Kit No. 5428
Decals: One version – United States Air Force
Comments: Raised panel lines; first released 1977; detailed cockpit with option for open or closed canopy; detailed gun bay and wheel wells; rear fuselage detaches to reveal jet engine; includes 500 lb. bombs beneath wing pylons, and wing tip tanks
The Lockheed P-80 (later F-80 once all pursuit types were redesignated with the formation of the Air Force in 1947) was the United States’ first operational jet fighter. Development of the “Shooting Star” began in mid-August 1943, an effort that grew progressively more intense once the German Luftwaffe’s Me 262 jet fighter began to appear in the skies over Europe. After five months of near round-the-clock effort by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and the Lockheed design team, the prototype XP-80 flew under tight security on January 8, 1944 at Muroc Dry Lake, California. Test pilot Tony LeVier took the jet to a speed of 500 mph in level flight, and reported that its handling qualities were “outstanding.” The prototype was powered by the de Havilland H.1 Goblin turbojet, which was the intended powerplant for the new fighter, but when it became clear that Allis-Chalmers, the company chosen to build the Goblin under license, was having difficulty getting it into large scale production, the P-80 had to be redesigned to accept the General Electric J33.
On June 10, 1944 the first XP-80A, somewhat larger than the XP-80 and nicknamed Grey Ghost due to its overall gloss grey paint scheme, made its first flight, powered by the J33 turbojet. The redesigned jet was heavier than the first prototype, and being unstable at speed, did not handle nearly as well. On this second flight, the cockpit overheated due to a faulty pressurization valve bringing the cabin temperature up to 185 degrees. Test pilot LeVier got the jet up to 565 mph, but reported vibration, later traced to a supersonic enclosure or “bubble” forming on the wing, caused by the aircraft reaching the critical speed of Mach 0.8. Lockheed began compiling a list of necessary modifications. Meanwhile the Messerschmitt Me 262 had begun to appear in larger numbers against Allied bomber formations in Europe, and the pressure to get the American jet into operational service intensified yet again. In response, in late 1944 the Army Air Force began “Operation Extraversion,” shipping four YP-80A’s to Europe with ground crews, spares, and equipment: two to England, and two to Italy. They were not cleared for combat, but were to perform a series of demonstration flights to raise morale in the wake of the Me 262’s debut, and to signal Allied airmen that the U.S. had its own jet fighter that would soon be in service.
But the P-80 still had many teething problems, and would not become operational until the war was over. One of the Extraversion YP-80A’s broke up during a demonstration flight over England, killing its pilot. Back in the U.S., on March 20, 1945 Tony LeVier had a close shave in the Grey Ghost when the turbine wheel in its engine broke up at high speed, damaging the fuselage so badly that the tail section broke off at 10,000 feet. LeVier managed to bail out but suffered back injuries. Accidents would continue into the Fall of 1945, before the P-80 was truly an effective fighter. Like many aircraft that combatants try to rush into service during wartime, the P-80 initially had several bugs that only time and costly experience could identify and resolve. The most notable fatality was Major Richard Bong, the leading American ace of World War II, who was killed in a P-80A on August 6, 1945 when his engine flamed out immediately after take-off. Although his death was overshadowed by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, all P-80A’s were subsequently grounded for a detailed review of the jet’s safety record. Investigation revealed that the flame-out in Maj. Bong’s plane was caused by the failure of the main fuel pump — a glitch that had killed at least one other pilot.
The grounding order was lifted by the end of September 1945, and with the war over, development proceeded slowly and with more care. Accidents dropped off rapidly in the coming months as modifications continued. The Air Force ordered a series of flights to establish in the public’s mind the jet fighter’s superb performance and the emerging potential of jet aircraft. The first of these was a coast-to-coast flight in May 1946 by a squadron of P-80’s, dubbed Project Comet. Less well publicized was a classified study by the War Department, comparing the P-80 to a captured German Me 262 in head-on air combat manuevers, indicating the Me 262, although it could be unforgiving of pilot error, was the better fighter. In 1946 a new Shooting Star variant appeared, the P-80B, which had a thinner wing, an ejection seat (the first in a U.S. production fighter) and a more powerful J33 engine. By 1948 the definitive day fighter version, the P-80C, appeared, soon to be renamed F-80C.
The F-80’s first true test came with the Korean War in June 1950. It would see combat in large numbers in Korea, equipping no fewer than ten Air Force squadrons in the theatre. As the first jet fighters on the scene, F-80’s achieved air superiority in the opening weeks of the war, sweeping the sky of North Korean propeller-driven aircraft acquired from the Soviet Union. The Shooting Star also scored the first recorded jet-on-jet victory when an F-80C flown by Lt. Russell Brown shot down a MiG-15 on November 8, 1950. F-80’s in Korea were often employed as fighter-bombers in the ground support or interdiction roles, making short work of any piston-engined aircraft they encountered, such as the Yak-9 and Il-10. But the F-80 was outclassed by the swept-wing MiG, partly due to its gunsight, which was not very useful for air-to-air combat at speeds in excess of 500 mph. Not until the appearance of the North American F-86 was air superiority re-established, and the F-80 relegated to ground support duties.
