Jet Aviation

Since their origins in Germany and Great Britain on the eve of World War II, turbojet engines have transformed military and commercial aviation. They have made possible aircraft that can fly farther, faster, and higher and that are larger and more efficient than piston-engine aircraft. Jet Aviation traces the development of this technology and features many important turbojet engines introduced over four decades, along with three airplanes that helped usher in the jet age.

The gallery's centerpieces are two jet-age milestones: a German Messerschmitt Me 262, the world's first operational jet fighter, and the Lockheed XP-80 Lulu Belle, the prototype for the first full-production, operational U.S. jet fighter. The gallery's third airplane, a McDonnell FH-1 Phantom, was the first jet fighter used by the Navy and Marine Corps.


Messerschmitt Me 262

Messerschmitt Me 262A Schwalbe
The Messerschmitt Me 262, nicknamed Schwalbe, or Swallow, surpassed the performance of every other World War II fighter. This was remarkable, considering the very early state of development of the Junkers Jumo 004B axial flow jet engines that powered it. Faster than the opposing North American P-51 Mustang by 190 kilometers (120 miles) per hour, the Schwalbe restored to the faltering German Luftwaffe a qualitative superiority that it had not enjoyed for years.

Fortunately for the Allies, the Me 262 appeared in only relatively small numbers in the closing year of World War II, and the almost absolute Allied dominance of the air was not greatly disturbed. Although 1,443 Me 262s were produced, it is estimated that only about 300 saw combat; the others were destroyed in Allied bombing attacks or in training accidents.

More information: Messerschmitt Me 262A Schwalbe

Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star <em>Lulu Belle</em>

Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star Lulu Belle
The XP-80 was the prototype of the P-80 Shooting Star, the first operational turbojet fighter committed to full production in the United States. Designed by Lockheed's chief research engineer, Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson, in response to an urgent wartime requirement for a high-performance fighter aircraft to maintain control of the sky over Europe, the XP-80 was built in record time and first flew on January 8, 1944.

By the end of 1945, the XP-80 had proved to be one of the most significant aeronautical designs in U.S. history, and was a resounding success for "Kelly" Johnson and his team of designers and engineers. After two years of extensive flight testing, Lulu-Belle, as the aircraft was affectionately called, was placed in inactive status in November 1946. It was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in May 1949 and was restored by the National Air and Space Museum in 1978.

More information: Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star Lulu Belle

McDonnell FH-1 (FD-1) Phantom

McDonnell FH-1 Phantom I
The FH-1 Phantom was the first U.S. pure jet aircraft to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, and it subsequently became the first jet fighter in operational service with both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. Designed by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in response to a U.S. Navy request in 1943, the XFD-1, as preproduction Phantoms were designated, first flew on January 26, 1945.

On July 21, 1946, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Davidson accomplished a first for the XFD-1 by making several takeoffs and landings aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt at sea. Delivery of the Phantom to fleet squadrons began in July 1947, with Fighter Squadron 17A (VF-17A) becoming the first Navy jet squadron to be carrier-qualified in the new aircraft. By mid-1950 the last Phantoms had left operational squadron service.

The National Air and Space Museum's FH-1, which served with Marine Fighter Squadron 122 (VMF-122), completed its service life in April 1954 with a total of 418 flight hours.

More information: McDonnell FH-1 Phantom I