Tag Archives: Lockheed TP-80C Shooting Star

22 March 1948

Tony LeVier in the cockpit of Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356, the prototype T-33A Shooting Star two-place trainer.
Tony LeVier in the cockpit of Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356, the prototype T-33A Shooting Star two-place trainer. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

22 March 1948: Just over one year since being injured when the prototype P-80A was cut in half by a disintegrating turbojet engine, Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. (“Tony”) LeVier made the first flight of the prototype TP-80C-1-LO, serial number 48-356, a two-place jet trainer. The airplane was redesignated TF-80C Shooting Star on 11 June 1948 and to T-33A, 5 May 1949.

Adapted from a single-seat P-80C Shooting Star jet fighter, Lockheed engineers added 38.6 inches (0.980 meter) to the fuselage forward of the wing for a second cockpit, instrumentation and flight controls, and another 12 inches (0.305 meter) aft. A more powerful engine, an Allison J33-A-23 with 4,600 pounds of thrust, helped offset the increased weight of the modified airplane. Internal fuel capacity decreased 72 gallons (273 liters) to 353 (1,336 liters).

The Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star is 37.72 feet (11.50 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37.54 feet (11.44 meters), and overall height of 11.67 feet (3.56 meters). The wings a total area of 234.8 square feet (21.8 square meters). They have an angle of incidence of 1° with -1° 30′ of twist and 3° 49.8′ dihedral. The “T-Bird” has a basic weight of 9,637 pounds (4,371 kilograms), and gross weight of 15,280 pounds (6,931 kilograms).

Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO 48-356 prototype, with P-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-173, at Van Nuys Airport, California. (Lockheed Martin)

Originally produced with the J33-A-23 engine, the T-33 fleet was later standardized with the J33-A-35 engine. The J33 was a development of an earlier Frank Whittle-designed turbojet. It used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor, eleven combustion chambers and a single-stage axial-flow turbine section. The J33-A-35 had a Normal Power rating of 3,900 pounds of thrust (17.348 kilonewtons) at 11,250 r.p.m. (96%), and 4,600 pounds (20.462 kilonewtons) at 11,750 r.p.m. (100%). It was 107 inches (2.718 meters) long, 50.5 inches (1.283 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms).

Cruise speed for maximum range is 0.68 Mach. The maximum speed is 505 knots (581 miles per hour/935 kilometers per hour), or 0.8 Mach, whichever is lower. Service ceiling 44,700 feet (1,3625 meters). The maximum range is 1,071 nautical miles (1,232 statute miles/1,983 kilometers).¹

While the P-80 fighter was armed with six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose, the trainer was usually unarmed. Two machine guns could be installed for gunnery training.

In production for 11 years, 5,691 T-33As were built by Lockheed, with licensed production of another 656 by Canadair Ltd., and 210 by Kawasaki Kokuki K.K. For over five decades, the “T-Bird” was used to train many tens of thousands of military pilots worldwide.

TF-80C 48-356 was rebuilt as the prototype for Lockheed’s YF-94A interceptor, and then modified further to the F-94B. Sources have reported it as being stored at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Lockheed YF-94 48-356, first flight, 16 April 1949. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Specifications and performance data from T-33A PERFORMANCE EVALUATION, AFFTC-TR-61-22, May 1961,  Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Project Pilot was Captain Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force. Stafford was next selected for the NASA Gemini Program, and flew Gemini 6A and Gemini 9. He commanded Apollo 10.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

19 August 1954

19 August 1954: The Valley News reported:

‘Old Hodgepodge’, Lockheed’s Doughty Jet, Retiring to Scientific Service on Ground

     Skyworn and airweary, but still full of flight, the grand-daddy of Lockheed jets has dodged the junkman’s grimy grip and flown proudly from California to new York to sit out the rest of its life on the ground, but still in the service of science. A last minute reprieve from the U.S. Air Force spared from destruction Old Hodgepodge, a research plane that flew as four different models of advanced aircraft designs and led to $500,000,000 worth of jets for United States fighting forces.

      Many times modified and too often patched in seven years of aerial contortions, the test jet had been relegated to the scrapheap. It was declared no longer safe for combat or further flight experiment.

Busy Every Day

     But, USAF officials later decided, it could continue in use at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, N.Y., as a nonflying instrument of a secret technical study. It was ferried to Griffiss AFB from Lockheed’s Palmdale jet base by Lt. Frank M. Eichler.

     How Old Hodgepodge came to such an unusual end is a tale of home [sic] new and better airplanes are born.

     The plane was first built in 1947 as an F-80A Shooting Star, America’s first quantity jet design.

     Then it was sliced in half to be expanded into the world’s first jet trainer, the two-seat T-33.

     It got new engines—and magic radar—to become the first F-94A interceptor.

     Then it donned a new kind of wingtip fuel tank and was the F-94B.

Became Dean Emeritus

     It then took on and tested electronic and rocket inventions designed for the F-94C, today’s all-weather and all-rocket interceptor flying invasion watch from USAF bases.

     Yesterday the 40-foot-long jet-job was a brawling daredevil of science that withstood ice and lightning and screeching dives and twisting spins. One minute it was being pampered by research engineers and mechanics, the next it was undergoing aerial wringout at the hands of Lockheed’s best test pilots.

     The ship spent 546 hours in the air in tests. It made 772 research flights—773 counting the last-mile dash to New York.

     After shaping the course of jet pilot training for most of the world, it helped develop today’s super-performance fighters and even engaged in guided missile experiments.

     As the T-33 prototype, it became the dean emeritus of jet trainers. U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots learned jet flying in its offspring, as did the pilots of a dozen friendly nations.

Checked Out Rockets

     As a flying drawing board it pioneered advanced engines, radar, radomes, deicers, rocket pods, fuel tanks and cockpit canopies.

     When fitted with a wooden nose, a model of the first Starfire’s radar nose, it gained the nickname “Pinocchio.”

     Then it became the first jet to carry a combination search and rocket fire-control radar system, first jet to have a long clamshell canopy, first to wear a plastic radome nose designed for the Starfire’s radar system.

     Scientists rigged pods to hold rockets on its wings, thus doubling the hall-rocket Starfire’s firepower.

     They gave the plane an afterburner, leading to improvement of the double-jet type engines used in today’s fastest turbine planes.

     It flew on a half-dozen different engines. Its power increased from 3800 pounds of thrust to about 6000 pounds.

     Moving from scientific job to scientific job, the airplane became an unrecognizable conglomerate. It contained experimental devices applied to no other airplane in the world.

Even Foiled Lightning

     Its first flight as a trainer came March 22, 1948, with Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. W. (Tony) LeVier at the controls. Eight days and three flights later LeVier took up F. E. Gaiser, flight-test engineer, first passenger ever to ride in a production jet trainer.

     In Lockheed’s test and experimental program, pilots tried to fly the wings off the plane in stability, spin, speed and dive tests.

     They caked ice on the wing, nose and cockpit and then used unusual deicing equipment to “defrost” accumulations up to two inches thickness. “Metal sandwich” wings operating on high voltage were one type; a millionth-inch-thick spray was another.

     On one derring-do mission, Pilot Stanley Baltz and Engineer E. L. Joiner Jr., purposely flew the airplane in zero visibility through cloud, cold and night when all other planes were grounded—just to ice up the wings and test foul-weather performance.

     That night lightning struck and burned a hole in the wing, but Old Hodgepodge flew on in full control.

Under Own Power

     Gradually the laboratory plane’s test role faded because newer concepts and models were coming forward. Old Hodgepodge was assigned less glamorous jobs—radar target ship and missile chase plane.

     Eventually it became to fat and sluggish for arduous scientific duties. It was more of a crazy quilt than a magic carpet, no longer fit for any Air Force squadron.

     At the end it had to carry 1000 pounds of ballast in its nose to maintain balance in flight. Takeoff weight was up to about nine tons instead of the original seven tons.

     Into teh blue she knew so well, the old plane has flown off to anonymity, but—to her everlasting credit—she got there on her own power and her own wings.

The Valley News, Vol. 34, No. 10, 19 August 1954, Page 9-C, Columns 3–6

Originally a P-80C Shooting Star single-place fighter, 48-356 had been modified at Lockheed Plant B-9 in Van Nuys to become the prototype TF-80C two-place jet trainer (the designation was soon changed to T-33A), which first flew 22 March 1948. It was then modified as the prototype YF-94. 48-356 was later modified as the prototype F-94B. It is in the collection of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, and is in storage awaiting restoration.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes