Warbird Alley Special Feature
A Flight in a T-33
A Photo Essay by Gordon Feliciano


My name is Gordon Feliciano. I am a Private pilot who lives in the beautiful state of Colorado, USA.

On New Year's Eve 2001, I was invited by my friend Roy to fly in one of his prized possessions -- a pristine Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star based at nearby Broomfield Jefferson County Airport (KBJC), known locally as "Jeffco." Roy is a corporate pilot who flies Gulfstream IIIs and Westwind jets when he's not playing golf, skiing or taking care of his own jet. He bought this airplane about nine years ago, and it took him eight years of tender loving care to get it into flying shape. After its extensive restoration, it flew again in 2000.

What follows is a pictorial essay of my flight in T-33 N514RH.

 

On January 31, 2001, I met Roy at his corporate hangar to begin my adventure. The airplane waited invitingly outside, but first things first. I was asked to sit down and watch a 30-minute instructional video that described the safety features and cockpit procedures for operating the aircraft. After viewing the video, Roy gave me a thorough ground briefing. Here, we review some of the pertinent information in the flight manual.

The final preparation step was to put on our flight suits!

After a detailed pre-flight inspection of the exterior and interior of the airplane (and especially a cool airplane like this), it is always mandatory to hand someone your camera and have them take a "Hero Shot" of you.
Roy had me climb into the back seat, then helped me strap in. There are a lot of buckles, straps and connections to make -- among them are the parachute harness, seatbelt and shoulder harnesses, helmet, oxygen mask, and communication plugs.
The back seat of this jet is a snug place, but then again, it was never intended to be a spacious First Class Lounge. The T-33 was a trainer, and the back seat was the instructor's seat. It was from here that many flying lessons (and life lessons) were taught. You can almost feel the history in the seat cushions.
The preflight cockpit check begins with a test of the oxygen system to ensure proper flow, then a check of the instruments and systems. The back seat has a complete set of flight instruments, basic engine gauges, and status lights which show additional information. Many of the controls for the T-33's fuel, electrical and environmental systems, however, are located only in the front seat, so there must be a certain element of trust between Front-Seater and Back-Seater.

Time to light the fire!

The Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) was reporting the active runways as 11L and 11R, with a light wind out of the east. The temperature was hovering just above freezing, but with the cockpit canopy left open during taxi, it felt much colder as the icy wind sliced right through my flight suit. However, we couldn't have asked for a more brilliant day to drill some holes in the sky -- it was crystal blue, with a thin layer of winter haze hovering above us at about 6500 feet thanks to a strong temperature inversion.

With no aircraft in the traffic pattern (or even near the airport), we were cleared for takeoff on runway 11L. Prior to brake release, the power was brought up to 80%, then 100%. The engine parameters were checked, then the brakes were released and we lurched forward. The acceleration was amazing. At 90 knots indicated airspeed, the nose was pulled up to 5 degrees and we lifted off. With the landing gear retracted, we accelerated to about 120 knots until we were over the departure end of the runway. At his point, Roy pulled the nose up into a climbing left turn to the north as we continued to accelerate. The feeling of it all was just plain awesome!

Our flight took us to the north of Jeffco along the east side of the Front Range. We kept a close watch out for other traffic, and in a matter of minutes we were near the Vance Brand Airport in Longmont, Colorado. Through the haze we spotted a quite a few towplanes and gliders climbing out of the Boulder Municipal Airport, some of which passed fairly close to us. We were able to spot them and maneuver away with no problem. After clearing the Denver Class B airspace, we reached our cruising altitude of 8500 feet and prepared to do a few maneuvers, including steep turns, high speed climbs and descents, aileron rolls and barrel rolls. We even tried a few zero-G, weightless pushovers! Soon, the fuel gauge told us it was time to heading back home. With the tower's permission, we made beautiful low pass, followed by a perfect landing on Runway 11L.
Here, T-33 N514RH poses in the afternoon sun before being pushed back into its hangar after another fun day of flying.

A flight like this really changes your outlook on things. The adrenaline and excitement stay with you a long time. I consider the experience to be the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on.


Thanks to Gordon for his photos and story.

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