After 66 years of service, all good things eventually come to an end, and now the iconic “Red Bird” and “Blue Bird” chase planes are headed to the boneyard.
“Red Bird” and “Blue Bird” are the names of Boeing’s two Canadair T-33 chase jets – two vintage aircraft Boeing uses to follow its airliners during test flights.
The small single-engined support jets are easy to miss. But look close at the many photographs of Boeing first flights, and you will spot them.
Now, after 66 years of life, Boeing’s T-33s are flying into retirement.
Canadair produced both jets in 1954, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
“Boeing is retiring its two T-33 aircraft,” the company confirms. “We are currently looking into other options to support our flight test activities.”
“T-33’s have been used in many flight-test support roles, including as the safety chase plane for the first flight of nearly every new and derivative commercial airplane starting with the 767 in 1981 through today’s 777-9,” Boeing said.
Boeing does not elaborate and which aircraft might support future flight tests.
The decision to retire the T-33s reflects “lack of supply chain support to maintain the aircraft”, Boeing says.
Boeing has released undated images showing the T-33s flying in tandem.
This year, “Red Bird” (registration N109X) flanked Boeing’s 777-9 during that aircraft’s first flight in January. “Blue Bird” has registration N416X.
The T-33’s history traces to 1943 when, during the Second World War, the US Army requested that Lockheed build a new fighter, according to the Air Mobility Command Museum.
That project developed the single-seat P-80, from which came a twin-seat variant called the TP-80C, later named the T-33.
Powered by single Allison J33 turbojets, the T-33 first flew in 1948. Canadian manufacturer Canadair later produced its own variant, which was powered by Rolls-Royce Nene 10 engines.
The US military variants had maximum speed of 456kt (845km/h), 45,000ft ceiling and about 870nm (1,611km) range, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.