ClarkAB Jan 71 C-133B
Copyright Cal Taylor 2000
Very few people in
or out of the Air Force can answer that question now. Some will ask if the
C-133 was a variation of the C-130. Old C-133 hands will tell you that it was
the box the C-130 came in. But, the C-133 was far more than that. It was the
first true heavy airlifter of a young United States Air Force, bridging the gap between the
World War II-era transports and the C-5 Galaxy.
The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster first flew on 23 Apr 56 and served in three squadrons from 1957
to 1971. These were the 1st and 39th Military Airlift Squadrons (MAS) at Dover
AFB, DE, and the 84th MAS at Travis AFB, CA. For seventeen years, C-133s
carried every imaginable outsized cargo to destinations around the world. The
C-133Bs were especially valuable to the growing intercontinental ballistic
missile (ICBM) force and the American space program, because they were the
first transport aircraft specifically designed to carry an entire missile from
the factory to operational bases.
The lineage of the C-133 does not include its immediate Douglas predecessor, the C-132, which took form
only as a single full-scale mockup. The C-132 is most easily visualized as a
C-5 fuselage with a single conventional tail and swept high wings with four
15,000 hp turboprops. The wingspan was 177’6”, length
179’3” and height 57’11”. Gross weight was projected to
be 408,000 lb with a 400 mph cruise.
The actual progenitor of the C-133 was the Douglas C-124 Globemaster
II, built between 1950 and 1953. The Air Force’s first step was a
contract for the YC-124B, a single airplane with T-34 turboprop engines and a
pressurized flight deck. Douglas studies in 1951 confirmed that a pressurized fuselage would be
severely overweight. Over a two-year period, the design moved through several
permutations until, in 1952, the Model 1333 was defined. It had a high wing,
rear loading to a truck-height cargo bed and full pressurization. On 10
the Air Force advised Douglas that this new logistics carrier would be designated the C-133A.
The first airplane rolled out on 31 Jan 56, with its maiden flight a 1 hr 35 min
trip to Edwards AFB, CA on 23 Apr 56.
Douglas Aircraft Company built 52 C-133 airframes, of which 50 actually were
procured by the Air Force and went into squadron service. Of these, 32 were
C-133A models and 18 were designated by the Air Force as C-133B. Three B-models
were actually hybrid A/Bs, because they incorporated features of both. They
were designated as Bs largely because the fuselage incorporated the aft
clamshell doors specific to the missile transport mission and the B-model
engines. Beginning in 1959, Douglas modified thirteen C-133As to match the configuration of
the fifteenth and follow-on aircraft. Thus, all C-133s became capable of
loading and hauling ICBMs. Two airframes remained at the factory in Long Beach, CA, for use in structural testing.
At Dover AFB, the 39th Air Transport Squadron (ATS), later the 39th Military
Airlift Squadron (MAS), was activated on 28 Aug 57. The first C-133A was delivered to
Military Air Transportation Service the same date. A second squadron, the 1st
ATS, was added at Dover on 7 May 60, and a total of 32 C-133As were
assigned to Dover. The 84th ATS at Travis AFB, CA, began
its conversion to C-133As in late 1958. The first B-model was delivered to
Travis in April 1959 and the last airplane on 4 Nov 61.
The C-133 was a big airplane, the largest production transport until the C-5
came on line. Wingspan was 179’8”, length 157’6” and
height 48’3”, with a normal maximum takeoff gross weight of 286,000
lbs (C-133B). It featured a pressurized cylindrical fuselage, high wings, a
single tail fin and tricycle landing gear with the main landing gear mounted in
external pods similar to the C-130, C-141 and C-5. Design life was 10,000
hours, but extension programs took most of the fleet to 19,000 hours.
