942. On 3 July 1945, Councill advanced to the rank of colonel, A.U.S.

Colonel Councill was rated as a command pilot. During World War II, he flew 130 combat missions with the 13th Air Force in the southwest Pacific area. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters.

At 10:54 a.m., 5 April 1954, Colonel Councill took off from Farmingdale, New York, in a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star, enroute to Langley Field, Virginia. He never arrived. An extensive search was unsuccessful. It was presumed that Councill went down in the Atlantic Ocean.

According to his commanding officer, Major General Earl W. Barnes,

“. . . He was a most capable, dependable and responsible officer who was concientiously devoted to his tasks. His opinions on military matters were highly regarded by his superior officers. His pleasant personality, genial manner, and dry wit endeared him to the hearts of the many friends he had won during approximately twenty-one years of service in the United States Air Force. He was greatly beloved by those with whom he associated. . . I feel that our Country and the Air Force have lost an irreplaceable asset and a great leader.”

Wing Family Annals, Wing Family of America, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa. Vol. 54, No. 1, at Pages 7 and 8

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson’s “Skunk Works” also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company)

The Lockheed P-80-1-LO was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. 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 was 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 10.5 inches (11.849 meters) and an overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). It weighed 7,920 pounds empty (3,592.5 kilograms) and had a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 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 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).

Colonel Council's record-setting P-80A-1-LO in squadron markings. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Councill’s record-setting P-80A-1-LO 44-85123, in squadron markings at the National Air Races, Cleveland, Ohio, September 1946. (Unattributed)

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).

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 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber (12.7×99 NATO) machine guns mounted in the nose.

Lieutenant Howard A. Johnson, USAAF, with Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123. (FAI)

On 3 June 1946, Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star 44-85123, flown by Lieutenant Henry A. Johnson, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 1,000 Kilometers with an average speed of 745.08 kilometers per hour (462.97 miles per hour).²

On 2 September 1946, Major Gustav Lindquist won the Thompson Trophy Race, J Division, at the National Air Races, Cleveland, Ohio, 1946, with the same airplane, averaging 515.853 miles per hour (830.185 kilometers per hour) over a 180-kilometer (111.85-mile) course.

Today, 44-85123 is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base. It is currently undergoing restoration.

Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. ("Tony") LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed test pilots Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier and David L. Ferguson stand in front of P-80A Shooting Star 44-85123 and an F-117A Nighthawk at the Lockheed Skunk Works, Palmdale, California, 17 June 1993. (Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin)

¹ Thanks to Jeffrey P. Rhodes of Lockheed Martin for additional information on Colonel Councill’s Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star.

² FAI Record File Number 10973

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

9 January 1943

Lockheed XC-69 NX25600 landing at Burbank Airport. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) landing on Runway 26 at Lockheed Air Terminal, now known as the Hollywood-Burbank Airport (BUR). (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed L-049 Constellation NX25600 in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Edmund Turney Allen
Edmund Turney Allen (SDASM)

9 January 1943: At the insistence of the Army Air Forces, Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot, Eddie Allen, made the first flight of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation prototype, NX25600, from Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, California, to Muroc Army Airfield (today known as Edwards Air Force Base). Lockheed’s Chief Test Pilot, Milo G. Burcham, was the co-pilot.

When the flight ended after 58 minutes, Allen said, “This machine works so well that you don’t need me anymore!” With that, Allen returned to Seattle.

The Lockheed Model 49-46-10, company serial number 049-1961, was designated XC-69 by the U.S. Army Air Forces and assigned serial number 43-10309.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four: two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 3 inches (29.032 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.490 meters) and an overall height of 23 feet, 8 inches (7.214 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 42-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) in flight. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The prototype was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 745C18BA3 (also referred to as the Duplex Cyclone), a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff, (five minute limit) burning 100/130 aviation gasoline, and drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289 kilograms). 41 of these engines were built by Wright.

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

Prototype Lockheed Constellation at Muroc Dry Lake, 1942. (Unattributed)
Prototype Lockheed L-049 Constellation NX25600 at Muroc Dry Lake on the high desert of southern California, 9 January 1943. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at the Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California. The airplane is shown with a natural metal finish, without national insignia or civil registration number. The military radio call number, “310309,” appears on the outboard vertical fin. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson (left) with Chief Engineer Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69 . (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Chief Research Engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson (left) and Chief Engineering Test Pilot Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Lockheed publicity photograph by W.J. Gray.
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation publicity photograph by W.J. Gray. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
In this photograph of the Lockheed XC-69 prototype, the civil experimental registration numbers, NX25600 are visible under the left wing. (Unattributed)
In this photograph of the Lockheed XC-69 prototype at Lockheed Air Terminal, the civil experimental registration numbers, NX25600, are visible under the left wing. Looking northeast, the Verdugo Mountains of Southern California are in the background. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
This is a rare color photograph of the prototype Lockheed XC-69 Constellation, 43-10309, (L-049 NX-25600) with a Lockheed UC-101, 42-94148 (ex-Vega 5C NC14236) at Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank California. This picture represents 15 years of technological advancement. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The prototype XC-69 was later re-engined with Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SC14-G (R-2800-83) engines and designated XC-69E. These had a Normal rating of 1,700 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., to 7,300 feet (2,225 meters), 1,500 horsepower at 17,500 feet (5,334 meters), and 2,100 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for Takeoff.

After the war, the Constellation prototype was sold to Howard Hughes’ Hughes Aircraft Company for $20,000 and registered as NX67900. In May 1950, Lockheed bought the prototype back from Hughes for $100,000 and it was again registered as NC25600. It had accumulated just 404 flight hours up to this time.

Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 42-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at Lockheed Air terminal, with engines running. Looking northwest across the San Fernando Valley. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed XC-69 Constellation 43-10309 (L-049 NX25600) at Lockheed Air terminal, with engines running. Looking west northwest across the San Fernando Valley. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Lockheed then converted 049-1961 to a prototype for the L-1049 Super Constellation with another registration, NX6700. In 1952, it was once again converted, this time as an aerodynamic test aircraft for the U.S. Navy PO-1W radar early warning aircraft (later redesignated WV-1 and EC-121 Warning Star). It was also used to test the Allison YT56 turboprop engine by placing it in the #4 position.

Finally, in 1958, the first Constellation was purchased as a source of spare parts by California Airmotive Corporation and was dismantled.

Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation prototype, NX6700, ex-L-049 NX25600. (Lockheed Martin)
The prototype Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation NX6700, formerly L-049 NX25600 (XC-69 43-10309), flying above an inversion layer. The San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California are in the background. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

Lockheed built two XC-69 prototypes. Twenty-two C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were produced. The Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

A production Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation, 43-10315. (U.S. Air Force)
A production Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation, 43-10315. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

8 January 1944

Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
The Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)
Milo Burcham
Milo Garrett Burcham

8 January 1944: At Muroc Army Air Field (later to become Edwards Air Force Base), Lockheed’s chief engineering test pilot, Milo Garrett Burcham, took the prototype Model L-140, the Army Air Forces XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, for its first flight.

Tex Johnston, who would later become Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, was at Muroc testing the Bell Aircraft Corporation XP-59 Airacomet. He wrote about the XP-80’s first flight in his autobiography:

Early on the morning of the scheduled first flight of the XP-80, busload after busload of political dignitaries and almost every general in the Army Air Force arrived at the northwest end of the lake a short distance from our hangar. Scheduled takeoff time had passed. I was afraid Milo was having difficulties. Then I heard the H.1B fire up, and he taxied by on the lake bed in front of our ramp. What a beautiful bird—another product of Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s famed chief design engineer—tricycle gear, very thin wings, and a clear-view bubble canopy. Milo gave me the okay sign.

This was the initial flight of America’s second jet fighter, and what a flight it was. Milo taxied along in front of generals and politicians, turned south and applied full power. I could see the spectators’ fingers going in their ears. The smoke and sand were flying as the engine reached full power, and the XP-80 roared down the lake. Milo pulled her off, retracted gear and flaps, and held her on the deck. Accelerating, he pulled up in a climbing right turn, rolled into a left turn to a north heading, and from an altitude I estimated to be 4,000 feet [1,219 meters] entered a full-bore dive headed for the buses. He started the pull-up in front of our hangar and was in a 60-degree climb when he passed over the buses doing consecutive aileron rolls at 360 degrees per second up to 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]. He then rolled over and came screaming back. He shot the place up north and south, east and west, landed and coasted up in front of the spectators, engine off and winding down. I have never seen a crowd so excited since my barnstorming days. I returned to the office and dictated a wire to [Robert M.] Stanley [Chief Test Pilot, Bell Aircraft Corporation] “WITNESSED LOCKHEED XP-80 INITIAL FLIGHT STOP VERY IMPRESSIVE STOP BACK TO DRAWING BOARD STOP SIGNED, TEX” I knew he would understand.

Tex Johnston: Jet-Age Test Pilot, by A.M. “Tex” Johnston with Charles Barton, Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 1 June 1992, Chapter 5 at Pages 127–128.

A few minor problems caused Burcham to end the flight after approximately five minutes but these were quickly resolved and flight testing continued.

The XP-80 was the first American airplane to exceed 500 miles per hour (805 kilometers per hour) in level flight.

Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson's "Skunk Works" also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. Johnson’s “Skunk Works” also designed the F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and SR-71A Blackbird. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The Lockheed XP-80 was designed by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and a small team of engineers that would become known as the “Skunk Works,” in response to a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal to build a single-engine fighter around the de Havilland-built Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. This engine used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It had a straight-through configuration rather than the reverse-flow of the Whittle turbojet from which it was derived. It produced 2,460 pounds of thrust (10.94 kilonewtons) at 9,500 r.p.m., and 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) at 10,500 r.p.m.

Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed)
Milo Burcham, on the left, shakes hands with Clarence L. Johnson following the first flight of the Lockheed XP-80, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 was a single-seat, single-engine airplane with straight wings and retractable tricycle landing gear. Intakes for engine air were placed low on the fuselage, just forward of the wings. The engine exhaust was ducted straight out through the tail. For the first prototype, the cockpit was not pressurized but would be on production airplanes.

As was customary for World War II U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft, the prototype was camouflaged in non-reflective Dark Green with Light Gull Gray undersides. The blue and white “star and bar” national insignia was painted on the aft fuselage, and Lockheed’s winged-star corporate logo was on the nose and vertical fin. Later, the airplane’s radio call, 483020 was stenciled on the fin in yellow paint. The number 20 was painted on either side of the nose in large block letters. Eventually the tip of the nose was painted white and a large number 78 was painted just ahead of the intakes in yellow block numerals. Early in the test program, rounded tips were installed on the wings and tail surfaces. This is how the XP-80 appears today.

Lockheed XP-80 parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed)
The highly-polished Dark Green and Light Gull Gray Lockheed XP-80 prototype parked at Muroc Dry Lake, 1944 (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.)

The XP-80 is 32 feet, 911/16 inches (9.9997 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, ⅞-inch (11.2998 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 21/16 inches (3.1004 meters). It had a Basic Weight for Flight Test of 6,418.5 pounds (2,911.4 kilograms) and Gross Weight (as actually weighed prior to test flight) of 8,859.5 pounds (4,018.6 kilograms).

The XP-80 has a maximum speed of 502 miles per hour (808 kilometers per hour) at 20,480 feet (6,242 meters) and a rate of climb of 3,000 feet per minute (15.24 meters per second). The service ceiling is 41,000 feet (12,497 meters).

Unusual for a prototype, the XP-80 was armed. Six air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns were placed in the nose. The maximum ammunition capacity for the prototype was 200 rounds per gun.

The Halford engine was unreliable and Lockheed recommended redesigning the the fighter around the larger, more powerful General Electric I-40 (produced by GE and Allison as the J33 turbojet). The proposal was accepted and following prototypes were built as the XP-80A.

Lockheed built 1,715 P-80s for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. They entered combat during the Korean War in 1950. A two-seat trainer version was even more numerous: the famous T-33A Shooting Star.

Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star 44-83020 was used as a test aircraft and jet trainer for several years. In 1949, it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. 44-83020 is on display at the Jet Aviation exhibit of the National Air and Space Museum. It was restored beginning in 1976, and over the next two years nearly 5,000 man-hours of work were needed to complete the restoration.

The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, 44-83020, at teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, s/n 140-1001, 44-83020, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

14 October 1962

This is one of the reconnaissance photographs taken by Major Richard S. Heyser  from his Lockheed U-2, flying at 72,500 feet over Cuba, 14 October 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

14 October 1962: Major Richard Stephen (“Steve”) Heyser, a pilot with the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, United States Air Force, boarded Item 342, his Top Secret reconnaissance airplane, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Over the next seven hours he flew from Edwards to McCoy AFB, near Orlando, Florida, landing there at 0920 EST.

Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Richard S. Heyser, U.S. Air Force, with a Lockheed U-2. Major Heyser is wearing a MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)

But first, Steve Heyser and Item 342 flew over the island of Cuba at an altitude of 72,500 feet (22,098 meters). Over the island for just seven minutes, Heyser used the airplane’s cameras to take some of the most important photographs of the Twentieth Century.

Item 342 was a Lockheed U-2F. Designed by Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson at the “Skunk Works,” it was a very high altitude, single-seat, single-engine airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency. Item 342 carried a U.S. Air Force number on its tail, 66675. This represented its serial number, 56-6675.

It had been built at Burbank, then its sub-assemblies were flown aboard a C-124 Globemaster transport to a secret facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, called “The Ranch,” where it was assembled and flown.

Originally a U-2A, Item 342 was modified to a U-2C, and then to a U-2F, capable of inflight refueling.

Major Heyser had been at Edwards AFB to complete training on the latest configuration when he was assigned to this mission.

A Lockheed U-2A, 56-6708, “Item 375”. (U.S. Air Force)

Major Heyser’s photographs showed Russian SS-4 Sandal intermediate range nuclear-armed missiles being placed in Cuba, with SA-2 Guideline radar-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile sites surrounding the nuclear missile sites.

President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba and demanded that Russia remove the missiles. Premier Nikita Khrushchev refused. The entire U.S. military was brought to readiness for immediate war. This was The Cuban Missile Crisis. World War III was imminent.

(Left to Right) Major Richard S. Heyser, General Curtis E. LeMay and President John F. Kennedy, at the White House, October 1962. (Associated Press)

Richard S. Heyser died 6 October 2008.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather