The Jet That Killed Richard Bong: 5 Facts About The P-80 Shooting Star

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5. The Project Was Incredibly Secretive

U.S. Air Force / Public Domain

Of the 130 people working on Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, only 5 knew the details. It was so secret that the British engineer who brought the Goblin engine that was meant to power the P-80 was detained by police because Lockheed officials could not vouch for him.

4. The P-80 Was Built Under A Circus Tent In The “Skunk Works”

Clarence L. Kelly Johnson, Aircraft Designer of Lockheed at his press conference at the Gazebo Hotel, King’s Cross. September 20, 1973. | Golding/Fairfax Media / Getty Images

Ironically, the super secretive project came to life beneath a circus tent. The Lockheed aircraft factory under Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was running at capacity. To compensate, Johnson found a shack by the wind tunnel and constructed around that. They bought out a local machine shop for tools, built walls from packing crates, and rented the big top from a local circus. They named the site the “Skunk Works,” after the moonshine still in the “Lil’ Abner” cartoon.

3. It Changed How We Looked At Speed

The Lockheed P-80R during the world speed record on July 19, 1947. | U.S. Air Force / Public Domain

The project defined fast. Given only 150 days to create the P-80, workers labored 10 hours a day, 6 days a week to complete it in 143 days. They finished 7 days early.

On January 27, 1946, Colonel William H. Council flew the first transcontinental jet flight. The 2,457 miles between Long Beach and  and New York took 4 hours and 13 minutes and 26 seconds, setting a new record. His average speed was 584mph.

2. The P-80 Served In WWII, But Just Barely

U.S. P-80 Shooting Star shot down by North Korean anti-aircraft-guns after emergency landing on a field in North Korea. no further information. | Ullstein Bild / Getty Images

Though the P-80 was too late on the scene to see combat during WWII, the P-80 did still serve in the war. Two American pre-production Lockheed YP-80A Shooting Star jets served in Italy with the USAAF for reconnaissance purposes in February and March 1945. It would later play a crucial rule in the Korean War.

1. Test Pilot Killer

Richard Bong, celebrated American top ace pilot, was killed in a P-80 accident the day Hiroshima was bombed. | USAAF / Public Domain

Testing the P-80 proved to be extremely dangerous. In fact, the P-80 was a test pilot killer. Its victims include Richard Bong, the United States’ top ace. Another test pilot had been killed just 3 days before. Jet aircraft was simply a different beast with an incredible leap in speed capabilities and entirely new concepts to consider. 23 military jets crashed between 1945 to 1950, killing 36.