Known to all as the "T-Bird," the T-33 was the only jet trainer in the U.S. Air Force inventory from 1948 until 1957 when the Cessna T-37 "Tweet" took to the skies. The T-Bird served as an instrument trainer, utility aircraft, and test platform. The prototype first flew on March 22, 1948, piloted by acclaimed test pilot Tony LeVier. It handled much like the P-80C. It was officially designated T-33A on May 5, 1949.
The Museum's T-33A-5-LO, serial no. 53-5226N, was accepted by the USAF on September 16, 1954, and delivered to the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base where it served until its transfer to the museum on October 30, 1987. The Museum's aircraft has never been painted and has a highly polished natural metal finish. Used primarily as a training aircraft, all guns have been removed.
Transferred from the United States Air Force.
Two-seat (tandem), single-engine, all-metal, jet trainer; 1953-1980s.
In May 1947, in response to an earlier suggestion and an increasing number of P-80 accidents, Lockheed initiated, at its own expense, the design of a two-seat trainer which was designated the Model 580. Three months later, the Air Force authorized the modification of a P-80C airframe to serve as the prototype for the TP-80C. To provide room for the instructor aft of the pilot, the fuselage fuel tank was reduced in size and the fuselage itself was lengthened by inserting a 26.6-inch plug forward of the wing and a 12-inch plug aft. To make up for the reduction in fuel in the fuselage tank, wing tip tanks were added and these eventually became standard. To conserve weight, the built-in armament was reduced to two .50 caliber machine guns. Some T-33s had wing pylons to carry auxiliary fuel tanks or pods.
The TP-80 first flew on March 22, 1948, and was piloted by Tony LeVier. It was a success, and its handling characteristics were equal to those of the P-80C. Initially, 20 aircraft were ordered by the USAF, and this was soon increased. The designation was changed from TP-80C to TF-80C on June 11, 1948, and finally to T-33A on May 5, 1949.
The first production model of the TF-80C had a 4,600 lb. thrust Allison J33-A-23 engine and this was followed by a series of engines of increased thrust, culminating in a the 5,400 lb. thrust Allison -A-35 engine. All T-33 aircraft were produced under USAF contract, including those for the U.S. Navy which were designated TV-2s; in 1962, these were designated T-33Bs. A total of 5,691 Lockheed-built T33A-1/5-LOs were produced by 1958. Other versions were built, including the AT-33A-LO for Latin America and Southeast Asia, the DT-33-33A-LO for drone directors, the NT-33A as special test aircraft, the QT-33A as drones, the RT33A as a photo reconnaissance aircraft, the TO-2/TV-2 for Navy, the TC-2D as a Navy drone director, and the TV-2KD as the Navy drone.
The T-33A was the only jet trainer in the USAF inventory from 1948 until the advent of the Cessna T-37A in 1957 and the Northrop T-38A in 1961. It served as an instrument trainer and utility aircraft as well as a test aircraft. In support of the NATO build-up in the early 1950s, Canada undertook to provide training not only for its own air crews, but also for several thousand Allied personnel. To provide for the jet-training phase of the program, Canada was given 20 T-33A-l-LOs and 10 more on loan from the USAF inventory, which were later returned to the USAF or transferred to Greece and Turkey when the RCAF standardized on a Canadian-built version of the T-33.
Canada began building its own T-33As in 1951, launching the first aircraft on November 27, 1951, flown by Bill Longhurst. It was powered by a 5,100-pound-thrust Rolls-Royce Nene 10 engine and was designated the T-33A Silver Star Mk.3 (company designation CL-30). France, Greece, Portugal, Turkey, and Bolivia were soon using the Canadian-built T-33s. Similarly, Japan began producing its own T-33s on July 1, 1954. The use of this versatile aircraft by foreign air forces was not limited to the Canadian and Japanese versions, as at least 1,058 Lockheed-built aircraft were delivered to friendly and neutral nations as part of the Mutual Defense Aid Program; others were transferred directly from the USAF inventory overseas. The T-33 was also used as a jet combat aircraft during armed rebellions in several countries.
One of the most interesting uses for the T-33 occurred outside the U.S. when Aérospatiale built up the wing of a Canadian version to review the approximate design of a "super-critical" wing for test purposes. The flight trials of the test wing began on April 13, 1977, and continued until 1979-1980.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the T-33 was being retired from several air forces, including the USAF. Some were transferred directly to the U.S. civil register. In 1987, almost 40 years after their introduction, a number of T-33s were still in service. Some have natural metal finish and others are painted Air Force gray with the latest Navy gray paint specification.
The Museum's T-33A-5-LO, serial no. 53-5226N, was accepted by the USAF on September 16, 1954, and delivered eight days later at the Lockheed Aircraft Factory B-4, Palmdale, California. Headquarters, DC Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, received the aircraft on the next day and had custody of the aircraft until its transfer to the
Museum on October 30, 1987. During its years with the Headquarters Detachment, it had a number of routine modifications (incorporation of technical orders, etc.) updating of radios (currently a R2 6-4 UJF), and engine changes. The Museum's aircraft has never been painted and has a highly polished natural metal finish. All guns have been removed. It is an outstanding example of this widely-used trainer.
Wingspan: 11.8 m (38 ft 10 in)
Length: 11.5 m (37 ft 9 in)
Height: 3.6 m (11 ft 8 in)
Weight: 3,794 kg (8,365 lb)
Reference and Further Reading:
Dorr, Robert F., Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star Variant Briefing, Wings of Fame, Volume 11, 1998.
Lockheed T-33A-5-LO Shooting Star curatorial file, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum.