Heroes and goats

1 October, 1964. After returning from Europe in January, 1963, being trained as an instructor on the T-33, working as a line instructor for ten months, and being sent to coward’s cove (simulator section) for the winter, I was transferred to the Flying Instructors School. The job change was a pleasant surprise as the Advanced Flying School was being moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and had it not been for the posting, I would have been part of the move. I had nothing against Moose Jaw, but I was beginning to enjoy Portage La Prairie.

After four months as an “instructor’s instructor,” I was feeling comfortable in the job and enjoying teaching other pilots to become instructors. According to my logbook, most of the flying was dual time with one of the instructors-to-be; so if a solo trip appeared on the schedule, it was to be appreciated. When such a trip presented itself on the first day of October, it was welcomed like a lost friend.

RCAF T-33
A trusty steed, unless the pilot misbehaves…

At the time, we were tailoring our navigation towards the requirements of the CF-104 operations in Europe in the nuclear and the reconnaissance roles. Navigation was taught using “strip” maps that were created by plotting the normal nav tracks on map sheets and then cutting the maps into strips with only about three inches showing either side of track. To save on map stock, there were “canned” trips covered in plastic maptac and placed in folders that could then be used by many. I elected to undertake one of these.

Low-level navigation was conducted at two hundred feet above ground at a speed of three hundred knots (if I remember right… it may have been three hundred and sixty). This translated into five or six miles per minute making maintenance of time along the track and over the target relatively easy. To maintain time, corrections were made by increasing or decreasing speed by 30 knots for ten times the seconds early or late. Sounds complicated, but in practice it was quite easy and often resulted in times-over-target of plus or minus five seconds.

Aircraft 283 had been assigned when I reported to Servicing; I signed for the aircraft and proceeded to the flight line. The ramp, which used to see eighty Silver Stars take to the skies three times a day, was now home to the twin engine C-45 School, a handful of T-33s and a couple of DHC-2 Chipmunks.

My aircraft was in the front row and already connected to a power cart. I exchanged pleasantries with the technician (commenting how warm it was for the first day of October), placed my parachute and helmet on the wing and went about completing the external preflight checks. Nothing was amiss so ‘chute and helmet were placed in their appropriate places and I clambered up the ladder into the cockpit.

Pre-start checks complete, the starter switch was activated followed by the opening of the low-pressure fuel cock at the prescribed engine RPM. The god-awful engine rumbling caused by fluttering auxiliary engine intake plenum doors atop the fuselage eased to a high-pitched whine as the Nene 10 reached idle; the starter was disengaged and the power cart waved away. Unlike the CF-5 and the CF-104, the technician did not stay to assist in the pre-taxi tests. After disconnecting and coiling up the power cord, he inquired as to my status with a “thumbs up” which resulted in my return “thumbs up”, indicating everything was A-OK.

Taxi and take-off checks revealed nothing amiss and with a nod from the tower, I lined up on the active runway. Power was increased to 65 percent and the TOE (take-off and Emergency) switch was selected. As expected, the fuel pump went to full stroke and boosted the RPM to in excess of eighty percent. Temps and pressures were “in the green.” We were good to go.

Brakes were released and engine RPM increased to maximum. In those days, acceleration checks and the like were still in the future and experience was the only guide to a properly performing engine. However, a good push in the pants seemed a good omen and a sustained tug on the stick at around ninety knots saw the nose wheel lift shortly thereafter. Main wheel lift off around 105 knots was followed by retraction of the gear and flaps and a turn to pickup the initial point of the nav trip. Even at this early stage, the large canopy was turning the cockpit into a green house, so the temperature was lowered and maximum air demanded for cooling.

The nav trip was a resounding success; the cloudless, windless Manitoba skies allowed easy maintenance of timing and track that resulted in a perfect time over target. (This is my story and I’ll tell it the way I want…) As the trip progressed, the cockpit temperature continued to climb resulting in going back to the temperature control again and again in an effort to cool off. Finally, after being selected full cold for several minutes with no alleviation in high cockpit temperature, the air conditioning was turned off and all the outside vents were opened. The rest of the nav trip was accomplished in relative comfort.

After delivering my pretend weapons on time and on target, I headed for home for the usual half-dozen touch-and-goes that normally followed any training sortie. After completing the three-mile run-in from initial, the sixty-degree bank, two “g” pitchout was accompanied by the reduction of power to 65 percent and the extension of speed brakes. Rolling out downwind abeam the button at one hundred and ninety-five knots, the landing gear was selected down with three green lights and a “shake test” of the gear handle giving assurance that it was locked into position and not “floating” and unsafe.

As the button of the runway moved to the forty-five degree position aft of the wing, half flaps were selected as the aircraft was banked back towards the runway, maintaining a minimum of 140 knots in the turn. Rolling out on final, full flaps were selected and the speed slowly bled back to cross the end of the runway at the target airspeed: power was reduced to idle and the aircraft allowed to slowly settle so that the vertical sink rate zeroed just as the wheels touched the asphalt. I couldn’t believe they paid me to do this.

At touchdown, the speed brakes were retracted, the flaps re-selected to “half” and the power advance to full. As the airspeed never fell below eighty knots, nose wheel rotation and lift off occurred shortly after the power application. Airborne again, the gear and the flaps were selected up. At one hundred and ninety-five knots, a steep climbing turn was entered to commence the right hand closed pattern. This was too easy.

As the nose passed through about forty-five degrees up with a bank angle of sixty degrees, my morning calm was shattered by an extremely loud explosion underneath me that knocked my heels off the rudder pedals. What the…?

I was immediately transported back in time to my engine failure in Germany some nineteen months before when my aircraft and I alit in different fields separated by time and space. My thought was that this can’t be happening; lightning can’t strike the same person twice. I immediately reduced the throttle to idle, thinking that I’d had a compressor stall; this action was followed shortly by a thought process of: “Now, let me see: I’m forty-five degrees nose up with sixty degrees of bank and I’ve just pulled off any power which might be remaining and the speed is starting to fall. ” Even without the benefit of higher education, I knew this was not good.

I scanned the instrument panel for any answers it could give me…the temps and pressures were in the green for the engine condition I had selected: idle. Hmmmmm. I gingerly started feeding in throttle making sure that I didn’t over temp the engine in my haste to get some thrust back into my life. (The T-33 had no sophisticated fuel control unit; the throttle basically controlled a spigot between the fuel tank and the engine. Attempting to feed fuel to an engine turning at a speed too low to accept it could lead to over temping at the least or turbine blade melting at the worst).

There was no protest from the engine as I fed in fuel; I kept the nose coming down and started rolling off bank as I reached circuit altitude and reduced power to sixty-five percent to maintain one hundred and ninety-five knots. In the process, I shared my predicament with the tower and declared an emergency. As he advised me of the wind and altimeter, the “B” Stand (his assistant) hit the crash alarm bell that alerted everyone on the base with any interest in an aircraft emergency that something untoward was occurring and to get ready. Interested parties included the Base Commander, the Fire Hall, the Hospital, and the like.

Now, it should be noted that the first of October, 1964 was a Thursday, and it was on Thursday mornings at 1000 hours that the Base Commander held his weekly flight safety meetings. All important section heads were in attendance. When the crash alarm went off in the Headquarters, the Base Commander looked at his Flight Safety Committee and intoned: “To the Flight Line.”

So as I was nursing my supposedly crippled ship to a safe landing, the senior hierarchy of Base Portage was streaking for the flight line. Of course, all of this was unbeknownst to me as I dropped the gear abeam the button of the runway and then commenced the turn towards final. Everything appeared to be normal: no lights, no abnormal temperatures or pressures. With a final check to make sure the gear is down, I eased off the power and settled onto the runway. On the roll-out, I advised the tower that I would pull off the runway at the end and shut down to await a tow back to the hangar.

As I pulled off the runway, I could see a cortege of cars coming down the taxiway. Stopping well off to the side of the run-up area, I opened the canopy, turned off all non-essential items, and stop-cocked the engine. I killed the battery switch and undid the seat harness. I wanted to be on the ground when the audience arrived but I sat there for a second or two: the adrenalin was still pumping and I needed to relax.

Lap strap and shoulder harness unbuckled, I stood up in the cockpit but a slight tug at my left side reminded me too late that my zero altitude parachute lanyard was still attached to the aircraft. This lanyard was connected below five thousand feet and, overriding the normal opening system, ensured that the ‘chute started to deploy as soon as the ejection seat started up the rails. It was to be disconnected before standing up to leave the cockpit: if you didn’t, the pins in the backpack were pulled, and the pilot chute popped out, propelled by a spring. Unfortunately, right behind the pilot chute was a half-a-pound or so of chaff, the “cut-to-the-right-length-to-be-seen-by-radar” tin foil that showed up as a large “bloom” on radar showing the ejection point.

I immediately sat down to trap the pilot chute and the chaff, but tin foil swirling around me was a good indication that I had failed. I disconnected the parachute and hoisted myself onto the edge of the cockpit and then slid to the ground just as the Base Commander’s flotilla arrived. I immediately became the center of attention as the Base Commander asked: “What happened?”

I related my story about the closed pattern, the big explosion under my feet, the heroic climb into downwind, and the subsequent smooth landing. As I was relating my tale, the tech warrant officer peered down the intake, up the tail pipe, and then jumped up on the wing to look into the plenum chamber. He reported back to the Commander that he could see nothing amiss.

He then asked me if I had noticed anything different during my nav trip. I explained that the only thing out of the ordinary was that I couldn’t cool the cockpit sufficiently, so I turned off the air conditioning and relied on ambient air from the cockpit vents. With that, the warrant officer dove under the nose of the aircraft and disappeared into the wheel well. The sound of snaps being undone was heard followed by an exclamation of recognition. He reappeared from under the nose and informed the Base Commander that this pilot managed to blow a five-inch air conditioning hose off its mounting, an outcome that was a certainty if you flew around with the air conditioning turned off.

With that, the Base Commander and his entourage headed back to their flight safety meeting. I was left alone with my thoughts and a half pound of chaff still eddying around the aircraft and drifting slowly across the airfield: I had gone from a hero to a goat in less than two minutes. The tow-tug arrived and I was left to “ride the brakes” as the aircraft is pulled back to the flight line.

Fame is such a fickle mistress…

28 Comments

    • Robert:

      I managed to get about 1800 hours on the T-33 before I went on to other things. It was a great aircraft and I see that you have one in your stable. I never flew 535 but I did get some time in one that was two numbers ahead of it on the factory floor: 21533.

      All the best

      John

      • Hello John.I see that you flew CT-133 21533.Could you please tell me anything about it’s history? I heard that at one point it was a photo rec aircraft for 408 Sqn but cannot confirm that.I do know for a fact that it now belongs to the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton as I’ve seen it there personally.Thanks very much!

        • Here’s what I have on the history of 21533 (all of this is taken from the aircraft record card and other official DND documents):

          – Canadair Model CL-30
          – c/n: T33-533
          – t/o/s by the RCAF as a Silver Star 3PT, s/n 21533: 7 March 1956
          – crashed (with 2 FTS, RCAF): 3 March 1966
          – s/o/s by the RCAF: 12 April 1966
          – the wings were noted at the Reynolds Museum in June 2001 (I haven’t received any updates since then), but I have no info on the fate of the fuselage.

          The one preserved in the Alberta Aviation Museum is painted as “21533”, but it’s not really that aircraft. It was given that fake serial because it used to belong to No 533 RC(Air)C Sqn.

          There was a report that it was a composite airframe consisting of the fuselage from 21452 and the wings from 21518, but at the time that was reported, 133452 was still in service with the CAF (21452 was reserialled as 133452 on 11 November 1970), so that report can’t be true. So far, I haven’t been able to discover the true identity of the one painted as “21533”.

          The real 21533 was not a Silver Star 3PR. There were just five of them: 21257, 21556, 21557, 21565, and 21633.

          • Thanks for the info,very much appreciated! Makes me wonder why an Air Cadet squadron which is in name only would aquire a written off/crashed T-33? I mean,they’re not an operational flying squadron by any means so why obtain it? Cuz of the tail #? And if they actually had the real 21533 where is it now? Because 533 RCAC Squadron is here in Edmonton(St.Albert)so why would the AAM have to paint a fake serial # on it? If the wings are or were at Reynolds that’s also really close to Edmonton so combine that with 533 RCAC Squadron also close by and you’re saying they owned the real 21533 is it possible that the 533 at the AAM is the real one? Am just curious as to how you know for sure that the 533 at the AAM is a fake? Sorry for all of the questions but something just doesn’t make sense with all of this.Thanks again!

    • The original tail of 21535 is mounted on 21272 in the Northwest Aviation and Heritage Museum in Okotoks, Alberta. It’s painted with the fake serial “21616”. The real 133616 was sold to Bolivia as FAB-603, but it crashed during the delivery flight in October 1973. Do you know the original identity of the tail section now on 21535?

      • The Air Cadets didn’t acquire the crashed one, they painted its number on whichever one they had because 21533 matched their squadron number of 533. This is not an unusual practice and there are other preserved aircraft with a fake serial that was chosen because it matches the number of an RCAF Association wing or a Legion branch number.

        The crashed one was not the one they acquired and it’s not the one in the AAM. The serial of the crashed one was painted on a different aircraft. The real 21533 crashed and was written off. More than a few preserved aircraft wear a different serial number than their real one. Sometimes it’s a genuine mistake, sometimes it’s carelessness, sometimes it’s done as a tribute to the pilot(s) of an aircraft that crashed and killed them, and sometimes it’s a number of significance to its owner, such as the Air Cadets of 533 Squadron. Remember that as well as having a small “21533” on the tail, it would also have had a larger “533” on the nose, above and below the wings, and on the fuselage sides.

        • Actually I’m very familiar with the number markings on a T-33 and the practice of reassigning tail numbers for various honorary reasons as I served in the RCAF and worked on the T-33 for many years.Have you ever contacted the AAM in order to ask them what the serial number of the fake 533 actually is? Still would be interesting to hear the story of how a cadet squadron acquired a T-33,it’s not like they could restore it and then use it.I’m wondering if maybe the AAM acquired that T-33 with the proper tail number on it and then changed it to 533 in order to honour the 533 RCAC Squadron? On an unrelated matter do you know of a website where RCAF crash reports can be read? I found a couple of sites that touch on some crashes but not what I’m looking for.Specifically I’m looking for 21625’s report.I was at the crash scene and a recent conversation with a friend has sparked some interest in reading the investigation report.

          • Several Air Cadet squadrons have had aircraft like this, but they were all for display purposes, not to “restore it and use it”, however much they may have been tempted. 🙂

            One in Hamilton had a CF-100. Some Royal Canadian Legion Branches and several RCAF Association Wings have had jets, too. All were for display. By giving it to a specific organisation, such as the Air Cadets, rather than just putting it in a park, the air force makes someone responsible for it and it’s more likely to be looked after (or so the theory goes).

            I’m quite sure that whichever one that was given to the Air Cadets, it was correctly marked with its real serial number at the time and then altered to match their number.

            A Voodoo was also displayed at CFB Edmonton near “21533” and it was painted as “17425”, but it was really 101032. All of the “first batch” of CF-101s had serials beginning with “17” and the “425” is from the number of the Voodoo squadron based at Namao for a while. Like the CT-133, the CF-101 now belongs to the Alberta Aviation Museum.

            There was also a BOMARC missile wearing the fake serial “60-0447” at CFB Edmonton, but that was because a Chinook unit there, 447 Squadron, had originally been formed as a SAM unit equipped with BOMARC missiles. It has also been taken over by the AAM.

            I haven’t been in contact with them. They acquired both aircraft and the missile after I published my book, “The Aircraft of the Canadian Armed Forces”, so they weren’t part of the story at that time. All of my data on these aircraft came from primary sources, i.e. official RCAF and DND documents.

            Most older crash reports were classified because they name names and assign blame and were not available to the public. When I was in Ottawa researching my book, I was told that I would have to file a freedom of information request for each one, that it could take years, and that there was a good chance it would be denied anyway. All I wanted to confirm was the date, unit, and very basic “what” such as crashed, hangar fire, or whatever, but they were not available.

            All I can tell you about 133625 (as it was reserialled on 11.11.70), was that it was serving with 414 (EW) Sqn when it crashed on 16.2.90. For a while, the remains were stored at Mountain View until being declared as surplus on 23.8.90 and then s/o/s on 23.12.93. My guess is that whatever was left was scrapped, but that wasn’t mentioned on the aircraft record card.

          • Hey Jeff Rankin-Lowe “December 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm” I tried replying to your most recent post but there was no ‘reply’ button for me to click.Did we exceed the max amount of replies or transactions? Still want to hear your thoughts.

  • T-33’s, we had two of them at Blytheville AFB in the last half of the 60’s. Not long after transferring to the flight line an Airman 1st class, experienced mechanic, & i were dropped off to work on a T-33’s engine. Being mechanics on the B-52 & KC-135 we knew nothing about them yet we got it going rather quickly. From them on our Crew Chief remember that we worked & even fixed it while getting a thank you from our Base Commander who was at the air plane waiting to go on a flight. It kind of made for a good break working on something different than the bombers & tankers. they were neat looking air planes & the Base commander & others used them to put in their flight time.

    • The T-Bird soldiered on in many air forces long after it had become “obsolete”! It was an excellent aircraft in which to keep desk-bound pilots current; there were lots of them and they weren’t that expensive to operate. And, as with Ford and Chevrolet cars, if you had a problem with one of them, there was usually someone, somewhere on the base who could fix them.

      John

  • Great write up of a good story. Never flew military, but have managed to embarrass myself on occasion.

    Could you get the nosewheel of a T-33 cocked over too far to get back inline
    From inside the aircraft? Somehow I figured out it could be done in the early Lear 23.

    • Edd:

      Learning how to steer the T-33 was a rite of passage; directional control while taxiing was with differential braking and it was extremely easy to get the nose wheel cocked off too far to one side. It then took a fine touch on the brake (feathering, I called it)and a fair bit of power to regain control. There were times when I would have a student get in an aircraft, go out to an unused portion of the airport, and practice the manoeuver until he had it down pat.

      The Commander series of aircraft – piston Shrike and turbo-prop aircraft – had hydraulically-actuated nose-wheel steering that was controlled by the first few degrees movement of each brake pedal. It was easy to tell when there was a new fellah checking out on the aircraft by the series of lurches noticed as the aircraft taxied out as the brake was inadvertently activated instead of hydraulic pressure! However, with most pilots, the art was mastered quite quickly.

      John

      • I fly a T-34B now, the US Navy version. Differential braking only, but I have avoided embarrassing myself in it. The USAF version had nosewheel steering like a Bonanza.

        I believe the carrier qualified USN planes all had differential braking only and more rotation available on the nose wheel so the deck crews could maneuver them tightly. So, when you see the Blue Angels taxi out with the nose wheel exactly on the yellow line, you know they’re concentrating.

  • Having grown up in Winnipeg, P La P was a frequent destination around my flying XC from YAV. THere is a static display of a T-33 in dowmtown Gimli.

    • Arthur:

      If you grew up in Winnipeg, you’ve probably seen the T-33 on a pedestal in the park. That one is courtesy a friend of mine whose student got a little low and slow on a flapless approach at Portage La Prairie. Unfortunately, it takes a few seconds for the power to spool up…

      John

    • There are a LOT of Silver Stars displayed all over Western Canada. Many are composite airframes with wings and rear fuselage from a different aircraft and not all wear their real serial number. Some wear their training aid number that was assigned after they were retired, while others wear the number of the AFA Wing or Legion Branch where they’re displayed.

      The Jet Aircraft Museum in London, Ontario is flying several and quite a few are on the civil register in the U.S. For many years, Boeing used some as chase planes. The Canadair version had a more powerful Rolls-Royce Nene 10 and that’s made them more popular than the Lockheed version with the Allison engine.

  • Thanks John, for a well written, and thankfully, humorous tale. But, experience tells, as you so well inferred. Being fully aware of ALL the intricacies of any aircraft, or any piece of equipment, we use, is essential.

  • John: Brings back memories of Gimli as a T-33 student. Nice airplane to fly but in 1963 it was not that old. Low level nav was a hoot. Night solo flying saw me pop the speed brakes on the break only to have stuck pressurization valve release – cockpit instant zero/zero and hands quickly to ejection seat handles due to the explosion but it cleared quickly but scared the crap outa me. Normal landing some head scratching and happy to have not punched out. The lanyard thing always embarrassing! I popped instructors parachute pins doing a stupid vertical roll down one winter day. I got to carry the chute into hangar.

  • Thank you for this. My Dad (Jack) was instructing at Moose Jaw when I was born in 1962. He logged time in all of the aircraft mentioned here and was very proud of his RCAF years. Dad passed on March 22.

  • Great article. The CT-133 Silver Star is one of my favourite aircraft. I have a grand total of 7.5 hours in five flights in them doing air-to-air photography. Great fun, even with a couple of close calls (that weren’t my fault). 🙂

    21283 had an A Cat accident with 1 FIS Det Portage on 21 November 1965 and was struck off strength on 4 February 1966. I don’t know the details, but I hope it wasn’t related to the air conditioning hose. ;-))

    One tiny correction: the Chipmunk was the DHC-1. The DHC-2 was the Beaver. There’s nothing worse than dates and numbers to proofread.

  • I am enjoying reading your articles. Your name was very familiar and so it should be. I believe the C.O. you are referring to(in Portage la Prairie)was my Dad G/C Bev Christmas. A true brat, I was born into the RCAF, married into the AF, and still enjoying anything to do with it. Cheers,Penny Christmas Carpenter

    • Penny:

      So good to hear from you. I do believe your dad was still the CO when this transpired and I well remember him. He used to wear a USAF flying jacket in the headquarters building and it was easy to see where his real interest lay!

      John

  • On one day in Air Force pilot training, I (Joel G) was flying solo in a formation flight with our instructor flying with another ‘student ‘ pilot, when I noticed the engine was doing something that I thought was a turbine failure… radioed the instructor in the other T-33…he said something like, “ …OK I’ll see you back on the ground…” Well, I did a perfect ‘dead stick’ landing… and received 150 merits for the excellent forced landing approach and landing…. and 2,000+ demerits for not determining that the problem was that I did NOT just transfer fuel from the full wing tip tanks to the engine!

  • Joel: Oh, the things we do. When in Europe flying the F-86, we’d have to go up once a month to get our required night flying requirements fulfilled. At was a case of getting airborne and executing a big triangle in the night sky -something like Paris to Strasbourg and back.

    It was boring sitting there with nothing to do and one night, my inquisitive mind wondered “Is the canopy fully closed in the forward position”? So I reached up and activated the ‘Canopy Close’ switch.

    When the ‘Canopy Close’ switch is activated, the first thing that happens is that the pressurization seal around the canopy is de-pressurized to prevent damage to the rubber seal.

    Immediately!

    Accompanied by a loss of cockpit pressure, the acquisition of a fog cloud, and pressure breathing.

    There was nothing to do but sit there and wait for the pressure to build again.

    Busy minds are as dangerous as idle hands…

  • Interesting experience with you ad your F-86 aircraft. But, I have you beat John! I was on a high angle rocket firing ‘exercise’ while flying the F-86H in the Mass, Air National Guard….. fired the rocket at the target at ~1200 feet AGL…. then the procedure was/is to pull 3-4 Gs in the recovery. My G-suit connection to the Aircraft disconnected, and I grayed out…so did I release the back pressure… Absolutely Not! When I was sure I was going away from the ground…I released the back pressure , and looked at the G-meter. The RedLine for 86H is 8.3 G’s…. and where was the ‘tell-tail’ on the G-meter. It was pegged at over 10 G’s. Sooo, needless to say I ended the bomb run exercise! As I parked the aircraft on the ramp, the Crew Chief came up to me in the cockpit, and said, “… Captain Godston …see those rivets on the ramp out in front of your aircraft….you just S _ _T canned this aircraft..” The aircraft was ‘bent’ about 20 degree, but it did not fail …and I am here to tell the story. Amen, AMEN, and AMEN! Thank you , THANK YOU, THANK YOU North American for designing and making such a GREAT airplane!

  • Joel: Wow! On our Fighter Weapons Instructor course, the candidates used to deliver practice bombs with a 60 degree delivery using speed brakes to keep the speed down. There was usually somebody who forgot the boards and wound up at delivery altitude with a hockey sock of speed and precious little altitude to recover…

    I’ve also heard of a chap who somehow managed to pull the gear off the uplocks losing the gear doors in the process…

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