Lockheed T-33

The T-33 was a 2-seat jet fighter-trainer developed out of the F-80 fighter by extending the nose and cockpit to allow for two pilots seated in tandem under a single long bubble canopy.  This straightforward adapation of a pioneering and successful but soon-obsolescent fighter unexpectedly became the most important and widespread military jet trainer in history.  Originally it was designated T-80C, and some examples operated by the U.S. Navy were designated TO and later TV.  In Canada, where it was produced under license, it was called the CT-33 or CT-133 and nicknamed the Silver Star.  A total of 6,557 were built including license production in Canada (656 aircraft) and Japan (210 aircraft).  Many European, Central and South American and Asian nations friendly to the United States have used the T-33, including most NATO members.

Unexpectedly, the T-33 turned out to be slightly faster than the F-80 fighter on which it was based, probably because the extended nose made both the nose and canopy longer and slimmer (an aerodynamicist would say they have a higher fineness ratio).

Some small air forces continue to operate T-33s, a testament to the serviceability of a design that basically dates from 1943, when the requirements for jet-powered airframes were poorly understood.  Canada released its final T-33s into the civilian market in 2008, boosting the flying warbird population of these aircraft.  Canada had been a major source of earlier warbird airframes as well, with more returning from other countries.  As a static display, the T-33 has been a favorite for mounting on pedestals as gate guardians to airports and air bases, and most of the many countries that have operated them have one or more preserved in their national museums.

Lockheed-Built T-33s

TF-80C 49-882 and 49-884

Dick photographed these two very early T-33s, at that time still designated as the TF-80C variant of the F-80 fighter and painted with fighter-style buzz numbers on the nose, some time around 1950.  882 crashed in Great Britain in 1957; 884 lasted until retirement in 1972.

T-33A 51-8627

The Experimental Aircraft Association preserves this T-33 on outdoor display. 

T-33A 51-8734

The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels display team did not fly the T-33 in shows, but used T-33s as support aircraft for a number of years.  This particular aircraft did not serve with the Blue Angels but it is a genuine Navy TV-2, having been passed from the USAF to the Navy with serial 131770.  Registered N59TM, it has worn these attractive colors since it was first restored in the 1980s.  At last report it is still flying in Illinois. 

In 1/72 scale, decals to complete your T-33 model in Blue Angels colors are available from Warbird Decals (ebay search link).

T-33A 51-8786

Still owned by the USAF, this T-33 is on loan to the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan, where it is on display.

T-33A 51-9086

This T-33 is dislayed at Airpower Park, a small outdoor grouping of cold-war-era jets in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

T-33A 51-16992

Displayed at Pima Air Museum, this T-33 has been painted to represent one of the Air Force T-33s repainted to play the role of Soviet “Yak-12” fighters in the 1957 film, “Jet Pilot”.  This plane was not, however, actually used in that movie.

T-33A 52-9380

This T-33 is on view at the Pacific Coast Air Museum.

T-33A 52-9497

This T-33 is displayed at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Delaware. This particular aircraft flew from the base where it is now displayed as a proficiency trainer. 

T-33A 52-9586

Dick photographed this T-33 of the Georgia Air National Guard in the 1970s.  It does not appear to have been preserved. 

T-33A 52-9632

The Combat Air Museum T-33 spent its military life as a hack and proficiency aircraft in non-training units.  The museum acquired it in 1981 from a city park in South Dakota where it had been heavily vandalized over the years, restoring it as far as possible to its former glory.  Its markings are those of its last service unit, the 13th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.  

T-33A 52-9672

I shot this T-33 at Oshkosh 1982 when it was still being flown by the USAF.  It has since been retired for display at an air base in Great Falls, Montana.

T-33A 53-4903 “Miss VFW”

This T-33 is displayed at VFW post 8483 near Madison, Wisconsin. 

T-33A 53-5156

Registered N23745 but on long-term static display at Planes of Fame, this T-33 would not appear to be a candidate to fly again.  But the talented restorers at Planes of Fame should never be counted out. 

T-33A 53-5226

The National Air and Space Museum‘s T-33, displayed at its Udvar-Hazy annex, is notable for its outstanding state of preservation.  Museum signage proclaims that the aircraft has never been painted, nor much modified from its 1950s configuration.  Restored in the markings of an Air National Guard unit, it is one of the best-looking T-33s on public display. 

T-33A 53-5250

This T-33 is a familiar sight to Oshkosh campers as for many years it was parked next to the camp store shower facilities at the center of what became an RV and tent city during the convention.  It is still on display at the EAA’s facility. 

