The year is 1940 and the winds of war are rapidly descending upon America. Thanks to the Lend Lease Act a US that is wary of being sucked into another world war in Europe manages to remain neutral while sending supplies and military hardware to Great Britain and Russia. In the Pacific storm clouds are brewing, but the US Navy doesn’t know exactly where or when the Japanese Imperial forces could strike even though they have been mercilessly attacking Manchuria in China for years!
The coming threat
Already preparing for a foreseeable conflict, P-40 fighter planes are being mass produced for the US Army along with the P-39 Air Cobra manufactured by Bell Helicopter out of Ft. Worth, Texas. Sadly though, US aviators poorly trained and uninformed about the capabilities of the Japanese Zero and it’s more experienced fighter pilots will end up paying a terrible price for the lack of intelligence data in months to come.
Kelly Johnson’s legacy begins
Engineer and owner of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Kelly Johnson is a brilliant design expert and self-assured businessman. He has a vision of the future that few can imagine. With Germany already fielding some of its first jet aircraft for the Luftwaffe in 1939, Johnson has a plan to counter an enemy that America is already fighting in the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. A futuristic aircraft capable of Mach-2 speeds that would have been the ultimate air superiority fighter of its time completely uncontested in the skies over Europe and the Asian Pacific- the US Army Air Corps “Star Jet”.
Plans are drafted in 1940 for a proposed Mach-2 fighter plane that will escort US bombers while using its superior speed to wipe even Nazi jets from the skies as B-17’s fly their missions over Germany. Designated the L-133 Lockheed will unveil a revolutionary aircraft to the world and subdue German jet aircraft attacks with their superior design. Powered by 2 axial flow jet engines (L 1000’s) installed within a sleek and elegant fuselage, the L-133 Star Jet would have been invincible. Instead of a rear wing for control surfaces it would have been instead located between the nose of the body and the cockpit in the front. The straight laminar flow wings would have provided the lift needed to maximize the speed of the two L 1000 multi compressor designed engines with after burners that had not even been considered by Frank Whittle of the UK or his German counterparts!
What might have been?
The sleek advanced aircraft even by today’s standards would have eclipsed the Bell X-1 and the Chuck Yeager’s historic Mach 1.08 test flight breaking the sound barrier in 1947 and put America years ahead of any other nation’s jet aircraft design. The US Army ordered prototypes to be built and tested, but with Lockheed already hard pressed to meet its contact obligations for the P-38 Lightning and having to solve the problems of compressibility over control surfaces during high speed dives, the L-133 had to be sub contracted to another aircraft manufacturer under license agreement. The resulting delays caused the US Army to have 2nd thoughts.
Change of plans
Once the project passed from Menasco to another aircraft company-Wright-the US Army changed its mind and stopped funding the advanced project all together instead requesting that Lockheed develop a fast reconnaissance plane to catch and intercept the high speed German Arado spy plane that had eluded the Allied conventional fighters and radar identification. The US Army now aware of the ME-262’s thanks to Lockheed’s new high speed reconnaissance jet known as the P-80 found that Germany had developed the first combat ready jet fighter by 1944 and 225 of them had already been delivered by Messerschmitt to the Luftwaffe.
Another bird takes flight
Thanks to the previous design plans for the abandoned L-133 Lockheed already had a template for developing the P-80 Shooting Star in 180 days and had their first prototype ready for flight testing. Unfortunately, instead of being powered by the L 1000 axial flow jet engine the P-80 would be propelled by the “Goblin” British made jet motor which lacked in power and performance so that the P-80 would only be able to attain Mach .8 speed slightly over 600 mph. Still, even the P-80 in mass production would have out matched the ME-262 and could have sped up the inevitable fall of the Nazis in World War II had the US generals at the Pentagon supported the jet design earlier.
Even today through the succession of such Century Series fuselage designs as the F-86 Sabre, F-100 Super Sabre, the F-104 Star Fighter, the F-105 Thunder Chief, the F-101 Voodoo, the F-4 Phantom, the F-8 Crusader, and later to the present the F-35 Combined Strike Fighter, each owe their creation in part to Kelly Johnson’s Lockheed design team, who in 1940 could have produced a Mach-2 capable advanced interceptor and fighter before the end of World War II had US military leadership been visionary enough. Instead Frank Whittle of the Royal Air Force was given credit for the first Allied jet fighter design followed by Bell’s underpowered P-59 in 1942.
History repeats itself
In 1926 Colonel Billy Mitchell of the Army Air Corps anguished over what he anticipated to be a future Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The advanced rocket testing of Doctor Robert Goddard in the deserts of New Mexico was largely ignored by the US military yet used by the German Nazis to create their V-2 the first inter-continental ballistic missile by 1944. Captain Claire Chennault Observing Japanese Zero fighters capability along with their tactics over China warned the US military before the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, yet many US Naval pilots lost their lives in air to air combat denied crucial intelligence about their Japanese adversaries! Today, still we see our military and political leaders ignoring potential threats that could be much more serious than losing air battles or absorbing unnecessary casualties. Is this kind of oversight simply the frailty of human nature? Arrogance is usually repaid by disaster.