The Lockheed T-33 was a two-seat training version of the P-80 Shooting Star, originally developed using Lockheed’s own funds, but soon adopted by the USAF and was produced in impressively large numbers.
Lockheed suggested the need for a training version of their new jet early in the development process, but at first there was no official interest. However by 1947 the high accident rate suffered in P-80 units made it clear that it wasn’t as easy as expected to switch from piston engined trainers to a jet fighter as had been expected. Even then work had to begin as a private venture. In May 1947 Lockheed decided to spend $1 million on the design of a two-seat trainer, with the internal designation Model 580. The Air Force gave them permission to modify a P-80C in August 1947, and the first aircraft, with the designation TP-80C, made its maiden flight on 22 March 1948. The designation was changed to TF-80C on 11 June 1948, and then to the T-33A on 5 May 1949.
The Model 580 was a tandem trainer, with the instructor sitting behind the student. Both crew members were given ejector seats. In order to make space for the extra person, the fuselage was extended by 98cm in front of the wings and 30.5cm behind the wings, and the fuselage fuel tank was more than halved in size, dropping from 207 to 95 US gallons. In order to compensate for this the self sealing tanks in the wings, which weren’t needed in a training environment, were replaced with simple nylon fuel cells, so in total the trailer could carry 353 gallons of fuel, compared to 425 on a standard P-80C. Early aircraft could also carry two 165 gallon drop tanks under the wings, but there were later replaced by 230 gallon wing time tanks. In order to save weight only two of the normal four 0.50in machine guns were installed.
The new trainer was well received. It handled just as well as the P-80C, and in some situations was actually slightly faster! The USAF ordered a first batch of twenty aircraft. The prototype was then sent on a tour of Air Force and Naval facilities, and more orders then followed. Eventually the T-33 was produced in vast numbers, with 5,691 aircraft ordered in twenty batches, more than justifying Lockheed’s original gamble.
The first production aircraft was accepted by the Air Force in August 1948 and it entered service in the same year. It was the only jet trainer in use with the USAF until the Cessna T-37A entered service in 1957, and remained an important trainer until the Northrop T-38A appeared in 1961. It was used as the main advanced jet trainer from 1948 until 1961, and after that remained in use as jet instrument trainers allocated to operational squadrons. It was also used by the Jet Instrument School of the Air National Guard in Texas from 1957. Even after the last training uses ended, the T-33 remained in use as a squadron hack, and 150 were still in use with the Air Force and National Guard as late as 1985! Soon afterwards they were withdrawn to reduce the number of different types of aircraft in use.
The Navy ordered its first aircraft in 1949. They used it as advanced and instrument trainers for the Navy and the Marine Corps. They were phased out from the late 1950s and many returned to USAF control. The Navy also used its aircraft as drone directors and target drones.
The T-33 was also built in Canada. In the early 1950s Canada agreed to help train RCAF, RCN and Allied air crews, and in 1951-52 received twenty T-33As from the United States. In Canadian service these aircraft became the Silver Star Mk.I. Ten more aircraft were delivered in 1952, but by 1944 the surviving 28 aircraft had either been returned to the US or given to Greece and Turkey. They were replaced by Canadair built aircraft, which were based on the T-33A but were powered by a 5,100lb thrust Rolls Royce Nene engine. The prototype, a US airframe with a Nene engine, was completed by 27 November 1951 and the first Canadian built aircraft made its maiden flight on 22 December 1952. Between 1952 and 1959 Canadair built 656 aircraft, with the designation T-33AN Silver Star Mk.3 (later changed to the CT-133). These aircraft was used as trainers, squadron hacks or given to Allied nations.
The aircraft was also produced by Kawasaki in Japan. The Japanese were given two fully assembled aircraft and eighteen disassembled ones to help production get underway, as well as 27 complete aircraft that went straight to the new Air Self Defense Force. Kawasaki then built 210 aircraft between 1956 and 1959, and these remained in service for over twenty years.
The T-33 was also given to a variety of allied nations under the Mutual Defense Air Program or directly from the USAF. The French received 224 aircraft, the Germans 192 and the Dutch 63. Smaller numbers went to a range of South American, South-east Asia, Middle Eastern and African forces. Many of these aircraft were used in counter-insurgency operations. Many of these aircraft were then sold on to third countries, and the T-33 remained in front line use for well over forty years.
The T-33A was the standard trainer. Early aircraft were powered by a 4,600lb thrust Allison J33-A-23 engine, and later aircraft by a 5,200lb J33-A-25. Most were later upgraded by giving them a 5,400lb J33-A-34.
The AT-33A was an armed version of the aircraft, produced to go to US allies in South America and South-east Asia. It was given underwing pylons that could carry up to 2,000lb of bombs or eight 5in HVAR rockets. It could be used as a normal trainer, a weapons trainer or a counter-insurgency weapon.
The DT-33A was a version of the T-33A modified to control drones.
The NT-33A was the designation given to any aircraft that were modified for special tests. At least three aircraft received this designation, and they were used for a wide range of tests at Lockheed, Allison, The Wright Air Development Centre and Cornell. One was also used to test out an alternative tail for the Navy’s TV-2.
The QT-33A was the designation given to a number of aircraft that were converted into drones by the US Navy and used at the Pacific Missile Test Centre, Point Mugu and the Naval Weapons Centre, China Lake, both in California.
The designation RT-33A was given to a photographic reconnaissance version that was designed for the same allied air forces as the AT-33A. It was given vertical and oblique cameras in a modified nose, while the instructor’s seat was replaced with electronic and recording equipment, turning it back into a single seater. 85 RT-33As were produced, all by converting existing T-33As.
TO-2/ TV-2/ T-33B
The TV-2 was the US Navy’s designation for their T-33s. A total of 699 were produced for the Navy, all under USAF contracts. The first 28 were given the designation TO-2, but the Navy then changed Lockheed’s identifying letter to V, for the Lockheed Vega factory, so they became the TV-2. Those that were still in use in 1962 became the T-33B under the new Tri-Service designation system.
The TV-2D/ DT-33B was the designation for a number of Navy aircraft that were used as drone directors.
The TV-2KD/ DT-33C was a radio controlled target aircraft, which retained the pilot’s seat for ferrying purposes.
Engines: Allison J33-A
Power: 4,600lb or 5,200lb or 5,400lb thrust
Wing span: 38ft 10.5in
Length: 37ft 9in
Height: 11ft 8in
Empty weight: 8,365lb
Loaded weight: 12,071lb
Maximum weight: 15,061lb
Maximum speed: 600mph at sea level
Cruising speed: 455mph
Service ceiling: 48,000ft
Normal range: 1,025 miles
Maximum range: 1,275 miles
Armament: Two 0.50in machine guns