Lockheed XP-80 "Lulu Belle"

Germany and Great Britain went to war in 1939 with jet aircraft programs well underway, but the United States took longer to appreciate and develop the new technology. By 1943, mounting combat losses of American strategic bombers to German propeller-driven interceptors, and the knowledge that Germany was preparing to field the potent Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter (see NASM collection), encouraged the United States Army Air Forces (AAF) to push for a new combat jet. AAF leaders asked the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to develop the aircraft.

Lockheed's most capable engineer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, and a team of designers began work on a prototype, designated the XP-80 but nicknamed "Lulu-Belle," on June 21, 1943. To keep the work secret, Johnson walled off the production area with discarded engine crates and a circus tent. Someone nicknamed this site the "Skunk Works" after the still that made moonshine, hidden deep in the cartoon backwoods of Al Capp's "Lil' Abner." "Lulu-Belle" flew on January 8, 1944, and later starred in a series of exercises conducted to develop tactics that American heavy bomber crews could use against attacks by jet fighters. The trials showed that enemy jet fighter pilots would much prefer rear aspect attacks. Based on these findings, AAF planners moved the formations of American fighters protecting the bombers to higher altitudes. These tactics proved effective in fending off Me 262 attacks during the last months of the war and undoubtedly saved the lives of many American bomber crewmen. In 1949, the AAF transferred the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Physical Description:
Goblin engine fit in middle of XP-80 fuselage, narrow intakes on both sides of fuselage, several feet aft of the nose. Six mounted .50 caliber machine guns installed in the nose, pressurized cockpit.

Country of Origin
United States of America

Manufacturer
Lockheed Aircraft Company

Date
1943

Location
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC
Exhibition
Jet Aviation

Type
CRAFT-Aircraft

Dimensions
Overall: 10ft 2 1/16in., 6287.5lb., 32ft 9 11/16in. x 37ft 7/8in. (310cm, 2852kg, 1000 x 1130cm)

Germany and Great Britain went to war in 1939 with jet aircraft programs well underway, but the United States took longer to appreciate and develop the new technology. The United States Army Air Forces (AAF) issued its first contract for the construction of a jet aircraft, the Bell XP-59 (see NASM collection), in September 1941, two years after Germany had flown its first jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 178. The XP-59 showed little improvement over contemporary, piston engine-powered U. S. fighter aircraft and it served only as a jet engine test bed and pilot trainer. By 1943, mounting combat losses of American strategic bombers to German propeller-driven interceptors and the knowledge that Germany was preparing to field the potent Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter (see NASM collection) encouraged the AAF to push for a new, more capable combat jet. This time, AAF leaders asked the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to develop the new aircraft.

Lockheed management gave this important assignment to the company's most capable engineer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. Johnson had built his reputation on two highly successful designs, the Lockheed twin-engine Electra and the four-engine Constellation (see NASM collection for examples of both airplanes). Johnson and a team of designers began work on a prototype, designated the XP-80, on June 21, 1943. To keep the work secret, Johnson walled off the production area with discarded engine crates and a circus tent. Someone nicknamed this site the "Skunk Works" after the still that made moonshine, hidden deep in the cartoon backwoods of Al Capp's "Lil' Abner." After Johnson gave management his word, Lockheed promised the AAF that the company could finish the prototype in 180 days. The aircraft was ready to fly in 143 days.

Unfortunately, both inlet ducts collapsed while running the engine on the ground during a final preflight check. A detailed inspection revealed structural cracks in the engine compressor vane. The project stopped dead for a month while Lockheed scrambled to replace the British-built Halford H-1B Goblin engine. On January 8, 1944, at the Muroc Flight Test Base, the Lockheed chief test pilot, Milo Burcham, took "Lulu-Belle" into the sky for the first time. During this flight, Burcham reached an impressive speed of 880 kph (547 mph) while flying straight and level. Another Al Capp character supplied the nickname "Lulu-Belle."

