Our T-33 Scrapbook
Photos from the ClassicWarbird.net and Photorecon.net team.
The first Lockheed T-33 first flew 73 years ago in March!
I heard a story once, a few decades ago, which seems to be apropos here. A few military aircraft enthusiasts were talking with an F-15 Eagle pilot. The question was posed as to how long the Eagle’s career as a useful fighter would be, as F-22 Raptor and Sukhoi SU-30s were coming on line. A few opinions about the uncommonly long longevity of the Eagle design (two decades at the time) were voiced, until the F-15 pilot said (in a shout out to the unit’s trainer aircraft) that when the final F-15 would be delivered to the MASDC bone yard, a T-33 would be dispatched to fly that pilot back to their unit!
Lockheed’s Clarance “Kelly” Johnson has a remarkable legacy of aircraft designs, which include the P-38 Lightning, the F-104 Starfighter and the SR-71 Blackbird. Additionally, he was the driving force behind the U.S. Army Air force’s first widely-used jet fighter – the P-80 Shooting Star. A subsequent version of this was the TF-80C, which was designed as a twin-seat trainer version of the Shooting Star, and later renamed the T-33A after the U.S. Air Force was formed in the late 1940s.
Although the P-80 used a General Electric jet engine, the T-33 utilized the Allison J-33 engine. This design had an extremely long useful life, with almost seven full decades of active military service. The U.S.A.F.’s T-33A first flew in March, 1948, and the last of the U.S. military’s active T-33s was an Air Force NT-33A test aircraft which was finally retied in April, 1997. Worldwide, the “T-bird” was finally retired from Bolivian military service at the end of July, 2017.
Numerous specialized versions were produced by Lockheed, many were later used as remote piloted targets and as drone directors for these drones too. The U.S. Navy and Marines received over 600 T-33s as trainers under the designations TO-1/TV-1/TO-2/TV-2 and T-33B (plus more different versions after the 1962 Tri-Service re-designation system). The Air Force made some into AT-33A lead-in fighter trainers, with limited armament capabilities. A RT-33 reconnaissance version even carried cameras in its nose. Still others acted as simulated “bogies” for interceptors to practice their missions on. The T-33 was a successful early military jet, and accomplished many missions besides its primary duty as one of the world’s first jet trainers.
So successful was the T-33 that it was exported to some 30 countries, and produced under license by Japan and Canada. Canadair produced 656 Silver Star trainers; the Canadian jets were powered with Rolls Royce Nene engines and exported them to many European countries. Lockheed produced 5,691 airframes for the U.S., and ended their production in 1959.
One particularly useful design was Canada’s Silver Star, which performed duties as targets for NORAD interceptors and posed as aircraft and anti-ship missiles during NATO Naval exercises. Some of their CT-133s were modified into CE-133s electronic training aircraft, fitted with internal and external emitters and transmitters to act as foreign aircraft. They also were modified to carry towed targets, for gunnery training.
Here are some T-33 photos while the jets were still in active service:
After retirement, the twin-seat trainer became a popular warbird jet, with a good supply of retired parts and engines available worldwide. The two seats made it a good fit for air to air photography, and a few retired jets became chase aircraft for new aircraft manufacturers. Boeing used a pair of T-33s as chase planes up to the end of 2020, including chase and photo duties during their B-787 and newest B-777 version programs. In fact, Boeing offered the T-33 Skyfox as an updated trainer in the mid-1980s, although there were no contracts signed. The Skyfox and Boeing design used much of the original T-33’s airframe, but substituted the Allison jet engine with a pair of smaller Garrett TFE731 jets.
Here is a collections by some of the Photorecon.net and ClassicWarbirds.net team, of warbird and museum T-33s – enjoy!