History of Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star (T-Bird) in Oregon Air National Guard Service

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gene Thomas (retired), ORANG Historian
  • 142FW/PA
The Lockheed T-33A T-Bird is important to Oregon's aviation history in support of the air defense mission. It was instrumental in the 142nd Fighter Group's recognition for several achievements and awards.

In its support roll, The T-Bird was used as a target, to tow electronic targets, deploy chaff and for aircrew check flight qualifications. It supported Oregon's F-86, F-94, F-89, F-102, F-101 and the F-4 aircraft assignments. It was a pressurized jet, carried two pilots, two ejection seats, had a maximum speed of 510 knots, and a range of approximately 900 miles.

It is estimated that 90 percent of the free world's military jet pilots trained in the T-33A during the 1950's and 1960's. The Lockheed T-33A was the most widely used advanced jet trainer in the world. Those pilots who flew fighter aircraft later in their careers usually learned the basics of combat maneuvering in the T-33A.

The T-Bird flew for the first time March 22, 1948, and entered into service for the U.S. Air Force in September 1948. The last of these aircraft was delivered in August 1959. The Air Force flew the T-Bird for only 19 years, but the Oregon Air Guard flew it for a total of 34 accident-free years. Oregon never lost a T-33A to an accident, and never had an engine failure in flight.

The Oregon Air National Guard received its first T-33A in June 1954; later five more arrived and each of these six aircraft flew more than 2,000 hours. The first T-Bird to arrive was aircraft number 53-5943, which was straight from the factory with fewer than 20 hours of flight - the Oregon Air Guard put 9,556 total hours on it during its tenure. Aircraft 53-5943 still sits comfortably in Oregon at the Evergreen Air Museum.

The last of the T-33As departed Oregon on Oct. 6, 1988 - it was the only remaining T-33A in the Air Force inventory at that time. The T-33s assigned to the Oregon Air Guard averaged 12.6 hours of manual labor per flying hour. The sorties averaged 1.5 hours in duration. ORANG T-33 jet trainers were primarily assigned at Portland, Ore., however there were a few at Kingsley Field as well to assist in their mission.

Two of Oregon's T-33As participated in a special Air Force project entitled "Plumb Bob" in Indian Springs, Ariz. The aircraft were equipped with radiation sampling tip tanks and flew throughout the United States to conduct atmospheric atomic tests. The mission required them to fly for ten days and to become contaminated with radioactive material. The aircraft required special handling for months following the tests, and air and ground crews were monitored daily until all signs of contamination were gone.

Another ORANG T-Bird was scrambled to intercept a Boeing 727 on Nov. 24, 1971 when an unidentified man, referred to as D.B. Cooper, hijacked the aircraft between Portland and Seattle. The T-Bird was tasked to monitor the event, but the mission was later off due to darkness.

Although the T-33A has such a deep-rooted history in Oregon, there is presently no 142nd Fighter Wing assigned aircrew that has ever flown the jet, although it helped to establish the current training standards for F-15 pilots today.