T-33A Shooting Star

In 1943, during World War II, the United States Army Air Corps asked the Lockheed Aircraft Company to quickly design a fighter (XP-80) around the British de Havilland 3,000-lb. thrust turbojet engine designed by Sir Frank Whittle. While the XP-80 was undergoing flight-testing, a new and improved model, the XP-80A—with the American-built 4,000-lb. thrust General Electric I-40 jet engine—was delivered. Working under the highest security blanket, Lockheed engineers identified the assembly shed where Johnson stirred up a potent brew of aircraft, from the XP-80 to the later SR-71 “Blackbird,” as the Skunk Works. The nickname came from Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip, which featured the “skonk works,” a hidden still in a secluded hollow, where Appalachian hillbillies threw in skunks, old shoes, and other odd ingredients to brew a fearsome drink called Kickapoo Joy Juice. Kelly Johnson’s handpicked team at the Skunk Works built the first XP-80 in just 143 days. Nicknamed “Lulu-Belle,” it was first flown on Jan. 8, 1944, with Milo Burcham, Lockheed’s chief test pilot, at the controls. You can visit that Lockheed XP-80 “Shooting Star” today at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Even though World War II ended before the P-80 could see combat, the aircraft proved itself worthy of respect during the Korean War, when it won history’s first all-jet battle. USAF Lt. Russell J. Brown, flying an F-80 “Shooting Star,” destroyed a Russian-built MiG-15 near the Yalu River on Nov. 8, 1950.

Among Johnson’s military aircraft designs from the Skunk Works following the single-seat P-80 (P for Pursuit) was the tandem seat T-33 jet trainer originally designated as the TP-80C. Lockheed undertook this design of the T-33 with one million dollars of its own money and its own people. It turned out to be one of the best investments of all time. Anthony William “Tony” LeVier first flew the TP-80C on March 22, 1948. Earlier, he had been flying the XP-80 when its jet engine disintegrated and he bailed out high over the Mojave Desert in California. He suffered two crushed vertebrae and spent five months in the hospital. After surgeons patched him up with a steel brace, he returned to fly another XP-80 to an unofficial world speed record of 565 mph.

The two-seat jet trainer designation was changed from TP-80C (Trainer Pursuit), to TF-80C (Trainer Fighter) 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 jet engine and was followed by a series of increased thrust culminating with the 5,400-lb. thrust Allison J33-A-35 jet engine. All Lockheed T-33 aircraft were produced under USAF contract, including those for the U.S. Navy, originally designated as TV-2s and then, in 1962, re-designated as T-33Bs. A total of 5,691 Lockheed-built T-33A-1/5-L0s were produced by 1959, when Lockheed stopped production. There were at least 1,046 T-33s built under license by other manufacturers. Other T-Bird versions were built, including the AT-33A-L0 for Latin America and Southeast Asia, the DT-33-33A-L0 for drone directors, the NT-33A as special test aircraft, the QT-33A as drones, the RT-33A as a photo reconnaissance aircraft, the TO-2/TV-2 for U.S. Navy, the TC-2D as a U.S. Navy drone director, and the TV-2KD as the U.S. Navy drone. The T-33A was the only jet trainer in the USAF inventory from 1948 until the Cessna T-37A “Tweety Bird” entered service in 1957, and then the Northrop T-38A “Talon” in 1961. In support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization build up in the early 1950s, Canada undertook to provide jet training for not only its own air crews, but also for several thousand Allied pilots. To help with the jet-training phase of the program, Canada was given 20 T-33As and 10 more on loan from the USAF inventory, which were later returned or transferred to Greece and Turkey when the Royal Canadian Air Force standardized on their Canadian-built version of the T-33. In 1951, Canada began building its own CL-33A Silver Star Mk.3s, powered by a 5,100-lb. thrust Rolls-Royce Nene 10 engine. Canadair built 656 CL-33s in Cartierville, Quebec. France, Greece, Portugal, Turkey and Bolivia were soon using the Canadian-built T-33s. Today, the T-33 continues to serve in Canada as a target tug and general utility jet transport being re-designated as the CT-133. Japan began producing its own T-33 version on July 1, 1954. Kawasaki built 210 of these jet trainers. At least 1,058 Lockheed-built T-33s were delivered to friendly and neutral nations as part of the Mutual Defense Aid Program. At the beginning of the 1980s, the T-33s were being retired from several air forces, but it wasn’t until April 1997 when the USAF retired its last NT-33, a flight control systems research aircraft, ending 50 years of USAF active duty for the T-Bird. The last U.S. Air National Guard T-33 was retired in 1987. The love affair still goes on with T-33s on proud display at many aviation museums around the world.

The T-33 is still one of the world’s best known aircraft, having served with air forces of more than 20 different countries with some well cared for aircraft still flying today out of the more than 7,000 built. In the more than 55 years since its introduction, the T-33 has been flown to help train more jet pilots than any other training aircraft type and continues to serve as an attack/trainer (AT-33) and reconnaissance/trainer (RT-33) in several foreign air forces. It was also flown as a test bed aircraft in many flight development programs, including tests on ejection seats and missile guidance systems. The T-Bird appeared with the USAF “Thunderbirds” in its most spectacular markings.

Serial Number: 52-9497
First Flight:
22 March 1948
April 1997
Crew: 2
Payload: -
Powerplant: 1x Allison J33-A-35 turbojet
37 ft 9 in
38 ft 10 in
11 ft 8 in
Empty Weight:
8,300 lbs
Loaded Weight:
15,030 lbs
Maximum Speed:
600 mph
Cruise Speed:
455 mph
Range: 1,275 mi
Service Ceiling: 48,000 ft

Assignment History

The assignment history for the Air Mobility Command Museum's T-33A Shooting Star, serial number 52-9497:

Date Location
2 Dec 1953 Delivered to USAF
Dec 1953 to 3645th Pilot Training Wing (ATC), Laughlin AFB, TX (TDY to Goodfellow AFB, TX)
Apr 1957 to 3575th Pilot Training Wing (ATC), Vance AFB, OK (TDY to Offutt AFB, NE)
Jun 1964 to 3320th Maintenance Support Group (ATC), Amarillo AFB, TX
Feb 1965 Converted to GT-33A (ground instructional airframe)
Jan 1966 Dropped from inventory as surplus
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I was crew chief of T-33A 51-9020 at Myrtle Beach AFB S.C. from 1957 – 1962, 020 was used as a tow for tow targets for F-100s of the 354th Fighter wing for air to air combat training. Often wonder what happened to 020?

You probably flew in an AT-37 . Developed from the Cessna T37 trainer .
I think the AT 37 was nicknamed The Dragonfly.

I flew in the Canadian Air Force T-33s as a tow target operator in the 70s & 80s. We streamed a rad op. out 10000 ft so the Canadian Navy could practice firing at incoming targets.

I was in the Navy from 1963 to 1969 I was stationed at Miramar NAS I remember this aircraft as a T 33 with out wing tanks.

Flew the T-33 as a student pilot, Craig AFB, AL, 1965. Learned the basic fighter pilot acrobatic maneuvers before graduation. Would like to own one today.

my dad was also a student pilot at Craig AFB, AL, in 1965, his name is GUILLERMO PUENTE ORTIZ 65F (Guatemalan AF)

Would like to know who your instructor was. My brother was a flight instructor there in 1965, and was later killed in Viet Nam in Dec. of 65

I well remember the NT-33 operating under the aegis of Calspan Corp. in Buffalo, NY during the 70s and early 80s. It played a crucial role in one instance during Sweden’s Gripen program. A prototype of that indigenous fighter had crashed because of low-speed handling problems. The NT-33 and it’s programmed, Fly-by-Wire systems developed the solution! Nice website with VERY accurate captions.

Good day.
just a note to say Canada retired the CT-33s in 2005.

Many years ago I took a flight from Thailand to Vietnam. I was told it was a T-33 (at least, I think it was a T-33). The cockpit was a 2 seater, side by side. It didn’t look anything like a T-33 I saw in Google pictures. It look like a Volkswagen with wings. Any help would help.

Probably an A-6

I am looking for information on the following Lockheed AT-33A 580-1307/57-0578 ex ROCAF (Taiwan).

This aircraft was donated to Paraguay but I can not find his number when operating in the ROCAF.

Is it possible for you to help me? Thank you in advance for your help.