A photo-reconnaissance version, the RF-80 was developed, but the F-80’s front-line service with the USAF ended shortly after the Korean War. The Air National Guard continued to fly F-80’s until 1961. The T-33 (initially TF-80C), a tandem two-seater trainer version, first flew in March 1948 and was built in large numbers for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy (as the T2V SeaStar), and many foreign nations under the Military Assistance Program. The trainer version outlasted the fighter which spawned it by decades. U.S. production ended in 1959, but it went on to be license-built in Japan by Kawasaki and in Canada by Canadair. All told, some 1,731 examples of all variants were built.
Length: 34 ft. 5 in. (10.49m)
Height: 11 ft. 3 in. ((3.42m)
Wingspan: 38 ft. 9 in. (11.81m)
Powerplant: General Electric J33 or Allison J33-A-23/35 turbojet rated at 4,600 lb. st dry, and 5,200 lb st with water injection
Weight: 8,420 lbs. empty (3819 kg); 12,200 lbs. gross (5,534 kg)
Maximum take-off weight: 16,856 lb. (7,,646 kg)
Fuel capacity: 425 gal (1609 liters) normal; 755 gal (2858 liters) maximum, including drop tanks
Maximum speed: 956 km/hr or 584 mph at sea level; 874 km/h or 543 at 25,000 ft.
Cruising speed: 439 mph (707 km/h)
Landing speed: 122 mph (196 km/h)
Climb to altitude: 25,000 feet (7,620m) in 7 minutes
Rate of climb: 6,870 feet (2,094m) per minute
Service ceiling: 46,800 ft (14,265m)
Range: 825 miles (1,328 km)
Maximum range with drop tanks: 1,380 miles (2221 km)
Armament: Six Browning .50 caliber machine guns with 300 rpg; ten High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR) or two 1,000 lb. (454 kg) bombs
This kit is a 1983 re-issue of the 1977 kit, with (at the time) new markings. Monogram’s F-80 is molded in sliver-grey and consists of 60 injection molded parts (66 if you include the dolly for the rear fuselage). The cockpit features ample raised detail on the instrument panel and in the tub, and there is a separate seat and control stick, and a two-part canopy with a separate frame for the rear sliding portion. The gunsight is molded onto the instrument panel hood which forms part of the fuselage. A detailed pilot figure is provided, with a separate right arm.
The most interesting feature of this kit is that the fuselage consists of four parts rather than two, with the two halves of the rear fuselage (once assembled) being detachable to reveal the General Electric J33 turbojet engine. This engine consists of only three parts but is reasonably detailed. For those who insist upon perfection, be warned about the detachable rear fuselage: the tail section may or may not sit flush against the forward section of the fuselage once the kit is complete, and at a minimum some sanding to thin the interior thickness of the rear fuselage may be required to ensure a good fit around the engine. Be aware that the sanding will obscure some of the internal ribbing molded onto the interior of the rear fuselage.
The kit also features a detailed gun bay, and the modeler has a choice as to whether to display the gun bay door open to reveal half of the F-80’s six .50 caliber machine gun armament. A single part is provided for the gun bay interior detail, consisting of a single machine gun and three separate ammunition chutes. Separately molded wing slats and dive brakes are provided, with good interior detail for both. There is a choice of two types of wing tip fuel tanks, and underwing ordnance is provided in the form of two 1,000 lb. bombs with separate pylons. Landing gear are detailed, with circumferential tread on the tires. The F-80 will be a tail sitter unless a nose weight is employed, for the combined weight of the tail pipe for the engine and the tail section are too much for proper balance. To address the problem, Monogram provided a support strut (part number 10) that is to be cemented to the underside of the fuselage, but for some this will compromise the model’s realism and cosmetic appeal.
Markings are provided for the U.S.A.F. 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. They are of good quality, being both thin and glossy, with realistic color and no color bleed. Stencils are also included.
This is a great kit of one of Monogram’s later offerings in the final decade before its merger with Revell. It remains the best (and perhaps the only) kit of the Lockheed F-80 in 1/48 scale, being both generally accurate in form and relatively easy to assemble. It still quite desirable and aesthetically appealing, even with its raised panel lines. Highly recommended.
- Combat Aircraft Since 1945 by Stewart Wilson; Copyright 2000, Aerospace Publications; Fyshwick, Australia.
- World War II Fighting Jets by Jeffrey Ethell and Alfred Price; Copyright 1994, Airlife Publishing Limited; Shrewsbury, England.
- Jet Fighters Inside Out by Jim Winchester; Copyright 2010, Amber Books, Limited; London, England.