Johnson and his team designed the Goblin engine to fit in the middle of the XP-80 fuselage. The engine required large amounts of unimpeded airflow and Johnson devised an ingenious approach to duct air to the motor. He installed narrow intakes on both sides of the fuselage, several feet aft of the nose. The designer used the nose space to mount six .50 caliber machine guns. The only other successful American fighter aircraft of World War II with a similar heavy gun battery installed in the nose was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning (see NASM collection). Unusual for an experimental prototype, "Lulu-Belle" flew from the outset with all six guns installed, and several early flights involved gunnery trials.

Using an engine manufactured overseas to power a domestic fighter prototype was not an ideal situation, but the urgent need to get the new jet to the war front forced Lockheed and the AAF to use what was available. When it came time to put the XP-80 into production, the General Electric Company was ready to supply, in quantity, a brand new turbojet engine. Development on the new GE I-40 had begun in March 1943 and the company ran tests on the first I-40 engine on January 9, 1944. This power plant was more powerful than the Goblin but also larger in size. The Lockheed jet fighter would require considerable redesign to accommodate the I-40. The AAF issued a contract for two new XP-80A prototypes with a bigger fuselage to house the engine, and a pressurized cockpit.

By February 1944, growing anxiety over the impending deployment of Messerschmitt Me 262 twin-engine jet fighters (see NASM collection) prompted General H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the AAF, to order 500 production versions of the P-80A "Shooting Star." Arnold announced this order before Lockheed had even started to build the two XP-80As. Meanwhile, "Lulu-Belle" continued to fly and yield vital information. These tests uncovered 137 items that required modification before Lockheed could begin to mass-produce the P-80A.

The XP-80 flew much better than the more primitive Bell XP-59. "Lulu-Belle" was not only the fastest aircraft in America at that time, but it could also climb very fast to high altitude. The XP-80 roll rate was very rapid too. By July 1944, just as Allied pilots began to encounter the first Me 262s over Europe, "Lulu-Belle" starred in a series of exercises conducted to develop tactics that American heavy bomber crews could use against attacks by jet fighters. The trials showed that enemy jet fighter pilots would much prefer rear aspect attacks. In attacking from the front, jet and bomber merged very rapidly and the enemy jet pilot had almost no time to shoot accurately. Based on these findings, AAF planners moved the formations of American fighters protecting the bombers to higher altitudes. This gave the fighter crews space to dive and gain speed on the German jets when they attacked from the bombers from behind. These tactics proved effective in fending off Me 262 attacks during the last months of the war and undoubtedly saved the lives of many American bomber crewmen.

By August 1944, Lockheed had completed both XP-80As and begun flight-tests. AAF pilots could fly these jets faster and higher than they could fly "Lulu-Belle" and this important airframe soon became obsolete. In November 1944, the 412th Fighter Group took possession of the XP-80 and used the airplane to continue exploring jet aircraft tactics. Maintenance problems frequently kept the aircraft grounded and "Lulu-Belle" finished its career in 1946 as a test-bed for various configurations of the Goblin engine. In 1949, the AAF transferred the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution.

The first service-test models of Lockheed's jet fighter flew on September 12, 1944. The AAF designated them YP-80As and sent two each to England and Italy as Me 262 pilots began to take their toll of Allied bomber crews. A fast and reliable foil to the deadly Messerschmitt was sorely needed. However, not enough production P-80 fighters, or crews trained to fly them, were available to equip a front line squadron. An AAF order raising the production priority to the highest level, equaling priority for Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers (see NASM collection), could not speed quantity manufacturing. The rush to field the brand new fighter may have lead to several fatal accidents. Among those killed in P-80s were Lockheed test pilot Milo Burcham and America's top ace and Medal of Honor winner, Major Richard I. Bong. After World War II, the P-80 "Shooting Star" became a fine, reliable frontline fighter. A highlight of the type's service record occurred came on November 8, 1950, when Lt. Russ Brown, flying an F-80C of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, shot down a North Korean MiG-15 in the first all-jet air-to-air combat.

Germany and Great Britain went to war in 1939 with jet aircraft programs well underway, but the United States took longer to appreciate and develop the new technology. By 1943, mounting combat losses of American strategic bombers to German propeller-driven interceptors, and the knowledge that Germany was preparing to field the potent Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter (see NASM collection), encouraged the United States Army Air Forces (AAF) to push for a new combat jet. AAF leaders asked the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to develop the aircraft.

Lockheed's most capable engineer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, and a team of designers began work on a prototype, designated the XP-80 but nicknamed "Lulu-Belle," on June 21, 1943. To keep the work secret, Johnson walled off the production area with discarded engine crates and a circus tent. Someone nicknamed this site the "Skunk Works" after the still that made moonshine, hidden deep in the cartoon backwoods of Al Capp's "Lil' Abner." "Lulu-Belle" flew on January 8, 1944, and later starred in a series of exercises conducted to develop tactics that American heavy bomber crews could use against attacks by jet fighters. The trials showed that enemy jet fighter pilots would much prefer rear aspect attacks. Based on these findings, AAF planners moved the formations of American fighters protecting the bombers to higher altitudes. These tactics proved effective in fending off Me 262 attacks during the last months of the war and undoubtedly saved the lives of many American bomber crewmen. In 1949, the AAF transferred the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution.

Transferred from the United States Air Force.

Physical Description:
Goblin engine fit in middle of XP-80 fuselage, narrow intakes on both sides of fuselage, several feet aft of the nose. Six mounted .50 caliber machine guns installed in the nose, pressurized cockpit.

Country of Origin
United States of America

Manufacturer
Lockheed Aircraft Company

Date
1943

Location
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC
Exhibition
Jet Aviation

Type
CRAFT-Aircraft

Dimensions
Overall: 10ft 2 1/16in., 6287.5lb., 32ft 9 11/16in. x 37ft 7/8in. (310cm, 2852kg, 1000 x 1130cm)

Germany and Great Britain went to war in 1939 with jet aircraft programs well underway, but the United States took longer to appreciate and develop the new technology. The United States Army Air Forces (AAF) issued its first contract for the construction of a jet aircraft, the Bell XP-59 (see NASM collection), in September 1941, two years after Germany had flown its first jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 178. The XP-59 showed little improvement over contemporary, piston engine-powered U. S. fighter aircraft and it served only as a jet engine test bed and pilot trainer. By 1943, mounting combat losses of American strategic bombers to German propeller-driven interceptors and the knowledge that Germany was preparing to field the potent Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter (see NASM collection) encouraged the AAF to push for a new, more capable combat jet. This time, AAF leaders asked the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to develop the new aircraft.

Lockheed management gave this important assignment to the company's most capable engineer, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. Johnson had built his reputation on two highly successful designs, the Lockheed twin-engine Electra and the four-engine Constellation (see NASM collection for examples of both airplanes). Johnson and a team of designers began work on a prototype, designated the XP-80, on June 21, 1943. To keep the work secret, Johnson walled off the production area with discarded engine crates and a circus tent. Someone nicknamed this site the "Skunk Works" after the still that made moonshine, hidden deep in the cartoon backwoods of Al Capp's "Lil' Abner." After Johnson gave management his word, Lockheed promised the AAF that the company could finish the prototype in 180 days. The aircraft was ready to fly in 143 days.

Unfortunately, both inlet ducts collapsed while running the engine on the ground during a final preflight check. A detailed inspection revealed structural cracks in the engine compressor vane. The project stopped dead for a month while Lockheed scrambled to replace the British-built Halford H-1B Goblin engine. On January 8, 1944, at the Muroc Flight Test Base, the Lockheed chief test pilot, Milo Burcham, took "Lulu-Belle" into the sky for the first time. During this flight, Burcham reached an impressive speed of 880 kph (547 mph) while flying straight and level. Another Al Capp character supplied the nickname "Lulu-Belle."

Johnson and his team designed the Goblin engine to fit in the middle of the XP-80 fuselage. The engine required large amounts of unimpeded airflow and Johnson devised an ingenious approach to duct air to the motor. He installed narrow intakes on both sides of the fuselage, several feet aft of the nose. The designer used the nose space to mount six .50 caliber machine guns. The only other successful American fighter aircraft of World War II with a similar heavy gun battery installed in the nose was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning (see NASM collection). Unusual for an experimental prototype, "Lulu-Belle" flew from the outset with all six guns installed, and several early flights involved gunnery trials.

Using an engine manufactured overseas to power a domestic fighter prototype was not an ideal situation, but the urgent need to get the new jet to the war front forced Lockheed and the AAF to use what was available. When it came time to put the XP-80 into production, the General Electric Company was ready to supply, in quantity, a brand new turbojet engine. Development on the new GE I-40 had begun in March 1943 and the company ran tests on the first I-40 engine on January 9, 1944. This power plant was more powerful than the Goblin but also larger in size. The Lockheed jet fighter would require considerable redesign to accommodate the I-40. The AAF issued a contract for two new XP-80A prototypes with a bigger fuselage to house the engine, and a pressurized cockpit.

By February 1944, growing anxiety over the impending deployment of Messerschmitt Me 262 twin-engine jet fighters (see NASM collection) prompted General H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the AAF, to order 500 production versions of the P-80A "Shooting Star." Arnold announced this order before Lockheed had even started to build the two XP-80As. Meanwhile, "Lulu-Belle" continued to fly and yield vital information. These tests uncovered 137 items that required modification before Lockheed could begin to mass-produce the P-80A.

The XP-80 flew much better than the more primitive Bell XP-59. "Lulu-Belle" was not only the fastest aircraft in America at that time, but it could also climb very fast to high altitude. The XP-80 roll rate was very rapid too. By July 1944, just as Allied pilots began to encounter the first Me 262s over Europe, "Lulu-Belle" starred in a series of exercises conducted to develop tactics that American heavy bomber crews could use against attacks by jet fighters. The trials showed that enemy jet fighter pilots would much prefer rear aspect attacks. In attacking from the front, jet and bomber merged very rapidly and the enemy jet pilot had almost no time to shoot accurately. Based on these findings, AAF planners moved the formations of American fighters protecting the bombers to higher altitudes. This gave the fighter crews space to dive and gain speed on the German jets when they attacked from the bombers from behind. These tactics proved effective in fending off Me 262 attacks during the last months of the war and undoubtedly saved the lives of many American bomber crewmen.

By August 1944, Lockheed had completed both XP-80As and begun flight-tests. AAF pilots could fly these jets faster and higher than they could fly "Lulu-Belle" and this important airframe soon became obsolete. In November 1944, the 412th Fighter Group took possession of the XP-80 and used the airplane to continue exploring jet aircraft tactics. Maintenance problems frequently kept the aircraft grounded and "Lulu-Belle" finished its career in 1946 as a test-bed for various configurations of the Goblin engine. In 1949, the AAF transferred the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution.

The first service-test models of Lockheed's jet fighter flew on September 12, 1944. The AAF designated them YP-80As and sent two each to England and Italy as Me 262 pilots began to take their toll of Allied bomber crews. A fast and reliable foil to the deadly Messerschmitt was sorely needed. However, not enough production P-80 fighters, or crews trained to fly them, were available to equip a front line squadron. An AAF order raising the production priority to the highest level, equaling priority for Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers (see NASM collection), could not speed quantity manufacturing. The rush to field the brand new fighter may have lead to several fatal accidents. Among those killed in P-80s were Lockheed test pilot Milo Burcham and America's top ace and Medal of Honor winner, Major Richard I. Bong. After World War II, the P-80 "Shooting Star" became a fine, reliable frontline fighter. A highlight of the type's service record occurred came on November 8, 1950, when Lt. Russ Brown, flying an F-80C of the 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, shot down a North Korean MiG-15 in the first all-jet air-to-air combat.

ID: A19600296000