The cargo deck was 50” off the ground, accessed through clamshell doors
and a ramp at the tail and a 106”x100” side door on the left
forward fuselage. The C-133B could load and carry fully assembled ICBMs. Other
cargo carried over the years included propeller shafts for navy ships, diesel
submarine motors, aircraft and helicopters and nearly anything else that would
fit through an aft entry approximately 159” high by 142” wide, and
on a cargo deck nearly 82’ long.
Four Pratt & Whitney T34-P-9W turboprop engines producing 6,950 shaft horsepower
(shp) powered the C-133B, up from 6,000 shp on the C-133A. Takeoff power could be augmented by
water-alcohol injection, which was very effective, especially in tropical
conditions. Cruise speed was 300 mph at altitudes up to a maximum of
35,000’ when lightly loaded. Most missions were flown in a step-climb
profile between 18,000’ and 28,000’, depending upon gross weight.
The engines drove Curtiss fully feathering reversible-pitch three-bladed
turboelectric propellers 18’ in diameter.
Early C-133s set several world records and caused great comment at such
international appearances as the Paris Air Show. On 4
two Dover C-133As set a non-stop trans-Atlantic
record for cargo airplanes, hauling 80,000 lbs of cargo to Chateauroux, France. In Sep 58, another C-133A record was
85,000 lbs of cargo from Dover to Burtonwood, England, with two stops. Over the ensuing 15
days, five C-133As delivered 600,000 lbs of cargo. In Dec 58, a C-133 set a
weight to altitude record with 117,900 lbs to 10,000’.
The first round-the-world trip by three C-133s took place in Jan 59. A record
distance was set on the MidwayIsland to Travis AFB leg of 3,253 miles. This
later became a routine transit on Pacific missions. Later, another C-133
eclipsed that record with 4,526 miles from Wake Island to Travis. Perhaps the most notable
event in 1959 was the C-133’s appearance at the Paris Air Show. There, the pilot made a
two-engine pass before a reviewing stand including French President Charles DeGaulle, who was reported to have called it
Over the next twelve years, the C-133 carried outsized cargo to destinations
all over the world. It participated in numerous major operations where its
load-carrying capabilities were essential to success of joint and combined
forces. Individual missions carried relief supplies to hurricane-stricken Caribbean islands, helicopters to Peru for earthquake rescue, and deployments
to India during the 1962 Sino-Indian border war.
NASA employed C-133s many times to move satellite tracking stations and a
variety of research facilities to such destinations as Ascension Island, Madagascar and Brazil. One aircraft, C-133A 54136, was placed
on permanent loan to NASA on 9 Jun 65.
Once the United States became fully involved in Vietnam, the C-133 was part of the MAC fleet
supporting the war in Southeast Asia. The C-133 and C-124 carried outsized loads while the
C-135 and C-141 were devoted to higher-priority cargo. In four major strategic
airlift unit deployments between 1965 and 1970, the C-133 flew hundreds of
missions to carry vehicles and other equipment that would not fit into the
C-141. As the war progressed, one of the standard missions for the C-133 was
that of redeploying helicopters and aircraft from Vietnam to depots in the United States. Other missions included transport of
armored equipment into and within the combat theater to support key campaigns.
For a short time, C-133s and the new C-5A Galaxy overlapped as outsized cargo
transports. This situation did not continue for long, though, for the C-133s
were simply wearing out. Initially designed for a 10,000-hour airframe life,
several major life extension programs carried most airplanes out to 19,000
hours. Fatigue and stress corrosion had become critical issues that were
forcing decisions about retiring the C-133. Air Force studies beginning in 1968
looked at the possibility of further service life extensions to as much as
25,000 hours, but there were serious impacts upon MAC’s
operational capabilities. By 1970, the final decisions were essentially made to
retire the C-133 in fiscal year 1971.
