TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star is a jet trainer with origins in Lockheed’s P-80 pursuit jet developed by the United States toward the end of World War II.
The general characteristics of both jets are tricycle landing gear; a long straight wing with wingtip fuel tanks and rounded, vertical tail with horizontal stabilizers mounted where the fuselage and tail meet. Twin air intakes feed the J33 turbojet with a single exhaust exiting beneath the tail. Large effective airbrakes are mounted on the fuselage underside. The T-33 differs from the P-80 by having a lengthened fuselage to accommodate a second, tandem cockpit and removal of forward firing guns in the nose.
Tinker’s association with the T-33 centers around a two-and-a-half year period where the Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area processed 12 T-33 Shooting Stars, according to information from the Tinker History Office and newspaper accounts. While only 12 T-33s may have been processed, thousands of J33 engines were maintained and overhauled at Tinker for Air Force, Navy and foreign military sales customers.
Sadly, the only other notable association Tinker has with the T-33 took place on Jan. 18, 1963, when a T-33 jet trainer crashed south of the base near Elm Creek Reservoir (Draper Lake) killing both crew members.
The T-33 was an important aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and allies in the production of pilots in the early days of the Jet-Age. Although fully aerobatic, the T-33 is relatively stable and has forgiving flight characteristics. Its adaptability to various roles including proficiency trainer, navigation and electronic warfare and even ground attack gave the jet a solid reputation.
There were many versions of the T-33 Shooting Star and multiple production lines. The bulk of the production came from Lockheed’s production line, which produced 5,691 aircraft for acceptance by the Air Force. Tinker history documents show 3,934 were delivered for Air Force use, 699 were immediately transferred to the Navy with the designations TV-2 and later T2V-1, and 1,058 were transferred to allied nations under the (foreign) military assistance program. Licensed production also took place with 210 T-33s made by Kawasaki in Japan for the Japanese Self Defense Force and 656 by Canadair. Variants of the aircraft include ground-attack, AT-33A, reconnaissance, RT-33A, drone director, DT-33A, and radio-controlled drone, QT-33A, among others.
Almost 70 years after its first flight, the T-33 remains in use today in a variety of roles. Boeing uses the T-33 as a photo/safety chase platform for various programs including the KC-46 Pegasus tanker program. The jet is also one of the most popular classic jets on the air show circuit with a number being painted in fictional “Thunderbirds” markings.