T-33A 53-5979

Photographed by Dick in the 1960s in the heyday of the T-33’s use as a trainer and all-purpose hack, this T-33 wore the unusual markings of the Bangor Air Defense Sector.  The BaADS was one of several Air Defense Sectors established in the late 1950s to protect the United States from bomber attack.  Flying interceptors such as Lockheed F-94s, Convair F-102s and Confair F-106s, the Bangor sector was designated to defend Maine and most of Vermont and New Hampshire.  The T-33 likely served as a hack aircraft for the command.  This machine is preserved at the Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, Illinois.

T-33A 53-6038

Your kid (or you!) can sit in this T-33, displayed at Philadelphia’s science museum, the Franklin Institute.  The sticks are still hooked up to the ailerons but not to the elevators.

T-33B 55-3053

Proudly guarding the entrance to the Westchester County airport in Harrison, New York, this T-33 became Navy TV-2 serial 141538.  It was displayed at the Intrepid Museum from 1987 to 1996, then airlifted by helicopter to its present location, where it is on indefinite loan from the U.S. Navy.  The aircraft is kept in good shape and commemorates the airport’s past history as home to the 105th Squadron of the New York Air National Guard, and the markings are accurate to the unit formerly based at Westchester.

T-33A 56-1710

Here is a T-33 displayed at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.

T-33A 56-1749

Registered N155SF but now a nicely polished static display, this T-33 is at the Commemorative Air Force‘s Central Texas Wing (web site here) at San Marcos, Texas.

T-33B 56-3667

Owned by the late collector David Tallichet, this T-33 registered N51SR was seen around Chino airport frequently in the 1990s.  It has since been restored to silver paint with USAF markings and was airworthy at last report.

T-33B 57-553

This T-33 was used as an instructional aid at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.  It had the civil registration N57553 until cancelled in 1981.  I don’t know what happened to it.

T-33B 58-480

This T-33 is preserved in the National Museum of Naval Aviation.  It has no actual Navy service history but is marked as a TV-2, 131816.  For a time it carried the U.S. civil registration N63311.  I’m not sure why the NMNA acquired this aircraft in 1993 when it already had a genuine TV-2 (see TV-2 138073 below); perhaps it was in better condition and easier to restore to Korean-war-era natural metal finish. 

T-33B 58-548

The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Nebraska displays this T-33.

T-33B 58-629

This T-33 is displayed at Castle Air Museum.

T-33B 58-665

This machine was passed from the USAF to the air forces of Yugoslavia and then Greece.  It was then acquired by a U.S. owner who registered it N556RH and dressed it in the markings of the USAF Thunderbirds who, like the Blue Angels, used T-33s as support ships.  At last report it was still active and flying in South Carolina. 

TV-2 137936

This TV-2 (the Navy’s version of the T-33B) awaits restoration at the Quonset Air Museum.

TV-2 138048

Displayed unrestored in the back yard of the New England Air Museum is this TV-2. 

TV-2 138073

The National Museum of Naval Aviation used to have this TV-2.  It has since been given the civil registration N7089D and passed to a private owner in Florida.

T2V 144200

Lockheed always felt that the T-33 was a hasty modification of the F-80 and that it could do a better job of developing the aircraft into a dedicated trainer.  When it tried to do so, it found that the Air Force was quite satisfied with its T-33s and not interested in the new machine, but Lockheed was able to sell 150 of them to the Navy, which called them T2Vs.  Pima Air Museum has one of these rare machines, shown here before and after restoration.

Canadair-Built CT-133s

Four CT-133s of the Canadian Armed Forces, 1982Canadair built 656 T-33s under license in Montreal, the first aircraft flying in 1952.  These were built to equip the Royal Canadian Air Force and were modified from the American version in that they substituted a Rolls-Royce jet engine of less weight, providing marginally better performance.  It served as a trainer through 1976 and in various utility capacities through 2002, and hand-me-downs were distributed to a number of foreign air forces, at least one of which was still using them at this writing.  In Canadian use, they were designated the Silver Star Mk.3 (the Mks 1 and 2 having been T-33s purchased from the U.S.) and were assigned RCAF serials 21001 to 21656.  Later, pursuant to a revision of the Canadian serial numbering system, the aircraft were renumbered 133001 to 133656, retaining the same last three digits as previously.  It will be seen from the photo survey below that these Canadian T-33s have been widely preserved in Canada and have provided many flying examples for U.S. owners, sometimes in Canadian and sometimes in American or other markings.

In the early 1980s, shortly after the type’s retirement from training duties, 414 Squadron, one of the utility units still operating the type, formed an airshow display team nicknamed the “Geritol Jets,” after a well-known vitamin supplement targeted to the elderly.  Pictured in the formation at right are 133618 leading 133625 (top), 133163 (bottom) and 133479 (rear).  Of the four, 618 is preserved in Nova Scotia, pictured below, 625 was destroyed in a 1990 accident while still with the CAF, and 479 is flying in the United States.  I haven’t tracked down 163.

