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The birth of turbojets in United States

Written by Sakhal

In the afternoon of the 1st October 1942 it flew for the first time an American turbojet aircraft, the Bell XP-59A. The event took place in a remote desertic zone, part of the Muroc shooting range of the US Air Force, located in the basin of a dried lake about 160 kilometers north of Los Angeles, where it was located as well Edwards airbase. Robert M. Stanley, prime test pilot of the Bell company, ignited the two turbojets General Electric I-A, whose design was strongly influenced by the British W 2B engine. Few minutes later, the XP-59A overflew the ancient lakebed raising into the Californian sky. Such fast result could not have been obtained without the help of Great Britain. It was Major General Henry H. Arnold, then chief of the army aviation, who being in England in the spring 1941 was able to look at the Whittle engine and its receptor aircraft, the E 28/39, obtaining a great impression of them. After another visit and dialogue, it was agreed that the Americans would copy the Whittle engine and project a twin-engine aircraft on which test it. The preparation of the aircraft was ordered to the Bell company, to which were granted eight months after the signing of the contract to complete the aircraft, while the construction of the engine was ordered to the General Electric. The Bell respected the deadline, but not so the General Electric due to diverse reasons. The engine was not ready until August 1942 and its prestations were not at the expected level, because the data given by the British was considered in a very optimistic way. Neither the prototype engine nor those later serially built reached ever the expected thrust. Hence, the P-59 Airacomet - series version of the XP-59 - would not be sent to the front, but only assigned to a squadron that instructed pilots and mechanics about the new turbojet engine.

The birth of turbojets in United States

Bell XP-59A Airacomet, the experimental aircraft that flew in October 1942, propelled by two General Electric I-A engines, with a thrust of 566 kilograms each. Wingspan: 14.93 meters; length: 11.82 meters; weight: 4734 kilograms; speed: 808 kilometers/hour at an altitude of 10710 meters; armament: one 37-millimeter cannon and three 12.7-millimeter machine guns.

The fact that the P-59 was rather a failure was soon understood by the designers, who hold their own views on how to improve the formula; but it was Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, from the Lockheed corporation, who brought the practical solution. This corporation had already formulated the proposal of building a turbojet aircraft, which had been refused by the authorities, but this had not discouraged them to continue with the project. During one of the visits that Johnson used to do to the Wright airfield, where the technical direction of the American aviation worked then, it was suggested to him the possibility of studying a fighter aircraft in which would be installed a British turbojet engine. In some days the first outlines were ready, and Johnson received the approval to continue the project in June 1943. The works for the completion of the first prototype were carried in a special shed in the Lockheed airfield at Burbank, California. The contract granted to the company 180 days for projecting, building and testing in flight the new aircraft, designed as XP-80. The timeframe was widely respected since the aircraft was ready after 143 days, but the flight test had to be delayed due to the unavailability of the engine, and only in the 9th January 1944 the chief test pilot of the Lockheed, Milo Burcham, could pilot the XP-80 in its first flight, which took part again in the Muroc shooting range. After several tests, it was decided that the serially produced P-80 should have installed the new turbojet engine I-40, based in British design and built by General Electric. In a new demonstration of strenght by the Lockheed, the new prototype XP-80A was ready after 139 days, receiving the baptism of air the 11th June 1944. Before the end of the war a small number of exemplars (perhaps 45) were assigned to the US Air Force. Some were tested also in "operative" conditions in British and Italian airfields, but always avoiding to send them to combat.

The birth of turbojets in United States

P-80 Shooting Star, first turbojet aircraft operative in the US Air Force, inspired in a Whittle project, with an engine Halford H-1 of 1114 kilograms of thrust; it arrived too late to be used in combat during the Second World War. Wingspan: 11.25 meters; length: 10 meters; weight: 4038 kilograms; speed: 808 kilometers/hour at an altitude of 6242 meters; armament: six 12.7 millimeters machine guns.

P-80 Shooting Star

This was the first turbojet aircraft operative with the USAAF, being delivered the first test models in October 1944, two of which arrived to Italy shortly before the end of the war in Europe. This aircraft was very employed after the end of the conflict; the training variant with the designation T-33A remained in production until 1959. Total production (not including T-33 variant) reached 1731 units, of which 1715 correspond to exemplars built after the war. The versions of the Shooting Star developed during the war were:

XP-80: Prototype fitted with an engine de Havilland H-1B of 1120 kilograms of thrust and five 12.7-millimeter machine guns in the nose. One unit built.

XP-80A: Modification of the XP-80, fitted with an engine General Electric I-40 of 1750 kilograms of thrust. Larger dimensions in general. Two units built.

YP-80A: Test version, with increased weight and a sixth machine gun in the nose. 13 units built.

The main versions developed after the war were:

P-80A (later F-80A): First series version, propelled by an engine General Electric J33-GE-11 with 1750 kilograms of thrust.

P-80B (later F-80B): Second series version, fitted with diverse improvements, including ejection seat.

P-80C (later F-80C): Third and last series version, initially fitted with engines J33-A-23 of 2090 kilograms of thrust; later lots were fitted with engines J33-A-35 of 2450 kilograms of thrust; fitted with 985 liters fuel tanks in the wing tips and capability for rocket pods under the wings.

XFP-80A: Modified P-80A (serial number 44-85201) with hinged nose for camera equipment.

FP-80A: Operational photographic reconnaissance aircraft.

RF-80C: Modification of 70 exemplars of F-80A and F-80C; upgraded photographic reconnaissance aircraft.

T-33A: Two-seat trainer variant with longer fuselage.

The birth of turbojets in United States

Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star 485467/FT-467 from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron of the US Air Force.

Specifications for YP-80A

Type: Interceptor fighter

Propulsion plant: One General Electric J-33-GE-9/11 with 1750 kilograms of thrust

Maximum speed at sea level: 900 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 660 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 870 kilometers

Time for reaching 1500 meters of altitude: 1 minute 12 seconds

Operational altitude: 13700 meters

Weight (empty): 3590 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 6577 kilograms

Wingspan: 11.89 meters

Length: 10.51 meters

Height: 3.45 meters

Wing area: 22.11 square meters

Armament: Six Browning 12.7-millimeter machine guns in the nose

Specifications for F-80C

Type: Long-range interceptor fighter

Propulsion plant: One Allison J33-A-35 with 2450 kilograms of thrust

Maximum speed at sea level: 966 kilometers/hour

Cruising speed: 660 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 1930 kilometers

Time for reaching 6100 meters of altitude: 5 minutes 30 seconds

Operational altitude: 14000 meters

Weight (empty): 3819 kilograms

Weight (maximum): 7646 kilograms

Wingspan: 11.81 meters

Length: 10.49 meters

Height: 3.43 meters

Wing area: 22.07 square meters

Defensive armament: Six M3 Browning 12.7-millimeter machine guns in the nose

Drop/launching armament: Two 454 kilograms bombs and eight 127-millimeter rockets

Categories: Aviation - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-11-07

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