The necessity for such a decision was tragically emphasized with the tenth (and
last) C-133 crash on 6 Feb 70, in Nebraska. An existing undetected stress crack in
the forward fuselage propagated dramatically, causing skin to fly into number
three engine. Earlier crashes dated back to 13 Apr 58, during a local flight at Dover AFB. Of
the remainder, four happened overwater shortly after takeoff, with causes never
determined. A Travis C-133B crashed during a local flight and a Dover C-133A crashed on departure from GooseBay, Labrador. A Dover airplane was destroyed in a refueling
fire. Only one aircraft was successfully ditched, near Okinawa in 1967, with all crew rescued. Despite
the 20% loss rate over its lifetime, the overall accident C-133 rate (accidents
per 100,000 hours) was below the USAF average over its 14-year operational
history. Though not conclusively proven, one most likely cause was aircraft
stalls in different flight conditions. Other contributing factors may have been
errors in basic weight and center of gravity measurements. Problems with
propeller electrical systems were definitely a factor in the Okinawa crash.
With its retirement in 1971, the C-133 rapidly passed into obscurity, though
five airframes are in civil registry and some still fly specialized cargo
missions. Four airplanes are preserved at the AirForceMuseum, the PimaAirMuseum, Chanute AFB, and (by mid-2000) the AirMobilityCommandMuseum at Dover AFB, DE. A fifth museum
aircraft at Bradley Field, Connecticut, was destroyed by a tornado in 1980.
Thirty C-133s are listed as scrapped, but several partial hulks were at
Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, as late as 1999.
Though most C-133s are gone, they are far from forgotten by those who flew and
serviced them. These magnificent airplanes fulfilled a vital mission for the
Air Force during the transition from World War II designs to modern jet
transports. They could carry cargo that would not fit into any other airplane,
especially the ICBMs, delivering it to operational locations around the world.
The C-133 established records for weight lifted and distance flown that soon
became routine operations for its squadrons. In its design and testing process,
new innovations in testing, instrumentation and equipment were developed that
later became standard on many other airplanes.
So, in answer to the child's question, one can say that the C-133 is an unsung
giant that served the United States Air Force well in a role no other
airplane could fill.
Paradrop from Foundation
for Airborne Relief C-97
The Foundation for Airborne Relief (FAR) owned four C-133s
for a period in the 1970s. Russell O’Quinn was the principal and
envisioned using the airplanes as flying hospitals. They were to be based at
the small airport in New Cuyama, CA, where FAR bought
the entire town. Ultimately, conversion work was begun on only one C-133. Two
ended up stored at Mojave Airport, CA, where they
remain and are owned by Cargomaster, Inc., of Anchorage, AK. Two others went
north to Alaska, after
Cargomaster bought them. One, a C-133B, was cut up in 2000. The other, C-133A
N199AB, flies occasionally as a government aircraft, mostly for the State of Alaska. FAR also owned
several C-97s and some H-34s. Possibly the only mission flown by FAR was to
airdrop sport parachutists, in 1974. The following article, posted by Howard
White on dropzone.com, tells the tale.
Here's the story and a couple of additional pix, all from Spotter,
Sept.-Oct. '74, by Jerry Tyson. It's long but fun:
"O.K., you Turkeys, you've got
something to shoot for. Unless you can lay your hands on a C-97, I don't think
you will get near it (the record) for awhile. Ours was success through talent
and good organization--CALIFORNIA GRAND !"
On July 19, 1974, 33 parachutists
and three free-fall photographers in Southern California got a memorandum in
the mail, to wit, that they had been selected to form a large star over the
Ontario Motor Speedway for the benefit of what would be known as the
Pre-Telethon Air Show for Muscular Dystrophy. There would be three jumps during
the actual show on August 25th (later reduced to two) and two practice jumps
over Elsinore on August 4th. The
aircraft would be a four-engine C-97 (Boeing 377) Stratocruiser
with a rear ramp door, owned and operated by the FAR (Foundation for Airborne
Relief)d. Everyone was invited
to Long BeachAirport on July 20th to
wash the plane...very few people showed up. Two weeks later, on August 3, again
at the FAR ramp in Long Beach, there was a
briefing. Everyone was introduced to the plane and its crew and most important
of all, Al Kreuger and Bob Westover organized the
mechanics of the jumps. They were good; just the right touch of authority and
expertise, without being authoritarian and know-it-all.
