The Lockheed L-133 Starjet

The History of the Starjet

The L-133 was Lockheed’s proposal for what would have been the United State’s first jet fighter. Design began in 1939 by Hal Hibbard, Willis Hawkins, and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. The very exotic, blended-wing, canard aircraft never flew, however. It remained a “paper airplane” that was never realized.

Kelly Johnson (Lockheed Photo)

On paper, however, it was a world-beater.

L133 big

L-133 Desk model
L-133 desk model (Lockheed Photo)

Twin Lockheed-designed L-1000 axial-flow turbojets would have powered the sleek, futuristic-looking fighter to speeds which were unheard of with even the fastest propeller-driven aircraft. The designers projected a top speed of over 600 MPH in level flight.


(Unknown author)

Unfortunately, Lockheed’s turbojet was under-powered and required further development. It was quite a bit to ask of an air-framer to develop the aircraft and the engines, too. It was also a lot to ask of the US Army Air Force. They wanted aircraft based on established technology; fighters built around reliable radial or inline engines, which had already been proven and were being developed further to produce more power. Who could blame them? We were at war.

L-133 internal arrangement illustration (Lockheed)

Firepower would have come from nose-mounted armaments, likely four 20mm cannons. Never quite resolved was the issue of where to install them. Many illustrations suggest the intent was to place them within the air intake. This would have surely wreaked havoc with early, temperamental jet engines. Given the high degree of spent gasses, particulates, and other debris leaving the guns, and then being sucked directly into the engines, foreign object damage and flame-outs (at the very least) may have been fairly routine. In an interview with Hal Hibbard, published in “Air Classics” magazine, he stated the placement of the guns, and also the jet intakes, were never finalized. Some illustrations clearly show inlets on the top of the aircraft, while some show them on top and bottom. The design did, however, lead to the development of the P-80 Shooting Star. The Shooting Star was a more conventional aircraft, with a traditional tail arrangement, and became our first operational jet fighter.

The model, and a bit about the process

It’s an interesting “what if?” design, and one I immediately found visually appealing. I began working on the mesh for the 3D model of the plane as a winter project over three years ago. It’s the first aircraft mesh I worked on. Several starts-and-stops, mistakes, and completely re-starting the project occurred before the finished version was arrived at. The more I worked on it, the more I learned. Here’s the “completed” mesh with textures:

Lockheed L-133
Lockheed L-133  (© John Matthews)
Lockheed L-133
Lockheed L-133 (© John Matthews)
Lockheed L-133
Lockheed L-133  (© John Matthews)
Lockheed L-133
Lockheed L-133 (© John Matthews)
Lockheed L-133
Lockheed L-133 (© John Matthews)
Trout 2
Lockheed L-133 (© John Matthews)
Lockheed L-133 (© John Matthews)


The difficult part of creating anything in 3D, from a 2D drawing, is visualizing the object to be rendered and seeing in your mind how it would appear if it were in front of you.  Sometimes photos help.  Sometimes you can drive somewhere and see an actual example of whatever object you’re creating.  Sometimes you can just go out and buy a small model kit, which is also helpful.  Unfortunately, there just weren’t any real-life references for this plane.  Just by pushing around the vertices and scaling the shape I got an idea of how the wings , stabilizer, canopy, and canards were going to blend into the fuselage.  It was a lot of trial-and-error, but that’s okay.  It’s how we learn!

A couple of the more important modifiers I use when sculpting the fuselage of a plane are  “Xform” and “Symmetry” .  The symmetry modifier will allow you to work on only half of the object and whatever you’re doing is mirrored on the other half of the object.  This is a fantastic tool for doing aircraft fuselages since they’re always symmetrical.  The other tool you’ll use a lot is the Xform modifier, which you can use to precisely select the point from which you want an action (e.g. scaling) to take place.  Very useful in scaling segments of fuselage, rotating a line of vertices, etc.  Those two modifiers will become close friends if you make your own 3d objects.

Mapping UV coordinates for the model was a great learning experience.  If you ask anyone who creates 3D objects you’ll soon find a constant answer about UV coordinate mapping.  It’s tedious!  Or it can be, depending on the model, how it’s divided, and its topography.  Some meshes are relatively straightforward, some aren’t.  I chose to break the Starjet model into about six pieces with reference to texture mapping:

  1. Fuselage, wings, and canards
  2. Vertical stabilizer and faring between the cockpit and stabilizer
  3. Intake area
  4. Exhaust area
  5. Cockpit
  6. Canopy framing

L-133 Fuselage UVW Map

You’ll have to experiment with what works best, whether it’s a simple planar map, cylinder map, or the use of pelt mapping (which I’m still kind of wrapping my head around, no pun intended).  For most fuselages you can use a cylinder map.  Wing’s, stabilizers, and canards usually get by fine with a planar map since they tend to be flat, for the most part.  It always helps to apply a checkered texture to your mesh when you’re working with texture mapping so you can see in real-time how consistent the mapping is.  You want the end result to have consistently sized checkered boxes on all areas as much as possible, so you’re final texture doesn’t look “kinked” or “pinched” anywhere.

Read and experiment.  There are tons of forums and tutorials on the Internet, and YouTube videos can be a real godsend when you’re trying to understand something.

If you were able to come up with a good set of UV maps for your object then you save the map as an image, and import that into an image editing program like Gimp, Paintshop, Photoshop, etc.  If you’re blessed with a lot of RAM on your system, and you’re working with a 64 bit 3D application, you don’t need to worry as much about memory, and can make larger texture map file images.  I’ve found that the ones for the large items (fuselage, wings, etc.) can be about 3000 pixels square and produce nice, detailed, results.

L-133 Fuselage Diffuse Color

Your “camera” isn’t going to be right up against the plane anyway.  It’s going to be over 200 feet away from the object, in most cases.  So, trying to be insanely detailed about minute things (like rivets, panel lines, markings) may not pay a dividend.  If you can’t see the details in the scene, is it worth the time to model and texture?

L-133 Fuselage Markings

The main thing is NEVER GET DISCOURAGED!  Making a 3d object look like your drawings and photos will take time.  There will be many instances where you may find yourself sitting, staring at the screen, and wondering how you’re going to make one thing transition in to another, or why whatever it is you’re doing isn’t working.  Any setback is a learning experience, no matter how frustrating.

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“Happy Trails!”