"Aces of The Eighth" by Jack Fellows

Korea Memoir by Jerry Minton

“The first F-80 Shooting Star I ever saw was at an air show at Carswell Air Force Base in the late forties. It was flown slick-without tip tanks or bomb pylons (after all it was a high altitude interceptor design) and was painted with white enamel. The pilot would make low passes-pull up into loops or Immelmann turns-or seemingly climb almost out of sight doing aileron rolls. Very impressive to a young guy who had never flown anything more exotic than a Taylorcraft. (I soloed in a J-5 Cub during my senior year in high school.) I had little idea that I would be flying an ’80 in combat in only a few years.

As I recall, the plane was made in four versions: XP-80, F-80A, F-80B, and F-80C. I have heard that the XP had the same thrust and airframe as the later models, but a lot of difference in the instruments and accessories-particularly the fuel flow and throttle controls. The first ’80 I saw was probably an XP.

It seems that the XPs, As, and Bs had a somewhat smaller or narrower cockpit. It could be a tight fit for a big man in full winter flying gear; i.e., fleece lined leather jacket, pants, boots over regular flying gear which might (and usually would) include winter flying suit, G-suit, regular boots, backpack chute, seat pack consisting of dingy, cushion carved out to hold survival gear, shoulder holster with service ’45, emergency radio, Mae West, bailout bottle, etc. etc. At six feet and 170 pounds I used to doubt that my elbows, knees, and feet would clear if I ejected. One pilot, Bob Bickett, of Louisville, Kentucky (at last word), was a little on the heavy side and simply couldn’t wear full winter gear just a gabardine flying suit and nylon jacket.

The As and Bs and probably some XPs were, I believe, all modified to C specs. One thing that the C and the C mods had was a Bendix control on the throttle. Without this, erratic or rough handling of the throttle could put out the fire-an embarrassing and potentially dangerous situation. It required a little more finesse to get an ’80 into formation than a prop plane-you needed to back off the throttle while overtaking on a join up and more or less coast into position adding throttle to hold position properly. A frantic chopping of throttle if overrunning or ‘firewalling it’ if undershooting could result in having to go through an ‘air start’ procedure. Blowing the fire out while correcting an undershoot on final approach could affect your general health and well being. The Bendix control was a great help.

In the Cs in Korea we used water injection on take off on warm days carrying fuel under-slung tip tanks (about 165 gallons each) and two 1,000 pounders. This water went in on the intake side of the combustion chamber and gave a good kick for about a minute. I can’t remember whether we used water on all max load takeoffs in cooler weather.

The 80 was the only single engine operational U.S. jet with a centrifugal flow engine-all the rest to my knowledge had axial flow engines. The engine generated about 5,400 pounds of thrust as I recall and was reliable. I do not recall compressor stall problems or compressor failure. I heard stories of the centrifugal compressor taking hits and continuing to function, although I don’t recall witnessing an example of this. As I recall an axial flow engine such as on the ’84s and ’86s could not take a hit in the turbine and continue to function. The engine was easy to change and I seem to recall a story of a crack ground crew completing a change in less than an hour-but don’t hold me to that. (After leaving active duty in 1955 I flew ’80s with the 181st Fighter Squadron Texas Air National Guard for a couple of years and I recall stories of some crew chief buying some minor parts at a Western Auto store when the supply room was out. It was not a rumor to be tracked down-there are some things a fighter pilot doesn’t really want to know! )

The engine gave the plane plenty of power! I think some Lockheed tech reps were surprised at what the plane hauled on occasion-such as four 1,000 pounders and full internal fuel. The engine was low thrust compared to today’ s state-of-the-art but the ’80 was a small plane-about 28′ span-about 30′ long-and fairly light although I don’t recall the weight. Still, I remember that in gunnery school at Nellis on very hot days training had to shut down about noon-between runway length, temperature and pressure altitude, it was just a little shy-at least for student missions. The ’80 was still much better than the ’84s that I flew later.

In 1952 all of us wanted to go from gunnery school to ’86s but there were only two ’86 groups in Korea compared to three or four ’84 groups and the Eighth Fighter-Bomber Group with F-80s. Also, the Fighter-Bomber Groups not only outnumbered the ’86 groups but on the whole were taking more casualties. As I recall, the ’84 group was taking more casualties than the ’80 group. Not only were they penetrating deeper that the ’80s, but I think they were carrying more external stores and making multiple passes. Also because of their range they worked in and around Mig Alley much more than the Eighth. There was one ROK F-51 group and I think one USAF F-51 group around but I simply never did like the idea of following a liquid-cooled engine on a comparatively slower plane through ground fire day after day.

The ’80 airframe was very durable. I have ‘pegged’ the G-meter several times- as I recall the meter ran from -2 to +11 (or whatever the upper limit was). No structural damage! I have seen an ’80 with the fuselage buckled aft of the canopy and the wings warped, that flew home without problems. You should be able, through the Air Force Museum or some other source, to find some pictures of ’80s with big holes and chunks carved out by flak, flying debris, cables, etc. that brought their drivers home.

One ’80 (and I think there is a picture around) bounced off a hillside pulling off a run and still came home-skin on bottom partially ripped off-pieces hanging loose. One unusual piece of battle damage was caused by a duck! One of our ’80s looked like it was hit by 20mm or 40mm pulling off a run-right side between the cockpit and the plenum chamber. When they took it back to Itazuki (our rear echelon) for repairs they found parts of a duck inside. Funny what an ’80 at .83 mach and a duck on a collision course can cause. What if it had gone into the canopy?

The ’80 was not the stable instrument flying platform that the ’84 was, but it was okay. Some missions were flown in bad weather under unusual circumstances. A flight of four would take off-each with 2/1000 pounders-and join up in tight formation-climb into the soup and fly vectors directed by radar. The radar controller would tell the flight when to drop while flying straight and level-they would drop simultaneously and then radar would vector them back. I don’t think anyone in the flight knew what the target was or the results.

While I have mentioned that the ’80 was tough structurally, there apparently was some tendency for fatigue cracks in the skin to develop between the wheel wells. All of our planes had a good sized section of about 1/4″ aluminum plate overlaid in this area and held in place by metal screws. It seemed to work fine.

Some experiments were made when Col Levi Chase was Group Commander to extend the range by developing ‘Manchuria’ tanks-centerline 235 gallon tips that had been cut in half and then had the center section of another 235 tip welded in. The capacity was thus raised to about 285 gallons per tip. It didn’t work. Too much structural load. Too much extra JP-4 burned to get to altitude and-if a tip didn’t feed and couldn’t be jettisoned you could end up in a permanent turn into the fuel tank until punch out time.

Hung external armament stores were not uncommon-particularly the five inch HVARs (I don’t recall ever having a whole load fire right ) which would hang, corkscrew, sputter, or just turn out to be duds. Bombs would occasionally hang that could not be jettisoned. In any event if you want to see a smooth landing, watch one made by a pilot with hung bombs or rockets !

While the plane was very honest and easy to fly-I have slipped, skidded, and fishtailed on final approach to kill altitude when over-shooting an approach just as if in a J-3 Cub, these were some things to be cautious about. A spin recovery took a lot of altitude. An inverted stall or spin took a lot more altitude! A stall took altitude for recovery and a vertical stall took a lot more altitude! I saw a T-33 (training version of the ’80) go in on a final approach stall that could have been avoided by a prop plane-even when the throttle was ‘firewalled’ it took time for thrust to build up. Any stall or spin recovery was greatly aggravated by partially full tip tanks or by a condition where one tip was empty and the other full or partially full. I saw one of the pilots in my flight go into a spin while barrel rolling into a dive bomb run, and I am still convinced that he had one or both tips full or partially full. He fought it all the way to impact. It was SOP to ‘gang load’ all fuel tank selector switches on take off but to then shut off the leading edge and main wing tanks until the tips were dry.

By the way, the fuses on the bombs were usually set at 3 second delay to allow penetration after impact, but as I recall on certain types of targets-rail lines, rails outs, rail bridges, and occasional airfields-delays of up to 72 hours were mixed in the group load. Object-to impair enthusiasm, morale, and labor-management relations in general among the repair crews.

Unusual missions! I was on one in which the 80th flew down a railroad track one at a time attempting to ‘skip’ 1,000 pounders into two rail tunnels through a hill. One pilot put one in each tunnel on his pass and the rest of us bounced and blew bombs everywhere. First and last mission of that kind so far as I know. Also I seem to recall that on night solo recons there was an assignment or two to take out a searchlight battery. When a searchlight locks on you your head is down and you are on instruments-if your head is up you are blinded. Who thought that one up?

Something about the men who flew the ’80s-and a lot of other jets in Korea. I remember our training squadron Commanding Officer in jet advanced at Bryan boasting that all of his instructors had at least 250 hours of jet time. At Nellis the instructors were almost all combat veterans from Korea-in 1952 at least, but remember, a tour in Korea didn’t build up much time-I got 135 combat hours in 100 missions. I’m sure the ’84 drivers got more. There was a sprinkling of WWII types at command levels-career officers. Also a sprinkling of WWII recalls, most of whom were gone by late 1952-some were released before completing their tours. I had my 24th birthday shortly after my tour began in the summer of 1952 and quite a few guys were younger than me. As we used to joke-‘It wasn’t much of a war, but it was the only one we had.’ Fighter pilots are trained to fight. We were green, and probably not as good as we thought we were, but head and shoulders above the competition-such as it was. We took our losses-about 24 pilots from the Eighth Group while I was there-eight of whom were from the Eightieth (two from ‘A’ Flight). At one time somebody calculated that about one-third of Classes 52-B out of Bryan and Williams were lost six or eight months after reporting to gunnery school about one half combat losses and the other half various kinds of flying accidents. We knew fear, but I can only remember one or two that couldn’t handle it.”

– Jerry Minton

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