The scientific tourist #355 — Lulu-Belle

Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., I present to you the Lockheed XP-80 Lulu-Belle:


If your memory is good, this bird may look a bit familiar to you. Lulu-Belle was the prototype for the P-80 Shooting Star, the first operational U.S. turbojet fighter to see full production. Designed and built in an amazing 143 days, the airplane first flew on January 8, 1944. It became the first U.S. aircraft to exceed 800 kilometers (500 miles) per hour in level flight, and its P-80 and F-80 descendants barely missed active service in World War II.

While the XP-80 was built in hurried response to the early flights of ME 262 prototypes, and relied on years of British jet aircraft research, Lulu-Belle was found after the war to be still largely inferior to its German predecessor.  By the time P-80s and F-80s were fielded with improved engines, their performance had improved greatly, but soon enough they were outclassed in combat over Korea by still faster MiG 15s with swept wings.  Soon the F-86 Sabre would arrive to replace the series for air-to-air combat, and the remaining F-80s relegated to reconnaissance roles or sold to allies in less-contested locales.

By the time production ended, more than 1,700 P-80s (and relatives) had been built.

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