The exit was single file with three sticks of ten or so, standing abreast and
starting on the right. The first ten (basically the Captain Hook 10-man team)
had the backs of their helmets painted red (some used red reflecting tape)
while the second stick had theirs painted yellow. The first stick, with three
floaters, would form a fast, red-helmeted 10-man. The second stick, with their
yellow helmets, would split two reds, while the last stick would split a red
and a yellow whenever possible.
The traffic problem was solved by giving everyone a consecutive number in the
exit order: even numbers approached the right side, odd numbers the left side.
To ensure good grips, each jumper was asked to sew an eight to twelve inch
length of 5/8" heater hose inside the upper part of each arm bell. Bud
Kruger spotted at the left hand side of the plane looking through a removed
window panel. Jump run was at 134 m.p.h. with no cut. Hank Asciutto
would open the doors about 10 miles out and Bud would start spotting. Three
cameramen would be included on each load-- Ray Cottingham,
Mike Jenkins and myself. Jerry Tyson.
We took off from Long Beach; about 12 minutes later we
were over Elsinore at 9000 feet. This
aircraft really boggles the mind (it takes me an hour and 15 minutes to go the
same distance in my van). The huge double-deckered
plane had two loads aboard. The star attempt and a 24-man 'snivel' load which
would go out on the second pass. There was room for two more loads!!!
Hank opened the doors; Bud started spotting. We were about 14,800 feet above
the ground. At what would be the 'cut' point, he dropped the mike, stepped into
line and shouted "Ready:" We chimed in with the 3-2-1 count: on "TWO" the floaters
popped their smoke, and on "GO" the avalanche began. Thirty three
people cleared the aircraft in eight seconds. A 30-man was built: one man was
in the slot when a grip was lost.
SECOND JUMP--A 31-MAN
We were in the air over Elsinore at 15,000 feet.
There was another good spot by Bud Kruger and another eight second exit. The traffic
was beautiful. At one point the star was heart-shaped with Mitch Poteet (30th)
at the top, and Steve Fielding (31st) at the bottom. They entered, broke and
the star became a righteous, round, good-flying 31-man. It was held for three
to four seconds before a grip was broken. Was there screaming and shouting
under the canopies? A little.
AUGUST 25--ONTARIO MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Two jumps were scheduled to be made before the crowd which was very small. The
first jump built to a 24-man before it was destroyed by three jumpers in two
slots. The second star attempt was moving nicely, until someone hit the 5-man
and took it out. When I looked down, about 20 seconds out of the plane, there
was not even a hook-up. But then things started happening. In 35 seconds these
jumpers built a 30-man: In theory, the star could have been built by exiting at
It was a most unusual jump, and a fine comment on the talent of all those
people involved in it.
The original picture and the one of the completed 31-way were by M. Anderson
Jenkins; the additional exit shot by Jerry Tyson.
Beverly Beach Dr. NW Olympia, WA98502
Former C-133 navigator with
the 84th MAS, Travis AFB, CA, with 1,809 hours between May 69 and Jun 71. The
C-133 was one of seven aircraft types flown, most of them transports, in an Air
Force career spanning 26 years
Primary references for this
article are: Maltais, Richard E. C-133 Cargomaster, 1951-1971.
Historical Study No. 26, Office of History, Air Force Logistics Command.
Headquarters, Warner Robins Air Material Area. Robins AFB, GA,
Flight Manual, USAF Series C-133A and C-133B Aircraft. Technical Order
1C-133A-1. Air Force Logistics Command, Robbins AFB, GA, 1
Holder, Bill and Scott Vadnais. The “C” Planes: U.S. Cargo Aircraft 1925 to the Present. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 1996.
Copyright June 2000. Cal
Taylor All rights reserved.