CT-133 21024 (133024)

Now registered N320CF to the Naval Aviation Legacy Foundation in Florida, 21024 has been given an eye-catchingly American paint scheme.  This does not represent a display team or other historical scheme.

CT-133 21038 (133038)?

CT-133 21038 belongs to the Shearwater Aviation Museum in Nova Scotia and is one of two CT-133s displayed there.  When photographed, it was in the final stages of restoration, now completed, to Royal Canadian Navy markings. 

CT-133 21038 (133038)?

The CT-133 displayed at the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group at Geneseo, New York, is also claimed to be serial 133038.  I haven’t figured out which is which yet.  This T-33 bears the remnants of its Canadian paint and the tail band indicates that it last served with 434 “Bluenose” squadron.  [ngallery id=1435]

CT-133 21098 (133098)

A popular Royal Canadian Air Force display from 1958 to 1969 was called the Red Knight.  The Red Knight was a single RCAF pilot performing solo aerobatics, at at the act’s peak of popularity, the RCAF maintained two Red Knights at a time, usually appearing at different shows.  A total of 17 different pilots flew as the Red Knight, of whom three were killed in crashes.  Several T-33s and, in the final year, CT-114 Tutors were painted as Red Knights and used in the act over the years.  This is not one of those aircraft, but a private airshow CT-133 operated (as N99184) by California pilot Rick Brickert in the early 1990s that borrowed the Red Knight name and elements of the color scheme.  Brickert was killed in an air race in 1993 but the aircraft continues to fly on the airshow circuit, registered N133CR, with new owner and pilot Chris Rounds.  To visit the website for this aircraft, click here.   

CT-133 21174 (133174)

CT-133 21174 is shown waiting for space to get its wings back on at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum.

CT-133 21265 (133265)

Painted in Thunderbirds tribute markings, this CT-133 was a popular airshow performer in the midwestern United States from the 1980s until it was destroyed in a fatal crash in Michigan in 1994 during an airshow performance. 

CT-133 21299 (133299)

The RCAF’s 417 Combat Support Squadron was one of the last Canadian units to operate the CT-133, using them until 2001.  417 Squadron during World War II was a fighter squadron operating in the Mediterranean, and during that time became known as “City of Windsor” squadron by virtue of being adopted by the city of Windsor, Ontario.  Although the unit never operated anywhere near Windsor, it retained the sentimental connection throughout its various postwar activations and so it is somewhat fitting that one of its final CT-133s found a home with the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association in that city.  21299 bears the special markings applied while in service in 1948 to commemorate the fact that the CT-133 was still flying with the RCAF 50 years after the first T-33 flew.

CT-133 21373 (133373) and 21512 (133512)

This is actually a composite CT-133 of which the rear part is 21512, as you can see from the tail number, and the front part is 21373, thus the “373” on the nose. It was built up by enthusiast Jack Arnold of Brantford, Ontario, Canada, where this photo was taken in the 1980s. This machine, later restored 21373 and painted in Red Knight colors, is now mounted on a pole in a park in Fort Erie, Ontario.

CT-133 21377 (133377)

This T-33 ex 21377, now N377JP, is operated by Planes of Fame.  Flown by museum president Steve Hinton, this machine has been the pace plane for the faster classes of the National Air Races at Reno for the past several years. 

CT-133 21379 (133379)

The Canadian government’s National Research Council has operated two CT-133s (and an even older North American Harvard IV which you can see in the background of one of these photos) for various research purposes.  This is C-FSKH, ex RCAF 21379.  As far as I know, this aircraft is still operating with the Canadian government at Ottawa MacDonald Airport.  

CT-133 21393 (133393)

CT-133 21393 is one of two CT-133s on static display at the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum in Nova Scotia.

CT-133 21434 (133434)

The other Greenwood CT-133 is mounted on a pylon across the road from the rest of the aircraft display.  This aircraft bears a “T-33 50th anniversary” marking on its tail which can also be seen on the Atlantic Canada museum’s 21174 shown above.

CT-133 21435 (133435)

Displayed at the National Air Force Museum at Trenton, Ontario is 21435, which is painted in a late version of the Red Knight paint scheme although I don’t believe this aircraft ever served as a Red Knight.  Certain details of the paint job also are inaccurate; for example, the old style maple leaf was never used in the center of the post-1967 Canada flag as seen on the tail here.

CT-133 21441 (133441)

Seen in active service in the late 1980s, this CT-133 has been preserved by the Jet Aircraft Museum, an organization that is assembling a collection of flyable CT-133s.  It is registered C-FUPN and was last reported stored awaiting restoration.

CT-133 21452 (133452) “Ace Maker II”

This CT-133 is a popular airshow act in the hands of Greg Colyer, who has restored it in USAF markings reminiscent of a Korean War F-86.  It is registered N133HH.

CT-133 21479 (133479)

Flying with the Canadian Air Force Geritol jets in the early 1980s, this CT-133 was retired from Canadian military service around 2001 and is now registered N479KK to an owner in Texas.  I caught up with it again on the ramp at San Marcos, Texas. 

CT-133 21487 (133487)

The Canadian Museum of Flight maintains 21487 as a static display in 1950s markings. 

CT-133 21508 (133508)

I photographed 133508 in the 1980s on an airshow display ramp in Windsor, Ontario, when it was still with 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron, the “Black Knights,” one of Canada’s last military CT-133 units.  I don’t know what happened to it.

CT-133 21556 (133556)

Now regsitered N133KK, this CT-133 is painted in USAF markings with a faux serial vaguely related to its Canadian military serial.  (The real USAF serial 56-556 was for a cancelled contract and never worn by any aircraft.) It is with a private owner in the Chicago area and is shown in 2012.

CT-133 21557 (133557)

If I had to pick my favorite paint scheme in which I’ve seen a restored T-33 it would have to be this one.  The Golden Hawks were a Royal Canadian Air Force display team that flew Canadair Sabres from 1959 to 1964.  Although they did not use T-33s in aerial displays, they used one as a support aircraft and painted it in their team color scheme.  This aircraft, registered N99175 to a California owner, simulated those colors when photographed in the early 1990s.  The real Golden Hawk T-33 support aircraft still exists and has been acquired by an organization in London, Ontario, that hopes to operate a fleet of ex-RCAF T-33s. 

Falcon Models makes a 1/72 die-cast display model of the Golden Hawk T-33 (ebay search link).

CT-133 133560

A bit dinged up from shipping, this CT-133, was spotted on the ramp at San Marcos, Texas, in 2013 next to 21479 (above) and 21604 (below).  It, too, is slated for restoration to flying condition. 

CT-133 21574 (133574)

This is a genuine Red Knight CT-133 in the early Red Knight paint scheme, which was overall fluorescent red-orange rather than the standard red of later Red Knights.  It is preserved in Canada’s Aviation and Space Museum near Ottawa.

CT-133 21577 (133577)

Dick photographed 133577 at one of its final airshow appearances with the Canadian military, wearing liberal amounts of dayglo orange.  After retirement, this aircraft went to the U.S. for a time as N577KK, then returned to Canada where it is registered C-FRGA.  Most recently this aircraft, owned and operated by the Jet Aircraft Museum in Ontario, has been painted medium blue with a large shark mouth in front of the intake, simulating a special scheme once applied to an RCAF CT-133.

CT-133 21579 (133579)

Ex-USAF Major Paul Keppeler owns and flies ex-RCAF 21579, painted in tactical camouflage with Canadian markings.

CT-133 21590 (133590)

C-FWIS was the other CT-133 owned and operated by the National Research Council.  Unlike 379, this aircraft has been sold on to a U.S. owner and is now registered N590RC to the Cactus Air Force in Carson City, Nevada.  It has appeared in the jet class races at the National Air Races at Reno. 

CT-133 21593 (133593)

CT-133 21593 was photographed behind the display hangar at the National Air Force Museum at Trenton, where it has since been reassembled and put on display.

CT-133 21604 (133604)

Pictured on the ramp at San Marcos, Texas, 21604 still wears an RCAF 434 Squadron “Bluenose” tail band but otherwise is painted in spiffy gloss black.  It is registered N604KK.  During its RCAF service, this aircraft toured with the Snowbirds display team as a support ship, and its owner tells me that the special Snowbirds markings it wore during this time will later be added to the black paint scheme. 

CT-133 21618 (133618)

The Shearwater Aviation Museum’s second CT-133 is shown on outside display at the museum’s back lot, still wearing its final RCAF service paint.

Unknown T-33

I have not yet tracked down the identity of this black and gold T-33/CT-133, photographed at Santa Monica, California, in the early 1990s.

Modeling Notes (with links to targeted eBay searches):  T-33 kits in 1/72 scale have been released by Hasegawa, Heller, Sword and Platz.  The Platz is the newest and best, but I have a soft spot for the Heller, a fine little kit.  In 1/48, your best bet is the Academy/Hobby Craft kit; the older Hawk/Testors kits aren’t terrible, but won’t go together as easily.  If you want to live large, Czech Models/Special Hobby put out a 1/32 T-33.  In the other direction, a 1/144 kit is available from OzMods.
Falcon makes a 1/72 die-cast T-33 for those who like their models already built.


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